Agorism is the idea that libertarians can bring about a voluntary world by trading outside the state-approved sector, without business licensing, without paying taxes and fees or submitting to governmental approvals. This form of trade is called counter-economics, by the way.
Over time, the security, social safety net and dispute resolution institutions required for a voluntary and stateless society to work will evolve in response to market needs. The end result will be a starved state sector and an enriched marketplace. Then, dispensing with the remnants of the state sector will be relatively uncomplicated.
Agorism is a failed strategy. I encourage people to not pursue it at this time.
I’ve previously had a great interest in agorism. I’ve researched it, talked with people about it and practiced it quite extensively for a number of years.
I won’t go into how I practiced it because I don’t owe anyone an accounting of my life and it would be stupid to risk incriminating myself. It’s not that I’ve engaged in any wrongdoing – agorism is not necessarily illegal – it’s just that there are so many laws now and bad people love to twist things.
But here’s why:
- You’re Alone: Precious few other people are pursuing the strategy in any meaningful capacity. Agorism can’t succeed in the aggregate without community institutions. I formed one (Shield Mutual) and the demand simply was not there.
- High Risk: Agorism can get you caged or killed. Without a tribe of people taking the same risks and working towards the same end, what’s the point? Who’s got your back? No one.
- Real World Failure: In many South American and sub-Saharan African countries, black market activity is above 40% of the economy and yet strong states still rule. Clearly, it’s not as easy as counter-economic theory makes it out to be.
- Ineffective: Denied tax revenue is not a significant threat to the US government, the one that most needs to be toppled. They will simply tax the conformists more, print more money and scale up police powers. See, for example, warrantless checkpoints, no-knock raids and parallel construction.
- Self-Limiting: Selling things under the table limits who you can sell to and where you can advertise. It’s like dropping a pile of bricks on a seedling. You can’t grow. It defeats the very point of free enterprise, which is to grow without artifical limits.
- Short-Sighted: The agorist strategy demands that we fight the state where it’s strongest. Because effective agorism inevitably violates the law, agorist defense actions happen against police and in courts of law, two places where the state is most prepared and where its “law and order” propaganda is most ingrained in the population. Any failure to mount an effective legal defense is a mid-stride abdication of the strategy. An effective legal defense is usually expensive, thus wiping out the profits gained from trading risk for reward, the core benefit of agorism. This is a fatal strategic failure.
Thus, agorists are left only with the downside of criminal penalties and risk of death and without the upside of a chance at toppling a government. There aren’t enough people doing it and, even if there were, the potential impact on the intended target is trivial.
I say this as someone who has studied and practiced agorism for more than 5 years. The idea intrigued me. I experimented with it. I researched and wrote about it.
The real challenge is to build yourself, not a movement. The cost of doing this while complying with today’s overpowered states is minimal compared to your upside. There is so much more you can do for yourself, your loved ones and your community while outside of jail and still alive.
There will always be time to stop cooperating with the state. But it has to be done with proper organization, from a position of strength and with unity because the most precious resource in the liberty community is not the collected works of Murray Rothbard but the people. You. Stay safe and keep building your power within your risk-reward limits and without falling under the spell of hype.
Greater than the concept of liberty is the concept of life. One must preserve one’s own life, enjoy it and thrive, first. Only then can we talk about maximizing liberty. That’s why they put “life” before “liberty” in The Declaration of Independence.
That said, I have no plans to form LLCs any time soon. I will though if it saves me money on payroll taxes. I won’t be getting a white-market corporate job, either. Not unless I’m broke, on the street and it’s my best option.
Photo Credit: Karsun Designs CC-BY-ND
9 replies on “6 Reasons Agorism is A Failed Strategy”
Articles like these are what kills movements! Those who begin movements like this are obviously going to be alome and put at more risk. The GOAL is for the government to raise taxes! No one likes losing money, driving people to the movement! When more and more people become involved because of heightening tax rates, more people will know where to find ads for agorist and more products will become available. As the blacl market grows, avenues for reaching customers and the products businesses sell on thr blqck marktet will grow too. We know this because you said it yourself, many South American countries have blacl markets that make up 40% of a market! They just need a push and a direction that agorism provides.
If my 6 points above are correct, why would you want the agorist movement to continue?
If my 6 points are false, please correct my error.
Why would you want higher tax rates? It’ll mean more government power and more good people in prison. You can’t build a movement around the idea of making things worse. Nobody can rally to that.
The goal needs to be positive, it needs to be about building something, not destroying it.
Thanks for your comment, Colton. :)
I disagree with your critique, but I must admit, I conflicted as to what venue I should use to rebut it. Although I could just simply blog a response and send you the link, would you be open to a 1 or 2 hour moderated debate on whether or not agorism is a failed libertarian strategy? If so, then I would be open to negotiating with you about who you and I choose to be the neutral moderator, as well as what the debate rules should be that the moderator would enforce.
Kyle, why not write a blog response and link to this post, thus generating a trackback? Because I’m not sure if there’s enough material to support a debate.
I quit my first job in 1954 after getting my first pay check and finding out about tax. I went into business for myself to avoid being robbed. Down thru the decades people have predicted I would soon be in jail. That did not happen. Why not, if agorism is so dangerous? I am smarter than most but I don’t think that is the reason I escaped. It’s all about attitude, e.g., I never felt guilty, in fact I was proud that I was depriving the state of revenue. It felt great to exercise some freedom, tempered by the risk. It was always a tradeoff requiring constant vigilance, planning. I may have deprived myself of wealth by not going the corporate route, but the politics sickened me. I chose to be a loner, and when I did team up it hurt me financially most of the time, even with libertarians (I was amazed at how self destructive, dishonest, and stupid some could be.) I did better when working alone.
That said, I am inspired by the idea of a voluntarist community. I went to NY in ’67 to join the Objectivist community. I was put off by the cultist atmosphere. I would have been kicked out had I stayed. I speak out. And I’m not diplomatic. I consider it a fault that I have been striving to fix.
I like the idea of a year-round permanent PorcFest, a voluntarist community. My wife & I were in the first 100 signers for the FSP. When they chose NH over WY I became disgusted with the signers. But TX is a different story. I went to Loving County about a decade ago to check out buying land with others to start a voluntarist community. That deal failed, thanks to interference by a corrupt sheriff. But I still think the idea was sound. And so I dream of living in such a community.
There are a lot of us still interested in the idea of such a community.
Kudos on your success. I have a hard time believing you’ve made a living for 62 years without forming an LLC or corporation or filing taxes. If you say it’s true tho, kudos.
What I know for sure is that the agorist strategy has put several fine individuals I know into cages or other jeopardy with zero potential upside to justify it.
It’s not just about if this guy or that girl can get away with X or Y, it’s about whether it’s a productive strategy for large numbers of people on both an individual basis and a collective basis, i.e., does it get us any closer to our shared goals?
If it serves neither the individual picture nor the big picture, then I have to speak out against it.
On an individual basis, the risks are loss of life, liberty and property. On a collective basis, I see zero progress or promise of progress towards our shared goals.
Okay, so agorism doesn’t work for you. Then consider choosing another item or items off of The Freedom Umbrella of Direct Action.
In order to choose a strategy, one needs to be clear on his goal(s). Knowing that, he can select a strategy. Only then does it make sense to peruse your list of tactics. Even then, you can’t expect success to come just by picking a couple nice-sounding things at random from a laundry list.
As I’ve said before, your list of tactics is very comprehensive, but one has to think about which strategies are right for which kind of people, and then which tactics serve that strategy for that person.
Libertarianism is about the individual, therefore individual differences have to be factored into everything, and in a custom way, not just a laundry-list way. Otherwise, you’re presenting something that’s one-size-fits-all, and that sounds collectivist.
Also, it’s not that agorism doesn’t work for just *me*. It doesn’t work, period. The goal of agorism is to bring about a stateless society. It can not achieve that goal for the reasons mentioned above. Therefore, it doesn’t work, period.
Can agorist activity increase people’s cash flow? Sure. But that doesn’t mean agorism is working. Agorism purports to do much, much more than that. It’s like if I buy a plane ticket to St. Louis and the plane taxies down the runway but stops before taking off. Did we change location? Yes. Are we in St. Louis? Not nearly.
Your post seems to be well thought out and I commend you for speaking your mind, but I do disagree with the premise of your post.
To say that Agorism is a failed strategy ignores the position that it is incomplete and has been working very well for many.
I don’t completely disagree with the points you make, but they do ignore many successes of agorism. I have been an agorist for over a decade. I have experienced failure and success when using counter-economic tactics. I would like to take an opportunity to make just a few counterpoints to your 6 reasons. I am also a host on an agorist podcast https://offgridagorist.com/ I think it would be great if you wanted to be a guest on our show to discuss your experiences. I’m not really into formal debate style shows, but I’m always interested in thought provoking discussion.
1. You’re alone: I only felt alone in the beginning when I wasn’t even aware of the term agorism, but once I learned about it I started telling others and became proud of my position and I stopped hiding it from those I knew. I now have friends who are agorists to some degree or another. All of my customers know my status. They know I won’t pay tax on the money they give me and they still support me. In fact, they go out of their way to pay me in the forms I want to be paid in that are more inconvenient for them. I don’t feel alone.
2. High risk: I think all agorist understand the risk. It’s really a mute point. In fact, I’ve been caged as an agorist and as a good citizen and others have been killed by authority for reasons other than agorism.
3. Real world failure: Only if you consider anything less than 100% success a failure. There are many examples of real world success and I would be happy to discuss them with you on a podcast episode.
4. Ineffective: Tax revenue and force is the base of all centralized power. At this point in time the advantage is still in the hands of the state, but to say it will always be the case is too defeatist for me. Hope plays a part in my own vision of agorism.
5. Self-limiting: I’m not sure where else to start a free market except with in the limitations of the corrupted market we have now. I would certainly be interested in listening to suggestions.
6. Short sighted: Agorism is actully very long sighted and the points you bring up here are for a more mature agora that doesn’t yet exist. Maybe it never will is your point I guess, but that’s not to say agorism is short sighted.
Thank you for your time in posting your opinion. I do appreciate it.