Robert Neuwirth on the Power of the Informal Economy

In the video below, Robert Neuwirth talks about “System D,” the informal, untaxed and undocumented economy found across the world but expecially in developing economies. His comments brought a couple of points regarding Brazil to my mind.

First, the Brazilian government is working to bring the “informal” economy into the formal. There are various incentives and (so I’ve been told) more fiscalization. It’s clear that the government is missing out on a great deal of tax revenue in this sector of the economy, and I suspect it’s all the more urgent as the bloated Brazilian beaurocracy has to make up for cuts that have been made to payroll and other taxes of late.

Second, Mr. Neuwirth’s mention of mobile tech reminded me of how easy it is to have a cell phone in Brazil. Knock-off feature phones can be had for around US$50 or less, and pre-paid sim cards are sold not only in stores but at newsstands and even at cafes and newsstands.

Those random thoughts now stated, take 12 minutes and listen to Robert’s talks on the world’s informal economy. It should not be ignored.

Book Review: Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me: A Memoir. . . of Sorts

“Home is not just a place; it’s a knowing in the soul, a vague premonition of a far-off country that we know exists but haven’t seen yet. Home is where we start, and whether we like it or not, our life is a race against time to come to terms with what it was or wasn’t.”

A month or so ago Jamie Arpin-Ricci recommended the book “Jesus, My Father, the CIA…and Me” by Ian Cron. It was very engaging and took less than a week for me to read.

If you’ve ever seen A Christmas Story you’ll recognize the tone and style of this book. I don’t think this is any accident. Jean Shepherd, the writer of A Christmas Story, had a late night radio show broadcast out of Greenwich Village in New York when Ian Cron, the author of this book, was a child. Late into the night Ian would listen to Jean and draw some sort of encouragement from him. One night, after Ian’s parents failed to show up at an important school event, Ian says that Jean even saved his life. He was close to downing a bottle of pills and ending it all when Jean’s program came on, and Jean announced that childhood is miserable. When the program ended, Ian put the unopened pill bottle away.

This book is the honest, even gritty story of the youngest child of an alcoholic. Ian’s father was indeed an on-again, off-again CIA agent, and the “off-again” part seems to have had a lot to do with his alcoholism. Raised attending a Catholic school and attending Mass, there were inklings of spiritual awakening at times in Ian’s rough childhood. From his first communion:

“He placed the Host on my tongue and put his hand on the side of my face, his fat thumb briefly massaging my temple, a gesture of blessing I did not see him offer to any of my other classmates. And I fell into God. I have spent forty years living the result of that moment.”

This path of finding and following God wound through missteps and outright errors. Ian rejected the God who seemed unconcerned with his troubles, yet continually stumbled into situations where God’s had or at least his touch were evident.

It seems to me incredibly difficult for a man to know about God without the example of his father. Although my own dad was not religious in any discernible way, I can be thankful for his stability and dependability. I suspect that man of the house has a far greater impact on the spiritual life of their children than most really grasp (and I realize that this is considered politically incorrect to say nowadays).

“A boy needs a father to show him how to be in the world. He needs to be given swagger, taught how to read a map so that he can recognize the roads that lead to life and the paths that lead to death, how to know what love requires, and where to find steel in the heart when life makes demands on us that are greater than we think we can endure. 

Boys without fathers, or boys with fathers who for whatever reason keep their love undisclosed, begin life without a center of gravity.”

There is quite a bit of entertainment to be had in Mr. Cron’s memoir as well, such as his description of the time he found some old road flares in the attic.

“There is a feeling that comes over eleven-year-old boys when they stumble on such treasures. Their faith in God trebles. I knew deep in my soul that Jesus himself had blessed me by letting me find these incendiary devices, and that they were to be used to advance his purposes in the world—namely, my social rehabilitation.”

Jesus, My Father, the CIA…and Me” is a book I looked forward to getting to read, and regretted having to put down to do something else. Ian Cron’s childhood with an alcoholic dad and struggle to find faith is something with which many can relate due to those specifics, but which also can engage a wider audience. Ian’s story is a very human tale of hardship, recover and interaction with the divine.