“Liberty depends on laws and their interpretations, and so is easily destroyed…laws and their interpretations often change…Big Brother already has 60 million laws and regulations or so. If all laws were consistently enforced, almost every man, woman and child would be in prison for one or more violations. But Big Brother can only extort so much taxes to hire bludg and build spy devices. And taxes are already to – or beyond – the point of diminishing return. Each additional rule to be enforced means existing rules get enforced less.”
Agorism, simply defined, is a libertarian strategy that seeks to abolish the State through grey and black market trading. Etymologically, the very word “agora” means an open marketplace; in other words, an unlicensed, unregulated, untaxed, laissez-faire freed market. Samuel Edward Konkin III (aka, SEK3) birthed agorism in 1980 with the publication of the shortest manifesto I’ve ever read to date.
Much like voluntaryism, agorism shares with it a firm anti-political stance. SEK3 described the variety of statist counterattacks:
“The State’s Higher Circles were not about to yield their plunder and restore property to their victims at the first sign of opposition. The first counter-attack came from anti-principles already planted by the corrupt Intellectual Caste: Defeatism, Retreatism, Minarchy, Collaborationism, Gradualism, Monocentris and Reformism – including accepting State office to ‘improve’ Statism! All of these anti-principles (deviations, heresies, self-destructive contradictory tenets, etc.) will be dealt with later. Worst of all is Partyarchy, the anti-concept of pursuing libertarian ends through statist means especially political parties.
“A ‘Libertarian’ Party was the second counter-attack of the State unleas[h]ed on the fledging Libertarians, first as a ludicrous oxymoron, then as an invading army.
“The third counter-attack was an attempt by one of the ten richest capitalists in the United States to buy the major Libertarian institutions – not just the Party – and run the movement as other plutocrats run all the other political parties in capitalist states.”
In other words, failed strategies like political crusading (aka, bullshit libertarianism), as well as the anti-libertarian LP and the infamous Kochtopus, are all statist counterattacks against genuine libertarians. Anyone who advocates on behalf of these nightmares is either stupid or evil; if the latter, they are evil because they truly want to destroy any realistic chance for liberty during my lifetime, yet, if they are the latter, then they are so cognitively impaired that satyagraha appears practical by comparison.
I appreciated SEK3 providing an overview of restitutive justice without the State. As he said:
“Nowhere in agorist restoration theory do the thoughts of the aggressor enter into the picture. The aggressor is assumed only to be a human actor and responsible for his actions. Furthermore, what business is it of anyone else what anyone thinks? What is relevant is what the aggressor does. Thought is not action; in thought, at least, anarchy remains absolute.
“If you sit up in shock to find I have crashed through your picture window, and then made sure everyone will continue to live, you don’t particularly care if I tripped and fell through while walking by or I engaged in some act of irrational anger jumping through or even whether it was a premeditated plan to distract protectors across the street from noticing a bank heist. What you want is your window back pronto (and the mess cleared). What I think is irrelevant to your restoration. In fact, it can be easily demonstrated that even the smallest expenditure of energy on this subject is pure waste. Motivation – or suspected motivation, which is all we can know – may be relevant to detection and even to prove plausibility of the aggressor’s action to an arbitrator if there may be two equally probable suspects, but all that matters for justice – as a libertarian sees is – is that the victim has been restored to a condition as identical as possible to pre-harm. Let God or conscience punish ‘guilty thoughts.’”
As perhaps the best repudiation of the legal doctrine known as mens rea I’ve ever read, Konkin lays out beautifully how it’s conceivable that the judicial branch of government could effectively become privatized. Extending beyond Gustave di Molinari’s private production of security services, Konkin simplified anarchistic property restitution (based upon the work of earlier theorists) and incorporated it into his strategy for abolishing the State.
Counter-economics is the means of agorism. As SEK3 wrote:
“An explanation of how people keep their wealth and property from the State is then Counter-Establishment economics, or Counter-Economics for short. The actual practice of human actions that evade, avoid or defy the State is counter-economic activity, but in the same sloppy way ‘economics’ refers to both the science and what it studies, Counter-Economics will undoubtedly be used. Since this writing is Counter-Economic theory itself, what will be referred to as Counter-Economics is the practice.”
Simply put, all counter-economic activities are either illegal or legally vague. This is because the counter-economy is not just black markets, but also grey markets too. In a footnote, Konkin distinguishes between black and grey markets thusly:
“While some coercive acts are often lumped into the label ‘black market,’ such as murder and theft, the vast majority of ‘organized crime’ is perfectly legitimate to a libertarian, though occasionally unsavory. The Mafia, for example, is not black market but acts as government over some of the black market which collects protection money (taxes) from its victims and enforces its control with executions and beatings (law enforcement), and even conducts wars when its monopoly is threatened. These acts will be considered red market to differentiate them from the moral acts of the black market which will be discussed below. In short, the ‘black market’ is anything non-violent prohibited by the State and carried on anyways.
“The ‘grey market’ is used here to mean dealing in goods and services not themselves illegal but obtained or distributed in ways legislated against The State. Much of what is called ‘white-collar crime’ falls under this and is smiled upon by most of society.
“Where one draws a line between black and grey market depends largely on the state of consciousness of the society one is in. The red market is clearly separable. Murder is red market; defending oneself against a criminal (when the State forbids self-defense) – including a police officer – is black in New York City and grey in Orange County.”
In turn, what the agorist theory of the five markets essentially says is that:
- The red market is composed of those immoral and illegal activities (like murder, theft, rape, and slavery),
- The pink market are those actions which are immoral yet legal (such as war, taxation, and imprisonment),
- The white market are those regulated and taxed “above-board” occupations,
- The black market are those banned ethical activities (including some types of weapons, drugs, and sexual acts), and finally,
- The grey market are those unregulated, untaxed, and legally vague or presumably legal acts.
These five markets (of sorts) give an idea for how to accurately conceive different forms of human action. In terms of the practicality for counter-economic behavior, Konkin observed that:
“According to the American Internal Revenue Service, at least twenty million people belong in the ‘underground economy’ of tax evaders using cash to avoid detections of transactions or barter exchange. Millions keep money in gold or in foreign accounts to avoid the hidden taxation of inflation.”
So, this would imply that not all counter-economic activity is about earning profit (or making a livelihood), but also keeping and saving what you’ve accumulated. SEK3 also detailed that:
“Since the 55 mph speed limit enacted federally in the U.S., most Americans have become counter-economic drivers. The trucking industry has developed CB communications to evade state enforcement of regulations. For independents who can make four runs at 75 mph rather than three runs at 55 mph, counter-economic driving is a question of survival.”
Obviously, these truckers are making money (as opposed to the average commuter’s version of counter-economic driving known as “speeding”), but Konkin’s insight here is valuable regarding the likely profitability of breaking the government’s laws. In a footnote, he says:
“An example of how this works may be helpful. Suppose I wished to receive and sell a contraband or evade a tax or violate a regulation. Let’s say I can make $100,000 a transaction.
“Using government figures on criminal apprehension, always exaggerated in the State’s favor simply because they cannot know how much we got away with, I find an apprehension rate of 20%. One may then find out the percentage of those cases that come for trial and the percentage of those that result in a conviction even with a good lawyer. Let’s say 25% make it to trial and 50% result in a conviction. (The latter is high but we’ll throw in the legal fees involved so that even a decision involving loss of legal costs but acquittal is still ‘loss.’) I therefore incur a 2.5% risk (.20 x .25 x. 50 = 0.025). This is high for most real cases.
“Suppose my maximum fine is $500,000 or five years in jail – or both. Excluding my counter-economic transactions (one certainly cannot count them when deciding whether or not to do them), I might make $20,000 a year so that I would lose another $100,000. It’s very hard to ascribe a value to five years of incarceration, but at least in our present society it’s not too much worse than other institutionalization (school, army, hospital) and at least the counter-economist won’t be plagued with guilt and remorse.
“So I weigh 2.5% of $600,000 loss or $15,000 and five years against $100,000 gain! And I could easily insure myself for $14,000 (or less) to pay all costs and fines! In short, it works.”
Quite literally, SEK3 explains here how to calculate a cost-benefit analysis so as to perform a risk assessment. Given the old adage, “Don’t do the crime if you ain’t willing to do the time,” agorism is not for the risk adverse, yet unlike satyagraha, agorism is not a implied suicide pact, either. The idea here is to live free in an unfree world, not to throw yourself upon the gears of the State so you can be ground up into a pasty mush.
Towards the end of his manifesto, SEK3 outlined how the agorist revolution towards abolishing the State could develop. He envisioned four distinct stages, one of which he describes thusly, in part:
“The first counter-economic libertarians appear in this phase and the first serious splits in the Libertarian movement occur. Since few libertarians are very consistent yet, deviationism will run rife and tend to overwhelm activism. ‘Get-Liberty-quick’ schemes from anarchozionism (running away to a Promised Land of Liberty) to political opportunism will seduce the impatient and sway the incompletely informed. All will fail if for no other reason than Liberty grows individual by individual. Mass conversion is impossible…[t]he strategy of the first New Libertarians is to combat anti-principles which strengthen the State and dissipate anarchist energy uselessly. The general strategy outline[d] previously applies; get libertarians into counter-economics and get the most active of the agorists to get counter-economists into libertarianism.”
Described as a low-density agorist society, it is this stage I think “we” are now in. Like it or not, there are agorists currently in existence, so now their main task is to develop enough to where their capabilities might be said to coalesce into a mid-density, small condensation agorist society.
Fictional portrayals of agorism have begun to really take off in noticeable ways. Alongside Night is truly the first agorist novel without question (not to mention its later comic book, audiobook, and film adaptations!). #agora is the first agorist novella and An Agorist Anecdote is, to my knowledge, the very first agorist short story. Naturally, I wouldn’t be surprised if later entrepreneurs came along and developed the first agorist album, the first agorist (theatrical? musical?) stageplay, the first serialized agorist television series, or even the first agorist video game!
SEK3’s New Libertarian Manifesto is truly a groundbreaking work in the history of libertarian thought becoming purposefully strategic. There are also audiobook versions by both Mike Gogulski and John Lothe (no offense to Gogulski, but I prefer Lothe, whom I believe puts James Earl Jones to shame). Similar to vonu, agorism was formulated as a response to institutionalized coercion, for as Konkin said:
“We are coerced by our fellow human beings…[c]oercion is immoral, inefficient and unnecessary for human life and fulfillment…[t]o combat coercion, one must understand it. More importantly, one must understand what one is fighting for as much as what one is fighting against…[l]ibertarianism elaborates an entire philosophy from one simple premise: initiatory violence or its threat (coercion) is wrong (immoral, evil, bad, supremely impractical, etc) and is forbidden; nothing else is. Libertarianism, as developed to this point, discovered the problem and defined the solution: the State vs the Market. The Market is the sum of all voluntary human action. If one acts non-coercively, one is part of the Market.”
This is a decent explanation for the non-aggression principle (NAP); to paraphrase Mike Zentz, agorists are those individuals who truly practice living by the NAP, as opposed to libertarians and anarchists who simply either believe or understand it, respectively. Konkin’s formulation of the agorist strategy provides a way out of the servile society that also uniquely contains the potentiality for ending statism forever.