Remembering the Unquiet American

A fond retrospective on Richard Holbrooke, America’s most ambitious diplomat.

Richard Holbrooke came as a package. To know the man in full was to appreciate the most important contents. His was a unique combination of talent, intellect, energy, courage, conviction, gumption, panache, and compassion. Many of those who "got" Richard were confident that he would, someday, receive proper credit for the contributions he made to his country and the world. However, few of us anticipated how quickly that would happen once he was gone. It certainly came as a surprise to me, and it would have been considerable consolation to him, especially since his last mission -- as President Barack Obama's and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan -- had been as thankless as it was grueling.

The State Department's announcement of his death early in the evening of Dec. 13, 2010, triggered an outpouring of testimonials from around the world and from the various realms in which he had been a seismic presence: from heads of state and international luminaries; from representatives of humanitarian organizations, especially those that fought for the rights of refugees and battled against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria; and from journalists and columnists who not only wrote about him, used him as a source, and let him use them to advance his many causes, but who also saw him as a master of their trade.

In those weeks of mourning, my mind kept going back two decades, to a crisp Sunday morning in the spring of 1991, near the end of Richard's long interlude on Wall Street when Republicans controlled the White House. My wife Brooke and I were spending a weekend at a home with a tennis court and pool that Richard owned in one of the plummier exurban communities of central Connecticut. After a vigorous set of Canadian doubles and a swim, we went to a brunch at a neighbor's house. Richard's eyes lit up when he saw that their recreational facilities included a trampoline on the far side of a manicured lawn. After hastily paying respects to our hosts, he excused himself, went back outside, pulled off his shoes, rolled up the cuffs of his slacks, and clambered onto the canvas. He insisted that I join him. The result was an exceedingly amateurish blend of gymnastic duet and duel -- sometimes semicoordinated, sometimes dangerously competitive, and constantly accompanied by talk, most of it coming from Richard.

The subject, naturally, was world affairs. Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union were coming apart at the seams. Richard was overflowing with observations, historical analogies, and, above all, strong opinions about how the U.S. government was responding. He was scathing about the George H. W. Bush administration's passivity toward the upheaval in the Balkans, which was careening into genocidal mayhem, but he gave the president high marks for supporting Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms that would soon lead to the largely peaceful disintegration of the USSR.

The incident was an antic example of Richard's knack for combining serious business with exuberant pleasure. His business was his pleasure; and, whatever his day job, the only business he really cared about was foreign policy. The work he so desperately wanted to do all his life was fun, even when it was exhausting. Partly for that reason, being his friend was also fun -- and, often, also exhausting. That may be why it didn't seem entirely zany to us to be discussing the meltdown of European communism while bouncing into the air, sweating profusely, risking bodily harm, and caring not a whit about what the other guests, peering out the window, thought about the spectacle.

To many admirers and critics alike, ambition was Richard's most conspicuous quality. Less appreciated was the distinction he made between achievement of goals and the attainment of position, which he saw as a means to that end, not the end in itself. Moreover, he believed that the combination of skill and will that he prized in himself could change the course of events only if it was part of a team effort. No question he wanted, if at all possible, to be the captain; if not that, then the star player; if not that, then at least on the field; and if not that, then a forceful independent voice, exhorting from the sidelines; but never, ever a passive spectator.

Richard loved forensic combat. His strategy was, first, to establish the cosmic importance of whatever was most on his mind and, second, to make equally clear that his was the best, if not the only, sensible course of action. This take-no-prisoners style often aroused resistance and resentment -- or, in the case of Henry Kissinger (who is no pushover), a backhanded compliment: "If Richard calls and asks you for something, just say yes. If you say no, you'll eventually get to yes, but the journey will be very painful."

In my own experience, I found, far more often than not, that Richard was in command of the facts, rigorous in his logic, and compelling in the essence of his position. Sure, he tended to overstate the extent to which the fate of the earth, or civilization, or at least the supreme national interest was at stake. But any sensible target of his browbeating should have the good sense to discount the hyperbole and pay attention to the nub of his argument.

At the same time, while he was a dazzlingly, sometimes excessively good talker, he was a good listener as well. If the thrust-and-parry of debate exposed a weakness in his position, he would adjust his analysis, modify his recommendation, then return to the offensive. Richard was never bashful about enlisting history on his side -- or, for that matter, anticipating what future historians would say. In the 1990s, during high-stress moments in the Situation Room, the Cabinet Room, or the Oval Office, he would lecture those around the table, including the president, on how future generations would not forgive us if we didn't take decisive action to stop the latest outrage in the former Yugoslavia, in Africa, or in Southeast Asia. Eyes might roll, but the net effect was the galvanizing of a consensus, led by Bill Clinton. Talk would then turn to action -- an alchemy of which Richard was a wizard.

Eulogizing Richard in January 2011, President Clinton recalled, "He never was in a meeting in his life when he wasn't thinking, ‘Okay, what are we going to do?' He loved the doers." He added that Richard was the ultimate doer himself. "I loved the guy," he said. "Doing in diplomacy saves lives."

The same is true of NGOs like Refugees International, which was founded in 1979 in response to the Indochina refugee crisis. Richard championed that cause from the State Department in the seventies, then chaired the board of the organization in the late '90s.

Richard was, at core, a happy warrior (the Wordsworth poem by that title, written after Lord Nelson's death at the Battle of Trafalgar, was a favorite of his). He had a preternatural self-confidence and a Joe Palooka resilience that enabled him to rebound from body blows. But ambitious as he was, he was also realistic about the capriciousness of fate, especially in his line of work. He'd had good luck when Averell Harriman took him to Paris for the Vietnam Peace Talks and, again, nearly a decade later, when Jimmy Carter and Cyrus Vance made him, at 36, assistant secretary of state for East Asia. Yet the brass ring he most wanted eluded his grasp, repeatedly and narrowly. He was runner-up for secretary of state when Bill Clinton chose Madeleine Albright; he would very likely have been Al Gore's pick in 2000 if it weren't for the Florida recount and the Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore, and John Kerry's if the 2004 election had gone the other way. Hillary Clinton might well have chosen Richard to be her secretary of state if the 2008 presidential race had turned out the way she hoped.

Since he died, I've found myself wondering what kind of secretary of state he would have made. A good one, I'll bet -- a very good one. Had he occupied the post he'd so long hoped for, I can easily imagine that his inexhaustible and often frustrated capacity for striving would have been targeted on achieving as much as possible while he had maximum clout and the freedom to exercise it.

This was, however, not a topic of conversation between us. In the many intense private talks we had over the years, he didn't waste much time agonizing or fantasizing over what might have been. Instead, he concentrated on how best to play whatever hand he was dealt and beat the house.

That acceptance of adversity as a fact of life combined with a refusal to let it get him down and a gritty confidence that he could make his own luck carried over into his attitude toward the opportunities and challenges facing the U.S. His was a purpose-driven, utilitarian view of policy-making and diplomacy: Figure out what will advance American interests and defend American values; make a hard-headed calculation about the risks and costs, enlist key allies, find the best means of subduing your adversaries, and then get the job done.

A corollary of his belief in human agency was a deep interest in the psychology of those he was trying to persuade or pressure. During the Bosnia peace talks in the mid-'90s, he spent what sometimes seemed an inordinate amount of time on tactics and even seating charts. During a visit I made to Dayton early in the negotiations, I asked him what the principal issues were. "Never mind the substance," he said. "The whole point at this stage is to get these guys in a frame of mind where they want an agreement. The substance will fall into place later." My wife Brooke was with me on that trip. Knowing that she and I had lived in Belgrade for two years in the early '70s, Richard seated her next to Slobodan Milosevic during a surreal dinner at the Dayton Racquet Club for the assembled peacemakers (not yet successful) and war criminals (not yet indicted). Richard coached her on how to play to the Serbian dictator's vanity in nudging him toward concessions on several unresolved issues. She made some headway in getting him to ease an embargo of energy supplies to Bosnia. "Way to go, Brookie," said Richard afterward. "It's the little stuff that makes the big stuff possible."

On another occasion, I asked him how our exertions in the Balkans fit into the larger goals of American foreign policy. Again, he was dismissive of the premise. "Forget the sweep-of-history crap," he said. "Our goal is to end a war." Those last four words became the title of his 1998 book on the peace he, more than anyone, made in Bosnia.

In much the same spirit, Richard refused to associate himself with any of the competing schools in academe or opposing camps among the policy wonks. He cared only about the practice of foreign policy. To him, theory was, almost by definition, suspect. Not that he was averse to bold ideas -- he just didn't want to clutter up the discussion of the present and future with anything that smacked of library stacks or, worse, ideological dogma.

I once made the mistake of invoking Immanuel Kant in support of the enlargement of NATO and the European Union -- a big and controversial idea that Richard had long favored, but not because it would have pleased a professor in Königsberg who had been dead for nearly two hundred years. "Save that guy for some seminar in New Haven," he snapped.

He found most doctrines too neat to be useful in the real world. Worse, disputes over them tended to stoke the polarization of the political environment, undercutting bipartisan support for the necessary degree of consistency in foreign policy from one administration to the next.

Richard's long paper trail of muscular, lucid prose is rich in active verbs and notably free of words that end in ism. To his ear, the suffix connoted abstract concepts that provoked pointless bickering and posed policy options in terms of false dichotomies. For him, pragmatism and idealism, exceptionalism and universalism, patriotism and internationalism were not either/or choices. He believed in all six, but also in the need to reconcile them insofar as possible or to apply them in different ratios, depending on the situation at hand.

The same went for Realpolitik and its putative antonym, Moralpolitik, as manifest in humanitarian intervention, notably in the Balkans. Richard saw hard and soft power as the yin and yang of the American brand. He believed that the U.S. had enough of both kinds of power to defend the weak around the world.

He was also wary of grand strategy -- any grand strategy. "Diplomacy is not like chess," he once told Michael Ignatieff. "It's more like jazz -- a constant improvisation on a theme." As both a student and practitioner of statecraft, he saw master plans as tending to blinker policy makers, causing them to miss or misread indications that their theory of the case is faulty or that circumstances have changed in ways that call for new assumptions, goals, and responses.

Richard's career was bookended by two cautionary tales about precisely that danger. In 1962, the year he entered the Foreign Service, the Kennedy administration had already made containing Soviet and Chinese expansion into Indochina an objective vital to the national interest. As a result, there were already more than 3,000 U.S. military personnel in South Vietnam. The consequence was to propel the U.S. into a quagmire, which led to the downfall of JFK's successor, Lyndon Johnson. Almost 40 years later, with the Cold War over, no hostile superpower to contain, and 9/11 confronting the U.S. with a new enemy, George W. Bush declared an open-ended "global war on terror." It began with the deceptively easy eviction of the Taliban regime in Kabul. Seven years and 800 U.S. and coalition casualties later, Richard, as a private citizen, wrote in his column for the Washington Post that the conflict in Afghanistan was likely to exceed the Vietnam misadventure as the longest war in American history.

Once he joined the Obama administration, he kept his sense of déjà vu to himself, even as he worked tirelessly to avert a Vietnam-like debacle. He kept pushing for what he saw as a better balance between military might and robust diplomacy. In his view, there was no military solution to this conflict -- as he said, "no unconditional surrender, not even total clarity on who the enemy is." Rather, it was a war that, by its prolonged and inconclusive nature, threatened to become a loser for the U.S.

The military goal, in his view, was to create the favorable conditions for diplomacy. As U.S. and coalition forces made inroads against al-Qaeda and the more militant Taliban, it would be easier to secure political deals in Afghanistan, reinforced by a regional diplomatic settlement, thereby making possible the steady, responsible withdrawal of American forces.

Richard knew that "AfPak" would be his last government assignment. It was also his most frustrating one, although he didn't put it that way. Instead, he occasionally commented on the curious trajectory his public service had followed and the paradoxical way it was coming to an end. He'd held posts at the State Department twice before, both times as an assistant secretary. He'd presided in the '70s over East Asia and in the '90s over Europe out of well-appointed suites on the sixth floor, which, in that building, is considered close to heaven since it's just below the Secretary's office.

Here he was, back again in Foggy Bottom, but this time on the first floor, in cramped and inelegant quarters near the cafeteria. He took wry pleasure in showing off what he called his "hovel." It gave him a chance to laugh at the ironies that attended the drama -- and occasional melodrama -- of his life.

Richard was immensely proud. That pride could be -- and, in his last years, frequently was -- wounded. Yet there was ample room in his character for pride in his colleagues, especially the younger ones. Mentoring, for Richard, often meant pushing his protégés to higher positions often on higher floors of the building. That was one reason for the affection, admiration, and loyalty he engendered within his extended interagency team.

In addition to those who worked for him directly, Richard also convened a weekly meeting of about a hundred officials and experts from around government. He dubbed this body the Shura, an Arabic word for tribal counsel of the sort that Afghans used to govern themselves. I sat in on its meetings twice, once when Richard was leading the discussion, and again shortly after he died.

The collegiality and sense of common purpose within the Shura were in marked contrast to tensions within the government as a whole over AfPak, especially between Richard and some at the White House. In the spring of 2010, the president's national security advisor, General Jim Jones, tried to maneuver him toward the exit. Secretary Clinton went straight to Obama and insisted that nobody except either of them could fire Richard. Jones backed down and was gone seven months later. The showdown with Jones came to a head in April, shortly before Richard's sixty-ninth birthday -- or, as I remember him saying, "the beginning of my seventh decade on this extremely messed-up planet" (you could almost hear the italics when Richard was in full voice). His body was sending him warning signals. He heeded them only to the point of sometimes imagining, a bit wistfully, a saner existence, with time for reading, writing a memoir, and fun with his family.

A number of his friends formed a loose and benevolent cabal to persuade him to get out at a time of his own choosing, and the sooner the better, rather than letting himself be pushed out or, as we all feared, worked to death. Worried as I was about his health, I had trouble imagining him content to be back on the sidelines. As for Richard himself, he was determined not to give ammunition to his detractors by signaling that he was ready to quit. Still, he dropped a few hints that he might leave sometime after his seventieth birthday, perhaps in the summer or fall of 2011, assuming conditions in Afghanistan permitted the beginning of a drawdown of American forces.

Two months before he died, Richard ran into Larry Summers in the White House lobby. Larry introduced him to his 14-year-old stepdaughter, Maya, who had been having lunch with him in the White House Mess. She mentioned that she had some sense of what he was doing because she had read The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini's novel set in Kabul. Richard, who had, of course, read the book and could quote whole passages, fixed his eyes on her and engaged her in lively conversation for twenty minutes. Never mind if he was late to his next meeting; he had found someone who understood what was at stake in his last mission -- someone whose world will be the better for all the difference he had made in those many missions that came before.

Alex Wong/Getty Images


The Shadow Superpower

Forget China: the $10 trillion global black market is the world's fastest growing economy -- and its future.

With only a mobile phone and a promise of money from his uncle, David Obi did something the Nigerian government has been trying to do for decades: He figured out how to bring electricity to the masses in Africa's most populous country.

It wasn't a matter of technology. David is not an inventor or an engineer, and his insights into his country's electrical problems had nothing to do with fancy photovoltaics or turbines to harness the harmattan or any other alternative sources of energy. Instead, 7,000 miles from home, using a language he could hardly speak, he did what traders have always done: made a deal. He contracted with a Chinese firm near Guangzhou to produce small diesel-powered generators under his uncle's brand name, Aakoo, and shipped them home to Nigeria, where power is often scarce. David's deal, struck four years ago, was not massive -- but it made a solid profit and put him on a strong footing for success as a transnational merchant. Like almost all the transactions between Nigerian traders and Chinese manufacturers, it was also sub rosa: under the radar, outside of the view or control of government, part of the unheralded alternative economic universe of System D.

You probably have never heard of System D. Neither had I until I started visiting street markets and unlicensed bazaars around the globe.

System D is a slang phrase pirated from French-speaking Africa and the Caribbean. The French have a word that they often use to describe particularly effective and motivated people. They call them débrouillards. To say a man is a débrouillard is to tell people how resourceful and ingenious he is. The former French colonies have sculpted this word to their own social and economic reality. They say that inventive, self-starting, entrepreneurial merchants who are doing business on their own, without registering or being regulated by the bureaucracy and, for the most part, without paying taxes, are part of "l'economie de la débrouillardise." Or, sweetened for street use, "Systeme D." This essentially translates as the ingenuity economy, the economy of improvisation and self-reliance, the do-it-yourself, or DIY, economy. A number of well-known chefs have also appropriated the term to describe the skill and sheer joy necessary to improvise a gourmet meal using only the mismatched ingredients that happen to be at hand in a kitchen.

I like the phrase. It has a carefree lilt and some friendly resonances. At the same time, it asserts an important truth: What happens in all the unregistered markets and roadside kiosks of the world is not simply haphazard. It is a product of intelligence, resilience, self-organization, and group solidarity, and it follows a number of well-worn though unwritten rules. It is, in that sense, a system.

It used to be that System D was small -- a handful of market women selling a handful of shriveled carrots to earn a handful of pennies. It was the economy of desperation. But as trade has expanded and globalized, System D has scaled up too. Today, System D is the economy of aspiration. It is where the jobs are. In 2009, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a think tank sponsored by the governments of 30 of the most powerful capitalist countries and dedicated to promoting free-market institutions, concluded that half the workers of the world -- close to 1.8 billion people -- were working in System D: off the books, in jobs that were neither registered nor regulated, getting paid in cash, and, most often, avoiding income taxes.

Kids selling lemonade from the sidewalk in front of their houses are part of System D. So are many of the vendors at stoop sales, flea markets, and swap meets. So are the workers who look for employment in the parking lots of Home Depot and Lowe's throughout the United States. And it's not only cash-in-hand labor. As with David Obi's deal to bring generators from China to Nigeria, System D is multinational, moving all sorts of products -- machinery, mobile phones, computers, and more -- around the globe and creating international industries that help billions of people find jobs and services.

In many countries -- particularly in the developing world -- System D is growing faster than any other part of the economy, and it is an increasing force in world trade. But even in developed countries, after the financial crisis of 2008-09, System D was revealed to be an important financial coping mechanism. A 2009 study by Deutsche Bank, the huge German commercial lender, suggested that people in the European countries with the largest portions of their economies that were unlicensed and unregulated -- in other words, citizens of the countries with the most robust System D -- fared better in the economic meltdown of 2008 than folks living in centrally planned and tightly regulated nations. Studies of countries throughout Latin America have shown that desperate people turned to System D to survive during the most recent financial crisis.

This spontaneous system, ruled by the spirit of organized improvisation, will be crucial for the development of cities in the 21st century. The 20th-century norm -- the factory worker who nests at the same firm for his or her entire productive life -- has become an endangered species. In China, the world's current industrial behemoth, workers in the massive factories have low salaries and little job security. Even in Japan, where major corporations have long guaranteed lifetime employment to full-time workers, a consensus is emerging that this system is no longer sustainable in an increasingly mobile and entrepreneurial world.

So what kind of jobs will predominate? Part-time work, a variety of self-employment schemes, consulting, moonlighting, income patching. By 2020, the OECD projects, two-thirds of the workers of the world will be employed in System D. There's no multinational, no Daddy Warbucks or Bill Gates, no government that can rival that level of job creation. Given its size, it makes no sense to talk of development, growth, sustainability, or globalization without reckoning with System D.

The growth of System D presents a series of challenges to the norms of economics, business, and governance -- for it has traditionally existed outside the framework of trade agreements, labor laws, copyright protections, product safety regulations, antipollution legislation, and a host of other political, social, and environmental policies. Yet there's plenty that's positive, too. In Africa, many cities -- Lagos, Nigeria, is a good example -- have been propelled into the modern era through System D, because legal businesses don't find enough profit in bringing cutting- edge products to the third world. China has, in part, become the world's manufacturing and trading center because it has been willing to engage System D trade. Paraguay, small, landlocked, and long dominated by larger and more prosperous neighbors, has engineered a decent balance of trade through judicious smuggling. The digital divide may be a concern, but System D is spreading technology around the world at prices even poor people can afford. Squatter communities may be growing, but the informal economy is bringing commerce and opportunity to these neighborhoods that are off the governmental grid. It distributes products more equitably and cheaply than any big company can. And, even as governments around the world are looking to privatize agencies and get out of the business of providing for people, System D is running public services -- trash pickup, recycling, transportation, and even utilities.

Just how big is System D? Friedrich Schneider, chair of the economics department at Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria, has spent decades calculating the dollar value of what he calls the shadow economies of the world. He admits his projections are imprecise, in part because, like privately held businesses everywhere, businesspeople who engage in trade off the books don't want to open their books (most successful System D merchants are obsessive about profit and loss and keep detailed accounts of their revenues and expenses in old-fashioned ledger books) to anyone who will write anything in a book. And there's a definitional problem as well, because the border between the shadow and the legal economies is blurry. Does buying some of your supplies from an unlicensed dealer put you in the shadows, even if you report your profit and pay your taxes? How about hiding just $1 in income from the government, though the rest of your business is on the up-and-up? And how about selling through System D even if your business is in every other way in compliance with the law? Finding a firm dividing line is not easy, as Keith Hart, who was among the first academics to acknowledge the importance of street markets to the economies of the developing world, warned me in a recent conversation: "It's very difficult to separate the nice African ladies selling oranges on the street and jiggling their babies on their backs from the Indian gangsters who control the fruit trade and who they have to pay rent to."

Schneider suggests, however, that, in making his estimates, he has this covered. He screens out all money made through "illegal actions that fit the characteristics of classical crimes like burglary, robbery, drug dealing, etc." This means that the big-time criminals are likely out of his statistics, though those gangsters who control the fruit market are likely in, as long as they're not involved in anything more nefarious than running a price-fixing cartel. Also, he says, his statistics do not count "the informal household economy." This means that if you're putting buckles on belts in your home for a bit of extra cash from a company owned by your cousin, you're in, but if you're babysitting your cousin's kids while she's off putting buckles on belts at her factory, you're out.

Schneider presents his numbers as a percentage of the total market value of goods and services made in each country that same year -- each nation's gross domestic product. His data show that System D is on the rise. In the developing world, it's been increasing every year since the 1990s, and in many countries it's growing faster than the officially recognized gross domestic product (GDP). If you apply his percentages (Schneider's most recent report, published in 2006, uses economic data from 2003) to the World Bank's GDP estimates, it's possible to make a back-of-the-envelope calculation of the approximate value of the billions of underground transactions around the world. And it comes to this: The total value of System D as a global phenomenon is close to $10 trillion. Which makes for another astonishing revelation. If System D were an independent nation, united in a single political structure -- call it the United Street Sellers Republic (USSR) or, perhaps, Bazaaristan -- it would be an economic superpower, the second-largest economy in the world (the United States, with a GDP of $14 trillion, is numero uno). The gap is narrowing, though, and if the United States doesn't snap out of its current funk, the USSR/Bazaaristan could conceivably catch it sometime this century.

In other words, System D looks a lot like the future of the global economy. All over the world -- from San Francisco to São Paulo, from New York City to Lagos -- people engaged in street selling and other forms of unlicensed trade told me that they could never have established their businesses in the legal economy. "I'm totally off the grid," one unlicensed jewelry designer told me. "It was never an option to do it any other way. It never even crossed my mind. It was financially absolutely impossible." The growth of System D opens the market to those who have traditionally been shut out.

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."