Underworld, Inc., National Geographic’s series inspired by The Misfit Economy, is now on the air


What do pirates, terrorists, computer hackers and inner city gangs have in common with Silicon Valley?

Innovation. The Misfit Economy is a book published by Simon & Schuster that explores stories of incredible human resilience, self-sufficiency and surprising innovation in the informal economy. The Misfit Economy documentary series gave rise to National Geographic’s Underworld, Inc., exploring the motivations of gray market innovators while asking the questions traditional economists often leave unanswered.  Why is a significant portion of the world’s commerce “off the books?”  What drives those who innovate in the underground?  And how do gray market economic networks operate differently than formal systems?

Misfit innovators operating outside of the formal economy are a vital part of our global history, and they play a defining role in our economic future: by 2050, one third of the world’s workers will be employed by the informal economy. Even today, the annual income of informal markets across the globe totals a staggering USD 10 trillion. Through the eyes of Mumbai gangsters, Shenzhen copyright infringers, Mongolian smugglers and Somali pirates, audiences get an intimate look at the characters driving complex global underground networks.  We find that the world’s “bad guys” are often the drivers of social and technological change — and that the distinction between good and evil in the global economy is not as clear as one might think.

Photos by Shreya Goswami and Laura Gamse.