(Originally published as part of the Counter-Markets Newsletter)
Here at the Counter Markets newsletter we owe a great debt to activist, philosopher, and author Samuel Edward Konkin III. Indeed, our goal of giving people strategies for succeeding outside of the rigged system is directly inspired by Konkin’s work. With that in mind we are going to take a brief look at the philosophy of this relatively unknown thinker and strategist. We will also be reviewing his final, unfinished, previously unreleased book, Counter-Economics: From the Back Alleys to the Stars.
Over the course of thirty years, Konkin wrote, edited, and published newsletters and magazines such as Laissez Faire, New Libertarian Notes, and 101 issues of New Libertarian Weekly. Known to his friends as SEK3, Mr. Konkin graduated cum laude from the University of Alberta. He received his Masters in Theoretical Chemistry at New York University before pursuing his lifelong efforts to promote his philosophy of Counter-Economics and Agorism. He founded the New Libertarian Alliance, the Movement of the Libertarian Left, and served as Executive Director of the outreach organization The Agorist Institute.
In 1974, SEK3 first outlined the strategy of using the underground, or counter-economy, as a way to starve the State of resources. He believed that as more people consciously choose to pull their time, money, and resources out of the mainstream statist economy, the State would gradually be starved of tax revenue and moral support. He also believed this counter-economy could create independently wealthy black and gray market entrepreneurs who could create alternatives to the State and lay the foundation for a future stateless society. He called this strategy counter-economics. He called his combination of libertarian philosophy and counter-economic strategy Agorism.
SEK3 began developing his philosophy of Agorism and strategy of counter-economics in the early 1970s before writing the seminal New Libertarian Manifesto. The NLM laid out the black market-anarchist platform in all its glorious detail. It is in this book that Konkin took the libertarian philosophy promoted and explained by Murray Rothbard to its logical and consistent conclusion: an individual who aims to live by the Non-Aggression Principle and remain consistent in this principle must reject the State and seek ways to avoid the plunder of this violent institution.
The book was well-received by the libertarian community and even welcomed by Rothbard himself.
Konkin’s writings are to be welcomed. Because we need a lot more polycentrism in the movement. Because he shakes up Partyarchs who tend to fall into unthinking complacency. And especially because he cares deeply about liberty and can read and write, qualities which seem to be going out of style in the libertarian movement. – Murray Rothbard
Konkin’s second book, An Agorist Primer, was released in 2008 following his death in 2004. The work further illuminated the path to what Konkin called “New Libertarianism” or “Agorism.” Konkin took the time to lay out the difference between practicing libertarianism in theory and actually living the philosophy.
Before his death, Konkin was intending to release a third book titled Counter-Economics. Konkin envisioned the book as an academic tome that would rival Marx’s Communist Manifesto. In his outline to the final chapter of Counter-Economics, Konkin wrote:
The promised final chapter spelling out the full integration of libertarian theory and countereconomic practice is presented. This section will eventually be expanded to a full volume with a heavier, academic style and the book will be promised to readers for a follow-up (a sort of Counter-Economics II for sequel lovers).
Unfortunately, during Konkin’s life he was unable to find a publisher for the book. He never finished the book, and his vision for the release was not realized. However, Konkin outlined 18 chapters for the book and wrote ten. Unfortunately, as of 2019, only six of the ten completed chapters have been found. Thanks to the longtime libertarian activist and publisher Victor Koman, what survives of the book has now been released to the public in ebook format under the title Counter-Economics: From the Back Alleys to the Stars.
“Counter-Economics was intended to be the magnum opus of SEK III. Planned as the distillation of all his work and research over 15 years of libertarian/anarchist activism, Konkin died in 2004 without finishing the book. This edition includes the first six chapters and the outline for the other twelve,” Koman writes.
The table of contents gives a glimpse into the vision SEK3 had for the final product. The chapters include:
● Tax Counter-Economics
● International Counter-Economics
● Soviet Counter–Economics
● Drug Counter-Economics
● Inflation Counter-Economics
● Information Counter-Economics
● Smuggling Counter-Economics
● Transportation Counter-Economics
● Energy Counter-Economics
● Human Counter-Economics
● Dissenters and Intellectual Counter-Economics
● Sex Counter-Economics
● Feminist Counter-Economics
● Justice Counter-Economics
● Psychology Counter-Economics
● Understanding Counter-Economics
● Opposing Counter-Economics
In his introduction to the book, Konkin described the work as part self-help, part personal liberation manual, part financial advisory, part esoteric economics text, part anti-political platform, part exposé of underground life and part anarchist cookbook. It’s clear he had grand plans for his third book.
“That may sound confusing, but the main purpose of this writing is to extract unity from these topics usually unconnected in most minds today,” Konkin wrote. “I hope it will indeed amuse and excite the reader about another, accessible way of life, give new explanation to some of the vexing problems that beset our social life, and perhaps solve a few.”
It’s important to understand the roots of the phrase counter-economics. “As counter-establishment culture proved unwieldy in the 1960s and was shortened to counterculture — though not without subsequent misrepresentation of its aims — counter-establishment economics will be shortened to counter-economics,” Konkin explains.
In this unfinished work, Konkin gives a clear definition for what exactly is meant by counter-economics:
Counter-Economics is the theory and practice of all human action neither accepted by the State nor involving any initiatory violence or threat of violence.
Of course, the emphasis on human action that does not involve initiatory violence or the threat thereof, is part and parcel to modern American Libertarian theory. Konkin takes it a step further by inciting readers to ignore and actively break the law when it does not involve initiating violence or coercion. This distinction between legal – as defined by the State – and moral is necessary.
Every year the State creates thousands of arbitrary laws based on the whims of politicians without regard to the morality of such laws. This has led to the endless violence of the “War on Drugs” and the “War on Terror,” ad nauseam. Although the Drug War appears to be waning (largely due to the counter-economic, underground economy), there are still millions of victims who have been locked away for doing nothing more than ingesting or selling substances banned by the State. Again, the State cannot point to a victim in the vast majority of these scenarios. Instead, the people are expected to kneel, bow, and kiss the ring simply because of proclamations made by out-of-touch politicians. SEK3 called for an outright rebellion against this state of mind.
“The counter-economist lumps all non-coercive acts (and free acts in general) on one side as Counter-Economics; the acts of coercion and their economic consequences (Establishment economics) are lumped on the other,” he writes. “Everybody — even regulators and thieves — acts counter-economically at times. In fact, everybody must act countereconomically. Why is this the case? It’s the case because the planet is regulated by government everywhere to the point where survival is impossible without breaking laws.”
Konkin also outlines the role of the counter-economy in helping to bring about the collapse the Soviet Union and in combating the prohibition of other restrictive, authoritarian States. He was truly ahead of his time in recognizing the value and power of the unregulated, untaxed counter-economy. The Soviet Union struggled to put a lid on the massive economic exchanges taking place “under the table” in the black and grey markets. Of course, from the Agorist point of view, the black and grey markets are simply markets that have been freed from State regulation.
“Excluding murder ‘contracts,’ con games, ‘protection’ rackets, burglaries, muggings, and hijackings, what is called the black market in most countries is really the Counter-Economy,” Konkin explains. “From black-market baby adoptions to black-market money-changing, smuggling of goods and illegal immigrants, gambling and unlicensed bookmaking on forbidden bets, even running Bibles behind the Iron Curtain (in the 80s) or into fundamentalist Islamic states in the 21st century are ‘black’ acts, yet non-violent and counter-economic.”
The grey market is composed of transactions which are not explicitly prohibited, but done in a method which is illegal or frowned upon. For example, paying cash for a service and not putting it on the books to avoid taxes is grey market. Kickbacks to avoid price controls is grey market. Swapping and bartering without official reporting of the transaction is grey market.
Konkin also further emphasized that his philosophy of Agorism and strategy of counter-economics were explicitly anti-political.
There are political parties espousing total free enterprise, from the large Progress Party of Denmark to the tiny Libertarian Party in the U.S. and Canada. But should these parties ever actually dismantle the government, they would not put the practicing counter-economists in power, for they are already in “power.” They not only don’t need the State, they thrive on defying it.
From my perspective, one of the most important aspects of Konkin’s final work is his desire to flesh out arguments against the psychological manipulation and propaganda of the State which has conditioned most people to feel wrong when they are breaking the law. Through the State indoctrination centers (aka public schools) the people have been conditioned to believe they should feel a sense of guilt if they do not report all of their income or make a voluntary exchange that does not involve feeding the government’s tax machine. A major goal of all Agorists should be to eliminate the psychological manipulation which prevents most of society from taking their first step into the counter-economy.
The most dangerous idea of radical libertarianism is not any of these voluntary alternatives to the state apparatus. Most dangerous is the moral idea that non-compliance with the State is good; one should not feel guilty of breaking the law to do what one wishes, one should feel proud!
I highly recommend reading Samuel Konkin’s final work and diving into this outline as well. There are many nuggets of wisdom that might have been lost to history forever had Victor Koman not taken the time to share this important exposition with the world. It is unfortunate that SEK3 was unable to finish this work in his lifetime; however, there may be a light at the end of this tunnel.
I have decided to release my own updated version of Konkin’s third book later this year. I am taking the finished chapters of Konkin’s final work and updating them for the digital age with fresh evidence in support of the power of counter-economics and tips on building counter-economic communities. I also plan to ask important questions for anyone trying to avoid the increasingly watchful eyes of the State.
What does it mean to be a counter-economist in the Age of The Surveillance State? How can one participate in the underground economy when Big Brother is always watching? Will it be possible to starve the State once the State implements mandatory social credit scores?
I hope to answer these questions and more in my work, Counter-Economics for the Digital Age: A Guide to Blackmarket Entrepreneurship. Stay tuned for updates.