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The Lowdown on the Black Market

Business
The Lowdown on the Black Market

The black market is a marketplace for anything and everything illegal; from counterfeit goods such as watches and pharmaceutical drugs to smuggled guns and stolen art pieces. Since the trade is often conducted out of sight and often “in the dark,” it is also called the “underground market.”

Black markets arise when people want to exchange goods or services that are prohibited by the government. It can and it does exist everywhere, however, it tends to persist more in states or countries with heavy regulation. As a result of growing market demand as well as strict government policies, black markets get created.

Probably, the most famous black market ever created was the bootlegging of alcohol in America in the early 1920’s, as a result of the prohibition. After alcohol was banned in the U.S. in 1919, it was smuggled into the country and sold at speakeasies and private bars. It gave rise to an era of organized crime and an estimated $500 million of lost tax revenues annually.

What Can You Buy in the Black Market?

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Anything that is highly regulated or completely banned can show up in the underground economy. As such, numerous types of goods and services are available in the black market.

While some goods are intuitive like illegal drugs and designer knockoffs, you’d be surprised to know that more serious and lesser-known black markets are operating in a large scale and scope worldwide. These organizations sell goods such as human organs, endangered species, warfare, and even, babies and slaves.

Here’s a short inconspicuous list of the most widely traded goods in the black market.

Illegal Drugs

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Despite the health risks associated with illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroine, consumption is widespread globally. As such, many people continue to use illegal drugs, and a black market exists to supply them. According to the UN, “The global drug trade generated an estimated $321.6 billion in 2003. With a world GDP of $36 trillion in the same year, the illegal drug trade may be estimated as nearly 1% of total global trade.”

In addition to illegal drugs, unregulated prescription drugs and narcotic painkillers also contribute to the billion dollar business. That is the primary reason why oxycodone and other prescription pain medications continue to be the most abused drugs, with more than 4,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2010.

Prostitutes

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In most countries across the world, prostitution is illegal. As such, prostitutes on the black market generally operate in secrecy. In order to keep their cover, they usually negotiate prices and come into agreements using only code words and subtle gestures. Despite its illicit nature, an underground economy for prostitutes is booming because of the consistent high demand from customers as well as the relatively high pay that awaits low-skilled workers.

Prostitution is definitely far from being glamorous, but a lot of women and even, men, succumb to this livelihood because it’s “easy money.”

Weapons

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For safety purposes, the legislature of many countries forbids the personal use and ownership of weapons. As such, the black market supplies the demands for weaponry that cannot be obtained legally, or may only be obtained legally after obtaining permits and paying fees.

Sellers source their goods by smuggling from other countries or by using insiders to steal from arms manufacturers based in their countries.

Sperm

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While it seems unimaginable, there is a lucrative market for sperm. That’s because the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, enacted in Canada in 2004, prohibited paying donors for their eggs and sperm, leading to shortages in many sperm banks across Canada. As such, more than 90% of the semen used for artificial insemination is from back-alley sperm deals, which is definitely illegal, or from profit-based sperm banks in the United States, which is also considered illegal.

Breast Milk

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Many women, after giving birth, produce much more milk than their new baby will realistically need. Some women pump it out and sell it online, earning as much as twenty grand in a single year. While there are technically no legal provisions against the selling of breast milk, the FDA is concerned with the safety and handling of the milk. As such, this is a completely unregulated market conducted over the Internet.

Organs and Tissues

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Though the organ and tissue donation market is highly regulated in most countries, shady dealings between human organic traffickers is not unheard of. That’s because as long as organ donation is in decline in first-world countries, citizens of impoverished nations have no other means to make a living but to sell one of their organs on the black market. In India, the price of one kidney is valued at $800.

Copyrighted Media

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In countries where there is very little enforcement of the copyright law, counterfeiting is very prominent. As such, there is proliferation of pirated films, music CD’s and computer software such as video games, sometimes even before its official release, on the streets.

Since little effort is required to duplicate CD’s and DVD’s in bulk, counterfeiters can make a few hundred dollars making copies here and there. In addition, the widespread availability of cracks and serial codes on the Internet for copy protection technology make this illegal activity very cheap and easy to operate.

Exotic Animals

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Since the market value of goods skyrocket once a species is doomed to extinction, animal poachers greatly take advantage of this expected market behavior. They hunt exotic animals such as elephants, tigers, rhinoceroses and tortoises for their tusks, horns, fur and other body parts.

The trade also includes the smuggling of wild animals such as rare birds and reptiles for hundreds and thousands of dollars.

Crude Oil

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Since big players monopolize the world oil trade, prices are always in constant flux. This is the prime reason why governments place strict regulations on the trade and distribution and oil. As such, black market thieves sabotage the oil pipelines to get their hands on crude oil and sell them by the barrel in unrestricted markets. Crude oil can be sold for less than half the market price, especially at times of record-high oil market prices.

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