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Anyone who’s ever downloaded a song with Grokster, or purchased a handbag that’s not quite Louis Vuitton, may experience a certain amount of guilt while reading Mois�s Na�m’s new book on illicit commerce. He compellingly argues that illegal trade represents a real threat to global stability, and that grand crimes and petty ones are far more intertwined than most people realize. Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats Are Hijacking the Global Economy is the latest book from Na�m, the editor of Foreign Policy magazine and a former minister of industry and trade for Venezuela. With great clarity and brevity, he maps the main areas of illegal international commerce today, from the terrifying (arms shipments) to the mundane (designer knockoffs). Though some of Illicit’s assertions and condemnations are too broad, the book is lucid, intelligent, and sometimes chilling. At its best, it offers a tantalizing glimpse of the shadowy world that exists around us every day, not quite invisible but rarely so clearly seen. Na�m argues that illegal trade has existed as long as laws have been around to be broken. However, illicit commerce today is different because globalization has made it exponentially easier and more profitable, especially in the past 15 years. Illicit commercial networks and merchants also have more power than ever because of what Na�m sees as the weakening of “nation-state” authority. Governments are destined to lose what enforcement strength they still have, he argues, unless they engage lawbreakers on their own terms. He argues for the legalization of drugs and certain other underground products, for example, on the basis that some forms of illegal trade can be better regulated than stopped. When it comes to trade, Na�m writes that the world is best characterizedin terms of “dark” and “bright” zones. In bright areas, trade is mostly legal, enforcement is accurate, and corruption is low.In dark zones, illegality has much freer rein, and contraband of every type is readily available for purchase to those who know where to shop. Dark zones exist in every country, to a greater or lesser degree. (As Na�m points out, Manhattan has been one since the Dutch landed and shows no sign of ceasing.) Illicit swiftly sketches the changes that have made more of the globe “dark.” Most of us don’t think of the ATM machine as a tool for quick and efficient money laundering, but it is. The process of changing dollars to euros, or sending money to an operative half a world away, is now instantaneous through global banking networks. Few people will be in a position to assess the accuracy of Na�m’s estimates about the scale of global illicit trade. As the author admits, the underground business sector is so murky and quick-changing that hard data is nearly impossible to come by. However, at times some of Na�m’s estimates seem especially speculative. For instance, the author relies heavily on a New York Times series on sex trafficking in Southeast Asia to support his descriptions of the practice. Many people have contested the Times series in considerable detail, but Na�m neither offers a defense of its claims nor acknowledges the controversy. Also, Na�m tends to condemn all illicit trade with equal severity, whether the illegality in question is child prostitution in Thailand or “Kate Spade” bags being sold on Canal Street in Manhattan. Differences between the moral weight of the crimes are acknowledged, but more or less in passing. The author sharply criticizes British musician DJ Dangermouse for his unauthorized Grey Album, which combined the lyrics of rapper Jay-Z with music from Beatles songs. Yet the sale of nuclear materials by Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan to would-be terrorists is handled far more calmly. Na�m ends with a look at possible solutions to the problem of illicit trade. This chapter is both convincing and depressing, since the solutions call for the kind of radical new thinking that governments are slow to embrace. But if Na�m fails to offer more concrete suggestions, that’s not a failure of his book. Legitimate and corrupt trade are laced together, Illicit makes clear, and cannot be easily unstitched. Vincent is a former staff reporter at The American Lawyer, a sibling publication of Corporate Counsel.

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