The “Black Market”; From “Market Ouvert” to the “Silk Road”….

The “Black Market”, a term used now to cover the sales of goods or services that are illegal, it is implicitly the actual sale of the goods and not necessarily the goods themselves that are illegal. This forms a third of the overall market area: White [the legal market for goods and services ], Grey [is the trade of a commodity through distribution channels which, while legal, are unofficial, unauthorized, or unintended by the original manufacturer.] and the Black market. From the research I have done the black market can be considered to have existed as long as the white economy has, and it is generally considered by economists to have around 1.8 billion people employed in it worldwide.

Whilst it is obvious that a black market has existed as long as someone has wanted something that is either legally unobtainable or regulated to the extent that it is difficult to obtain through proper channels. For the sake of brevity my article only goes back as far as is practical and to what I consider to be the origins of today’s “Black Market”, this in my opinion is around the 15th century when the Market Ouvert; “Open Market” or “Thieves Charter” was introduced, which allowed the sale of stolen goods as long it was within a set market space, and between set times, this is presumably from a period when people did not travel; if the victim of a theft did not bother to look in his local market on market day—the only place where the goods were likely to be—he was not being suitably diligent. This sale in a designated market meant that provenance could not be questioned and effective title of ownership was obtained. No doubt things that were heavily taxed were smuggled we know this for fact, and these items, such as brandy or port, or spices that evaded the excise men were sold for an inflated price on the “Black Market”, as well as goods purloined from ships coming into harbour that found their way into the local economy.

From this we move forward to the era of rationing, which contrary to most peoples belief that it started in the early days of WW2, whereas in fact rationing was first implemented in 1917, with the blockades of WW1, the UK came to within 6 weeks of running out of food, and in a considered measure implemented rationing in 1917 with butter and sugar remaining rationed until 1920. The days of WW2, the first commodity in this era to be rationed was petrol with more goods coming quickly under DORA, [the Defence Of the Realm Act] officially titled the Emergency Powers Act. The effect of increased rationing of items created a vacuum of goods in society and this therefore created a “Black Market” for goods in wartime Britain. Commodities such as petrol, sugar, butter etc. were traded in the black market, as well as coupons, forged and genuine, as well as poached items such as game, or trout.

This today has led to a “Black Market” of illicit goods, such as pharmaceuticals, and counterfeit clothing amongst other things, and more recently has lead to the growth of an internet “sub-net” black market ebay, called “The Silk Road” which operates on the seedier underbelly of the internet in the “dark net”, users use an onion router (so called because of it’s many layers of encryption), to access a virtually untraceable market place where users can purchase anything from drugs, to guns, to counterfeit documents. It has recently been cracked down on with sophisticated techniques being used to trace those within. Is this the end of the “Black Market”? Almost certainly not, although it could well mean there will be a new push to a different way of trading. There you go a short, and rather rough history of the black market in the UK, but I consider that other nations have probably followed suit in the way their black markets have evolved.



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