Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Defense of Agorism as a Consistent Strategy of Counter-Economics and Libertarianism

Recently, an Alliance agorist comrade wrote a piece asserting that the freed market, counter-economics, and agorism were one and the same, an unfortunately common and growing misconception. While I've been constantly opposing it, with Xaq Fixx, and hope to put it to rest here, this misconception has only occurred due to the rapid advance of agorist ideas via the internet; this misconception is one I'd much prefer to the wasteland that SEK3 and his cadre dealt with. Yet, it is a dangerous one that easily undermines the revolutionary nature of the strategy and should not be allowed to continue.

Most of the post I'm responding to deals with extraneous personal drama issues, but the issue I take on here begins in the paragraph, "Dr. Block, with his book Defending the Undefendable, points out that the societal miscreants..." Shortly thereafter, it is claimed that the free market is what agorism is about. Mike Gogulski is discussed, Mike claiming that to practice agorism is with the intention of weakening the state through market interactions. At this point, the the author, Harry Felker, disagrees and begins the elucidation of his perception of agorism. This is done via a hypothetical discussing the illegitimacy of property trespassing despite the complication of a non-understood language being used to warn one away from the property. I believe most propertarians would agree that such an action, as Harry correctly claims, would be illegitimate, even while lamenting the unfortunate nature of the miscommunication. And finally, Harry asserts his thesis that, even without knowing who Samuel Edward Konkin III is or what agorism and counter-economics are, one still undermines the state by their inability to be tracked or taxed.

To this, I agree. This is one reason agorism is so beautiful: the use of counter-economic tactics to destroy the state. This has been demonstrated through history, the most well-known example being the collapse of the Soviet Union due to the nalevo growing to such a size that there was far too little economic plunder to sustain the imperial statists. I do fail to see the logical connection between the thesis and the preceding statements intended to support it. It seems more a stating of "this is how it is", yet lacking support. The hypothetical dealt with lack of knowledge yes, but it was a vague, general example with no applicability to agorist theory. Instead of drawing a specific lesson from the hypothetical, another general lesson was attempted to be extracted.

Yet, there is more! To the crux of my objection, "These people are still removing funds from the regulated marketplace and taking it for a time out of government hands, if these people are free market heroes without any knowledge of the fact, how are they not agorists without knowledge of such?" This is then followed throughout the post by other rephrasings labeling agorism as merely counter-economic activity. As this is the point I object to most, I'll deal with it now and let these following references and arguments stand in rebuttal to any further writings conflating agorism with the counter-economy. I do not deny that they are free market/counter-economic heroes, but an agorist is more than a practicing free marketeer, more than a counter-economist. Allow us to examine the writings of the creator of agorism, Samuel Konkin III, hereafter known as SEK3:

  • "Agorists: counter-economists with libertarian consciousness" - Page 3, New Libertarian Manifesto
  • "While Counter-Economics is part of agorism (until the State is gone), agorism includes both Counter-Economics in practice and libertarianism in theory." - Footnote 1 to the above quote, New Libertarian Manifesto
  • "Finally, when libertarian theory meets Counter-Economics, what comes out―in strict consistency, both external and internal―is Agorism. This is still another definition. And this is the definition with which I feel most comfortable, the one that the thieves of the intellect find hardest to pervert or steal: Agorism is the consistent integration of libertarian theory with counter-economic practice; an agorist is one who acts consistently for freedom and in freedom." - Pages 12-13, An Agorist Primer
  • "Remember always that agorism integrates theory and practice." - Page 13, An Agorist Primer
  • "All (non-coercive) human action committed in defiance of the State constitutes the Counter-Economy." - Page 40, An Agorist Primer
  • "Counter-Economics is application. People have discovered and acted in a Counter-Economic way without understanding what they are doing, why they are doing it, and even denying that they are doing it at all." - Page 46, An Agorist Primer
  • "The basic premise of agorist thinking is that Counter-Economics has failed to free society because Counter-Economics lacks a moral structure that only a full-blown philosophical system can provide....Where Counter-Economics is application without theory, Libertarianism is theory without application." - Page 53, An Agorist Primer
  • "It would appear that there is a natural affinity between the philosophers of freedom and the practitioners of Counter-Economics." - Page 56, An Agorist Primer
  • "The Third Axiom of Agorism: the moral system of any agora is compatible with pure libertarianism." - Page 73, An Agorist Primer
  • "Counter-Economics is the study and practice of the human action in the Counter-Economy. The Counter-Economy is all human action not sanctioned by the State." - Page 7, The Last Whole Introduction to Agorism

Now, considering that SEK3 founded agorism, how can one argue with his clear, repeated definition of agorism by merely stating that it is something else?

But can't counter-economists end the state on their own? Why do we need a libertarian consciousness? Even I admit that counter-economists can end the state on their own. But look at the Soviet Union. What exists now? Statism, run by different people. Why? There was no education spreading anarchist schelling points among the counter-economists to prevent the desire for a new state. There were no wealthy, influential agorist businessmen, particularly in industries such as justice, protection, education, media, or communication and transportation infrastructure, to use their influence and business to prevent the rise of a new state. Furthermore, it is not unimaginable for counter-economists, destroying the state unintentionally out of trying to survive under the tyranny, to use the new state to their advantage against others in order to grow their business(es) stronger, therefore becoming the new corporatists.

Agorism seeks to destroy this cycle through both educating directly and indirectly through the demonstration of providing voluntaryist solutions to social problems historically, and constantly failingly, left to the state's aggressively violent means. Agorism also fosters the growth of the counter-economy and agorist businessmen in having their influence and businesses compete against any emergent state and squash it in the marketplace due to the efficiency of the freed market over the violently, bureaucratically wasteful state.

Why does this matter? Why is this misconception so dangerous to the revolutionary nature of agorism? If one redefines agorism as purely counter-economic tactics, one has removed the ethical libertarian consciousness behind the agorist counter-economics and made them like any other counter-economist. It is no longer action intended to end the state, as Gogulski pointed out. The lack of libertarian consciousness undermines the state without the necessary anarchist education or creation of influential agorists in key industries in order to prevent the rise of a new state.

Now that I've dealt with the major point that I find so objectionable, allow me to move on through the article, skipping repeated sections I've already rebutted where agorism is redefined as merely counter-economic activity, "To claim one is required to think like an agorist to practice agorism makes the claim that a market outside of regulation and taxation requires much book study and planning, I find this preposterous." One must think of freedom in a consistent manner, combining theory and practice, yes, but that doesn't make the claim that the counter-economy requires much study and planning. If anything, it means the opposite because there is less regulation and taxation to study! But being an agorist does mean having and following libertarian ethic as part of a cohesive system to end the state.

The following two paragraphs deal with the issue of drug prohibition and red market actors, falsely labeled as black market actors, desiring the state's continued prohibition for business, such as the drug cartels. I would like to quickly deal with this smaller point through some clarification. Black market actions are those which are entirely banned by the state, but still ethical. Red market actions are those actions forbidden by the state, whether completely banned or only partially, which involved unethical actions, such as aggressive violence. Therefore, the issue of drug cartels seeking to retain the state's existence is not, as implied, counter-economic for, if you reread the Konkin quotes above, you will note that the counter-economy is voluntary action prohibited by the state. Red market actors are not part of the counter-economy due to their non-voluntaryist aggressive violence.

So, to recap, let us acknowledge that, based upon SEK3's own writings, the writing that founded the strategy, agorism is a cohesive system combining counter-economic tactic with libertarian non-aggression ethics. To redefine agorism as counter-economic tactic is to make it devoid of its revolutionary nature to end the state and risks repeating the constant cycle of states dying and arising. And to redefine agorism as only libertarian non-aggression ethic is to avoid the tactics that can end the state. Agorism is about both tactic and theory, to act and think consistently for libertarianism, for the revolutionary goal of a market anarchist stateless society.


  1. Excellent elucidation, Ethan! I've encountered far too many individuals (champions and critics alike) who are deeply confused about the perversity represented by "agorism" divorced of libertarian principles. Thank you for pointing out that agorism is NOT just any counter-economic activity, devoid of morality or goal; but rather the consistent practice of radical libertarianism with the formation of a free-market stateless society as its ultimate goal.

  2. An oppressive -- even a totalitarian state -- can tolerate a thriving black market; in fact, there is an argument to be made that since command economies violate fundamental economic laws and create massive misallocations of resources and consequent underproduction of anything people want and need that a thriving black market is actually an enabler of the above-ground oppression. The way Mafioso and drug lords buy off law-enforcement officers and judges regularly is a testament to the symbiosis between an oppressive state and a criminally-run black market.

    What takes counter-economics out of this paradigm as a strategy for freedom, and Agorism out of this paradigm as a social movement, is that bringing morally self-conscious actors into the black market brings arbitral dispute settlement and stable predictability into the equation, and enables the expansion of markets by drawing new capital into the underground economy that would normally avoid such high-risk investments.

    Bringing law and order to the black market is what makes CounterEconomics distingishable and possible from the normal criminal-run "black market" -- or, to use Samuel Edward Konkin III's distinction, the "red" market.

    The market is only truly "black" -- run under the black flag rather than the jolly roger -- when underground markets are more lawful than the capricious and tyrannical rules of the aboveground economy.

  3. A new development is the actual emergence of what Alvin Toffler called "prosumption" (production for one's own consumption) in his 1979 book, The Third Wave.

    The Open Source Ecology guys at were voted top Green Project by the DIYers at Make Magazine for their Global Village Construction Set.

    Their ambitious plan is to live a comfortable high tech lifestyle using free open source software and hardware designs, local resources for everything, with the lowest overhead possible.

    Widespread adoption of their methods, if proven successful, will remove the need for taxable income and it should work on cheap land with very little property tax.

    The final result may be the utter smashing of the State without much in the way of smuggling or immoral shenanigans.

    That would be a real treat.

  4. OSE is a gray market project already. It's also a principled activity, if not specifically possessed of "libertarian consciousness" then of something very near to it. Avoidance of taxation and regulation is an explicit part of their strategy. They are a very good example of an "unknowing agorist" - one with both counter-economic means and ethical consciousness.