I've always liked informal/secret/grey economies. My parents used to partake in car boots sales throughout long summers in Wales and worked up a significant additional income in doing so. Then I came across the informal economies of Malawi last year and the associated benefits that come with them.
So I got really interested when I read a piece called 'The Gastronomic Underground' in the latest edition of the Idler. It's a very well researched and written documentation of the mercatini clandestini (secret markets) of Italy. The basic principle of which being that food producers come together on an invitation only basis, avoiding the attention of tax wielding authorities, to buy and exchange their goods on a hyper local level. The markets are often seen as a direct responce to the state's failure to support small scale agriculture and protect fragile local economies.
There are secret economies everywhere in Italy, where decades of bureaurcracy, political corruption, Mafia extortion and misguided tax regimes have created marginal trading structures that circumvent the official economy with remarkable creativity. The most recent estimates put Italy's shadow economy at around 26% of its GDP, the highest in Europe after Greece. In growing African economies this figure can jump to up to 60-70% of the total local economy.
The greatest point of interest for me however is something I've spoken about before, and that's the similarities between informal economies and agile 2.0 business. Those similarities best summed up in the below chart.
Already ventures such as Housebites (below) are bridging the divide between internet start up and a new type of ground up honest economy. Etsy being another fine example, a movement that has just delivered its first conference in an attempt to fight againsts in their words "decades of an unyielding focus on economic growth and a corporate mentality that have left us ever more disconnected with nature, our communities, and the people and processes behind the objects in our lives".
Could we be seeing a complete reinvention of the channels of trade, supply chains and methods of remunification forming before our eyes? Who knows, all I know is that they make for a bloody better story than what's going on in the chiller isles and chain stores of the country these days.