Troubling and comprehensive examination of the post–Cold War explosion in illegal commerce.
Editor of Foreign Policy magazine, Naím offers a sweeping survey that's light on anecdote. He argues that “since the early 1990s, global illicit trade has embarked on a great mutation.” He explores how political changes coupled with unrestricted technologies and free-market expansion had the unforeseen effect of making the international trade in contraband more profitable than ever. Naím discusses underground markets in weapons, drugs, human beings, counterfeit products and more. The author points to the seepage of criminality into society, represented both by well-heeled Westerners who love buying bootleg DVDs and fake purses, and by the structural transformation of criminal syndicates from cartels to networks. There is also talk of al-Qaeda: Naím argues that illicit trade both nurtures stateless terrorists and ties them to transnational money-laundering, illegal drug producers (as in Afghanistan) and corrupted elements within states like Pakistan and China, where members of the military are known to underwrite slave-labor counterfeiting operations. Naím terms this the “criminalization of the national interest.” He depicts the response of law enforcement as provincial, outmoded and bureaucratized, and he urges greater cooperation among competing intelligence services.
A strong overview for those interested in globalization's darker side, but less vivid and dramatic than other books on the underground economy, such as Charles Bowden's overlooked Down by the River (2002).