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Stealth of Nations: The Global Rise of the Informal Economy Paperback – October 2, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Praise for Stealth of Nations:

"Stealth of Nations is the most exciting shopping trip I’ve ever been on. I thought I knew what ‘the economy’ is, but I had no idea until Neuwirth filled me in."
—Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed 
 
"A valuable book because it challenges conventional thinking about what it means for an economy to develop."
The Wall Street Journal

"[Neuwirth’s] exciting tour de force explains the economic underworld that dominates the economic stratosphere far more than we realize. . . . An impressive new book that reveals a global, informal economy, stretching from Africa to China to the United States. . . . The author’s sources are vast and the remarkable depth of his research cannot be overstated."
The Star-Ledger
 
"An intrepid journalist examines the real world of wealth creation at the very bottom of the pyramid, where it matters most."
—Stewart Brand, author of Whole Earth Discipline
 
"A provocative argument."
Salon
 
"We are just beginning to understand that today’s advanced global economy rises along with a proliferation of informal economies. Nobody can document this better than the world-traveling journalist Robert Neuwirth. This is a must-read book."
—Saskia Sassen, Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology, Columbia University, and author of A Sociology of Globalization
 
"After reading this book you will realize that working in an office, a shop, or in a factory, earning a steady salary, paying taxes and having health insurance and a retirement account is an anomaly. Most of the world’s workers operate in the informal sector and in this fascinating book Robert Neuwirth reveals how ‘The Stealth Economy’ works and what does it take to survive in it."
—Moisés Naím, author of Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats are Hijacking the Global Economy
 
"What he [Neuwirth] does—compellingly, readably, engagingly, and frequently, brilliantly—is give the reader a picture of how the world’s economies actually work, and a convincing argument that we need to respect and understand these economic systems. It’s a good read and an important book."
—Ethan Zuckerman, Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University

"A vibrant picture of a growing sphere of trade that already employs half the workers of the world."
Kirkus Reviews
 
"Neuwirth explores the global significance of the ‘informal economy’ [and] makes a striking case for both the influence of System D and the need to engage it as a partner in economic development."
Publishers Weekly
 
"For the last three years, we all have looked at the economy with fear and trembling. . . . But we forgot to look at the people who survive in the shadows of the official world. One person, the American journalist Robert Neuwirth, has spent the last decade of his life studying just this realm. He lived for months in slums around the world, traveled to every continent, and learned about the complex underground business models that drive a huge part of the global economy."
MONO Magazine, Greece
 
"Robert Neuwirth spent four years roaming street markets around the world and came back convinced of the benefits of the parallel economy."
L’Expression, Tunisia
 
"A very daring hypothesis."
Die Zeit, Germany
 
"Very controversial."
Exame, Brazil
 
"Neuwirth does an excellent job of recognizing and celebrating the entrepreneurial spirit."
How We Made it in Africa, South Africa 
 
"The so-called ‘informal economy’ is often viewed with suspicion by the agents of the state, as an underground and even criminal community. In reality, it is what Robert Neuwirth, in his book Stealth of Nations: the Global Rise of the Informal Economy, describes as a do-it-yourself economy based on self-reliance and innovation."
Daily Maverick, South Africa

About the Author

Robert Neuwirth spent two years infiltrating street markets and networks of low-level smugglers around the world to write Stealth of Nations. He lived in squatter communities for a similar amount of time to write his first book, Shadow Cities. These globe-trotting ventures were supported, in part, by the MacArthur Foundation and the Fund for Investigative Journalism. His work has been featured in many publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Financial Times Deutschland, Forbes, Fortune, Foreign Policy, Harper’s, Scientific American, and Wired. Neuwirth has taught in the college program at Rikers Island (New York City’s jail) and at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. He is also in demand as a public speaker, and his TED talk on squatters has been viewed by close to a quarter of a million people.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (October 2, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307279987
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307279989
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #494,998 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Peter Lorenzi on October 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
At a time when we have serious concerns over unemployed and underemployed, about regulation that strangles or stifles business, and taxation and tariff rates that drive prices through the roof, this fascinating little gem grabs you from the start with stories and data about the 'real' economy around the world, where currently fifty percent (and moving towards sixty percent) of the billions of working people in the world are doing so in the 'informal' economy, below the radar, off the official record, not part of world GDP. Neuwirth cites an estimate that this 'informal' economy amounts to about $10 trillion dollars annually, or about one-eighth of the world economy. Why so many people and so little economic impact? Because the margins in this business are razor-thin, where unfettered and, yes, in some cases, illegal, immoral and unscrupulous business better expresses capitalism than does the image of the multi-billion dollar global corporation.

Working his way through South America, China and Africa, Neuwirth meets and understands the people, their motives, and their practices. He is not writing about the darkest side of the economy, i.e., sex, drug and nuclear weapons trade, but rather the basic human element of survival, where entrepreneurs with a real flair for business work deals between Nigeria and China, dealing only in cash, bribing and smuggling, and providing a living for tens of millions of people. One can't decide if this is the solution to world economic problems, the 'real' economic problem itself, or just a grey underground world of questionable practices. Yet as scholars and over the years have noted over the years, the practice of these entrepreneurs are not that morally different from that of the established corporations. While I am not ready to go that far, read it and decide for yourself.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By @tarik_a on February 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
After being introduced to Stealth of Nations from a Wired review, I was excited to dive in and was not disappointed. Neuwirth, whose investigative journalism skills and experience were instrumental to the structure and value of the narative, spent time on the ground and clearly did his research on the topic, submitting important data points and compelling details, proposing interesting hypothesis and solution ideas in revealing and discussing the hidden-in-plain-sight world of System D (shortened from "l'economie de la debrouillardise" a slang phrase pirated from French-speaking Africa roughly meaning the ingenuity or DIY economy).

From tours of Rua 25 de Marco in the heart of Sao Paulo, Brazil: a System D-based marketplace consisting of over 8,000 merchants (~80% unlicensed or unregistered) that daily takes on an organization of its own exchanging nearly $10B USD annually, with over a million shoppers per day on important holidays; to the streets, auto part, electronic and computer markets of Lagos, Nigeria; the manufacturing centers of Guangzhou, China, the trading post of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay and the good ole' USA where System D represents the largest unregistered economy in the world worth more than $1Trillion USD annually, Neuwirth provides intimate details of the interactions and inner workings from conversations and time well spent with the players in these "informal" systems.

In addition to the birds eye view of the lives of System D participants, I particularly enjoyed the chapter Against Efficiency where Neuwirth delved into the history and opposing economic thoughts of System D. And being a fan of de Soto, Why Not Formalize the Informal?
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Robert Fately on June 13, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I had higher hopes for this book, but found myself more put off by Mr. Neuwirth's exuberant praising of what he calls the Stealth Economy (mostly under-the-table stuff) than enthralled by its wonders. Not that I take offense at folks trying to "cheat the system" per se - sometimes "the system" is just stupid (see: ridiculously high tariffs on imported products), but pretty much everything Neuwirth extolls is little more than a spreading out of the distribution chain. And, other than keeping some more middlemen working, this is not the way to create wealth.

If Proctor & Gamble sold Tide detergent in teabag-sized single use containers, they would eliminate one of the "supply chains" Mr. Neuwirth so admires. But they don't, so the container-load they ship to Africa is repeatedly cut by various middlemen until at some point someone is selling such small portions out of their hut. And that's fine - surely most people in that region haven't the resources or need to buy a 60-load portion. But it is not creating something new - only redistributing what is already there.

Likewise with the computer smugglers who take advantage of the easily bribed border guards to sneak products in and avoid local duty rates that are prohibitively high - sure, what they do is noble in some sense perhaps (though if they want help from the police, but don't pay their taxes, is THAT fair?) but again not the creation of something new. Dell and Lenovo are happy; they likely sell more boxes this way, but again I question whether this really adds value to the country at large.

In fact, everything described in the book relates to some product that is invented/created elsewhere and merely being distributed in a manner different than what some authorities would prefer.
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