Trends that have emerged over the last half century in the developing world and ex-communist markets are remarkably similar to trends that prevailed in Europe when it went through the industrial revolution. The only difference is that during the industrial revolution of the West, the changes took tens of decades to reform society, whilst, in the developing markets of today, those changes have taken place within the space of a few decades and have involved a far greater number of people. All across the developing world, there are glaring examples of countries where urban centres have swelled to the extent of bursting at the seams.
Haphazard occupancy of urban land through slums and illegal construction has tossed these cities into a whirlwind of problems. Many governments have started reacting by tearing down rows of illegal housing, clearing up markets off illegal vendors, formalizing mass transit systems, offering debt facilities to the poor and reigning down hard on smuggling and other illegal activity. To many people these issues seem to be the main issues that are challenging economic prosperity. However, the flipside of the argument suggest that clearing up these problems will only treat the symptoms of the problem but not the problem itself.
What we see happening in the 3rd world today is what the West went through over a two century period. These problems were the side effects of burgeoning economic activity which manifested itself in unscrupulous forms since the formal establishments spat them out and in ways encouraged them to form an extralegal economy. In the West these symptoms were treated with medicine that aimed to cure the problem. A formal property representation system was the catalyst that provided hordes of individuals the ability to integrate themselves into the formal economy.
Failure to recognize this is the first blind spot that developing world governments face. The second blind spot is the failure to notice that this is only a repeat of history and the benefit of hindsight can lead us to tested solutions. Cities across the developing world are not only burgeoning in size but have developed massive underground economies, where the extralegal economies are flourishing. Mostly, outpacing legal economies and fuelling national economic growth through the demand for materials. Peru is an example where construction in the formal sector stagnates as the extralegal economy booms.
Growing cities are a tell-tale sign of industrialization. Moreover, there has been a dramatic increase in migration, as people travel from rural areas in search of a better standard of living. Improved transportation and communication networks have made this easily possible. However, just like it happened in the West, the formal setup has rejected these immigrants and made it not only far too time consuming, but also too costly to integrate into the legal establishment, thus forcing them to develop a parallel structure.
Whilst the extralegal economy has its own costs of staying out of the legal net, it has still grown tremendously and has become powerful enough to throw its weight around. In fact in some countries they have become the predominant economic system. If governments fail to accept these extralegal economies as a reality and do not absorb them into the legal establishment they will suffer the same revolt that Russia and France faced. Law must be adapted as it was in some parts of West to integrate the extralegal world into legal society. Once this is done, countries will be able to release their true potential and realize their economic strengths.