I explore here the dialectic of formal and informal economy in the context of 'development' dis-course over the last four decades. It would not be hard, in post-colonial Africa for example, to conceive of this dialectic as a war waged by the bureaucracy on the people, allowing informal economic practices to be portrayed as a kind of democratic resistance. Yet, however much we might endorse the political value of self-organized economic activities, there are tasks of large-scale co-ordination for which bureaucracy is well-suited; and the institution's origins were closely linked to aspirations for political equality, even if historical experience has undermined that ex-pectation. So the task is not only to find practical ways of harnessing the complementary potent-ial of bureaucracy and informality, but also to advance thinking about their dialectical movement. Informality may be conceived logically in terms of four categories: division, content, negation and residue. Neoliberal globalization has vastly expanded the scope of informal activities; so that we also need to examine what social forms positively organize them and how these relate to govern-ments, corporations and international agencies. The current crisis of world economy has already begun a major swing of the pendulum back from the market to the state (wherever that may be these days). The political potential of our moment in history is well illuminated by a review of how the major development agencies have variously construed the dialectic of bureaucracy and informal economy through the state/market pair since the concept's origins around 1970.