Robert Nieuwirth: The Free Market Vs the Flea Market

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Robert Neuwirth (13)Who’s afraid of the informal economy? journalist and author Robert Neuwirth asks the PopTech audience. He is known for his book Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, a New Urban World. His latest — Stealth of Nations — is focused on street traders around the world.

He notes that 80% of the working people are not in the informal economy, but something he refers to as System D, aka the Self Reliant economy, which he pirated from the African speaking Africa and Caribbean world.

Half the people in the world are working in System D, which means that the total value of System D around the globe is around $10 trillion. “If this was combined in a single political entity, let’s call it Bizzare-istan,” he says with a smile, “it would be the second largest economy in the world.”

It means that squatter communities are growing faster in legal areas, that the informal economy is exploding and that The Rational is becoming Irrational.

The informal economy has always been around globally, as he throws out example after example with photos in China, Taiwan, and Africa, where individuals are selling pirated designer sunglasses, cologne, DVDs, and mobile phones. He also notes that this kind of quasi-criminology happens in the formal economy every year as well, talking about Siemens who paid $1.9 billion a day, where it was done above board and legit.

Robert Neuwirth (21)

In the Free Market Versus the Flea Market, the lazy man’s money is worth more. “We have to consider fairness,” says Robert. “What we think are facts, are actually set in stone by those who are in the most power and have the most interests.”

If so many workers around the world are street trading and they’re alive, employed, thriving and growing, we have to work together, and with and within it. Says Robert, “we shouldn’t criminalize street trading – we should embrace it in someway so that we can bring people doing it out of poverty and into a better way of life.” Hear hear Robert.

Also refer to a video on the TED blog to hear more of his insights.


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