Across the globe, 1.8 billion people -- a quarter of the world's population -- work off the books each day. They are paid in cash for the goods they sell and the services they provide, and due to their ubiquity, there's a word for these merchants in nearly every language. As Robert Neuwirth reports, in French colonies, they're known as débrouillards -- self-starters, entrepreneurs, all outside the bureaucratic system. They might be vendors selling revolutionary goods in Egypt's Tahrir Square, Nigerians selling mobile phones, or the guy down the street hawking flowers on the corner. Whoever they are, they work in the world's fastest-growing economy: System D.
As Neuwirth writes, System D, slang for "l'economie de la débrouillardise," is the crucial blackmarket, providing opportunities where the regulated global economy has failed. Its value is estimated at roughly $10 trillion, meaning, as Neuwirth points out, that, "If System D were an independent nation, united in a single political structure -- call it the the United Street Sellers Republic (USSR) or, perhaps, Bazaaristan -- it would be an economic superpower, the second largest economy in the world." The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) predicts that two-thirds of the world's workers will be employed in System D as soon as 2020.
Above, a Pakistani carpet vendor, above, waits for customers at his roadside stall in Quetta on Sept. 16.