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System D: The Gray Economy

System D: The Gray Economy

System D is the underground or gray economy where approximately 20% of the world’s population works and is about 20% of the world’s total economic activity.

The term System D is adapted from the French word débrouillard. A débrouillard is a resourceful and self-reliant person that can figure out how to get what they need regardless of the obstacles. It was born from the mistrust of outsiders “etrangers” in medieval France when there was a real fear of trusting others for help. It possibly explains the against-the-grain French way of doing things which at times is not understood by foreigners. Interestingly there are few Frenchmen débrouillard from the past 50 years as the former French Colonies of Africa and Asia produce the débrouillards of today.

The obstacles in the gray economy are usually the laws, price controls or taxes put in place by the state.

A decade ago, The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), estimated that around 1.8 billion people had unofficial jobs generally unregulated, untaxed and unbanked. The gray economy provides for a lot of débrouillards in this world.

Much of System D (débrouillards) are by circumstance rather than choice. Some live in countries like Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Central African Republic or Nigeria where the only way to buy the goods and services they need is by breaking the law. Venezuela is a great example. Consumer basics like food and medicine are no longer available in stores or pharmacies. The only way to get them is through System D.

Most of us have participated in System D transactions, whether we were aware of it or not. If your neighbor fixes your car and you slip him something, you’ve participated in the gray market. Or if you pay your handyman, housemaid or landscaper with cash. And there’s no guarantee the seller you bought from in the outdoor market reported their income. When you are hungry and stop on the road to buy food from the women in her food stand; System D!

Governments hate gray markets because they can’t control them.

Even though governments blame the gray market for their economic woes, ironically, débrouillards may be the reason their economies are doing well. Now, we also know that there is a dark side containing crimes including human trafficking, drugs, weapons, cybercrime, hackers, fraud, counterfeiting, etc. all have a part of the gray market economy. Many of these débrouillards are master criminals, ruthless scammers, heartless killers, drug pushers, etc.

This is where the gray market turns into black-market activities with its newest version the DarkWeb. This is the newest growth area for criminals. The DarkWeb is an area of the internet invisible to most search engines, except through specialized browsers where illegal transactions are carried out in cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.

Governments focus on black markets as there are identifiable victims, but they knowingly include the gray market here as they seek control of markets, taxes, and information on everything you do. They want us to see gray and black as the same, we must not fall for that propaganda. System D activities involve voluntary transactions between willing buyers and willing sellers who are basically off the governments' grid.

This includes our financial industry which the government regulates and has made them the watchers and data repositories of all that we do with our earnings. The banks also see a great opportunity in closing out the gray markets. Today they miss out on deposits, loans, insurance, mortgages, investments, etc. because the gray markets operate without the friction of bankers. Bankers are full partners with governments to push the often-draconian measures that are forced on small business and individuals. All in the name of protecting us from criminals they have injected themselves completely into the privacy of our finances. These rules and regulations are made to keep all of us in line with the perfect cover of fighting crime for our protection.

The UnBanked don’t need Banks!

I like the carefree sound and friendly reassurance of this phrase. At the same time, it is an important truth: All the Unbanked needs is a way to pay and get paid that is easy and inexpensive. Banks and credit card providers cannot do this, and it would not be profitable for them if they did. They are not here to help low-income people. They are here to expand their business into a new demographic. They see about 2 billion people that they are not collecting fees from and what a growth area that potentially is. The problem for these people is that if they make $100 in a month and the credit card companies get there 2% to 3% and the cost of having a bank account is a few more percents, it sounds small. What it means is that these people will be working 2 to 3 days each month just to pay these seemingly small fees. This is criminal and no morally sound person should let this happen.

What happens in the gray market is not simply by chance. It has intelligence, resistance, organization, group cooperation following thought out but unwritten rules making this a system, System D.

System D offers the opportunity for many people to be productive and take care of their families. No job-cutting, factory moving or offshoring your job here. Rather, a street market boasts dozens of entrepreneurs selling similar products and scores of laborers doing essentially the same work. Even in the most difficult and degraded situations, System D merchants are seeking to better their lives.

While the governments together with the banks claim to be in favor of and to support free markets, they think things work better, with trade barriers, phony tax cuts, fake money, fake interest rates, regulations, controls, etc., but they can’t, Governments are lending fake money at fake rates, the banks get their fees and big corporations earn fake profits and buy back their own shares with free money. People are starting to realize that government produced money is worthless and that value is in real historic holders such as gold, silver, land, etc. They want to believe that we don’t see or are not smart enough to know, but the gray market continues to grow.


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Chris Principe

Chris Principe


APB, Inc.

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15 Nov 2008



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