Saturday, November 12, 2005

An inside look at some informal economies

Q: You've done most of your research in Russia.
What did you find?

A: That Russia is basically a developing country.
That the peasants survived not through socialism,
but through the informal economy. We explored
this by winning the confidence of the peasants. I
don't believe in doing research by going to a
village, filling in a questionnaire and driving
away. They always laugh as you leave because of
all the lies they've told. My researchers lived
in their villages for eight months. They were
under orders not to do anything for the first two
months, just to be recognised as human beings. I
told them to bring water from the well for an old
woman, to gossip in the village about the price
of bread. That's all.

As they began to trust us, we looked at the real
economics and politics of the villages, not what
they said in Moscow or what the leaders in the
villages said. We learned that about 50 per cent
of their economic activity was unofficial. In the
beginning they feared we might use the information
in a way that would prejudice them. In the end
they told us the truth.

Coming soon to a village near you, I expect.

Full interview.