Critique of "Can Agorism Eliminate the State?"

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M. D. Roe's picture

The internet, much like the people and society it reflects, is brimming with misconceptions. Luckily, many of those who maintain them are very aware of their own limited experience and reading on the subject for which they might be confused. When this is the case, it is far simpler to correct their mistake in a constructive way. Others may not be so self-aware. This is usually the case with those individuals who have already developed a particular view of the world and then choose to filter new information through this perspective. If any information negates the view, it is the information that is wrong, never their own perceptions or prejudices. This is known as “special pleading.” Most commonly, in order for this mental trick to work, the person must endow themselves with a false expertise on the information they have chosen to reject. This allows them to “reasonably” suspend further investigation of the subject matter so as to better alleviate any rumblings of the impending dissonance in thought. I recently subjected myself to a prime example of this in the form of a “critique” of Agorist theory. The author, when confronted with certain fallacies in this “critique,” was very quick to reassert her supposed expertise while further displaying her ignorance of the philosophy, its goals, the schools of thought on which it is based, and its tactics. Of particular note to the reader should be the “double-think” exemplified in the continuous amateur execution of rhetorical fallacy of relevance, arguments from incredulity, and appeals to emotion followed by contradictory, condescending, and dismissive statements (e.g. “I am not opposed to ______ but it is wrong”).

Can Agorism Eliminate the State?

A valid question that might encourage the reader to expect a thorough and neutral analysis to follow.

Many Ancaps and Mutualists have put forth a “revolutionary” tactic to end the state and create a free market called agorism.

Very inaccurate. Agorism is a market anarchist philosophy related to both Anarcho-Capitalism and Mutualism with significant overlap. Within this philosophy is a set of strategies toward achieving the goals of market anarchism in general.

This seems to be one of the main tactics used by ancaps to end the state while mutualists have a toolbox of different methods.

More conflation. Not all Anarcho-Capitalists are Agorists and vice-versa. Saying Agorism is a “tactic used by ancaps” is a lot like positing Anarcho-Syndicalism is a tactic used by Anarcho-Communists, some AnComs may participate in utilizing unionized labor etc and there may be overlap but it does not make the statement true.

As Kevin Carson mentions, other methods would be used such as “counter-institutions, dual power, and (that wonderful Wobbly slogan) “building the foundation of the new society within the shell of the old.”  I should state right away that I’m not against the idea of agorism nor am I against it in principle.  In fact, I see many of these movements as positive. 

Irrelevant appeal. Appeal to emotion ("I see many of these movements as positive"). These kinds of statements are often to be heard by racists before they share a wonderful nugget of wisdom (“I’m not racist but. . .”).

In this post, I would like to explain why I think agorism, as a revolutionary tactic, is neither revolutionary nor practical.

It reminds me often of professional boxers and how they will duck and swerve and then throw a punch.

I don’t see why you can’t create black and grey markets with particular products and services such as DVDs, software, haircuts, and other hard to deter markets that involve cheap and concealable/moveable products and services.  In fact, they seem to be growing around the world.  However, most products and services are much harder to sell in the agora especially when we’re talking about things like automobiles.

Argument from incredulity. Major premise: One can't imagine (or has not imagined) how P could be so. Minor premise (unstated): If P were so, one could imagine (or would have imagined) how. Conclusion: Not-P. Meanwhile, the United States government is having issues containing exactly that, grey market automobiles: http://www.nationmultimedia.com/business/Grey-market-faces-stiff-test-30...

As a particular black or grey market starts to grow, private companies will do what they do best: lobby the government.  At that point, the government will crack down on those markets.  In some cases, they can be successful while others such as file sharing are going to be much harder. 

Nothing that she is saying here is incorrect, this is all very true. It is also true of any other revolutionary action taken. Whether it be unionization, mass demonstrations, sit-ins, violent revolt, or riots.

Now, most people like to think that most of the stuff we buy comes from the shelves of Walmart and those products were made in China.  As this article explains, most of the shit we buy actually comes from the US and only “2.7% of personal consumption expenditures go to Chinese-made goods and services.”

I, personally, cannot take a critique of a philosophy seriously unless they use the word “shit” in it.

At the same time, “88.5% of U.S. consumer spending is on American-made goods and services.”

Again, zero relevance. None of this has anything to do with counter-economic theory. In fact, the relative levels of American made goods as compared to Chinese goods is perfectly irrelevant to Agorism. Were I to make a list of things irrelevant to Agorism, I would put “percentage of goods manufactured in the United States” just under “rate of consumption of haggis in Scotland” and above “rate of immigration from Canada.”

Now, you’re probably scratchy your head and thinking, WTF?  I thought everything was made in China.

I know, “WTF” does this have to do with Agorism at all?! Just be patient, let us be hopeful that she can somehow tie this all together and form some cogent link to black markets.

The article breaks it down.  In reality, “In 2010, the average American spent 34% of their income on housing, 13% on food, 11% on insurance and pensions, 7% on health care, and 2% on education.”

By the way, on that list mentioned above, I would put “In 2010, the average American spent 34% of their income on housing, 13% on food, 11% on insurance and pensions, 7% on health care, and 2% on education” above “rate of consumption of haggis in Scotland.”

To my mind, this is an absolute blow to agorism.

N.B.

While agorism can provide things like necklaces, blankets, haircuts, and some food; you still need to account for larger things like housing, vehicles, insurance, healthcare, water, and all the things that require massive factories.

It should be noted here that this is less an argument against Agorism in particular and more an argument against Mutualist theory in general. It is also a statement with absolutely know evidence presented to back it up. She does not explain how vehicles and housing are impossible in grey markets (having participated in the construction of buildings from without government inspection and regulation, I know this personally, large swaths of the construction industry operate in spite of government regulation). The link I provided above is confirmation that budding grey markets in automobiles already exist.

Here is another graph of the average household budget.   As you can see, housing is the biggest expense in most people’s budgets.  But how do you create an agora for homes that are sitting on state lands that can’t be moved and are automatically taxed.

More arguments from incredulity. “Agora” does not stand for grey or black markets, it means an “open market” or “free market.” I am going to assume that she means “black and grey markets.” As far as land is concerned, it will begin as grey markets, this means that construction efforts and remodeling, normally taxed, will be kept away from prying eyes, this is already done quite often. Many rural localities have strange and peculiar rules about the number of domiciles allowed per pump or per acre of land. People find ways around this by building manufactured homes connected together on the outside for example. As the state is worn down by a loss in tax revenue, more cases of black market interaction (especially homesteading) will take place. When the state loses revenue, its powers of enforcement become more negligible.

Another huge expense is insurance.  Now, I’m not sure if agorists have some scheme to tackle insurance. If not, that’s a massive problem.

Yet another argument from incredulity. People are free to pool resources and setup procedures of defending it from government interference. They can set up contracts with one another, enforce them, and pay doctors with those pooled funds.

But it's also a problem because most people like myself would NEVER go to an agorist doctor.  Shit, I wouldn't go to an agorist doctor even for a yeast infection.

Grey market doctors, not “Agorist” doctors. They would have the same credentials but be willing to accept patients who wish to pay from without the official channels. The assumption here is that a doctor who operates in grey and black markets must have been disbarred. This implies that there is no reason for a doctor to accept the business of cash or silver paying customers.

I mean, my first question is, "why is this doctor risking their medical license?”My next thought is, "Wait, does this person even have a medical license?"  After that I'd probably go into a panic wondering if this person is some horse veterinarian or just a desperate person looking for their next hit of smack.

More arguments from incredulity. But wait, she actually answers her own question here:

  Now I'm sure you could create some Yelp type system where people write reviews but those aren't the most reliable especially when we're talking about my pussy.

Before writing this critique of her “critique,” she criticized me for not giving a proper critique. I tried to explain that this article was idiotic, this is why.

For fuck's sake, a vagina is basically a petri dish waiting for something to grow in it.

. . . I am honestly trying to take this seriously but it is difficult.

Not just anything can go up there and I'm not really interested in wondering how sterile those tools are or if they were just used for a messy abortion.

. . . I cannot believe that I am voluntarily reading this for a second time, this is exactly why I originally did not want to write this critique. Ok, nothing is necessarily stopping doctors from doing this right now. Regulations are certainly not, inspectors do not randomly drop in on doctor’s offices. What usually provokes inspection of a practice is when something goes wrong. In the early stages of black and grey markets, there would not be the same level of journalistic oversight and regulation as would be seen in a free market but it was never the goal of Agorists to wholesale provide all things separate from the state. In the initial stages of Agorist revolution, many doctors would begin to provide services to “alternative” clients for any payment they might be able to provide.

But even if you're talking about car insurance, there is absolutely no fucking way I'm getting agorist insurance.

Argument from incredulity (AFI).

Sorry but people don't just consider transaction costs.  They think about other things like safety or convenience.

Owning a portion of the insurance coop and having a say in their affairs is not a consideration people are willing to make?

Another big expense is transportation such as automobiles, airplanes, and buses which seem to suffer the same problem as homes.  Of course you can have some dealings on the secondary market but who cares?  That probably already exists today.

Agorism but who cares? This is completely irrelevant as to the efficacy of Agorism. AFI and special pleading at its finest. X may be true but who really cares about X?

And last, you have things like electricity and water which require massive plants. If over 50 percent of our expenses are coming from sources the agora cannot replace, then agorism seems completely implausible. (Just so people are aware, I do know that you could do some of the above on your own.  For instance, I could collect and clean water and sell it to the neighbor.  But it would be harder to sell my neighborhood water to bathe and water their grass.  That requires huge plants.)

Citation necessary. More conflating of terms, “agora” is not a synonym for “black market,” again I will accept the likelihood that she means “black market.” It is presumptuous, even if one were to accept the postulation that “massive plants” are necessary to provide electricity and water, that a person “in the black market” was under some obligation to acquire everything they need “in the black market,” or that unless those involved in the black market do not purchase everything in the black market, it negates Agorist theory and strategy. This is fallacious. Also, pumps. I, personally, have spent half my life consuming water from grey market pumps. Clean, fresh water from a well drilled despite government impositions.

Any entrepreneur would be extremely idiotic to build a car factory or computer factory as either an "illegal" business or even to sell some products to the black market.  There is too much risk involved especially when they've taken out huge loans.

The Agorist theory is not “all at once,” as stated before, it is accumulative, what is not advantageous now will be as black and grey markets begin to out-pace white markets. The first steps toward the manufacturing of these goods outside of government regulation will be small. These are already taking place. Grey market “counterfeit” CPUs are already making their way into the United States: http://www.techspot.com/news/38144-newegg-ships-counterfeit-intel-core-i... (EDIT: not a good example, here is another: http://arstechnica.com/business/news/2008/03/fighting-the-black-market-c...).  Regardless of whether or not someone believes these manufacturers to be “idiotic,” they have found enough incentive to provide these goods. The first grey market participants will not be those with the option of being in the white market, quite the contrary, they will be those excluded from the market unfairly.

It's also difficult to have any type of factory especially when the US Government can show up at your door and end your business.  That means a potential entrepreneur could risk jail time, the loss of all their hard work, and all their money.

Again, she is only thinking in terms of those manufacturers who already benefit from government infringed environment. These are not the entrepreneurs who will wish to break from government infringement, they already profit far too much from it.

To make it more clear, agorism only seems to be good for business with extremely low start up costs.

No evidence, just a statement as if it were a forgone conclusion.

Listen to an agorist and they're talking about how they're selling cupcakes and haircuts.

Argument from absurdity and appeal to ridicule.

But let's talk about the average real world business.  Let's just start with a small business idea. The average cost of a new restaurant is almost half a million dollars.  This seems like a pretty low cost for a business.  It's not like you're talking about opening a mine.  The first problem is that the restaurant still has to rent a space from a brick and mortar owner (which is taxed).  You also have the problem of getting a bank to lend you the money.  For those interested, banks like to have a lot of say over how your business works.  So the question becomes, why would a bank (even an alternative bank) lend to someone who could be shut down tomorrow?  And why would the owner of the brick and mortar company allow you to carry out illegal activities?  If I was the owner, I wouldn't. But just suppose you start a low start up company and you have some success.  Isn't there an incentive to now make your business legal?  I would.  I have all this success but I can't even enjoy it because I'm constantly worried about the IRS busting through my door and throwing me into jail.  Black and grey markets seem wonderful at dealing in “lemonade stand” type enterprises but can’t really go beyond that point.  But even the lemonade stand enterprises in the US seems to have a problem because they are providing products that are similar to the ones that come from China.  So unless you think you can out compete sweat shops, it’s a huge uphill battle.

A whole paragraph with only appeals to consequences of belief and AFI. Meanwhile, many restaurants already hide much of their profit from the IRS. Fear of the IRS is not a valid argument why people should not fight against it, it is the very reason they should.

Another question.  Why wouldn't agorism lead to an unstable economy?  Okay, just pretend that 50 percent of the market is black and grey.  Corporation are really getting down on the government to crack down.  The government starts busting a bunch of businesses within the black and grey markets.  Why would anyone invest in new or existing companies in such an unstable market?  So why would I start my new black market company or why would I expand production in a time of uncertainty?  Every sane black and grey entrepreneur or worker owned firm is going to wait until they believe they can start to invest again.  How long would this be?  Who the fuck knows?  It could be months or even years.  During this time, you would see massive decreases in productivity.  Workers would be laid off and demand would decrease.  In other words, agorism could actually cause a massive recession.  And I'm pretty sure the government would blame black and grey markets and the general public would view agorism as a plague.

Outside of the usual AFI indicative of this article, congratulations are in order, she has just described the plot to “Alongside Night,” the Agorist novel written by J. Neil Schulman that is soon to be released as a full-length movie. But in all seriousness, black markets do not cause economic instability but rather the other way around. Black markets can only form when a need or demand is not being met in a market due to government interference. Government interference in markets lead to monopolies due to regulations increasing the cost of market entry of current and future competitors, patents locking out competition, artificial inflation redistributing wealth from middle and lower classes to the already wealthy, etc. Large monopolies and oligopolies destroy the value of labor by decreasing demand and inflating supply of laborers. Fewer competitors for labor and less jobs are the hallmarks of a monopolized market. Black markets are the natural cure for the disease of the corporatist capitalist state as they are merely the purest form of resistance. An economy is nothing more than the visible interactions between individuals within a society, the state is the cancer and corporations are the pustules. Our economy is already unstable, the disparity in wealth continues to widen with little abatement and it is the state, not individuals interacting voluntarily, causing it.

Another problem I see is that an agora (like the ones you see today)

Where?  Citation needed, at the very least a personal example from experience would be appreciated.

are that all transactions are spot transactions.

Ok, now we have some further confusion, is she talking about literal marketplaces like “bazaars” now? Because this is not what is meant by Agorism. Agorism is named after agoras but its goals are not in the creation of agoras. “Agora” literally means “open market” and this is taken, within Agorism, a little out of original context in meaning a “free market.” Judging Agorism by the perceived interactions in literal agoras is a bit like judging the conditions in a community by examining a single household.

But in a real world industrialized capitalist society, most production transactions happen with forward contracts.  To make this clear, let’s suppose I own a “legitimate” car factory.  I would like to contract out the work for someone else to make the seats.  I would create a contract with another company to make 80,000 seats at X price to be delivered on October 2.  But why the fuck would I do a forward contract with an illegal business?  I wouldn’t.  And this just brings up another problem because most people have their own personal forward contracts.  I have to pay a mortgage, bills, loans, etc.  And since most people have kids in their 30’s, most have dependents that they must provide for.  So why the fuck would I quit my job and go work for some business I know could be shut down tomorrow?

AFI. “I do not understand how this could work because I have not investigated it and, therefore, it cannot work.” There is also the basic and ignorant opinion that all of this has to happen overnight. It is not about converting every worker over, it is not even about workers. Agorism is an effective strategy because it does not focus on “workers” or “wage earners.” The first advantage is for self-employed producers in competing against white market regulated companies who are not as flexible. As the black market, its technologies, and advantages accumulate progressively, it will be more and more of a challenge against white markets and government. It will start with conscientious moral objectors to the current economic conditions and then attract others who are less political in goal and more economically practical.

But let’s suppose I don’t have dependents and I’m willing to throw my career away.  I start to work in a network of underground dog groomers.  Let’s suppose I’m actually pretty successful at this career and make $60,000 a year.  Okay, so what’s the IRS going to think?  Here I am sitting in a $150,000 home with what appears to be zero jobs and I’m going to Europe for vacation.  But there is a further problem because how are people supposed to know about me?  It’s not like I can go advertising my services.  

As stated before, fear of the IRS is not a valid argument why people should not fight against it, it is the very reason they should.

Another problem is that black markets can also drive up costs.  For instance, many illegal drugs are more expensive because they exist in the black market.

Here, she fully demonstrates her ignorance. Wait for it because it gets better.

So it's not totally clear that people have an incentive to buy products in the black market especially when the white market could be cheaper.

Wrong. A grey market could not form at all if white markets were cheaper. When white markets do exist (for instance with vehicles), black markets never exist, grey markets do. Black markets only ever exist for products which are completely prohibited, grey markets exist outside “official” channels for a product. Besides this basic misunderstanding, we find a complete ignorance of basic and universally accepted economic principles (even by Keynesians). Supply and demand. When the government locks down a market with regulation and controls, it limits the competition in the field. Monopolies and oligopolies, formed by government interference, then limit supply and also artificially increase prices to gain more profit. Grey markets will appear only when competition is limited and the cost of market entry is prohibitively high. They are the market’s natural reaction to forced limits of supply. So here we see that the opposite, in fact, of what she is saying is true, white markets (regulated markets) increase the cost of products and grey markets exist only to counteract this.

Sometime they will, sometimes they won't.  But even if you could have a huge black market in a country, how the fuck does that get rid of the government?

AFI again. Shocker.

I mean, some countries currently have booming black markets but that doesn't mean the government is about to fall.  In fact, states with huge black markets don't exactly come across as any type of libertarian paradise.

False parallel association. Black and grey markets are not intrinsic of a “libertarian paradise,” free markets are. Black and grey markets and a libertarian society are, by definition, mutually exclusive. Why is this? Because black and grey markets are extant only because of government existing and interfering in the markets. I also think this is extremely crass and offensive toward nations which suffer under tyranny of dictators and American Corporate imperialism. Those governments of which she speaks are reinforced by regular loans from the World Bank and the American international imperialist machinations.

Also, if black markets did become a problem for states from a lack of revenue, why wouldn't every sane state just increase property taxes?  You can't exactly move around that.

Higher property taxes merely give people more reason to revolt and not pay them. When they attack, as is described in the New Libertarian Manifesto, we know that we are winning.

In the end, if agorism was possible people would already being doing it.  Every business on the planet is always trying to cut corners and avoid detection.  However, agorist forget that the incentive to be legal is greater than that of going black or grey.  Otherwise, we'd already have an agorist society.

Perfect example of a false dilemma, either black markets would already exist or it is impossible when both could be wrong. This is a negation of all revolution and a perfectly ignorant denial of all socio-economic and technological shift. The same logic could be applied to any large scale historical events. If the American Revolution had not happened by 1765, it was never going to happen, right?

While a failure of agorism is by no means a problem for mutualists, it does seem to present a huge problem for ancaps.  This is especially true since many ancaps today reject any involvement in the state, including the vote. In other words, they have zero tactic to create a stateless society.

I love when these “critiques” stop being a “critique” and are merely about weakly confirming the author’s own nascent preconceptions and misunderstandings. Since she has “disproven” Agorism with this monstrous “bitch slap” of perfect logic and “critique” we can all just go home now, show’s over! She figured it all out and has dealt the deathblow to Agorist theory. Then, as any good author, she leaves us off where she started:

Again, I’m not against agorism.

"I’m not racist but. . ."

I just think they’re a waste of time.  I also think they’re about as “revolutionary” as my niece’s lemonade stand. 

Afterword In a discussion with this author on another website, I had said:

If you read the New Libertarian Manifesto, you will find that black and grey markets with few incentives are only the first step.

In response, she said this:

Well, I do admit I haven't read the whole thing but I did read pretty big chucks of it. After a while, I had to put it down when most of the arguments were laughable. I've also read plenty of arguments about argoism and it claims to be a "revolutionary" tactic...which it's not. Perhaps it helps to end the state but that's another story.

Amazed by the idiocy here, I had to say:

You read HUGE "chucks" (sic) of all 35 pages of the New Libertarian Manifesto?

The next day, she said in the comments section of her blog:

I was originally going to disagree with you but after re-reading the "New Libertarian Manifesto," I think you're correct. The feeling I got from the book (or pamphlet) was that it really leaves out a lot.

Implying she had read the New Libertarian Manifesto before writing her “critique.” She said that she believes Agorists are a waste of time, she is dishonest and her article is a waste of time considering the uninformed and fallacious critique of a market anarchist strategy without understanding the basics of market anarchism, principles of supply and demand, or concepts of resistance to government force. In truth, I think her true contention (hidden well within her claim that Agorism is not "revolutionary") is the need for direct and either passive or violent resistance toward the state. Add this to a misunderstanding of market forces and its true place as the basis for all societal interactions and it is no wonder she views Agorism with distaste. At its core, Agorism is an idealistic philosophy based upon the hope of affecting change in a non-violent and non-confrontational way that does not violate the non-aggression principle. It surely is hopeful but it is also based upon sound market theory.
 
Throughout this article, the author displays a view of entrants into the black and grey markets as those already in the white market and doing well, profitting even.  It is absolutely the case that these organizations have little incentive to give up their benefits of being in the government endorsed sector of their respective field.  These are not the target of Agorism, a revolution never comes from those groups of people who are embedded and leaching off the status quo.  It necessarily comes from those who are downtrodden by the system.  These are the target of Agorist promotion and energies.
 
Agorism is not merely about utilizing black and grey markets to fight the state, it is also about extention and educating.  The natural mode of the market is intrinsically educational and social.  The market, in fact, is nothing more than the outward expression of societal interaction and the fastest way to affect change in society is through its the nature of trade and production.  Furthermore, history will show it is society and trade which determines the destiny of a culture and community of people, it is the markets which dictate the rules to government, the state can only prance around it and try to wrangle it into control.
 
article pertinent links

  1. http://no-more-sunsets.blogspot.com/2012/04/can-agorism-eliminate-state....
  2. http://www.reddit.com/r/MarketAnarchism/comments/rvm8s/social_anarchists...

Agorist links

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M. D. Roe's picture

http://no-more-sunsets.blogspot.com/2012/04/response-to-md-roe.html
Her one statement I can agree with:

let readers decide for themselves.

 
All I can do is hope that she has taken something away from this.