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Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers and Copycats are Hijacking the Global Economy Hardcover – October 18, 2005

4.3 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Illicit activities are exploding worldwide. The onslaught of globalization has unleashed a tidal wave of bad stuff--everything from arms trafficking, human smuggling, and money laundering to music bootlegging. Here is the dark side of globalization: the mushrooming underground economy. Moisés Naím explores this murky world in his book Illicit. Naím is the editor of the relaunched magazine Foreign Policy and a former executive director of the World Bank and Minister of Trade and Industry of Venezuela. In Illicit, he unties the connections between the Colombian cocaine dealer, the New York banker steering money to offshore tax havens, the Albanian forcing women into prostitution, and the Chinese market stall-holder selling counterfeit DVDs.

Naím reports that legitimate global trade has doubled since 1990 from $5 to $10 trillion. Meanwhile, money laundering has gone up tenfold, exceeding $1 trillion a year. Smuggling and money laundering have always existed, but Naím shows how they have increased at a staggering pace in the wake of globalization, despite new government controls since 9/11. The main culprits are the collapse of the Iron Curtain and state deregulation. As the reach of organized crime has expanded, governments have failed to keep up. Naím illustrates the problems with stories about A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan's atomic bomb who sold nuclear technology to North Korea and Libya; Walter C. Anderson, an American who was accused of hiding $450 million in offshore accounts to evade taxes; and Vladimir Montesinos, the Peruvian intelligence czar who is on trial for trafficking drugs and arms. The book, while a little dry, will be interesting to policy buffs and aspiring crooks alike. --Alex Roslin

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this sweeping and informative work, Foreign Policy editor Naím demystifies the global trade in illegal goods and services and, in the process, presents an original portrait of globalization that skillfully eschews the utopian doggerel that often characterizes such accounts. Naím provides a detailed tour of the major globalized criminal activities—drug production and distribution, illegal arms dealing, human trafficking, counterfeiting, money laundering and so on—and introduces a host of criminal networks that profit from them. The book is regrettably devoid of the kind of firsthand reporting from the field that would have made the subject matter really jump off the page. Yet Naím creates a picture of illicit trade which demonstrates that, far from taking place in a shadowy underworld, such activity is inextricably linked to legitimate commerce and directly affects all of us. In Naím's view, globalization's "diffusion of power to individuals and groups" and away from sovereign states has created a "smuggler's nirvana," in which the lines between legitimate and illegitimate economic activity are blurred and criminal networks possess an unprecedented degree of political influence. Making matters worse, the widening gap between global haves and have-nots—what Naím calls "geopolitical bright spots and black holes"—has increased the incentive for individuals and groups on both sides of the divide to participate in illicit activities. The remedy? In addition to offering a bevy of specific policy ideas, Naím urges readers to move away from simplistic moral denunciations and to focus, instead, on reducing the demand for criminals' goods and services and on weakening the incentives for ordinary people to become involved in their enterprises. (On sale Oct. 18)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (October 18, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385513925
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385513920
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #431,051 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Illicit bursts with detail and example, though it contains very little in the way of illustrative anecdotes. The author seems mainly concerned with communicating two main points. First, our conceptions about the nature and organizational structure of international trafficking networks has fallen dangerously out of date. Second, operating assumptions and ideological sacred cows prevent governments from framing the problem of illicit trafficking in a way that will allow for constructive action.

Concerning the first point, the "cartel and kingpin" conception of narco-trafficking formed and propagated in the 80's no longer applies. Our present counter-narcotics strategies assume that the enemy organization has a hierarchical structure with information and power flowing up and down a chain of command. In fact, trafficking organizations these days take the form of decentralized networks which shift continuously, assuming new configurations as opportunities present themselves and then morphing again to meet the needs of the next moment. Also, today's traffickers don`t specialize in a single commodity like cocaine. Instead, they move whatever goods present an opportunity for profit in the present moment; drugs today, arms tomorrow, people the next day and then knock-off designer handbags after that. Only the small players at the beginning and end of the supply chain specialize in particular products, e.g. the Bolivian coca farmer and the illegal immigrant selling bootlegged DVDs or knock-off Rolexes on the streets of New York.

The author's second point concerns two ideological sacred cows. First, he warns against the politically entrenched practice of talking about illicit traffic in strictly moral terms.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have known Moises Naim for many years, and admired his pragmatic approach to managing the content of Foreign Policy, as published under the auspices of the Canegie Endowment for International Peace. He has been Minister of Trade and Industry in Venezuela, a dean and professor of business administration, executive director of the World Bank, and an accomplished thinker and author. Above all he has been moral. He gets it: morality in politics and morality in business are priceless.

This book is important in two very big ways: the first, the one that most are noticing, is that it documents very ably the fact that crime pays--the author has done a superb job of itemizing the global illegal trade industry in a manner that could be understood by anyone, and the bottom line is frightening in that illicit trade is perhaps $2 trillion a year, while legal trade is between $5 trillion and $10 trillion. Off-the-books bartering and immoral invoicing within corporations are additional reducers of government tax revenue--import export tax fraud in the USA is known to be $50 billion a year ($25 rocket engines going out, $10 pencils coming in).

The second reason this book is important, the real value of this book, is in documenting the revenues lost to government. Legalizing prostitition has economic as well as public health implications. Reducing the arms trade, where the US is the greatest exporter of violence and bribery, has implications across ethnic conflict, stability, water and oil conservations, and so on. Eliminating counterfeiting and illegal immigration would have enormous implications for positive constructive government revenue.
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Format: Hardcover
"Illicit" provides an interesting (but sometimes repetitive) summary of the various genre of illicit trade, difficulties in prosecuting such activities and how they sometimes conflict with government decision-making, but little in the way of data that allows one to put the topic into perspective - eg. what percentage of total trade is illicit, and how is that changing over time? (Steel's review provides some data, but no details as to its origin.)

Naim states that illicit trade in developing nations and those leaving communism is often the most powerful vested interest - in some cases more powerful than government. Raising barriers simply increases profit rates and incentives.

Arms Trade: A. Q. Khan, national hero in Pakistan, has provided nuclear technology to other nations (presumably for primarily economic, rather than ideologic reasons), surplus arms released from Cold War downsizing, arms manufacturers seeking to replace former markets and unguarded Iraq arsenals have all served to increase supply. As for deterrence, Naim points out that the U.S. (under Bush II) sidetracked a U.N. conference on illicit trade in small arms/light weapons on the grounds that such would violate its Constitution.

Drugs: Naim reports that research has led to new forms of cocaine resistant to herbicides and increased plant size, while violence and bribes are endemic in the industry.

Counterfeiting of software, drugs, music, consumer goods, parts, etc. represents 5-10% of GDP, per Naim.
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