Reviews for Stealth of Nations : The Global Rise of the Informal Economy

Book News Reviews
The author of Shadow Cities takes his title from Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations. Neuwirth uses the term "system D" for informal markets of the global stealth market--street markets and unlicensed bazaars who typically do not pay taxes--from slang French for resourceful people. He discusses motivations for, and examples of, this vibrant alternative economy, e.g., public takeover of a bus system abandoned by the official bureaucracy. Provocatively, he contends that pirated high-tech products level the technological divide in poorer countries. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

Choice Reviews 2012 March
Neuwirth, a business and investigative reporter and author of Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, a New Urban World (2004), provides a broad picture of the informal markets of the world, i.e., the vast body of unlicensed transactions that are characterized by off-the-books cash payments that generally avoid taxes and regulations. Actually, the author prefers the term "System D" (from the French debrouillard) to "informal markets." According to Neuwirth, there has always been a System D, and it currently accounts for roughly half of the world's workers, whose transactions are estimated at some $10 trillion. The book is written in an informal style and filled with vignettes, many drawn from Neuwirth's own investigations, which illustrate the many-sided and growing market. Although System D is frequently regarded as a scourge to be eliminated, Neuwirth finds benefits that accrue to an overall economy. Thus, he notes instances of cooperation between System D and government as well as with legitimate businesses. In presenting cases of System D, Neuwirth offers insights into daily market life, particularly in Nigeria and Brazil. This book is entertaining and enlightening, revealing information that affects almost all readers. Summing Up: Recommended. All readership levels. General Readers; Lower-division Undergraduates; Upper-division Undergraduates; Graduate Students; Researchers/Faculty; Two-year Technical Program Students; Professionals/Practitioners. W. C. Struning emeritus, Seton Hall University Copyright 2012 American Library Association.

Kirkus Reviews 2011 August #2

A close-up look at the world of unlicensed and unregulated trade, which, in many developing countries, is the fastest growing part of the economy.

Neuwirth (Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, a New Urban World, 2004), who prefaces every chapter with a relevant quote from Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, takes readers inside what he calls System D, from the French word débrouillardise, meaning resourceful and inventive. His first stopping place is Sao Paulo, Brazil, where a vibrant street market draws more than 400,000 people on an average weekday. Then comes Lagos, Nigeria, a fast-growing DIY city of more than nine million people, many living in shantytowns, where scavengers glean recyclable goods from the dump and where System D provides not just goods but water, electricity and public transportation. Using his personal contacts with merchants, Neuwirth describes the underground trade links between Nigeria and China, including an enormous business in the piracy of electronic goods, and the smuggling industry that brings goods across the border from Brazil to Paraguay. He also details the links between major U.S. corporations and System D; how the system operates today in Brooklyn, San Francisco and other American cities; and what measures governments have taken to regulate it. Throughout, Neuwirth cites other sources to demonstrate that aspects of System D have an ancient history. He is clearly an admirer of System D, seeing in it not chaos and confusion, but communities marked by cooperation and their own codes of conduct. He argues that governments need System D markets because they are creative and provide jobs, and that System D needs governments because governments can provide infrastructure, organized ports and currency with a stable rate of exchange. Developing a space where System D can thrive offers "a vision of empowerment, employment, and global equity based, not on the abstraction of the free market, but on the concrete principles of the flea market."

A vibrant picture of a growing sphere of trade that already employs half the workers of the world.

Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2011 August #4

Neuwirth (Shadow Cities) explores the global significance of the "informal economy," those small transactions of incremental profits eked out in city dumps, outdoor markets, and unlicensed bazaars that employ roughly half of the global work force. The author takes his cue (and title) from Adam Smith and links such activity to a fuller conception of economic development, offering the alternative term "System D" (borrowed from an Afro-Caribbean slang term for the unofficial economy). As Neuwirth's roving narrative shows--in case study chapters on Lagos, Nigeria (where System D has provided potable drinking water and public transit); São Paulo, Brazil; San Francisco, California; and Guangzhou, China--this "unregulated economic activity" is indeed a system, relying on individual and group organization, social solidarity, and surprisingly universal sets of unwritten rules. It also captures much more than the microprofits of the roadside sale: in the U.S., for instance, (where System D is on the rise amid a larger economic downturn), there are the unlicensed mobile kitchens of San Francisco's Mission District that can mature into full-blown companies feeding chains like Whole Foods. In many cases, System D and the formal economy are directly intertwined, and Neuwirth makes a striking case for both the influence of System D and the need to engage it as a partner in economic development. (Oct.)

[Page ]. Copyright 2011 PWxyz LLC