A black market, underground economy, or shadow economy
is a clandestine market or transaction that has some aspect of
illegality or is characterized by some form of noncompliant
behavior with an institutional set of rules.
Whenever the black market is mentioned, most people have different ideas about what it’s actually like; especially those who have never contributed to the sales or consumption of illegal goods or services. As a kid, I imagined the black market was an open-air market-type setting with lots of vendors in ski masks, selling military grade weaponry and explosives from fruit stands inside an enormous warehouse crawling with armed guards – perhaps in the middle of an otherwise empty desert in a foreign country.
I also saw Jim and Nancy (a middle-aged Caucasian couple from the suburbs I’d made up for imaginary scenarios such as this) walking down the aisles, loading their shopping cart with sniper rifles and landmines, chatting about the great deal Fred and Amy (their imaginary suburban neighbors) got on their rocket launchers last week. I was a kid, okay? I had a very active imagination. I had to draw my own conclusion of what this “place” was like since no one actually knew, and it was rarely discussed.
Naturally, most adults would be uncomfortable explaining human trafficking and organ sales to an 8 year old, and they likely have no idea how or where to begin. One might be inclined to tell a child that the black market is a bad place where bad people go to buy bad things, and that explanation may or may not be far from the truth. I’d never put a lot of thought into it, assuming that nothing like this could possibly exist in the happy and wholesome USA , so I’d never even have to worry about it.
As I got older and began observing how the world actually worked, I realized two things about the black market: it was not just a place, but many small places, and these places were everywhere, including all over my benevolent and utopian country.
“The only difference between what I do, and what black market crime lords do, is my business model and methodology.”
The black market was at my friends houses, at the neighborhood bar, and in my sophomore math class. Eventually, it made its way into my own home. It became apparent that the black market wasn’t necessarily bad, it was just illegal. I believe that one of the main reasons it’s perceived as such a horrible thing is because of the illegality. Human trafficking and all of the other blatantly terrible fuckery aside, you can actually buy the same shit you can get at Walmart. I’m not kidding. Among the items that are most frequently purchased on the black market: baby formula, human hair, and of course near the top of the list – drugs, all kinds.
Most of these things are perfectly legal on their own; even the drugs. Baby formula? Supermarket. Human hair? Beauty supply retailer. Drugs? Pharmacy. To clarify, some of the drugs available on the black market are actually pharmacological substances that are legal to purchase with a legitimate and valid prescription, some of which are necessary for some individuals to maintain their quality of life, or to simply just not fucking die. Medications for the treatment of diabetes, arthritis, HIV/AIDS, congestive heart failure, cancer, and any other disease, dysfunction, and disorder can be purchased on the black market.
[[It is at this point, I realize how incredibly incriminating my browser history must seem. I risked my IP address getting flagged and my computers getting seized for this research so you don’t have to. #Sacrifice.]]
So why the hell would someone risk incarceration for buying something illegally if they could buy it legally, and likely, much easier somewhere else? Simply put, this shit is fucking expensive. Those of you with children – without any sort of welfare or financial assistance, will understand that baby formula alone can drain your bank account.
One newborn can run through $50-$200 of formula per week depending on brand, size, and frequency of feedings and special dietary needs. Those who choose to opt for all natural human hair in lieu of animal or synthetic hair for their wigs and extensions can expect to spend a cool $200 and up for just the hair itself. It’s a lot more when you include the salon charges for application and styling they’ll receive later.
Necessary drugs required to sustain life can run thousands and thousands of dollars monthly, if not weekly. I can’t think of a single fucking person that thinks this is okay; I’m sure Bill Gates himself would be astounded with the prices that these drug companies are charging.
What exactly am I getting at here? Well, I suppose it would boil down to this: living life by the books and obtaining necessary goods and services legally – money, food, utilities, clothes, repairs, plus living within a justifiable, barely comfortable means, costs more than an average millennial can afford on their own. My rent, utilities, and other bare necessities are cheap, relative to most people I know, and I still can’t fucking afford it.
I don’t have the time, energy, or patience to get another-other-other job. So I found a simple, practical, illicit money-making solution in what little spare time I have and became a Black Market vendor. Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy. I’m a Jack-of-all-trades. I’m your local stylist, mechanic, computer technician, teacher, taxi, and all around favor-doer.
The only difference between what I do, and what black market crime lords do, is my business model and methodology. My “business(es)” is/are illegal because of the laws surrounding certifications and taxes. I try to avoid causing harm to anyone at any point for any reason – I’m trying to help those who can’t afford to go the legal route. The only real reasons what I do is illegal are because I’m unlicensed and uninsured, so if I fuck your shit up, I can decide whether or not I want to fix it or make it your problem, and 2.) I’m not reporting my income for taxation purposes, because everything I do is under the table, and Uncle Sam isn’t reaping his fair share of my work.
I charge what I feel is a fair amount, depending on the person I’m dealing with, and what type of work I’m actually doing. Ladies, try going into your local salon and asking for a wash, cut, color and style, with nourishing conditioning treatment for $100 flat, no tip. Gentlemen, call up the garage across town and tell them you need a fuel pump replaced and an A/C charge, but you absolutely cannot spend more than $250 out the door.
On the grander scale of the black market, people get hurt all the time. Common, legal goods (such as the baby formula and prescription drugs) are typically stolen en masse, or manufactured by a 3rd party, which means they may or may not be the real thing, and then sold for pennies on the dollar. What you’re putting in your body – or your baby’s, for that matter, could be straight off the shelf you buy it from every day: Vendor steals $30 container of formula from Walmart, sells it to Mom for $15 – Vendor makes a clean, clear $15, Mom saves a few bucks, Baby gets fed. On the flip side, Vendor obtains protein powder, or mixes up their own concoction of something passable for formula, raids local recycling center for formula containers, fills the containers and sells them cheap – Baby gets hella buff, but Baby also gets sick.
Also awful about the black market in the big picture: people – living beings – are purchased, sold, and used like any other common object. The buyer can do with them as they so please, because they now own that person. Adults and children are kidnapped and sold to be used as sex slaves or indentured servants; women are attacked and subdued by a group of assailants, while one cuts their hair off at the scalp to sell for big money.
There are no doubt many terrible things about the black market: movies make jokes about people waking up in a bathtub of ice: sick, battered, and missing a kidney, but that’s actually a thing that happens. Exotic animals are another hot commodity. They’re subjected to horrible treatment and living conditions, often starved, abused, and killed in the most inhumane ways imaginable. All for the sake of someone using their parts for decoration, clothing, or medicines. Even those kept alive and purchased as pets will endure hell on earth until they die, or are killed by animal control.
Yes, I risk arrest and incarceration on a regular basis in the name of making ends meet. I don’t have crates of pygmy marmosets in my closet, nor pounds of methamphetamine buried in my yard; I’m not going to sell you a human liver in an Igloo cooler. I will, however, freshen up your ‘do and fix your brakes for much less than you’ll pay mostly anywhere else. While most judges won’t so much as bat an eye at someone working on their buddy’s car, it’s still technically criminal activity. The size of the crime and number of victims doesn’t matter to Johnny Law, or to future employers who can see your criminal records. A crime is a crime, regardless of whether or not you were just trying to feed your family, or can’t afford to have your car repaired. Big Guy or Little Guy, I’m still a Bad Guy.
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Riley is a writer, and an epitome of a paradox- You can read her exclusively at The Underemployed Life.
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