A 21st Century Introduction to Agorism
Agorism is a practice of civil disobedience through “counter-economics” by which one avoids State harassment and thereby lives a more peaceful and prosperous life.
This is a strategy for living free. By avoiding interactions with the State, and instead partaking in entirely voluntary exchanges and associations with other agorists, we may completely own ourselves rather than have our output of labor and products stolen from by the State.
This reduces our contribution to corruption, bureaucracy, civil rights abuses, and ultimately, WAR.
Stemming from the Greek root word “Agora”, which refers to “outside markets”, these terms; agorism, agorist(s), & counter-economics were coined by Samuel E Konkin III (SEK3) in his New Libertarian Manifesto and further explained in his book The Agorist Primer; Sam also referred to practitioners (agorists) as the “Libertarian Left”, though I reject this arbitrary labeling as I believe that anarchism is not a part of the so-called “political spectrum” nor the false paradigm of “left vs right”.
Many self-labeled “right”-ists also self-label “agorist” and therefore it cannot legitimately be claimed by either/any “side”.
Agorism existed, most likely, since the inception of a State, and certainly long before Konkin created the words to describe it. In his own manifesto, SEK3 gives homage to great libertarian philosophers, as well as the remarkable Austrian School of Economics- he even states that his concepts stem from and requires an understanding of Austrian Economics. These are commonly referred to as “right”-leaning philosophies, in common language and understanding, further proving the inherent contradiction in labeling agorism “left”-ist.
While hero of the Austrian School & juggernaut of anarchist theory Murray Rothbard criticized Agorism as an unrealistic strategy for ending the State’s influence on people’s lives, modern Austrians have slowly been coming around to it’s merits. In Rothbard’s defense, when he made his criticisms, the internet had just barely been invented, was not widely used nor understood, and paradigm-shifting Agorist Apps such as Uber or AirBnB were decades away from inception.
Recently, people have begun to hear of “agorism” and “counter-economics” more and more, with I myself discovering it (separate from Konkin’s writings) in 2014, thanks to Twitter anarchist circles.
In practice, any form of trade can be “agorist” if we remove state influence & interact “under the table”. The collection of “legal” but unregulated products and services is referred to as the “Gray Market”. Using cash, crypto-currency, or “non-profit” “gifting” strategy, and avoiding regulations/licensing/permit requirements, are all examples of gray market activity.
The other, definitely better known, half of “counter-economics” is the “Black Market”; which is a collection of all voluntary human interactions deemed “illegal” by the State. Typically, immediately, and naturally, people think of prostitution, drug deals, and exotic animal products when they hear “Black Market”; However, it can also include “illegal”/unapproved medication markets, such as early AIDS treatment (highlighted in the book/film Dallas Buyers Club), newer yet-to-be-FDA-Approved cancer medications & treatments, as well as unlicensed therapy for such and other ailments.
It can also include 2nd Amendment Practices, in which self-defense is arbitrarily outlawed by the State.
Up until recently, marijuana was completely black, and remains so in many places, including Federally in the USA. Other examples of Black Market Activity from the past that should be viewed as ridiculous today are:
- Helping runaway slaves escape to freedom
- The failed alcohol prohibition movement in early 1900s America
- Being Jewish in Nazi Germany during the Third Reich
- Marrying a partner of the same gender as yourself
These two markets are why the Agorist Flag is a split of Gray and Black.
Gray and Black Markets are not to be confused with the idyllic “Free Market”, which would be completely absent of State influence.
The difference lies in risk.
“Malum in se” v “Malum Prohibitum”
Actions can be wrong because they’re immoral/unethical, & or “wrong” because they’re prohibited.
As Dr. Mark Thornton of the Ludwig von Mises Institute points out in his amazing book “The Economics of Prohibition” (available at mises.org/store) government enforced prohibitions lead to price irregularities. Ironically, if a government bans something, it causes the price of that product or service to go up unnaturally. One of the unintended consequences of this basic economic supply/demand reaction is the increased attraction/benefit to/of trading the banned good or service.
Since the price can be set irregularly high due to the increased perception of risk surrounding it, there’s an added benefit to trading the product or service. Thus, cartels and mafias are naturally attracted to/formed around black market goods & services.
If the State wanted to crush virtually all organized crime in a given area, they simply must lift all bans on the products & services these “criminals” deal in, and open black & gray markets up to full competition. By not doing so, governments essentially garauntee that only “bad” people (who do not fear government retribution) will take the risk to be part of these markets. (The reasons the State does not do so is a topic that could & should be covered voluminously in other essays.)
Again, a full explanation of this can be found in Dr. Mark Thornton’s book The Economics of Prohibition, available at mises.org.
Agorist Economic Theory aside, practically speaking, Agorism is actually very common place. You’ve undoubtedly been an agorist before without knowing it.
It is estimated that in most of the world, the black and gray markets vastly outweigh the regulated “white” (government controlled) markets, in terms of fiscal/economic value. This is most likely due to the extreme level of taxes and fees applied to “legal” transactions (including but not limited to [multiple levels of] income tax, sales tax, property tax, payroll tax, licensing, and annual upkeep/regulation changes, to name but a few).
In some places, over 90% of the known markets are technically “illegal”, but kept away from enforcement by a combination of bribery, stealth, government failure and ineptitude.
- Anytime you go faster than the speed limit, you’re an agorist.
- Anytime you buy illegal drugs (including unlicensed alcohol), you’re an agorist.
- Anytime you pay someone or get paid “under the table” or “off the books an un-taxed wage, you’re an agorist.
- Any time you build an un-permitted structure on your own private property, you’re an agorist.
- Anytime you pay back/get paid back by a friend more than $60 without claiming it on tax records, you’re an agorist.
- Anytime you sell/buy anything on Craigslist or online for more than $60 without claiming it on tax records, you’re an agorist.
- Any time you pay for something or leave a tip in cash (see my article on this topic on FEE) without sales or income tax applied, you’re an agorist.
- Any time you own or do anything forbidden by the State which does not harm anyone else, you’re an agorist.
- Any peaceful, non-violent, entirely voluntary interaction outside of State control is Agorism.
Earlier I mentioned “Agorist Apps”, which is short for “applications”, and refers to smartphone programs which allow one to circumvent the State in some way or another. I’d like to highlight & explain a few here, to show you a very simply way to become (or that you already are) a partial-agorist.
Uber — Though it is now being some-what taxed, the ride-hailing network Uber completely destroyed the State-sponsored and condoned transportation monopoly around the globe. NYC’s yellow cabs, an iconic example, lost an incredible amount of value, as a single example.
The year Uber was released “medallions” which give drivers permission to operate under State-controlled monopolies were valued at over $1,000,000 each. I spoke with a driver in early 2016 who told me they were being sold for as low as $300,000, a +70% drop.
AirBnB — “The Uber of the Lodging Industry” is again, just beginning to be taxed by the State. It allows property owners to rent out unused space in their homes to renters on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. But they will never be able to extract as much value from AirBnBs as they do from traditional Hotels — which typically include a daily tax of +$50 on just the room. This does not include the increase in price caused by sales, property, + income taxes levied on employees, as well as a number of other drives. This high cost of hotels (caused by taxation & [poorly-executed] regulation) is exactly what gave AirBnB it’s niche in the marketplace & allowed it to thrive.
Cell411 — my personal favourite, this app attacks what is perhaps perceived as the State’s greatest (and with great irony, it’s most “natural”) monopoly — that of security.
With this app, everything from guard personnel to fire safety to emergency medical response is available privately and without State interaction.
It has community-watch functions, as well as a guaranteed response & timing estimates. It vastly outperforms State “security” provided by police, who have become more dangerous to the public than those “criminals” they claim to protect it from.
Bitcoin/Crypto-currency — allows for trading while circumventing the all-powerful State monopoly on currency/money.
Money is not evil. It is a means of simplifying exchanges of private property between peaceful individuals in voluntary mutually beneficial trade. Everything from seashells, to copper, to gold/silver, & now even just slips of paper has been used to represent value, and act as money. Virtually anything that is perceived as valuable by more than 1 person may be used as a means to exchange goods more conveniently. This was the original intent of money, which is commonly misunderstood by people who lack basic economic knowledge.
The State, recognizing early on the power of controlling commerce & sucking it dry via taxation, created a monopoly on money to garauntee it’s subjects would have to pay into ti’s ponzi scheme & rackets. It allows them to debase the currency with massive debt, passing the bill to taxpayers. Bitcoin & crypto-currencies allow you to completely circumvent this monopoly, using digital means to transfer value across the globe without detection / theft by government taxation.
Encrypted Communication — This private means of communications allows agorists to avoid the all-seeing-eye of the State’s spy programs. This increases safety of agorists, who might be targeted by the state for their “nefarious” peaceful, voluntary, non-coercive interactions.
Using encryption & crypto-currency allows commerce to go entirely unnoticed by the State. This is the modern day peak of Agorism. You cannot steal from what you don’t know exists. This is how we starve the State.
There are virtually endless applications of agorism, and thanks to the essentially free market of ideas that is the internet, more & more concepts are being developed literally all the time by ingenuis, even unknowing agorists.
I myself have a number of “tricks” up my sleeve, some with real potential if developed, as do fellow agorists such as Roger Ver of bitcoin.com and Vin Armani, who recently invited me on his weekly show to talk about Agorism. Check out that episode here for a discussion on the topic.
I wholeheartedly believe that this practice is a phenomenal strategy for bringing an end to state domination. Truly stateless societies will be wholly agorist, essentially free markets. And we will thrive because we are not suffering the cancer of bureaucracy & legal plunder. By effectively starving the state, we can end it’s ability to harass & steal from us and others.
This process is not only unstoppable, it’s inevitable- given the rate at which technology improves, creating what I call “government obsolescence” is a self-replicating process. Regardless, it’s quite obvious that we can achieve more economic prosperity through these means & methods, which will lead to it’s proliferation, & ultimately, universal adoption as people in the “mainstream” realize the enormous benefits to come from living free.
- Peter Kallman 12/6/16
Thank you in advance for your questions & comments. I look forward to including them in future essays to help more people live free.