The "real economy"
My thinking around the economy is centred on the consumer. It's probably not really an economy, but just the production process. Still, I'll call it an economy because the production/consumption duo seems to harness so much of an economy's energy.
The first step is resource extraction. This might be agriculture, mining, forestry, fishing. All of those things where we go out and extract resources from the environment. The value of these resources is typically low, and very rarely reflects their full environmental value.
The next step is refining the resources. So wool is classed and washed, ore refined into metal, wood milled into timber or woodchip and so on. The point is that the resource is made more pure.
The purified resource then explodes into an almost limitless array of manufacturing, combined with all sorts of other materials in potentially many different steps that span the world, leading eventually to products.
The products are marketed, packaged, marketed, distributed, marketed. Purchased.
All the way along this process, labour and knowledge is added. The output of each step is typically more valuable than the constituent parts. In fact, I think that is pretty close to a fundamental requirement. Items become more valuable as they move through the process.
The products are consumed. At this point, the materials stop increasing in value. In fact, the materials reverse their value proposition and become waste. Waste comes at a cost to the holder.
Conventional logic sees waste then handled to minimise this cost. Dumping, landfill, incineration. It is all an extension of the conventional logic. The conventional economy.
The shadow economy
What I see as the shadow economy, perhaps the mirror economy, is the creation of a whole system to un-produce products.
The "waste" is first undistributed. It is collected from consumers in various guises, different levels of sorting, processing and consolidating depending on the product.
Then comes the un-manufacturing, where the materials are extracted from the un-products. This might happen in one step, or many. It eventually leads to a purified resource. Resource extraction can stop.
I see this as a shadow economy because, for it to fully unflower, it requires the depth of activity that characterises the "real economy". It requires entrepreneurs to be permitted to pursue ever increasing levels of refinement in activity. And it requires the dead hand of cheap waste disposal to be lifted.
The shadow economy needs the clever marketers, clever lawyers, clever engineers, clever salespeople, clever entrrepreneurs. In short, it needs all of those people who make the "real economy" so vibrant. It needs government to take a light but firm touch, mainly to free the shadow economy from disposal thinking, but otherwise to get out of the way.
It is a beast of such simplicity in its underlying rules, but unflowering into such complexity and beauty in its final form, that the shorthand of a shadow economy doesn't really do it justice.