Doubleday, 340 pages (hardback, 2005)
I have had a certain love for economics (even majored in it for a while in college, until the realization top-level math would be involved) for a long time. This desire was pricked initially by hearing Thomas Sowell fill-in for Rush Limbaugh back in the mid-90’s. I spent some birthday money at a Waldenbooks in the Clarksburg, WV mall on “Basic Economics” and was hooked. Part of my interest in this subject comes from a larger preoccupation I have with sociology, or the study of why people do things and what makes them tick. But any discussion about the global economy is half-hearted without an examination of the other economy, the one which technically exists in the shadows, yet often in plain sight.
This book takes an economic look at a devilish practice which plagues governments and cultures while enriching tens of thousands. Smuggling things from diapers to human kidneys is a Trillion dollar business worldwide. Yes that is Trillion with a “T”. In this work author Moises Naim goes chapter-by-chapter, first looking at the motivation, then examining individual markets for stolen, illegal, and counterfeit goods. There is nothing which man can consider which cannot be had for the right price, as long as the will to have it is there. One negative about this book is that Naim gets a bit repetitive word salad in many of the chapters, but the information gleaned is gold and may in some ways benefit from this repetition. Again, the amounts of goods, humans, and money being made is staggering to say the least and will often lead the reader to be gobsmacked in response.
While most of the work deals with the trafficking of goods there is a chapter on human beings being shuffled around the global economy for sex, free labor, and illegal adoptions. I don’t recommend reading this part if you have a heart condition, or really a heart at all. It will infuriate you and cause anger to rise up from within your bowels. The capacity of men to be inhumane will not only certify your belief in original sin, but also in our naturally evil minds.
The book ends with a chapter asking how these kinds of markets can be dealt with and this is a second criticism of the work. In every chapter there is a running commentary on the failure of first, second, and third world countries, partly through corruption, but mostly by incompetence, to deal with the problem, yet this concluding section speaks to the need of MORE GOVERNMENT being the solution to the troubles. The reality is you are never going to stop people from doing the things spoken of in this book. More laws just cause creativity to flourish (see the chapter on financial sleight of hand for some fascinating ways to launder cash) and the effort is wasted.
One of the more fascinating anecdotes is of an al-qaeda operative who quit jihad because of the vast wealth he accumulated through smuggling.
I highly recommend this book for those wanting background on the black market and the insane work that has to be done to accomplish even the most minor transaction (go read “I, Pencil, only substitute “cocaine” for the pencil). You can basically skip the last chapter for the reasons I noted above, but other than that prepare to be astounded and, to be honest, somewhat impressed with the abilities of your average illegal smuggler. These are not morons to be sure. The amount of effort to get fake rolexes onto the street in New York City is nothing less than amazing.