This alternative economic system also offers the opportunity for large numbers of people to find work. No job-cutting or outsourcing is going on here. Rather, a street market boasts dozens of entrepreneurs selling similar products and scores of laborers doing essentially the same work. An economist would likely deride all this duplicated work as inefficient. But the level of competition on the street keeps huge numbers of people employed. It liberates their entrepreneurial energy. And it offers them the opportunity to move up in the world.
In São Paulo, Édison Ramos Dattora, a migrant from the rural midlands, has succeeded in the nation's commercial capital by working as a camelô -- an unlicensed street vendor. He started out selling candies and chocolates on the trains, and is now in a more lucrative branch of the street trade -- retailing pirate DVDs of first-run movies to commuters around downtown. His underground trade -- he has to watch out for the cops wherever he goes -- has given his family a standard of living he never dreamed possible: a bank account, a credit card, an apartment in the center of town, and enough money to take a trip to Europe.
Even in the most difficult and degraded situations, System D merchants are seeking to better their lives. For instance, the garbage dump would be the last place you would expect to be a locus of hope and entrepreneurship. But Lagos scavenger Andrew Saboru has pulled himself out of the trash heap and established himself as a dealer in recycled materials. On his own, with no help from the government or any NGOs or any bank (Andrew has a bank account, but his bank will never loan him money -- because his enterprise is unlicensed and unregistered and depends on the unpredictable labor of culling recyclable material from the megacity's massive garbage pile), he has climbed the career ladder. "Lagos is a city for hustling," he told me. "If you have an idea and you are serious and willing to work, you can make money here. I believe the future is bright." It took Andrew 16 years to make his move, but he succeeded, and he's proud of the business he has created.
We should be too. As Joanne Saltzberg, who heads Women Entrepreneurs of Baltimore -- a business development group -- told me, we need to change our attitude and to salute the achievements of those who are engaged in this alternate economy. "We only revere success," she said. "I don't think we honor the struggle. People who have no access to business development resources. People who have to work two and three jobs just to survive. When you are struggling in this economy and still you commit yourself to having a better life, that's really something to honor."