Topics: Mobile phone, Nigeria, Underground economy Pages: 5 (1949 words) Published: December 2, 2012
In System D, this is a store, and what I mean by that is that this is a photograph I took in Makoko, shantytown in Lagos, Nigeria. It's built over the lagoon, and there are no streets where there can be stores to shop, and so the store comes to you.

And in the same community, this is business synergy. This is the boat that that lady was paddling around in, and this artisan makes the boat and the paddles and sells directly to the people who need the boat and the paddles.

And this is a global business. Ogandiro smokes fish in Makoko in Lagos, and I asked her, "Where does the fish come from?" And I thought she'd say, "Oh, you know, up the lagoon somewhere, or maybe across Africa," but you'll be happy to know she said it came from here, it comes from the North Sea. It's caught here, frozen, shipped down to Lagos, smoked, and sold for a tiny increment of profit on the streets of Lagos. And this is a business incubator. This is Olusosun dump, the largest garbage dump in Lagos, and 2,000 people work here, and I found this out from this fellow, Andrew Saboru. Andrew spent 16 years scavenging materials on the dump, earned enough money to turn himself into a contract scaler, which meant he carried a scale and went around and weighed all the materials that people had scavenged from the dump. Now he's a scrap dealer. That's his little depot behind him, and he earns twice the Nigerian minimum wage.

This is a shopping mall. This is Oshodi Market in Lagos. Jorge Luis Borges had a story called "The Aleph," and the Aleph is a point in the world where absolutely everything exists, and for me, this image is a point in the world where absolutely everything exists. So, what am I talking about when I talk about System D? It's traditionally called the informal economy, the underground economy, the black market. I don't conceive of it that way. I think it's really important to understand that something like this is totally open. It's right there for you to find. All of this is happening openly, and aboveboard. There's nothing underground about it. It's our prejudgment that it's underground.

I've pirated the term System D from the former French colonies. There's a word in French that is debrouillardise, that means to be self-reliant, and the former French colonies have turned that into System D for the economy of self-reliance, or the DIY economy.

But governments hate the DIY economy, and that's why -- I took this picture in 2007, and this is the same market in 2009 -- and I think, when the organizers of this conference were talking about radical openness, they didn't mean that the streets should be open and the people should be gone. I think what we have is a pickle problem. I had a friend who worked at a pickle factory, and the cucumbers would come flying down this conveyer belt, and his job was to pick off the ones that didn't look so good and throw them in the bin labeled "relish" where they'd be crushed and mixed with vinegar and used for other kinds of profit. This is the pickle economy. We're all focusing on — this is a statistic from earlier this month in the Financial Times — we're all focusing on the luxury economy. It's worth 1.5 trillion dollars every year, and that's a vast amount of money, right? That's three times the Gross Domestic Product of Switzerland. So it's vast. But it should come with an asterisk, and the asterisk is that it excludes two thirds of the workers of the world. 1.8 billion people around the world work in the economy that is unregulated and informal. That's a huge number, and what does that mean? Well, it means if it were united in a single political system, one country, call it "The United Street Sellers Republic," the U.S.S.R., or "Bazaaristan," it would be worth 10 trillion dollars every year, and that would make it the second largest economy in the world, after the United States. And given that projections are that the bulk of economic growth over the next 15 years will come from emerging...
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