The Straight and Narrow

"Lessons are not given, they are taken."

—Cesare Pavese

Although subtitled The Invisible Revolution in the Third World, Hernando de Soto's The Other Path is as much revelatory as revolutionary. For one who has grappled with the problems of Third World development, seeking to define and articulate a certain truth sensed to be hidden beneath the muck of pseudoscientific political economic theory, The Other Path is a profoundly refreshing exposition of reality. But perhaps of greater importance, it is a moving testament to the indomitable spirit of the common man.

While The Other Path is a worthy account of the grass-roots entrepreneurs of Peru, it could just as easily be a study of the "black market" or informal economic sector anywhere in the world. Immense underground economies exist in countries as diverse as the Soviet Union, Italy, and Nigeria—places where, de Soto says, "underdevelopment was not a problem of people but of the system." In a general sense, the problem in Peru as elsewhere is the state, or, more specifically, an archaic and unbelievably byzantine legal system crafted to protect the interests of the elite and punish those seeking upward mobility by making them outlaws. The black market is therefore a natural means of remedying an unnatural denial of...

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