“You can be convicted of violating laws that don’t exist – as plenty of ‘tax criminals’ have been. Ask the IRS for copies of the laws you’re allegedly breaking and they’ll respond with legalistic gobbledegook. I have a friend who once testified as an expert witness in a tax case. Her expertise? Grammar. On the stand, she diagrammed a mega-monster sentence from the tax code and proved the alleged regulation couldn’t be obeyed – because it literally had no meaning in the English language. Still, people get arrested for disobeying it…[b]ottom line, you’re no longer a law-abiding citizen. There are too many laws to abide. And it doesn’t matter whether they call’em laws, rules, regulations, or something else altogether. You break them altogether. With laws like these, who even wants to be a law-abiding citizen?”
Following up on the New Libertarian Manifesto, SEK3 elaborates upon agorism as a libertarian strategy, which hinges upon letting the black market choke the State into a well-deserved abolition. Setting the tone for the rest of this primer, Konkin defines agorism thusly:
“Agorism is the consistent integration of libertarian theory with counter-economic practice; an agorist is one who acts consistently for freedom and in freedom.”
By firmly insisting upon ends-means consistency (aka, integrity), SEK3 advocates for grey & black market trading as the means for achieving personal liberty. Unfortunately, if people aren’t willing to abstain from political crusading (as the voluntaryists demand is the minimum baseline for anti-political activity), then they sure as hell ain’t ready for agorism.
Elaborating upon the topics Konkin brought up previously, he formulaicly demonstrated how to calculate black market risk as an equation:
“Counter-Economic Payoff = profit minus loss = (promised price) minus (cost minus overhead) minus ((Penalty or Fine) x (probability of arrest) x (probability of conviction))”
This means that if the payoff is high enough to absorb the costs of both production and “enforcement,” then it’s viable, but if not, then it’s better to abstain. In terms of rough estimates, SEK3 said:
“Let’s say the government claims it catches 20% of those doing what you want to do. If you are caught, the penalty would be a (maximum) fine of $50,000 or six months in jail. Your ‘downside’ risk, then is 20% of $50,000 or $10,000. In this example, it would not be worth it: to gain $5000 but risk losing $10,000.
“If the apprehension rate were 10% and the fine $25,000, then your risk would be $2500 for a gain of $5000. As is obvious, you could get caught one time in ten, pay off your fines, and still come out way ahead…[a]ssume that the retainer to your lawyer raises your overhead $1000 per transaction. Now your payoff is $4000, but the conviction rate (with plea bargaining and court delays) is only 20%…[n]ow your risk, using our first figures, is 20% of 20% of $50,000, or $2000. With a payoff of $4000, a loss of $2000 would deter few entrepreneurs.”
Obviously, this is all assuming there is a reliable way to gauge apprehension in the first place. Crime statistics only tell you who was caught (arrested, jailed, prosecuted, convicted, etc.), not the commission of actual crimes, which are grossly underreported, as any criminologist worth their salt knows. Until this key element has a reliable solution, then gauging the likelihood of apprehension (gaining a criminal record and/or “enjoying” the legal handicap of becoming and being a felon, etc.) is pure guesswork, at best, and is therefore not very realistic for black market entrepreneurs of any kind at all.
I thought SEK3 did a beautiful job simplifying the key foundational ideas of the Austrian school of economics. For instance, he said:
“Value is subjective. This simple insight, made by Carl Menger (teacher of Von Mises), revolutionized primitive economics and cured many of the problems plaguing the science since Adam Smith. Had Marx heeded Menger, socialism would have been abandoned. Subjective value leads to individualism.”
Truer words have seldom been uttered, in my not-so-humble opinion. Also lovely was this gem:
“Subjective value may lead us to think we would prefer producing some goods rather than others, or transporting them, trading them, serving them, or storing them. Yet it is marginal utility which tells us why this specialization works…[t]his process, where we led to specialize by greater productivity and greater reward (value-seeking), is called division of labor.”
In other words, the very enjoyment of potato chips debunks socialist central planning. Let’s say you like sour cream & onion flavored chips; by the time you are halfway through the bag, then those chips don’t taste nearly as good as the first few handfuls you already had (if anything, this reasoning makes a compelling case for self-regulation of one’s appetite; that is, portion control so as increase physical fitness, but I digress). Therefore, the satisfaction of uneasiness (like hunger) can only be accomplished through individuals discovering, experimenting, and perfecting how they can best serve their fellow man through voluntary exchanges of property and labor. As Konkin succinctly put it:
“If Jane sings beautifully, and we do not, division of labor is why I’m writing this book, eating your hamburgers, and we’re listening to Jane on the radio.”
Combining this observation with an earlier example showing how the law of comparative advantage is pivotal for understanding human action, SEK3 wonderfully details the basics of the Austrian school as a primer all unto itself.
Building upon the phases of the agorist revolution from the manifesto, SEK3 explains how agorism can be both vertical and horizontal:
“The path from the agora now becomes blindly obvious. As more people reject the State’s mystifications – nationalism, pseudo-Economics, false threats, and betrayed political promises – the Counter-Economy grows both vertically and horizontally. Horizontally, it involves more and more people who turn more and more of their activities toward the counter-economic; vertically, it means new structures (businesses and services) grow specifically to serve the Counter-Economy (safe communication links, arbitrators, insurance for specifically ‘illegal’ activities, early forms of protection technology, and even guards and protectors). Eventually, the ‘underground’ breaks into the overground where most people are agorists, few are statists, and the nearest State enforcement cannot effectively crush them.”
Between the two, I prefer vertical agorism because I have little desire to proselytize that black is beautiful to individuals within the servile society who are hostile to my values, yet, I am interested in how to best the develop the agora successfully; put another way, horizontal agorism depends upon the innovations of vertical agorism (“if you build it, they will come”). Konkin adroitly observed that:
“The State has guns and men to use them. As we have seen, however, it not only can fail to coerce a rebellious majority, it cannot even stop an enterprising minority of black marketers and other Counter-Economists. The State must be defeated in each person’s mind. Once you personally reject its hold over you, you are as free as your intelligence, your will to take risks, and the aid of your allies can keep you…
“What may be needed – in addition to spreading the word and living it – is some form of agorist psychology. Perhaps we can use the examples of therapy for childhood mistreatment or consciousness-raising groups for feminists, gays, and other obviously oppressed groups. We can all get together in small affinity groups of trusted friends and allies to dig our contradictions out of our unconscious. We can flush out the State from our heads by ourselves or together or both ways.”
Essentially, this is the beginning of what could become a pragmatic way to revoke what Objectivists describe as the “sanction of the victim” (or what egoists refer to as exorcising the collectivist spooks from your head). Of course, I’ve already begun strategic withdrawal by cancelling my voter registration, but removing the aforementioned sanction is certainly easier said than done, and I agree with Konkin that it merits further investigation on its own merits, although I think Étienne de La Boétie provides a decent enough starting point, especially regarding voluntary servitude.
Samuel Konkin’s An Agorist Primer: Counter-Economics, Total Freedom, & You is an enlightening work that ties in libertarian theory with market practice. An audiobook version was made by Shane Radliff and yours truly in the hope that more people would become exposed to agorism as a viable strategic alternative to political crusading while they commute to work and/or while they exercise. Reiterating much of what was mentioned in the manifesto, SEK3 also said:
“Free means the absence of coercion. Coercion is threatening violence upon someone in order to make him surrender something. In a strictly value-free sense, then coercive human action offers to create a greater disvalue to you if you do not yield up your lesser value. You gain nothing but lose less.”
Much like Rayo, Konkin was emphasizing the reality here of legal plunder. Personally, I think the most efficacious approach in developing vonumy is through vertical agorism; although most publicly avowed agorists are engaged in horizontal agorism (which I’ll even admit is rather quite strategic for them to do) such as through waving agorist cardboard protest signs (given the lack of a street protest, it might as well be a form of culture jamming), yet, ultimately transitioning from a low density agorist society into a mid-density, small condensation agorist society is going to require the development of infrastructure that is independent of the statist control grid rather than just simply proselytize the “faith,” as it were.