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Agorism is a politicoeconomic philosophy proposed by libertarian author Samuel E. Konkin III. It is loosely related to anarcho-capitalism – which advocates for the elimination of the State in favor of individual sovereignty in a free market – and market anarchism and free-market anarchism, which advocate for the replacement of the State with a competitive market of private security-, justice- and defense-provision organizations.
The goal of agorism is to bring about a society in which all interaction – especially economic exchange – is free, voluntary, and either unregulated or self-regulating. The word “agorism” is derived from the Greek “agora”, meaning an open place; in the socioeconomic context, an open place for social assembly and trade.
Agorism and the various stateless forms of capitalism have a primary objective in common. They desire that all social and economic interaction be self-regulating, that all interaction be unregulated by irrelevant external actors, and that all choices be made freely and voluntarily by individual actors. According to Ayn Rand’s definition of laissez-faire capitalism, all property would be owned by private actors in a capitalistic social system.
In both statist and stateless forms of capitalism, private actors have the right and responsibility to regulate their own interaction, often – though not always – through the agreement to the terms of a mutually-binding contract, usually enforced by a mutually agreed-upon party. In statist capitalism, that party could be either the State, or various State-approved organizations such as courts of private law or private insurance companies. In the various stateless capitalisms, that party could be any person, business, or agency, such as a private defense company or a dispute-resolution organization – or D.R.O. – which is like a private-sector version of a judge or a court of law.
While agorism does not abhor the conditions of the various stateless capitalisms, agorism does not specifically mandate that all property be owned by private actors. The crucial difference between agorism and statist or state-neutral capitalism is revealed most clearly and explicitly in the writing of J. Neil Schulman, who integrated the idea of “counter-economics” into Konkin’s original conception of agorism.
In counter-economicist agorism, the very definition of the free market is expanded upon to include those economic activities, exchanges, and interactions which are not just unregulated, but also those interactions which are explicitly prohibited by law – in other words, regulated out of legality.
In this paradigm, illegal – or black-market – activity, as well as hidden, underground, or under-the-table – or grey-market – activity, become integrated into the greater realm of free-market activity. A further extrapolation of this concept of counter-economicist agorism gives rise and credibility to the notion that entities within the black and grey markets can and should be trusted, contributed to, invested in, and grown, until their ability to wield power and authority increases to such a degree that they become strong and viable enough to challenge, defeat, and replace the current overarching monopolistic governmental authority.
In a counter-economicist agorist society, only those interactions by the black and grey markets which remain peaceful and voluntary are considered part of the free market, and any black or grey market interaction which become violent and coercive are no longer considered justified. Due to this fact, precisely how black- and grey-market entities with the intent to refrain from engaging in coercion in order to affect their ends may come to defeat and replace a violent, coercive government is unclear. Granted that this defeat must be nonviolent, perhaps it is to be assumed that the defeat may be compared to the outcome of an electoral victory, in which votes are measured by monetary contribution, investment, and fidelity to markets. However, agorism does advocate the use of violent, forceful action against the State if and when necessary, but mostly for the purposes of self-defense, and in dire circumstances in which the self-preservation of the movement is threatened.
19th-century French economist C. Frederic Bastiat and his ideological heir Gustave de Molinari formulated visions of laissez-faire capitalism which, in later iterations of the ideas outlined by other philosophers, such as Stephen Pearl Andrews and Paul Emile de Puydt, came to be described as “panarchism” or "pantarchism". Those words mean “the system of the rule of all”; implying an equal authoritative legitimacy of all sovereign actors, or sovereigns. In proposing a system in which individuals are free to choose who governs, represents, protects, and defends them, the goal of Molinari was to create a "free market in governance". This would prohibit any single provider of security, justice, and / or defense from wielding legitimate authority to coerce any individual to submit to it.
Examples of sovereigns which may have equal authority in a panarchistic society include – but are not limited to – agents of governments, professional mercenaries, volunteer soldiers, police officers, private defense agencies, private security guards, bouncers, bodyguards, violent drug lords and pimps, and any individual persons asserting their own will and ability to defend themselves and their own possessions.
Uniting the concepts of the free market proposed by the panarchists, Konkin, and Schulman results in a hybrid philosophy which may be termed “panarchistic counter-economicist agorism.” Under such a system, any combination of sovereigns – be they agents of governments, professional mercenaries, volunteer soldiers, police officers, private defense agencies, private security guards, bouncers, bodyguards, violent drug lords, violent pimps, or individual persons defending themselves – may freely choose to either unite in the name of liberty and deregulation in order to overthrow the State, or to compete against one another as well as against the State in providing defense, justice, and / or security to individuals.
Admittedly, panarchistic counter-economicist agorism is a distortion of original agorism, which, by its own principles, is ideally nonviolent and non-coercive, but many of the aforementioned actors whom oppose the State but adopt its violent and coercive methods may lend at least sympathy to the agorist movement. To lend material support would mean to continue their free-market action while renouncing violent and intimidating tactics (with the exception of self-defense, and possibly in the event of a crucial moment in which the movement has the opportunity either to seize power from the State or to ensure free competition with it).
The above paragraphs outline several combinations of how an attempted agorist revolution may be interpreted and carried out. While each combination pursues the goal of attempting to undermine the State's ability to coerce, some may merely undermine the State's monopoly on legitimate initiative coercion. This means that an agorist revolution which decides that it should revise its tactics to include violence in order to overthrow the State would undermine its own goals in doing so, and that it would itself become another agent of coercive repression, similar to the State that it attempts to undermine. However, to admit this would amount to conceding that the State does not act coercively, which goes against the agorist criticism of the State as inherently violent.
Critics of agorism often cite as a major complaint and worry that attempted agorist revolution would merely lead to a more dangerous, polarized society, and would cause an already radicalized criminal class to become more willing to exercise violence and coercion, when eliminating all coercion was the original goal of the free market. Furthermore, critics argue that such action by uniting sovereigns would only challenge and incite the State to crack down harder on the free market with harsher violence and more stringent regulation.
If, under current societal conditions, we were to convert to pure agorism – especially a panarchistic formulation thereof – instantaneously, we would likely see total disaster. The military apparati would be funded, run, and staffed, as they – for the most part – are now; by corporations and by private interests. Mercenary militarism would run rampant. Law-enforcement agencies would be run by private companies as well. Government agents, warriors, security guards, bouncers, bodyguards, police officers, violent drug lords, violent pimps, and private citizens with lethal weapons would challenge one another’s authority by conquests of brute strength and might.
This would likely cause different camps to emerge, as each individual who doubted his own ability and / or willingness to defend himself would feel compelled, in such a dangerous climate, to choose which of the aforementioned sovereigns could be trusted best to protect and defend him and to afford him justice. There would be chaos; a private tyranny regulated only by the savage natural forces of competition.
Technically, this outcome would accomplish the goals of a panarchistic formulation of agorism, if only for those who would remain successful in protecting their own lives and property. But preparation for the prospect of violent revolution is not the only way that nearly perfect panarchistic agorist goals may be achieved.
I believe that nearly perfect panarchistic counter-economicist agorism may be achieved through gradualistic libertarian reform, rather than through relying on private military, defense, security, and justice-provision, and law-enforcement agencies as well as on career criminals to protect and defend us against the State and against other sovereigns whom would seek to do us harm.
Under the idealized libertarian society envisioned by such figures as Ron Paul (Republican Congressman from Texas’s 14th district), federal laws against drugs and prostitution would be repealed. Although state laws prohibiting them would initially remain, more and more states would eventually move to legalize and / or decriminalize prostitution – whether regulated or unregulated – as well as the possession, sale, distribution, and safe use of marijuana, and possibly other previously illicit drugs.
The decriminalization and / or legalization of prostitution and of the least harmful drugs would do a number of beneficial things. First, it would cut down on the number of people serving sentences in prisons across the country, relieving the burden on the prison system and on the citizens whose taxes fund that system. Second, it would drastically reduce the percentage of non-violent inmates, potentially leading in a renewal of public faith and trust in the justice system as preventing violent coercion, rather than the mere commission of infractions of malum prohibitum petty vice. Third, the violence inherent in the black-market drug and sex trades would likely, for the most part – save for the trade of the most violence-inducing drugs in the most prohibitive states and locales – disappear within a short period of time following the legalization and / or decriminalization of such trades. That takes care of most of the risk factors involved in the wielding of power by violent drug lords and pimps following the onset of an attempted violent panarchistic counter-economicist agorist revolution.
Also, in an ideal libertarian society, the world-wide interventionist military-industrial complex with which the United States is currently plagued would be scaled down to a reasonable and manageable size and scope. Additionally, the power of the executive branch and the secretive agencies upon which it relies – such as the Federal Bureau of Investigators, the Central Intelligence Agencies, the Department of Homeland Security, and black ops – would be curtailed, and their funding would be reduced. Furthermore, a smaller military would de-necessitate significant corporate contribution to the finance of military projects, in addition to the finance that could normally be handled by taxation of citizens by the public sphere. Possibly, voluntary individual donations to military would even increase due to reduced tax burdens on the citizenry. An overall optimistic combination of such prospects would result in a military in which ordinary citizens would be proud to volunteer for service, and perhaps soldiers would even be willing to serve longer and / or accept lower pay and / or accept fewer benefits. That takes care of most of the risk factors involved in the wielding of power by government, its agents, private military industry, private defense agencies, and professional mercenaries.
Now that gradualistic libertarian reform will have brought about the relaxation of drug and prostitution laws; a smaller, more manageable military; and a more principled, responsible justice system – thus eliminating the majority of public and State fear of the wielding of power by violent drug lords, pimps, military, and the executive branch –which sovereigns are there left for us to decide whether to fear or to rely on for protection?
Police officers, security guards, and private individuals. Police officers who don’t intimidate, harass, ticket, or imprison citizens for indulging in petty vices that don’t coerce or harm their fellow human beings. Security guards, bouncers, and bodyguards who could be legally hired by individuals seeking to protect themselves – individuals whom would be free to make their own rules regarding whom they would like to allow onto their own property, whether residential or for the purposes of business – their clientele, and their property. Private individual citizens whom would retain their second amendment rights to bear arms and to defend themselves and their families against violent coercion. This, too, could technically accomplish all the goals of panarchistic counter-economicist agorism.
I believe that in the preceding six paragraphs, I have articulated a statist, gradual, reformistic, non-revolutionary approach to panarchistic counter-economicist agorism that would accomplish the goals of agorism without risking any of the violence implicit in the alternative combinations of the possible formulations of the idea, especially in the approach as outlined by a synthesis of the ideas of Konkin, Schulman, and the panarchists. I would further claim that the gradual, reformistic libertarian approach would dissuade violence by negating the validity of the complaints which could be made by those agorists with revolutionary tendencies whom would argue that their own goals cannot be accomplished without violent defeat of all agents of the current government, as well as of any potentially challenging agent or agency wishing to exercise violent coercive authority.
This begs the question: is the approach which I have articulated merely an idealized libertarian republicanism, or is it a perfected, quasi-statist, panarchistic counter-economicist agorism which embraces polyarchism (that is, the legitimacy of many but not all sovereign actors)? Perhaps it is both at once.
But one thing is certain; at a time in history when the risk of worldwide economic stagnation and collapse is very real, political polarization and income inequality are high and rising, and a grassroots populist tax- and regulation-protest movement is on the upswing, the importance of articulating and considering the adoption of such a gradual, reformistic approach, and of judging how to best walk the line between conceding just enough to the movement’s demands so as to dispel justification for violent upheaval, versus conceding too much, thus upsetting the balance of the political, defense, and justice systems, cannot be overstated.
President Barack Obama and former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton
President Obama and (evidently) new co-President Bill Clinton recently conceded to Republicans that they and many Democrats are willing to accept a plan to temporarily (i.e., for the period of the next two years) extend the Bush tax cuts to not only the wealthy but to all Americans (leading to higher taxes for those individuals who earn less than $20,000 and families who earn less than $40,000, due to the amount of tax savings they will lose from the Making Work Pay credit). Advocates on the right claim that extending the tax cuts to the rich especially will help finance the creation of jobs in the private sector.
But Obama and many Democrats have decided that they would accept the tax-cut extension on the condition that Republicans agree a compromise which would allow the preservation of the extension of unemployment benefits for just over a year. So far, so good, both ideas simply preserve the status quo. But hold on...
Some Democrats are even going so far as to say that the federal government should extend up to several months of benefits to those who are coming to the end of their one-and-a-half-year federal benefit periods, which they began after they exhausted six months of state benefits. This plan is not likely to be included in the deal.
It should be obvious that you can't expect to solve unemployment by keeping taxes for the wealthy low with the intended effect of aid private-sector job creation without giving the unemployed incentive to find employment, i.e., by, at the very least, refusing to extend benefits further, or, additionally, by shortening the periods of time for which people may receive such benefits.
Any move to address unemployment by extending tax cuts to the wealthy in order to finance the creation of jobs cannot work unless unemployment is at least not extended further. If you believe that the failure of the Bush tax cuts to create jobs in the last 7 to 9 years is not a significant factor in creating and / or prolonging and / or deepening the recession, and you additionally believe that keeping things the same will only stagnate the economy, you must support some form of unemployment benefit reduction.
I think it's obvious that preserving things the way they are is not working. And the way the last several working days of this congressional session are going, more of exactly the same is just what we are going to get. This will likely lead to economic stagnation.
It is not that the government is doing nothing and that that is what's keeping the recession going. And it's not that the government is doing too much and that that is what's keeping the recession going. It's not even necessarily that the parties and the government as a whole are being inconsistent. It's that the parties and the government as a whole are being consistently inconsistent.
The government is undertaking deals that will keep the left-vs.-right, Democrat-vs.-Republican, liberal-vs.-conservative cat-and-mouse game going. They want to make everything they can into an issue of economics so that they can rightfully continue to blame one another for failing to jump-start the economy, so that they may keep their own well-seasoned, well-connected, experienced politicians in charge of their respective parties, and so that the new and alternative viewpoints within the parties will never get the opportunity to be heard or considered.
If this taxation and unemployment plan goes forth as it appears it will, it will fail, just as any compromise that takes a leftist stand on one of the issues while taking a rightist stand on the other will fail. One half of the plan will always destroy the effects of the other. The only reason both parties seem so willing to compromise on this plan is because they are trying to purposely undermine their own agenda in order to improve their own clout.
When the plan does not work, Democrats will say it is the Republicans' fault because we didn't raise taxes on the rich, and now we have that much less money for more stimulus. When the plan does not work, Republicans will say it is the Democrats' fault because maintaining and / or further extending unemployment will undermine the point of extending tax cuts to the rich, which was to finance the creation of jobs.
In other words, we're trying to fix the economy by:
1. Continuing to pay people not to work, and even considering prolonging the period for which we do so.
2. Effectively raising taxes for the poorest Americans, potentially causing more people to become dependent on the government for social welfare benefit checks.
3. Letting their would-be employers keep capital to pay new employees' wages, which, due to failure to properly incentivize potential labor, would cause that capital to go unspent.
The people who the so-called "99ers" (as in 99 weeks) want to help first exhausted their six months of state benefits, and then used up their one-and-a-half-year federal benefits, and now they want several additional months of additional benefits because they have bills and can't make their payments. Is it really that unfair to ask "when does it end?"
I just don't get why, in this time when the gap between rich and poor is widening so significantly, we are focusing on helping the people who already have their shit together well enough to have bills to pay in the first place, or to even consider trying to apply for jobs.
Plenty of these people can do fine for themselves if you just remove a little incentive not to do so. I would never call people who receive unemployment checks lazy, they're some of the hardest-working people in our society (but, of course, only when they are indeed working).
I survive on $315 a week. I'm fairly confident I could survive comfortably on $290 per week if I had to, and I would expect that any news about my benefits being extended wouldn't have any effect on whether or how hard I would look for a job.
People who have their shit together enough to be able to file the paperwork necessary to get unemployment checks and prove they've been looking for a job are not "the poor." People who can barely read or write; have drug addictions and / or mental disorders; don't have any clean clothes; have little or no practical marketable labor skills; don't have residences, mailing addresses, or consistent access to phones or internet; don't speak English very well yet; and / or have to rely on the mercy of their friends with houses and on the kindness of strangers: THESE people are the ones who are needy. They don't have bills to pay. For all intents and purposes, they don't even exist.
Why does the government want to limit the amount people are able to deduct from their taxes for charitable contributions? Is it because we have a deficit to fix, or is it because the government wants to attain a monopoly over legitimate charity? The government imposes gift taxes and death (estate) taxes, so why isn't it taking eight cents out of every quarter I give to a bum?
There's a great scene in the movie "Network," in which the TV network has decided to make a series about the bank-robbing and kidnapping activities of a group of left-wing Black-Panther types, using real footage of the crimes. Their leader is a black guy with a huge gun. He sits in his basement lair, watching his minions and the white corporate-network staff members bicker over the monetary terms of the contract negotiation. In the middle of it all, the leader stands up, fires the gun at the ceiling, everyone stops talking and looks at him, and he starts talking about percentages and spouts all kinds of incomprehensible contract jargon.
Progressivism can only progress when citizens stop letting politicians make us see income distribution solely through the lens of whom is paying taxes, because all most politicians really care about is where their money is coming from, and who is generating it. The people who don't generate any money don't matter.
My argument would hold less water were it true that the vast majority of those rich people would save their money instead of spend it creating jobs. I guess there would only be one way to find out, and obviously there's a matter of risk involved. Also, we don't know whether or how long the 99ers' benefits may continue to be extended.
Update for February 2011:
The latest development is that Obama wants to let states tax corporations more to help pay for unemployment. Great, first states tax corporations more, then corporations put people out on the street, then the fired employees go to the welfare office to pick up their checks!
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