The underground economy

We live in a world where fringe societies thrive. Beyond the walls of our unfolding lives, there exists another layer, struggling to survive yet another day. From the security of Berlin to a near-untraceable online scourge, from a toothless geezer in Sydney (a friend’s neighbour) to Vietnamese vendors peddling, this hidden economy knows no bounds and hurts legitimate institutions, personas and governments along the way. While there is a lengthy list of black markets, we would focus on five that are familiar to me, either through stories or occasional viewing.

Cheap whites (Ukraine)

I must admit that only a recent viewing of SBS Viceland brought this growing trade to my attention. The episode opened with their guy interviewing this Vietnamese peddler. He showed them where he hid his imported cigarettes, offering them at half the price of their normal market cost. When asked where the tobacco was from, the Viet guy became evasive. So the reporter travelled to Poland, Romania then the Ukraine, attempting to get answers. Apparently, the so-called cheap whites were manufactured from Ukrainian factories. Everyone had a hand in this booming business, from family men to the police, who got decent bribes for their trouble, even local politicians. The ensuing crackdown will see more pressure on the Romanian border, and arrests became commonplace. However, cutting the head of the snake would only bring ten more, and the billions of euros that the industry has given Ukraine, cannot be ignored.

Salmon fishing in Sierra Leone

Let me get this clear: this is not ‘salmon fishing’. However, this market involves trawler fishing and the marginalised small time angler. His SBS show featured a Brit trying to live a day or two in the life of a lowly Sierra Leone fisherman; it doesn’t end well. Big trawlers gobbled up most of the catch, even pelting them with rocks as they ventured into sea. With their rudimentary boat, they had to contend with the waves and daunting rips. In the end, the Pom was grateful for what he had back home.

Recto avenue, Philippines

Recto U (Philippines)

It’s the forgery capital of the Philippines. Whatever you need, in you go. Whether it’s school transcripts, diplomas, or driver’s licenses, you need it, they have it. Governments across epochs have tried to curb this so called Recto University, with little success. An article from years ago showed the police were definitely involved, getting bribes to turn a blind eye. The same article also claimed that the actual vendors got a small cut as opposed to others in the racket. I remember when the dissident (and Pork barrel queen), Janet Lim-Napoles was arrested, some of the announcers were questioning her mugshot. ‘So that’s really Miss Janet Lim-Napoles?’ They asked this over and over. ‘Are we really getting the real deal?’ Someone then said ‘Baka na recto pa ata yan’. (Maybe that got Recto’d.)

Weed plantation (Sydney, Australia)

He was a friend’s neighbour, responsible for the doobie business round the area. The other neighbours on the street were wary of him, saying he and his missus got high. Initially overweight, he lost a ton of kilos upon battling diabetes. Though rail thin and toothless, the dude still managed to do his daily groceries from the local grocer. He’s probably feeding those veggies to his cannabis, I told the former friend. He also liked to ride around in his bike. Weed is a serious thing, with drug busts regularly netting millions in unsuspecting homes. Long as there’s a market to fool, there’s ganja to be sold.


The dark web

This constitutes the most alarming of hidden economies. These sites are beneath the trusty online facade that meets us each time. Remember Silk Road? They were a site where illegal drugs were sold, including the worst kinds. For a fee, there were no limits as to what was on offer. Following the deaths of customers, including an Australian, police zoned in and swooped on the site founder. Yet for every site that gets closed, others will spring up.  

I have shown you five examples of the black market. Whether through prior knowledge, SBS viewing, or from stories, the methods may vary but the toll and damage to human safety is unquestioned. My sincerest hope is that neither of us would venture into the dark side.

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