“The Economic Tendency of Freethought” by Voltairine de Cleyre

Friends, — on page 286, Belford-Clarke edition, of the “Rights of Man,” the words which I propose as a text for this discourse may be found. Alluding to the change in the condition of France brought about by the Revolution of ’93, Thomas Paine says:

“The mind of the nation had changed beforehand, and a new order of things had naturally followed a new order of thoughts.”

Two hundred and eighty-nine years ago, a man, a student, a scholar, a thinker, a philosopher, was roasted alive for the love of God and the preservation of the authority of the Church; and as the hungry flames curled round the crisping flesh of martyred Bruno, licking his blood with their wolfish tongues, they shadowed forth the immense vista of “a new order of things”: they lit the battle-ground where Freedom fought her first successful revolt against authority.

That battle-ground was eminently one of thought. Religious freedom was the rankling question of the day. “Liberty of conscience! Liberty of conscience! Non-interference between worshipper and worshipped!” That was the voice that cried out of dungeons and dark places, from under the very foot of prince and ecclesiastic. And why? Because the authoritative despotisms of that day were universally ecclesiastic despotisms; because Church aggression was grinding every human right beneath its heel, and every other minor oppressor was but a tool in the hands of the priesthood; because Tyranny was growing towards its ideal and crushing out of existence the very citadel of Liberty, — individuality of thought; Ecclesiasticism had a corner on ideas.

But individuality is a thing that cannot be killed. Quietly it may be, but just as certainly, silently, perhaps, as the growth of a blade of grass, it offers its perpetual and unconquerable protest against the dictates of Authority. And this silent, unconquerable, menacing thing, that balked God, provoked him to the use of rack, thumb-screw, stock, hanging, drowning, burning, and other instruments of “infinite mercy,” in the seventeenth century fought a successful battle against that authority which sought to control this fortress of freedom. It established its right to be. It overthrew that portion of government which attempted to guide the brains of men. It “broke the corner.” It declared and maintained the anarchy, or non-rulership, of thought.

Now you who so fear the word an-arche, remember! the whole combat of the seventeenth century, of which you are justly proud, and to which you never tire of referring, was waged for the sole purpose of realizing anarchism in the realm of thought.

It was not an easy struggle, — this battle of the quiet thinkers against those who held all the power, and all the force of numbers, and all of the strength of tortures! It was not easy for them to speak out of the midst of faggot flames, “We believe differently, and we have the right”. But on their side stood Truth! And there lies more inequality between her and Error, more strength for Truth, more weakness for Falsehood, than all the fearful disparity of power that lies between the despot and the victim. So theirs was the success. So they paved the way for the grand political combat of the eighteenth century.

Mark you! The seventeenth century made the eighteenth possible, for it was the “new order of thoughts,” which gave birth to a “new order of things”. Only by deposing priests, only by rooting out their authority, did it become logical to attack the tyranny of kings: for, under the old regime, kingcraft had ever been the tool of priestcraft, and in the order of things but a secondary consideration. But with the downfall of the latter, kingcraft rose into prominence as the pre-eminent despot, and against the pre-eminent despot revolt always arises.

The leaders of that revolt were naturally those who carried the logic of their freethought into the camp of the dominant oppressor; who thought, spoke, wrote freely of the political fetich, as their predecessors had of the religious mockery; who did not waste their time hugging themselves in the camps of dead enemies, but accepted the live issue of the day, pursued the victories of Religion’s martyrs, and carried on the war of Liberty in those lines most necessary to the people at the time and place. The result was the overthrow of the principle of kingcraft. (Not that all kingdoms have been overthrown, but find me one in a hundred of the inhabitants of a kingdom who will not laugh at the farce of the “divine appointment” of monarchs.) So wrought the new order of thoughts.

I do not suppose for a moment that Giordano Bruno or Martin Luther foresaw the immense scope taken in by their doctrine of individual judgment. From the experience of men up to that date it was simply impossible that they could foresee its tremendous influence upon the action of the eighteenth century, much less upon the nineteenth. Neither was it possible that those bold writers who attacked the folly of “hereditary government” should calculate the effects which certainly followed as their thoughts took form and shape in the social body. Neither do I believe it possible that any brain that lives can detail the working of a thought into the future, or push its logic to an ultimate. But that many who think, or think they think, do not carry their syllogisms even to the first general conclusion, I am also forced to believe. If they did, the freethinkers of today would not be digging, mole-like, through the substratum of dead issues; they would not waste their energies gathering the ashes of fires burnt out two centuries ago; they would not lance their shafts at that which is already bleeding at the arteries; they would not range battalions of brains against a crippled ghost that is “laying” itself as fast as it decently can, while a monster neither ghostly nor yet like the rugged Russian bear, the armed rhinoceros, or the Hyrcan tiger, but rather like a terrible anaconda, steel-muscled and iron-jawed, is winding its horrible folds around the human bodies of the world, and breathing its devouring breath into the faces of children. If they did, they would understand that the paramount question of the day is not political, is not religious, but is economic. That the crying-out demand of today is for a circle of principles that shall forever make it impossible for one man to control another by controlling the means of his existence. They would realize that, unless the freethought movement has a practical utility in rendering the life of man more bearable, unless it contains a principle which, worked out, will free him from the all-oppressive tyrant, it is just as complete and empty a mockery as the Christian miracle or Pagan myth. Eminently is this the age of utility; and the freethinker who goes to the Hovel of Poverty with metaphysical speculations as to the continuity of life, the transformation of matter, etc.; who should say, “My dear friend, your Christian brother is mistaken; you are not doomed to an eternal hell; your condition here is your misfortune and can’t be helped, but when you are dead, there’s an end of it,” is of as little use in the world as the most irrational religionist. To him would the hovel justly reply: “Unless you can show me something in freethought which commends itself to the needs of the race, something which will adjust my wrongs, `put down the mighty from his seat,’ then go sit with priest and king, and wrangle out your metaphysical opinions with those who mocked our misery before.”

The question is, does freethought contain such a principle? And right here permit me to introduce a sort of supplementary text, taken, I think, from a recent letter of Cardinal Manning, but if not Cardinal Manning, then some other of the various dunce-capped gentlemen who recently “biled” over the Bruno monument.

Says the Cardinal: “Freethought leads to Atheism, to the destruction of social and civil order, and to the overthrow of government.” I accept the gentleman’s statement; I credit him with much intellectual acumen for perceiving that which many freethinkers have failed to perceive: accepting it, I shall do my best to prove it, and then endeavor to show that this very iconoclastic principle is the salvation of the economic slave and the destruction of the economic tyrant.

First: does freethought lead to Atheism?

Freethought, broadly defined, is the right to believe as the evidence, coming in contact with the mind, forces it to believe. This implies the admission of any and all evidence bearing upon any subject which may come up for discussion. Among the subjects that come up for discussion, the moment so much is admitted, is the existence of a God.

Now, the idea of God is, in the first place, an exceeding contradiction. The sign God, so Deists tell us, was invented to express the inexpressible, the incomprehensible and infinite! Then they immediately set about defining it. These definitions prove to be about as self-contradictory and generally conflicting as the original absurdity. But there is a particular set of attributes which form a sort of common ground for all these definitions. They tell us that God is possessed of supreme wisdom, supreme justice, and supreme power. In all the catalogue of creeds, I never yet heard of one that had not for its nucleus unlimited potency.

Now, let us take the deist upon his own ground and prove to him either that his God is limited as to wisdom, or limited as to justice, or limited as to power, or else there is no such thing as justice.

First, then, God, being all-just, wishes to do justice; being all-wise, knows what justice is; being all-powerful, can do justice. Why then injustice? Either your God can do justice and won’t or doesn’t know what justice is, or he can not do it. The immediate reply is: “What appears to be injustice in our eyes, in the sight of omniscience may be justice. God’s ways are not our ways.”

Oh, but if he is the all-wise pattern, they should be; what is good enough for God ought to be good enough for man; but what is too mean for man won’t do in a God. Else there is no such thing as justice or injustice, and every murder, every robbery, every lie, every crime in the calendar is right and upon that one premise of supreme authority you upset every fact in existence.

What right have you to condemn a murderer if you assume him necessary to “God’s plan”? What logic can command the return of stolen property, or the branding of a thief, if the Almighty decreed it? Yet here, again, the Deist finds himself in a dilemma, for to suppose crime necessary to God’s purpose is to impeach his wisdom or deny his omnipotence by limiting him as to means. The whole matter, then, hinges upon the one attribute of authority of the central idea of God.

But, you say, what has all this to do with the economic tendency of freethought? Everything. For upon that one idea of supreme authority is based every tyranny that was ever formulated. Why? Because, if God is, no human being no thing that lives, ever had a right! He simply had a privilege, bestowed, granted, conferred, gifted to him, for such a length of time as God sees fit.

This is the logic of my textator, the logic of Catholicism, the only logic of Authoritarianism. The Catholic Church says: “You who are blind, be grateful that you can hear: God could have made you deaf as well. You who are starving, be thankful that you can breathe; God could deprive you of air as well as food. You who are sick, be grateful that you are not dead: God is very merciful to let you live at all. Under all times and circumstances take what you can get, and be thankful.” These are the beneficences, the privileges, given by Authority.

Note the difference between a right and a privilege. A right, in the abstract, is a fact; it is not a thing to be given, established, or conferred; it is. Of the exercise of a right power may deprive me; of the right itself, never. Privilege, in the abstract, does not exist; there is no such thing. Rights recognized, privilege is destroyed.

But, in the practical, the moment you admit a supreme authority, you have denied rights. Practically the supremacy has all the rights, and no matter what the human race possesses, it does so merely at the caprice of that authority. The exercise of the respiratory function is not a right, but a privilege granted by God; the use of the soil is not a right, but a gracious allowance of Deity; the possession of product as the result of labor is not a right, but a boon bestowed. And the thievery of pure air, the withholding of land from use, the robbery of toil, are not wrongs (for if you have no rights, you cannot be wronged), but benign blessings bestowed by “the Giver of all Good” upon the air-thief, the landlord, and the labor-robber.

Hence the freethinker who recognizes the science of astronomy, the science of mathematics, and the equally positive and exact science of justice, is logically forced to the denial of supreme authority. For no human being who observes and reflects can admit a supreme tyrant and preserve his self-respect. No human mind can accept the dogma of divine despotism and the doctrine of eternal justice at the same time; they contradict each other, and it takes two brains to hold them. The cardinal is right: freethought does logically lead to atheism, if by atheism he means the denial of supreme authority.

I will now take his third statement, leaving the second for the present; freethought, he says, leads to the overthrow of government. I am sensible that the majority of you will be ready to indignantly deny the cardinal’s asseveration; I know that the most of my professedly atheistic friends shrink sensitively from the slightest allusion that sounds like an attack on government; I am aware that there are many of you who could eagerly take this platform to speak upon “the glorious rights and privileges of American citizenship”; to expatiate upon that “noble bulwark of our liberties — the constitution”; to defend “that peaceful weapon of redress, the ballot”; to soar off rhapsodically about that “starry banner that floats `over the land of the free and the home of the brave.’” We are so free! and so brave! We don’t hang Brunos at the stake any more for holding heretical opinions on religious subjects. No! But we imprison men for discussing the social question, and we hang men for discussing the economic question! We are so very free and so very brave in this country! “Ah”! we say in our nineteenth century freedom (?) and bravery (?), “ it was a weak God, a poor God, a miserable, quaking God, whose authority had to be preserved by the tortuous death of a creature!” Aye! the religious question is dead, and the stake is no longer fashionable. But is it a strong State, a brave State, a conscience-proud State, whose authority demands the death of five creatures? Is the scaffold better than the faggot? Is it a very free mind which will read that infamous editorial in the Chicago “Herald”: “It is not necessary to hold that Parsons was legally, rightfully, or wisely hanged: he was mightily hanged. The State, the sovereign, need give no reasons; the State need abide by no law; the State is the law!” — to read that and applaud, and set the Cain-like curse upon your forehead and the red “damned spot” upon your hand? Do you know what you do? — Craven, you worship the fiend, Authority, again! True, you have not the ghosts, the incantations, the paraphernalia and mummery of the Church. No: but you have the “precedents,” the “be it enacteds,” the red-tape, the official uniforms of the State; and you are just as bad a slave to statecraft as your Irish Catholic neighbor is to popecraft. Your Government becomes your God, from whom you accept privileges, and in whose hands all rights are vested. Once more the individual has no rights; once more intangible, irresponsible authority assumes the power of deciding what is right and what is wrong. Once more the race must labor under just such restricted conditions as the law — the voice of the Authority, the governmentalist’s bible-shall dictate. Once more it says: “You who have not meat, be grateful that you have bread; many are not allowed even so much. You who work sixteen hours a day, be glad it is not twenty; many have not the privilege to work. You who have not fuel, be thankful that you have shelter; many walk the street! And you, street-walkers, be grateful that there are well-lighted dens of the city; in the country you might die upon the roadside. Goaded human race! Be thankful for your goad. Be submissive to the Lord, and kiss the hand that lashes you!” Once more misery is the diet of the many, while the few receive, in addition to their rights, those rights of their fellows which government has wrested from them. Once more the hypothesis is that the Government, or Authority, or God in his other form, owns all the rights, and grants privileges according to its sweet will.

The freethinker who should determine to question it would naturally suppose that one difficulty in the old investigation was removed. He would say, “at least this thing Government possesses the advantage of being of the earth, — earthy. This is something I can get hold of, argue, reason, discuss with. God was an indefinable, arbitrary, irresponsible something in the clouds, to whom I could not approach nearer than to his agent, the priest. But this dictator surely I shall be able to meet it on something like possible ground.” Vain delusion! Government is as unreal, as intangible, as unapproachable as God. Try it, if you don’t believe it. Seek through the legislative halls of America and find, if you can, the Government. In the end you will be doomed to confer with the agent, as before. Why, you have the statutes! Yes, but the statutes are not the government; where is the power that made the statutes? Oh, the legislators! Yes, but the legislator, per se, has no more power to make a law for me than I for him. I want the power that gave him the power. I shall talk with him; I go to the White House; I say: “Mr. Harrison, are you the government?” “No, madam, I am its representative.” “Well, where is the principal?-Who is the government?” “The people of the United States.” “The whole people?” “The whole people.” “You, then, are the representative of the people of the United States. May I see your certificate of authorization?” “Well, no; I have none. I was elected.” “Elected by whom? the whole people?” “Oh, no. By some of the people, — some of the voters.” (Mr. Harrison being a pious Presbyterian, he would probably add: “The majority vote of the whole was for another man, but I had the largest electoral vote.”) “Then you are the representative of the electoral college, not of the whole people, nor the majority of the people, nor even a majority of the voters. But suppose the largest number of ballots cast had been for you: you would represent the majority of the voters, I suppose. But the majority, sir, is not a tangible thing; it is an unknown quantity. An agent is usually held accountable to his principals. If you do not know the individuals who voted for you, then you do not know for whom you are acting, nor to whom you are accountable. If any body of persons has delegated to you any authority, the disposal of any right or part of a right (supposing a right to be transferable), you must have received it from the individuals composing that body; and you must have some means of learning who those individuals are, or you cannot know for whom you act, and you are utterly irresponsible as an agent.

“Furthermore, such a body of voters can not give into your charge any rights but their own; by no possible jugglery of logic can they delegate the exercise of any function which they themselves do not control. If any individual on earth has a right to delegate his powers to whomsoever he chooses, then every other individual has an equal right; and if each has an equal right, then none can choose an agent for another, without that other’s consent. Therefore, if the power of government resides in the whole people, and out of that whole all but one elected you as their agent, you would still have no authority whatever to act for the one. The individuals composing the minority who did not appoint you have just the same rights and powers as those composing the majority who did; and if they prefer not to delegate them at all, then neither you, nor any one, has any authority whatever to coerce them into accepting you, or any one, as their agent — for upon your own basis the coercive authority resides, not in the majority, not in any proportion of the people, but in the whole people.”

Hence “the overthrow of government” as a coercive power, thereby denying God in another form.

Upon this overthrow follows, the Cardinal says, the disruption of social and civil order!

Oh! it is amusing to hear those fellows rave about social order! I could laugh to watch them as they repeat the cry, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” “Down on your knees and adore this beautiful statue of Order,” but that I see this hideous, brainless, disproportion idol come rolled on the wheels of Juggernaut over the weak and the helpless, the sorrowful and the despairing. Hate burns, then, where laughter dies.

Social Order! Not long ago I saw a letter from a young girl to a friend; a young girl whose health had been broken behind a counter, where she stood eleven and twelve hours a day, six days in the week, for the magnificent sum of $5. The letter said: “Can’t you help me to a position? My friends want me to marry a man I do not like, because he has money. Can’t you help me? I can sew, or keep books. I will even try clerking again rather than that!” Social Order! When the choice for a young girl lies between living by inches and dying by yards at manual labor, or becoming the legal property of a man she does not like because he has money!

Walk up Fifth Avenue in New York some hot summer day, among the magnificent houses of the rich; hear your footsteps echo for blocks with the emptiness of it! Look at places going to waste, space, furniture, draperies, elegance, — all useless. Then take a car down town; go among the homes of the producers of that idle splendor; find six families living in a five-room house, — the sixth dwelling in the cellar. Space is not wasted here, — these human vermin rub each other’s elbows in the stifling narrows; furniture is not wasted, — these sit upon the floor; no echoing emptiness, no idle glories! No — but wasting, strangling, choking, vicious human life! Dearth of vitality there — dearth of space for it here! This is social order!

Next winter, when the `annual output’ of coal has been mined, when the workmen are clenching their hard fists with impotent anger, when the coal in the ground lies useless, hark to the cry that will rise form the freezing western prairies, while the shortened commodity goes up, up, up, eight, nine, ten, eleven dollars a ton; and while the syndicate’s pockets are filing, the grave-yards fill, and fill. Moralize on the preservation of social order!

Go back to President Grant’s administration, — that very “pure republican” administration; — see the settlers of the Mussel Slough compelled to pay thirty-five, forty dollars an acre for the land reclaimed from almost worthlessness by hard labor, — and to whom? To a corporation of men who never saw it! whose “grant” lay a hundred miles away, but who, for reasons of their own, saw fit to hire the “servants of the people” to change it so. See those who refused to pay it shot down by order of “the State”; watch their blood smoke upward to the heavens, sealing the red seal of justice against their murderers; and then — watch a policeman arrest a shoeless tramp for stealing a pair of boots. Say to your self, this is civil order and must be preserved. Go talk with political leaders, big or little, on methods of “making the slate,” and “railroading” it through the ward caucus or the national convention. Muse on that “peaceful weapon of redress,” the ballot. Consider the condition of the average “American sovereign” and of his “official servant,” and prate then of civil order.

Subvert the social and civil order! Aye, I would destroy, to the last vestige, this mockery of order, this travesty upon justice! Break up the home? Yes, every home that rests on slavery! Every marriage that represents the sale and transfer of the individuality of one of its parties to the other! Every institution, social or civil, that stands between man and his right; every tie that renders one a master, another a serf; every law, every statute, every be-it-enacted that represents tyranny; everything you call American privilege that can only exist at the expense of international right. Now cry out, “Nihilist — disintegrationist!” Say that I would isolate humanity, reduce society to its elemental state, make men savage! It is not true. But rather than see this devastating, cankering, enslaving system you call social order go on, rather than help to keep alive the accursed institutions of Authority, I would help to reduce every fabric in the social structure to its native element.

But is it true that freedom means disintegration? Only to that which is bad. Only to that which ought to disintegrate.

What is the history of free thought?

Is it not so, that since we have Anarchy there, since all the children of the brain are legitimate, that there has been less waste of intellectual energy, more cooperation in the scientific world, truer economy in utilizing the mentalities of men, than there ever was, or ever could be, under authoritative dominion of the church? Is it not true that with the liberty of thought, Truth has been able to prove herself without the aid of force? Does not error die from want of vitality when there is no force to keep it alive? Is it not true that natural attractions have led men into associative groups, who can best follow their chosen paths of thought, and give the benefit of their studies to mankind with better economy than if some coercive power had said, “You think in this line — you in that”; or what the majority had by ballot decided it was best to think about?

I think it is true. Follow your logic out; can you not see that true economy lies in Liberty, — whether it be in thought or action? It is not slavery that has made men unite for cooperative effort. It is not slavery that produced the means of transportation, communication, production, and exchange, and all the thousand and one economic, or what ought to be economic, contrivances of civilization. No — nor is it government. It is Self-interest. And would not self-interest exist if that institution which stands between man and his right to the free use of the soil were annihilated? Could you not see the use of a bank if the power which renders it possible for the national banks to control land, production and everything else, were broken down?

Do you suppose the producers of the east and west couldn’t see the advantage of a railroad, if the authority which makes a systematizer like Gould or Vanderbilt a curse where swept away? Do you imagine that government has a corner on ideas, now that the Church is overthrown; and that the people could not learn the principles of economy, if this intangible giant which has robbed and slaughtered them, wasted their resources and distributed opportunities so unjustly, were destroyed? I don’t think so. I believe that legislators as a rule have been monuments of asinine stupidity, whose principal business has been to hinder those who were not stupid, and get paid for doing it. I believe that the so-called brainy financial men would rather buy the legislators than be the legislators; and the real thinkers, the genuine improvers of society, have as little to do with law and politics as they conveniently can.

I believe that “Liberty is the mother, not the daughter, of Order.”

“But,” some one will say, “what of the criminals? Suppose a man steals.” In the first place, a man won’t steal, ordinarily, unless that which he steals is something he can not as easily get without stealing; in liberty the cost of stealing would involve greater difficulties than producing, and consequently he would not be apt to steal. But suppose a man steals. Today you go to a representative of that power which has robbed you of the earth, of the right of free contract of the means of exchange, taxes you for everything you eat or wear (the meanest form of robbery), — you go to him for redress from a thief! It is about as logical as the Christian lady whose husband had been “removed” by Divine Providence, and who thereupon prayed to said Providence to “comfort the widow and the fatherless.” In freedom we would not institute a wholesale robber to protect us from petty larceny. Each associative group would probably adopt its own methods of resisting aggression, that being the only crime. For myself, I think criminals should be treated as sick people.

“But suppose you have murderers, brutes, all sorts of criminals. Are you not afraid to lose the restraining influence of the law?” First, I think it can be shown that the law makes ten criminals where it restrains one. On that basis it would not, as a matter of policy merely, be an economical institution. Second, this is not a question of expediency, but of right. In antebellum days the proposition was not, Are the blacks good enough to be free? but, Have they the right? So today the question is not, Will outrages result from freeing humanity? but, Has it the right to life, the means of life, the opportunities of happiness?

In the transition epoch, surely crimes will come. Did the seed of tyranny ever bear good fruit? And can you expect Liberty to undo in a moment what Oppression has been doing for ages? Criminals are the crop of depots, as much a necessary expression of the evil in society as an ulcer is of disease in the blood; and so long as the taint of the poison remains, so long there will be crimes.

“For it must needs that offences come, but woe to him through whom the offence cometh.” The crimes of the future are the harvests sown of the ruling classes of the present. Woe to the tyrant who shall cause the offense!

Sometimes I dream of this social change. I get a streak of faith in Evolution, and the good in man. I paint a gradual slipping out of the now, to that beautiful then, where there are neither kings, presidents, landlords, national bankers, stockbrokers, railroad magnates, patentright monopolists, or tax and title collectors; where there are no over-stocked markets or hungry children, idle counters and naked creatures, splendor and misery, waste and need. I am told this is farfetched idealism, to paint this happy, povertyless, crimeless, diseaseless world; I have been told I “ought to be behind the bars” for it.

Remarks of that kind rather destroy the white streak of faith. I lose confidence in the slipping process, and am forced to believe that the rulers of the earth are sowing a fearful wind, to reap a most terrible whirlwind. When I look at this poor, bleeding, wounded World, this world that has suffered so long, struggled so much, been scourged so fiercely, thorn-pierced so deeply, crucified so cruelly, I can only shake my head and remember:

The giant is blind, but he’s thinking: and his locks are growing, fast.

“Four Worlds In Economics” by Mildred J. Loomis

Many people commonly identify nations by their geographical location, along with their degree of industrial development. In this naming, the Western “advanced” industrial nations (U.S. Canada and Europe) are the first world; Russia and her satellites are the second world; and the third world includes the relatively undeveloped countries in Asia, Africa and South America. Organizers of the Fourth World conference refer to nations small in size or which hopefully can be made small, if they are now large. In this paper I use another method for numbering worlds 1, 2, 3 or 4.

I propose a nation be identified by the essence and nature of the economic structure under which differing peoples live. Economics is the science of survival–SOS an old distress signal. Economics almost everywhere today is in distress, facing sink or swim; life or death. A more explicit definition is “Economics is the science of the production and distribution of wealth”; it deals with land, the surface of the earth; with labor, i.e., the physical-mental energy which produces and distributes goods; and with capital, or the tools and equipment which assist that production and distribution. From my lifelong studying, observing and experimenting in economic practices, it1s clear that there are at least four distinguishable ways of dealing with land, labor and capital. One of them is capitalism.


Much of the world is influenced by the Western world’s capitalism. They welcome the remarkable technology and affluence it has produced. Many nations in the rest of the world envy it, and want to copy it. Other people criticize and deplore it.

Any serious student of economic affairs knows that freely choosing one’s life is needed, and should result from economic arrangements. Any serious student of Western capitalism recognizes that (while independence and liberty are said to attend Capitalism) fundamental freedom is in shambles. Most of the Western world — assuredly the United States — has become increasingly governmental. More laws, more regulations, more bureaus, more federal control coming from Washington DC at the loss of local and direct-community action. Why?

Why did this trend appear (circa l800s) and why has it proliferated since the 1900s and 1930s? Largely because the capital-individual approach to economics and survival did not extend its comfort and affluence to everyone. Involuntary unemployment appeared; bank failures, economic depressions and failure to find jobs were part of every decade. Too many families were without a pay check or lived in fear of being without a paycheck.

What can a person do who is unemployed; — who has no regular source of work or survival? Most people prefer to work and earn — but when this is not available in an “economic collapse”, what then? Such victims have three options — l) turn to stealing and crime, personal violence;) 2) he can be assisted by charity, 3) but if charity-benevolence is not adequate, then government support is turned to. This, a perceptive reader will point out, is legal violence. A legal agency, government, taxes and takes by force from those who have, and turns it over to those who haven’t a means of survival.

Some people approve this third system, noting that recipients of charity or government pensions and social security welcome it. Is this true? Many – most — Americans resisted early social security. Their pride and integrity were threatened. Dependence was an insult; they wanted survival of course, but they wanted it by their own efforts.

But necessity made it a habit. Necessity and repetition can even change self-confidence. So in America, government-help has to a notable degree, become the accepted, even the desired, the sought-after, along with its drop in integrity. A whole school of thought now supports the governmental answer. In many parts of the world, people think it is a good and proper answer to “How shall people survive?” They say, “In a complex world, government help is necessary. Justice can and should be attained by laws, regulating the distribution of wealth.”

Some countries have moved full-scale into that pattern. The Russians did it by fiat, government edict and violence. They call it Communism. In my list, I name it the “second world in economics”. Most of Russia’s people accept, praise, promote and presumably enjoy it. They feel that its resulting guaranteed livelihood is better than the enforced poverty and riches under the Czars. Books and journals the world around explain, extol and criticize it. Enforced, collective ownership of land and capital, i.e. Communism, is a second answer to the universal problem of “How shall a human being’ survive?”

A Third Economic World

Another alternative moves in a similar direction. It would do this by vote of the electorate and first teaching the people the means and methods of public ownership of survival goods and services. They avoid armies, violence and government edict. This more gradual and temperate approach to the governmental answer to survival, many call Socialism. A dozen kinds of third-world Socialism exist: Domestic Socialism, Workers’ Socialism, Peoples’ Socialism, etc. Many countries have organized their economic and political systems socialistically — in Europe, Asia, Africa, South America and some in the Western continent, including some provinces in Canada.

Let’s return to the first world, Capitalism. From its beginning Western capitalism was geared to avoid governmental action. America’s founders fled the tyranny of a monarchial system where rulers and parliaments controlled and owned the land and goods. Western capitalism stressed idividualism, attained through private property, i.e, one’s own title to land and earnings; to business and factories title to capital and wages. They had come to the land of the free; they wanted both independence and security; and essentially they had it until about 1800.

What went wrong? Why the bank panics and economic depressions? Why the Great Depression of the Thirties, followed by wholesale turning to government to bail out banks, businesses, farms and home-owners from debt? Why the failure of the American Dream? Why has capitalism changed to a predominantly government-oriented “socialistic” system? Why the welcome to this system, by so many people? Why is a strong opposition developing to it? What are ethical alternatives?

Analysis of Ethical Alternatives

A fourth way is available, long espoused and championed by a few great American economists and philosophers. Let’s carefully note the root aspects of the economy by underlying a fourth and more ethical handling of land, labor and capital,. For this let’s agree on definitions of these terms.

Every person in the world is affected by the way his society handles land, labor and capital. Most people see but two ways — to treat everything individually (including cooperative), or to treat everything governmentally.

Factor No. 1 Land, of course, is the natural world — the earth, water, air; plains, valleys, seashores, mountains from which all food and shelter are attained by labor. Labor is No. 2 — the mental and physical energy people use with No. 3, the tools or capital, on the land. Who should own (have title to) these things?

We can quickly agree that humans own our own Life, our energy. It belongs to us; we say we have ‘rights’ (title) to our own energy — that is, to our own labor. Then it follows that what we produce from and by our own labor is also ours. Do not the products of labor belong, by ethical right, to those who produce them? Would it therefore be wrong – unethical — for one person to claim what another produced? O.K. Labor (human energy) and capital (tools) belong to the individual. No wonder American forebearers had such strong devotion to private property. It was their base for getting out from under tyrants, rulers and government to their own independence and security.

Rights to Land?

But what about land? What about rights and title to natural resources? Did any humans produce them? Think carefully here. Sure, people produce from and on the land, in both urban and rural settings. But the land itself? Who has natural title to that? Here’s where promoters of a fourth alternative economic system make obvious and ethical conclusions. They emphasize that all natural resources are Nature- (or God-) created. By their differing fertilities, natural resources yield differing amounts to the same labor on differing sites. Non-manmade fertility makes a difference. Land and its value responds, too, to community factors. The value and yield of land goes up when it is near good streets, sewers, schools, fire and police protection. Did the holder-owner create this value in his land? Obviously, no. Should he then pocket this value in sale or rent of that land? Watch your answer. For centuries the Old World said “Yes”.

The Old World, especially Merrie England, has been the historic scene for struggle around this problem. Before the Roman conquest, in the early days, English land was free. Sheep could graze anywhere. But lords and nobles changed that. Especially after the invention of the spinning wheel and loom, were their changes crucial. They passed the Enclosure Acts, giving possession and title to any person of all land which he could claim, fence or “enclose” with boundaries. Then a sheep-owner must pay rent for its use to a land-lord. Many of them were forced to move into cities to become weavers and wage-workers in factories. Rack rents increased; wages fell. After payment for access to the land, how much production is left to pay for labor and capital? It was this economic oppression, not primarily religious domination, that early dissidents were fleeing in coming to America.

In America, for the most part in the early days, they found a new freedom. Why? They had all the land they could use and more. Some tried to practice “common land” — witness Boston Commons. But the old habit of profit and property in land asserted itself. Individuals “bought up” land (more than they needed) to hold and sell to newcomers. Private property in, and sale of, land became an American ideology.

As land values soared in Eastern cities people could “escape” to cheap or free land farther west. Cheap and free land were the root of liberty. For how long? For so long as any free land remained. But land is a limited resource. More people need and demand it than the supply can meet. That time is now. All American land is held — much of it, sad to say — held idle, awaiting a higher price.

The sorry land holding statistics in America show, to the informed, an exploitative situation. Here in the U.S, a handful of corporations own a land area larger than Spain and Japan. About 5% of the population own 55% of all American land. The top 1% owns more land than the rest of the population together. During the past 50 years, 40% of the farm population has been squeezed out of their livelihood by land prices, mortgages, taxes and insurance. Today small and medium-sized farmers are leaving their land at the rate of 2,000 per week. 25 landowners hold over 16% of California’s private land. All this because land is considered property, subject to private title, buying and selling.

A Fourth, Property-Trusterty System

Perceiving the crucial difference between land and products of labor, promoters of a fourth solution to economic survival arrange treating land as a common heritage. They separate land and land-value from the value in the products from the land. These persons suggest that the unearned value from natural fertility and the land value due to the community-services available to the land, be turned to the use of the community. Leave the value of the products of labor — crops, trade, wages, etc. — to the producers and workers. The community-land-value would then pay for the community’s common needs — the streets, schools, protection, sewers, etc, The value of the buildings, equipment, wages, income — would be private, subject not even to taking by taxation.

With good results, citizens and voters in many places have implemented this system — in Alberta, Canada; in New Zealand, Australian cities, partially in Denmark. in Scranton, Pittsburgh and other Pennsylvanian cities. Their salubrious effects are widely discussed; articulate promoters urge its wider use.

Observers note that a confirmed American pattern of separating land from improvement in assessment and taxation is in this fourth dimension. Agreed; this partial approach accounts for much of the existing democracy and independence in American history. Its extension and increase would be a welcome, ethical and crucial step.

The Community Land Trust

A group of American decentralists implement the common heritage of land in another fourth-approach via the Community Land Trust. The Community Land Trust is a cooperative association of persons who are convinced that the land should be held as a trust for future, as well as present, generations, free of buying and selling. They join in a non-profit corporation, procure an urban or rural land-site, and in charter and by-laws, dedicate it to trust-use. Contracting parties use the land for an agreed-on annual rental (to the trust) rather than a sale price. A group of American decentralists implement the common heritage of land in another fourth-approach via the Community Land Trust.’ The Community Land Trust is a cooperative association of persons who are convinced that the land should be held as a trust for future, as well as present, generations,- free of buying and selling. They join in a non-profit corporation, procure an urban dr rural land-site, and in charter and by-laws, dedicate it to trust-use9 Contracting parties use the land for an agreed-on annual rental (to the trust) rather than a sale price.

Ralph Borsodi, founder of the School of Living, in a life-time (1886-1977) of work initiated the community land trust as early as 1932; repeated it in 1935-45 at the Suffern, N.Y. School of Living and several intentional communities. In 1968, the concept was internationalized and registered at Luxembourg. Borsodi recognized the validity of private property in lab-or products; similarly he recognized the trust-nature of land. He named trust-holding of land, “trusterty”. The fourth economic-political system of property-trusterty is welcome, and is being implemented. Hundreds of groups are studying and working toward it; some thirty community land trusts are guided by The Institute of Community Economics, 120 Boylston St., Boston, Mass.

“Who is the Somebody?” by Benjamin R. Tucker

Somebody gets the surplus wealth that labor produces and does not consume. Who is the Somebody? Such is the problem recently posited in the editorial columns of the New York Truth. Substantially the same question has been asked a great many times before, but, as might have been expected, this new form of putting it has created no small hubbub. Truth’s columns are full of it; other journals are taking it up; clubs are organizing to discuss it; the people are thinking about it; students are pondering over it. For it is a most momentous question. A correct answer to it is unquestionably the first step in the settlement of the appalling problem of poverty, intemperance, ignorance, and crime. Truth, in selecting it as a subject on which to harp and hammer from day to day, shows itself a level-headed, far-sighted newspaper. But, important as it is, it is by no means a difficult question to one who really considers it before giving an answer, though the variety and absurdity of nearly all the replies thus far volunteered certainly tend to give an opposite impression.

What are the ways by which men gain possession of property? Not many. Let us name them: work, gift, discovery, gaming, the various forms of illegal robbery by force or fraud, usury. Can men obtain wealth by any other than one or more of these methods? Clearly, no. Whoever the Somebody may be, then, he must accumulate his riches in one of these ways. We will find him by the process of elimination.

Is the Somebody the laborer? No; at least not as laborer; otherwise the question were absurd. Its premises exclude him. He gains a bare subsistence by his work; no more. We are searching for his surplus product. He has it not.

Is the Somebody the beggar, the invalid, the cripple, the discoverer, the gambler, the highway robber, the burglar, the defaulter, the pickpocket, or the common swindler? None of these, to any extent worth mentioning. The aggregate of wealth absorbed by these classes of our population compared with the vast mass produced is a mere drop in the ocean, unworthy of consideration in studying a fundamental problem of political economy. These people get some wealth, it is true; enough, probably for their own purposes: but labor can spare them the whole of it, and never know the difference.

Then we have found him. Only the usurer remaining, he must be the Somebody whom we are looking for; he, and none other. But who is the usurer, and whence comes his power? There are three forms of usury: interest on money, rent of land and houses, and profit in exchange. Whoever is in receipt of any of these is a usurer. And who is not? Scarcely any one. The banker is a usurer; the manufacturer is a usurer; the merchant is a usurer; the landlord is a usurer; and the workingman who puts his savings, if he has any, out at interest, or takes rent for his house or lot, if he owns one, or exchanges his labor for more than an equivalent, — he too is a usurer. The sin of usury is one under which all are concluded, and for which all are responsible. But all do not benefit by it. The vast majority suffer. Only the chief usurers accumulate: in agricultural and thickly-settled countries, the landlords; in industrial and commercial countries, the bankers. Those are the Somebodies who swallow up the surplus wealth.

And where do the Somebodies get their power? From monopoly. Here, as usual, the State is the chief of sinners. Usury rests on two great monopolies, — the monopoly of land and the monopoly of credit. Were it not for these, it would disappear. Ground-rent exists only because the State stands by to collect it and to protect land-titles rooted in force or fraud. Otherwise the land would be free to all, and no one could control more than he used. Interest and house-rent exist only because the State grants to a certain class of individuals and corporations the exclusive privilege of using its credit and theirs as a basis for the issuance of circulating currency. Otherwise credit would be free to all, and money, brought under the law of competition, would be issued at cost. Interest and rent gone, competition would leave little or no chance for profit in exchange except in business protected by tariff or patent laws. And there again the State has but to step aside to cause the last vestige of usury to disappear.

The usurer is the Somebody, and the State is his protector. Usury is the serpent gnawing at labor’s vitals, and only liberty can detach and kill it. Give laborers their liberty, and they will keep their wealth. As for the Somebody, he, stripped of his power to steal, must either join their ranks or starve.

Originally appeared in Liberty, August 6, 1881.

“History of the Libertarian Movement” by Samuel Edward Konkin III

Before 1969

Prior to 1969, there was no “organized” Libertarian Movement. In the 1800s, circles formed around Lysander Spooner’s individualist abolitionism in Massachusetts, followed by Benjamin Tucker and his Liberty magazine (not to be confused with the Seattle ‘zine of the 1980s & 1990s) which upheld the black banner of individualist anarchy from 1870s to 1907. In that year, the entire stock of back issues and books were burned and Tucker left America to live obscurely in France until his death in 1939.

The orgy of statism peaked first with World War I and then receded. Randolph Bourne uttered the memorable line, “War is the health of the State” just before his death in 1918 and the Roaring Twenties saw a brief revival of freedom. The two main spokesmen were Albert Jay Nock and his Freeman magazine (where Suzanne LaFollette first came to prominence) from 1920-24, and then H.L. Mencken and his American Mercury in the late 1920s and through the 1930s until the approach of the second statist orgasm, World War II.

Nock’s student, Frank Chodorov, was responsible for the first proto-libertarian student organization in the 1950s, the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists (still around, but now called the Intercollegiate Studies Institute). Murray Rothbard, a political fan of Chodorov (but disagreeing with his Georgist deviation on “The Land Question”), formed the Circle Bastiat in the late 1950s after being purged from William Buckley’s National Review. (Buckley was a fan of Nock himself, and had described himself as a “philosophical anarchist” before anointing himself the avatar of modern American conservatism, having “seen a Dream Walking.”)

Robert LeFevre and Leonard Read, like Rothbard and Chodorov, evolved from the “Old Right” alliance against the ultra-statist New Deal war machine of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Classical liberals (like John T. Flynn) and anarchists and even socialists like Norman Thomas joined in the great America First crusade against U.S. imperialism between 1939 and 1941 with never less than 80% of the people behind them…until Pearl Harbor.

LeFevre had a fling at running for Congress with the likes of Richard Nixon in 1948, but soon realized that one could not build a movement for freedom without first re-informing the American people what freedom was, something they had lost in five decades of non-stop statism. He formed the Freedom School in Colorado and his youthful graduates became the original activists in the student movement. Older people attended Read’s Foundation for Economic Education in upstate New York.

Rothbard was attracted to the growing student movement and actually entered the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) with his small following. He broke with those libertarians still clinging to an alliance with the anti-New-Deal Right by opposing Barry Goldwater in 1964 and beginning publication of Left & Right in 1965. He actively attended New Left meetings, wrote for Ramparts magazine, and even formed tactical alliances at the Freedom & Peace Party conventions with Maoists against old-line socialists.

LeFevre’s students began the Libertarian American in Texas and Liberal Innovator (then just Innovator) in California but, when Kerry Thornley became editor, also pursued a pro-New Left alliance. The Innovator leafletted Goldwater delegates at the 1964 Republican Convention at the San Francisco Cow Palace. Innovator also published the first articles concerning underground market activity which was later to be known as Counter-Economics. Alas, the Innovator contributors went underground just as the Libertarian Movement was about to explode aboveground.

Daniel Rosenthal, Sharon Presley, Tom McGivern and others broke from the Youth for Goldwater campaign to form the Alliance of Libertarian Activists, the first explicitly libertarian activist organization at the end of 1964 at the University of California at Berkeley. Meanwhile, the earlier 1960 Youth for Goldwater which had reformed at Buckley’s Sharon, Connecticut estate continued to attract libertarian students largely unaware of the other groups. The new student group, Young Americans for Freedom, had one libertarian chair, the founder, Bob Schuchman, who rejected the label “Young Conservatives.”

Thus, while the early libertarian activists following Rothbard and LeFevre mostly fought on the side of the New Left, the later and much larger group of hard-core campus activists who sympathized with liberty found themselves on the opposite side in the largest anti-New Left group, YAF, in the summer of 1969.

A Word About Ayn Rand

Jerome Tuccille’s claim (in his book title and elsewhere) that It Usually Begins with Ayn Rand was not accurate, but was indicative. Tuccille himself joined Rothbard and others in the early pre-St. Louis attempt to create a Libertarian movement out of YAF and SDS chapters, the Radical Libertarian Alliance (RLA). Rand herself opposed independent political activism, always supported Republican candidates (going back to Wendell Willkie) or no one, and strongly rejected any association with libertarianism. She called her followers Students of Objectivism and they operated on campuses independently. (For example, at the University of Wisconsin in 1968-70, around 300 of them were called Committee to Defend Individual Rights, or CDIR.) But it is true that many YAF members were influenced by reading Rand, and chapters in Pennsylvania and Maryland were openly Randist. Don Ernsberger and David Walters of Pennsylvania formed the Libertarian Caucus within YAF with Dana Rohrabacher and Bill Steele of California (LeFevrians). According to David Nolan of Colorado, an earlier Libertarian Caucus was tried at the previous National YAF Convention of 1967.

Another of Rand’s following who contributed to early libertarianism was Jarrett B. Wollstein, who created Students for Rational Individualism and The Rational Individualist magazine. Along with Rothbard’s new Libertarian, which he changed when he found the name was used by an obscure newsletter to Libertarian Forum, and LeFevre’s Rampart Journal, Rational Individualist became the leading libertarian publication until 1971. Also influenced by Rand was Lanny Friedlander, who began a fanzine called Reason in 1968.

Writing for RI and Rampart Journal was anarcho-objectivist Roy Childs. Childs wrote an “Open Letter to Ayn Rand” which obtained no response from her other than the usual purge for questioning her ideology. But its case that objectivism lead naturally to free-market anarchy left unanswered provided a conduit for many conversions to libertarianism by such as philosopher and friend of Childs, George H. Smith.

In 1968, Ayn Rand split with her chief disciple, Nathaniel Branden, who had run her activist organization, Nathaniel Branden Institute or NBI. Ex-objectivists filled the ranks of YAF and SRI.

At the end of 1968, Rothbard attempted a Left-Right Anarchist supper club in New York with anarchocommunist Murray Bookchin which lasted two meetings. Rothbard was joined by the former speechwriter for Barry Goldwater, Karl Hess, in Libertarian Forum and in SDS activism. Hess went so far as to join the Black Panthers; his article in early 1969 in Playboy, “The Death of Politics,” was second only to Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon is A Harsh Mistress (published serially 1967-68) with its portrayal of a largely successful libertarian revolution on the moon in swelling the ranks of the about-to-be-born libertarian movement.


If the Libertarian Movement has a golden age, it ran from August 1969 through around August 1974. The SDS convention split several ways, purging the anarchists before the other delegates even arrived. The Young Americans for Freedom began purging racist and Randist chapters in July, and both sides, libertarians and traditionalists or “trads,” engaged in “papering” their chapters with members to maximize delegate strength in St. Louis for the National Convention over the Labor Day Weekend. Assisting the libertarians was the proximity of the World Science Fiction convention, also that weekend in St. Louis, and the number of Heinlein fans who would be attending and available to accept delegate status.

The trads, already in power, succeeded in stripping most of the libertarian delegates of credentials, but about 200 hard-core libertarians retained delegate status and many who came as trad supporters (such as the founding editor of NEW LIBERTARIAN) switched to the Libertarian Caucus when they saw the repressive treatment of the authoritarian trads. Agitating additionally was the small Anarchist Caucus of RLA and the Student Libertarian Action Movement, or SLAM. The AC peaked at about 30 delegates, and could not get more than that for self-styled “philosophic anarchist” Michael Ingallinera. Karl Hess led a rally under the famous St. Louis arch which was dispersed by the police.

Dana Rohrabacher, the “Johnny Grass-Seed” of the Libertarian Caucus, could not get more than 220 votes and was most popular of the pure libertarians. Harvey Hukari of Stanford, running independent of both the “National Office” trad slate and the LC, did better but still could not win. James Farley, claiming to be a libertarian running on the NO slate, on the other hand, received the highest delegate vote total (around 500 out of 800). Samuel Edward Konkin III, a Wisconsin delegate, and his anarchist friend Tony Warnock (both rightly suspected of having been won over by Rohrabacher and Rothbard) found they had been replaced by alternates when they had gone for a late breakfast, even though they arrived back an hour or more before their state’s votes were to be declared.

The most spectacular moment at the St. Louis YAF convention of 1969 occurred when an AC member lit a xerox of his draft card in front of television cameras and was attacked by YAF trads football-style. Libertarians tried to form a line to protect him and the subsequent physical battle radicalized a lot of “fusionist” libertarian-conservatives. Though some like Jared Lobdell tried to mollify libertarians with a strong anti-draft minority plank, and unopposed Chairman David Keene appealed to both sides for unity, the purges continued after the convention.

That fall, the Libertarian Caucus and the Students for Rational Individualism merged into the Students for Individual Liberty, dually based in Pennsylvania and Maryland around Ernsberger/Walters and Wollstein/Childs. Rohrabacher and Steele, after their purge, formed the California Libertarian Alliance, and announced a huge convention in early 1970. Rothbard and Hess jumped the gun with a Left-Right Conference at the Hotel Diplomat in October 1969 (Columbus Day Weekend).

The RLA conference did attract New Left individualists and former YAF anarchists, but the free-marketeers stayed to hear Rothbard and his Circle Bastiat brothers, Leonard Liggio and Joseph Peden, discuss economics and revisionist history, while Hess led a contingent to join the March on Fort Dix of New Leftists. When the latter returned pursued by FBI agents, the RLA collapsed and Rothbard swung right.

In February 1970, backed by Riqui and Seymour Leon of LeFevre’s relocated Rampart Institute (in Santa Ana, California), the California Libertarian Alliance hosted the Left-Right Festival of Mind Liberation at USC. Nearly 500 activists showed up to hear LeFevre, SDS former president Carl Oglesby, Hess, Rohrabacher, SEK3, and most of the early activists. Press coverage of libertarians (such as the con coverage in the LA Free Press) was growing, peaking with the 1971 color cover on the New York Times Magazine (see below).

Libertarian Alliances and SIL chapters spread to every major campus during 1970. The Madison, Wisconsin, UW Libertarian Alliance sprouted chapters in neighboring high schools and started the newsletter, Laissez Faire. Its five issues were the first volume of what was to become NEW LIBERTARIAN. During the Cambodia demonstrations in May, UWLA rallied former YAFers and YIPpies and was attacked by both National Guard tear gas units and Maoist Progressive Labor heavies.

During the summer of 1970, SEK3 established contacts with Eastern libertarians, and brought Columbia students Stan Lehr and Lou Rossetto (now publisher of Wired) into the Movement. They formed the Columbia Freedom Conspiracy. SEK3 moved to New York University and formed the NYU Libertarian Alliance, changing the newsletter name to NYU/New Libertarian Notes (in ironic homage to New Left Notes) and recruiting most of the NYU Science Fiction Society as the kernel of NYULA. Quickly seeding LA’s on other campuses, he formed the New York Libertarian Alliance, but in deference to the older group, formed from the objectivist Metropolitan Young Republican Club (MYRC), called by Gary Greenberg the New York Libertarian Association, NY LA was seldom used publically, leaving “NYLA” to the association. NYLA was part of SIL while the Libertarian Alliance was strongly identified with the California LA.

NYLA and the New York LA worked together on Libertarian Conferences such as Freedom Conspiracy’s Columbia Libertarian Conference of 1971 where Milton Friedman was confronted by SEK3 as to his responsibility for the withholding feature of income tax. Friedman’s ready embrace of the “credit” excused as needed to fight World War II (which was questioned by most of the revisionist-historical libertarians there) discredited him and his Chicago School throughout the Libertarian Movement and put Ludwig von Mises (and Murray Rothbard)’s Austrian School of Economics in the forefront of free-market theory. NYULA attended Mises Circle meetings at NYU and Mises was guest of honor at subsequent East Coast Libertarian Conferences hosted by SIL at Drexel Campus in Pennsylvania.

By 1972, NYU Libertarian Notes had evolved from a mimeoed fanzine into a typeset semi-prozine; with the growing infrequency of The Radical Individualist (now just The Individualist) it became the major cross-factional publication with its credo, “Everybody appearing in this publications disagrees.” Still influential was SIL’s SIL Notes, but it too began skipping issues. In New York, RLA’s Abolitionist was expanded into Outlook even as RLA changed its name to the Citizens for a Restructured Republic (CRR) and abandoned Weatherman tactics for electoral alliances. Rothbard urged support for Mark Hatfield or William Proxmire as anti-war candidates, but when they were eliminated, he balked at supporting George McGovern.

On the west coast, Rohrabacher, Leon and LeFevre published two issues of Pine Tree which became Rap magazine. As usual, the California Libertarians were far too early and hip for the rest of the movement or the market. Most ambitiously, Leon Kaspersky tried to distribute a monthly libertarian tabloid, Protos but gave up. All failed within a year. The earliest libertarian bookstore attempt was made by Berl Hubbel in Long Beach, the prophetically-named Agora Black Market Bookstore.

Lanny Friedlander, based in Massachusetts, sold Reason to minarchist (term coined by SEK3 in 1970 and appearing in Newsweek in 1972) Robert Poole and anarchist Manny Klausner who along with objectivist philosopher Tibor Machan moved it to California and relentlessly rightward, eventually out of the Libertarian Movement altogether. It did achieve the highest circulation of any publication calling itself libertarian at 10,000 (it continued to grow after it embraced neoconservatism); second was Robert Kephart’s Libertarian Review which peaked at 7,000 under its subsequent ownership by Charles Koch and control by Ed Crane.

In 1971, the New York Times published its cover story on Rossetto & Lehr of Columbia. In 1972, Edith Efron referred to Libertarianism as a third position distinguished from Liberal and Conservative in TV Guide. Libertarian media recognition began to drop because of a new organization appearing in early 1972 to the near-universal scorn of the highly anti-political and even revolutionary libertarian movement, the “Libertarian” Party or LP. To everyone’s amazement, including the few LP supporters, it won an electoral vote for its presidential candidate John Hospers, and its vice-presidential candidate, Toni Nathan, the first woman to get an electoral vote. As a reward for his defection from Virginia’s all-Nixon electoral college delegation, Roger McBride was given the 1976 LP nomination and nearly brought it back down to total obscurity.

In October 1972, Samuel Edward Konkin III and LP founder David Nolan debated the morality of voting in NEW LIBERTARIAN NOTES.

The real crucial election turned out to be the New York mayoral election of 1973; SEK3 and the LA had agreed to join the Free Libertarian Party of New York though explicitly urging the LP’s destruction; SEK3 won election to the Executive Committee and promptly built a coalition of upstate minarchists and Manhattan radicals who matched in strength the New York City “anarchists” who were willing to oppose the state but embraced party politics: partyarchs (also coined by SEK3 in NLN). The only campaign which all participated in was Fran Youngstein for Mayor. Unfortunately, Murray Rothbard was attracted to Youngstein and his scornful opposition to the LP (he supported Nixon in ’72 as did Rand) ended. The NLN anarchists, who were Rothbardian in most respects but adhered to the California Libertarian Alliance (LeFevre) anti-political position as most consistent, were forced to split and walked out of the 1974 FLP Convention just as their coalition partners were winning control, leaving a stalemate. However, enough won delegate status to the Dallas National LP convention to ally with the moderate Reformers of E. Scott Royce who ran against Edward H. Crane III and the Nolan National Office.

After Royce’s defeat, Crane created an authoritarian machine and purged several state newsletters as sympathetic to SEK3 and the “radical caucus.” Those campus LAers who resisted the LP and the LPrc who worked outside the party as a revived SLAM, now called for a New Libertarian Alliance which was announced in 1974 after Dallas. As partyarchs geared up for the 1974 congressional elections (which produced nothing), the NLA surged up only to go…underground. SEK3’s response to electoral politics was refusal to pay taxes, obey regulations or in any way give the State vampire its blood — Counter-Economics — combined with Libertarian Theory. In other words, politically-aware black marketeers, or agorists.


Aboveground, the Party was left with the dregs and vacillators of the Libertarian Movement; underground the NLA built its counter-economy. But still another factor entered in 1975: the vast fortunes of Charles and David Koch, and the Cato Institute they endowed. Ed Crane, already in control of the LP, became chair of Cato and disburser of funds. A complex of offices was set up in San Francisco and Cato bought Libertarian Review from Kephart, keeping Roy Childs as editor but hiring Jeff Riggenbach to keep LR actually running. Riggenbach wrote for NL as well.

NEW LIBERTARIAN NOTES had come a long way; it serialized an interview that J. Neil Schulman had got with Robert A. Heinlein, the first such interviewed published in decades. NLN’s circulation took off and it nearly hit a thousand at the 1974 World Science Fiction Convention in Washington, D.C. with the final installment of the Heinlein interview. In 1975, SEK3 finally gave up on the East and with the hardest core (except for John Pachak, the long-time layout artist), piled into a Toyota for a legendary three-week trip across the U.S. to relocate in Los Angeles.

Between December 1976 and January 1978, SEK3 and those who had come from New York with him (Andy Thornton, J. Neil Schulman, Bob Cohen) plus Southern Californians like Victor Koman and Chris Schaefer put out NEW LIBERTARIAN WEEKLY — 101 issues of NLW before finally retreating to monthly and less frequent publication. Ironically, the publication with the best history of on-time frequent publication (even better than reason which delayed and skipped several issues early in its publication career) burned itself out in weekly production and never returned to regular on-time publication again. During that time, NLW not only became the premier publication of anti-party libertarians and “journal of record” of the Movement, but also took up the cause of opposing “monocentrism,” the monopolization of the Libertarian Movement by Koch money and power, the legendary “Kochtopus.”

Just as NLW sputtered down in frequency to just plain NEW LIBERTARIAN magazine, Rothbard broke with the Kochtopus. Relations between MNR and SEK3 were maximally strained during 1977 when Rothbard joined the Kochtopus and moved to San Francisco. Rothbard was described as the “Darth Vader” of the Movement (Star Wars had just been released). Rothbard lashed back with his attack on the “space cadets” of science-fiction oriented libertarians, and was attacked himself within the LP by “space cadets” who labeled his faction “grubeaters.” But Rothbard had a falling out during the 1980 Clark for President campaign with Crane who controlled the campaign, and his “shares” in Cato were confiscated by the other Board members. NL promptly supported Rothbard in his cry, “They stole my shares” and relations were largely repaired.

Edward Clark and his vice-presidential running mate, David Koch, did get the highest number of votes ever for the LP (nearly 900,000) but at an incredible cost per vote. And the few thousand votes Hospers had received in 1972 had at least got him an electoral vote. The LP began its long decline. (Hospers himself turned against the LP.)


With Rothbard’s opposition to the Kochtopus, Crane’s control slipped fast. Students for a Libertarian Society quickly collapsed and its handpicked leader, Milton Mueller, dropped out of the Movement. Cato’s attempt to reach out to Left-Liberals, Inquiry magazine, plateaued in circulation and was combined with Libertarian Review, which could not break the 5,000 level of circulation. At the 1983 LP National convention, Crane lost a close battle with the combined Right-Center coalition who put California state apparatchik David Bergland up against CFR member turned mild isolationist, Earl Ravenal. Koch’s money was pulled out for the 1984 election and Ed Crane turned on the Libertarian Party.

In 1985, at the Libertarian International convention in Oslo, Norway, Crane and Konkin were to debate the validity of the Libertarian Party for libertarians. After SEK3’s demolition job, Crane got up and refused to defend the party, even shaking Konkin’s hand. Alas, Crane was moving rightward.

Rothbard, too, lost interest in the Libertarian Party with no one left of consequence to fight over it. A feeble attempt was made to stop Rothbard’s candidate, Republican U.S. Representative from Texas, Ron Paul, from getting the 1988 nomination., mostly from the Association for Libertarian Feminists (ALF) who strongly opposed him on abortion. When Paul’s vote continued the decline from the Clark high, Rothbard blamed the “Left” Libertarians (apparently still in the LP) and luftmenschen with no visible means of support (Agorists and other counter-economists?), and quit the party. With Llewellyn Rockwell, Rothbard formed the Ludwig von Mises Institute and announced an alliance with Rockford Institute’s Thomas Fleming and his paleoconservatives as an attempt to revive the Old Right.

While the LP declined schism by schism, the New Libertarian Alliance sprouted to aboveground entities. In 1978, the Movement of the Libertarian Left was formed out of remaining aboveground activists to restore and continue the alliance Rothbard and Oglesby had begun between the New Left and Libertarians against foreign intervention or imperialism. MLL’s internal newsletter was Tactics of the MLL; it also began a theoretical journal after the publication of SEK3’s long-delayed New Libertarian Manifesto. The responses by Rothbard, LeFevre, and anti-voting/anti-activist Erwin “Filthy Pierre” Strauss and Konkin’s replies became the basis of Strategy of the New Libertarian Alliance #1. SNLA#2 began SEK3’s Agorism Contra Marxism serialization and George Smith’s criticism of Rothbard’s “Leninist” Libertarianism. Within a decade, Rothbard had swung right and the Berlin Wall had fallen. (Agorism had made the East European Marxist journals and was vigorously debated in the early 1980s.)

On December 31, 1984 The Agorist Institute was formed on that symbolic date and with the logo of “the tip of the iceberg.” So in 1985 MLL was turned over to Victor Koman and Mike Gunderloy while SEK3, J. Kent Hastings and John Strang concentrated on AI. The New Isolationist newsletter combined the editorial skills and writings of Konkin and Royce, with Alexander Cockburn and Noam Chomsky from the New Left, Thomas Fleming and Charles Reese from the Old Right, and many other anti-interventionists.

Meanwhile, NEW LIBERTARIAN brought forth its long-awaited time capsule of the new generation of Science Fiction Authors of the 1980s in 1990. The triple-sized issue, first with a color cover, mutated into a tribute to Robert A. Heinlein who had just died. Contributors included Robert Anton Wilson, Robert Shea, Victor Koman, Brad Linaweaver, L. Neil Smith, J. Neil Schulman, Oyvind Myhre of Norway and Chris Shaefer on the films based on Heinlein writings. Libertarian science-fiction fans (frefen) had turned their parties into “Heinlein Wakes” in the late 1980s, and that culminated in the largest, most international gathering of libertarian writers at The Hague over the “Bank Holiday” weekend in late August where NL All-SF Triple Issue premiered. Final copies were not available until the NASFiC in San Diego the following weekend.

The Libertarian Party was in such bad shape that SEK3 called for a ceasefire and re-direction of energy in the previous issue of NL; with the collapse of the Berlin Wall, key libertarians “retired” to engage in a personal life for a couple of years.


Reason had drifted further and further away from mainstream, let alone radical, libertarianism in the 1970s so that by 1985 only Libertarian Review and NEW LIBERTARIAN remained with plus-1000 circulations. When LR and Inquiry quit, NL was not left alone. Bill Bradford, a lifetime subscriber to NL, started his own Centrist Libertarian magazine, Liberty. Briefly, it was inclusive, but soon it purged Rothbard and Konkin (Bradford claimed an Editorial Board he created had the responsibility, not him) and it defined itself between agorist/inclusive NL, paleolibertarian Rothbard-Rockwell Report, and the neoconservative Reason. In 1991, Reason under its new editor Virginia Postrel crossed the line and became the only publication to be viewed by some as libertarian to endorse the Gulf War. Even Reason‘s former editor Robert Poole and Cato’s Ed Crane opposed the naked imperialist maneuver.

When the agorists returned to activism in 1994, they found a changed Movement — but not victorious, as they had assumed it would be. Liberty was rehashing objectivism and Ayn Rand’s personal life over and over with the vapid sneering attacks by cowardly nom-de-plume “Chester Alan Arthur” substituting for political (or anti-political) analysis; the Libertarian Party had run an out-and-out scoundrel and party-funds embezzler, Andre Marrou, for President in 1992; Jeff Friedman was editing a “theoretical journal” claiming that Libertarianism was based on Egalitarianism (one of Murray Rothbard’s essays and book titles was Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature) and embracing chunks of deconstructionism, postmodernism, and even Liberalism; and, rather than rallying the demoralized, de-socialized Left to the Libertarian (black) banner, nearly all factions were cozying up to (different) parts of the already victorious and thus scornful statist Right. Reason was gone completely from Libertarianism, as was Reason.

With Chris Hitchens and Alex Cockburn calling for a revived New Left/Libertarian Alliance on CSPAN and in Left publications, SEK3 and the revived MLL answered them positively with the pamphlet “What’s Left?” and subsequent meetings of the Karl Hess Club (successor of the anti-Party Libertarian Supper Club of Los Angeles and Albert J. Nock/H.L. Mencken Fora). But the Original Gang Libertarian ranks thinned considerably. Robert LeFevre had died in 1986; Karl Hess left us in 1994 and Murray Rothbard in January 1995. The struggle for the minds (what was left of them) and hearts of the Libertarian Movement was thus engaged.

New Isolationist revived first; then the long-awaited Agorist Quarterly, the theoretical journal of The Agorist Institute, challenged J. Friedman’s Critical Review and began the development of the foundations of Counter-Economics and the rest of Agorism. Finally, NEW LIBERTARIAN returned to set the movement straight again with NL187 in December 1996 (dated April 1997.) Deviationists, sell-outs and compromisers fled in terror; the hard-core and unyielding defenders of freedom, as well as those who had been shut out of dominant libertarian publications for their individualist, non-conforming viewpoints, rejoiced.

And they all turned into .PDF files (Adobe AcrobatTM), moved to the World Wide Web of libertarian cyberspace, and lived happily ever after . . .

“The Last, Whole Introduction to Agorism” by Samuel Edward Konkin III

Agorism, unfortunately, needs an introduction.

Counter-economics and agorism were originally fighting concepts, forged in what seemed to be the ever-cresting revolution of 1972-73, and which proved to be the last wave instead. Revolutionary rhetoric or not, agorism arose in a time and a context where slogans required extensive published analysis and ongoing dialectic criticism with highly
committed competing factions. Thus, when the crucible of “The Sixities”1 had cooled, amongst all the garish Party pennants, Trashing rubbish, and exploded-Ideology ashes lay a hard, bright and accurate theory and methodology. Probably the first economically-sound basis for a revolutionary platform, agorism’s market melted away before it could even get on the display rack.

Origins of Agorism: Background
The collapse of the Berlin Wall was prefigured twenty years earlier by the collapse of statist economics, particularly the Orthodox Marxism and liberal Keynesianism. With our release from those reigning dead economists, alternatives flourished from heretical “anarcho”-capitalism to deviationist Marxism – the more heretical and deviationist, the better. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Murray Rothbard, paleoconservative (Old Right) class theory and isolationism was grafted onto (or synthesized with) a free-market economics that was so pure it generated the same systemic shock as, say, modern
Christianity discovering original, primitive Christianity.

Austrian School economics, particularly Ludwig von Mises’ uncompromising praxeology, was, most appealingly, uncompromising. Furthermore, it required  no patch-up or cover-up failures; in fact, in 1973-74, it successfully predicted the gold boom and the subsequent stagflation which so confounded the Official Court Economists. Mises died at his moment of triumph: Moses, Christ and Marx to the libertarian movement rising out of the ashes of the New Left and its dialectic opponent, the student Right.

Murray Rothbard was the Gabriel, St. Paul and Lenin. Rather than watering down praxeology to gain establishment acceptance and Nobel Prizes (as did Wilhelm Röpke and Friedrich Hayek, to name two), Rothbard insisted on radicalizing Austrianism still further.

Mises, though adored by radical rightists from Ayn Rand to Robert Welch, died calling himself a Liberal, though a 19th century Hapsburg Austrian Liberal, to be sure. Rothbard, with his academic historian allies Leonard Liggio and Joseph Peden, insisted that Austrianism went beyond the tepid classical liberalism being revived by the Milton Friedmans; it demanded not merely limited, constitutional, republican government – it required none at all.

How could  Röpke counsel Christian Democrat Kanzler Konrad Adenauer and Birchers love Mises when Rothbard preached outright anarchy? The answer lay in praxeology’s crucial concept of wertfrei – value free. As many critics later pointed out – even friendly, libertarian ones – economics assumed some values at various levels, such as to take the most blatant example, economic study itself. Nevertheless, suppressing conscious valuation allowed Mises to make a far more penetrating analysis devastating to all political illusionists of his time – but also allowed his theory to be sold in amputated parcels by selective opportunists and bought by well-meaning but narrow-focused activists.

The true meaning of Misesian “Austrian Economics” continues to be hotly debated in the Journal of Austrian Economics, Critical Review, and libertarian movement journals, but what concerns us here is what it was perceived as being at the founding of Counter-Economics.

Origins of Agorism: Counter-Economics
Austrian economics answered questions.

Q: Why do we value and how?
A: It is inherent in everyone and it is subjective.

Why do we give up anything at all ever?
A: Because we subjectively value A more than B while some Other values B more than A. We do not relinquish; we acquire a greater value.

But why would anyone give up something that is universally (or as close as possible)  subjectively valued for something of less value?
A: Because that one-thousandth unit of the seemingly more valuable is less subjectively valuable than the first unit of the seemingly lesser. Who would consider it folly to trade one’s hundredth loaf of bread for a first diamond? Utility is marginal.

Why do we have money?
A: Facilitate trade, keep quantitative accounts, make change and store value.

From where does money come?
It arises from commodities exchanged more and more as a middle or medium of exchange.

Q: Can government improve on money?
A: No, it is strictly a market function.

Q: What is the result of government intervention anywhere in the market?
Government is force, however legitimized and accepted; all force prevents subjective value satisfaction, that is, whatever human actors voluntarily give up and accept is, by their personal subjective (and unknowable to others) understanding, the best informed outcome to them. Any violence that deters their exchange is counter-productive to all the exchanges and to those whose exchanges depend on theirs – that is, violent intervention is a universal disutility in the market.

Mises thus concludes that all coercion – and that includes government action – is not just anti-market but inhumane. Not bad for value free assumptions!  Röpke (author of Humane Economy), Hayek, and even Mises felt that once private force or that of another state entered the marketplace, government counter-force was justified for rectification. Furthermore, none could conceive of any other way to deal with humane protection.

Enter Murray Rothbard… and Robert LeFevre.

Origins of Agorism: Anti-Politics
Between 1964 and 1974, the entire political spectrum save for a sliver of “liberal” machines in the Democratic and Republican parties were intensely alienated from politics. The moderate Left had their hopes dashed by Kennedy’s assassination and looked further Left; the moderate Right pinned their hopes on Goldwater and were driven out of politics by the establishment-medium distortions of his – their – positions. Some turned on, tuned in, and dropped out.

The rest of us pursued what Europeans call so diplomatically extra-parliamentary politics. Rothbard and his “East Coast” libertarians pursued an alliance of alienated “Old Right” and “New Left” for a classical revolution. Robert LeFevre and his “West Coast” libertarians pursued a civil-disobedience stance: non-participation in state-sanctioned politics, particularly elections and office-holding, coupled with education and activism to expand refusal until the State could no longer function. By 1969, the Weatherman tactic of exacerbating State violence with its own to accelerate revolution drove Rothbard
to give up his Ultra Left-Right coalition dream, and support peace candidates. LeFevre remained anti- collaborationist until his death in 1986, but civil disobedience and pacifism went out of fashion in the mid-1970s.

Origins of Agorism: Counter-Economics
Thus, when agorism appeared, there were several questions to be dealt with beyond the answers of then-current Austrian Economics and libertarian politics:

Q: Can the State be praxeologically dispensed with?
A: Answering that affirmatively, as both Rothbard and LeFevre and several others did…

Q: How?

Richard and Ernestine Perkins, Morris and Linda Tannehill, and David Friedman and the many contributors to The Libertarian Connection gave early answers as to how the market could provide protection agencies which would be competitive – eliminating the problem of the inherent coercion of the State. Unable to regulate or tax, able to act only when paid for and asked to protect or reclaim property, the agency solved the problem of intervention
against subjective-valuing human actors. Arbitration would replace magistration for justice – or at least settling rival claims.

But none of them describe the path of getting from here (statism) to there (stateless marketplace or agora). Assuming market entrepreneurs would find a way, the strategy for achieving liberty was left as an exercise for the readers.

In the same 1972 U.S. Presidential election where the power elite did to George McGovern and the non-revolutionary anti-war left what they had done to Barry Goldwater, a new party emerged. Although the Libertarian Party received a miniscule percentage of the vote and was ignored by everyone from Rothbard to LeFevre, a rebel elector in Virginia bolted Nixon’s overwhelming majority to put John Hospers and the LP on the political map. It turned out to be the high point of the LP’s success, but with the Fran Youngstein for Mayor Campaign in 1973, conservative and radical libertarians mingled and then repolarized. The crucial debate of 1974 was no longer anarchy vs. minarchy, but partyarchy vs. agorism.

The anti-party majority argued that working within the political system had failed for two centuries. The new “party anarchists” or partyarchs argued that nothing else had worked (everything else, presumably, had been tried in the Sixties)). At least they had a strategy. Furthermore, it could be perceived to work in stages and even increments as a law was repealed here or a tax there. Of course, in the twenty years of the LP’s existence, no “retreat of statism” has been noticeable.

The anti-party libertarians were forced to choose between yet another paradigm shift to respond (remember, most had been radicalized from conservatism to near Weathermen) or give up. Those who remained in the fight with their new analysis and corresponding strategy took the name of the market to oppose themselves to political parties and statism – agora. The new paradigm of the agorist was called (in tribute to the then-fading Counter-Culture) Counter-Economics.

Counter-Economics is the study and practice of the human action in the Counter-Economy. The Counter-Economy is all human action not sanctioned by the State.

Just as Quantum Mechanics arose by theoretical chemists and physicists refusing to ignore the paradigm-breaking experiments, and Relativity arose from Einstein’s acceptance of the Michelson-Morley results, Counter-Economics arose as a theory by taking into account what all standard economics either ignored or downplayed. Just as light tunneled out of Hawking’s black holes, human action tunneled under the control of the state. And this underground economy, black market, nalevo Russia turned out to be far, far to vast to ignore as a minor correction.

In the earliest agorist-influenced science-fiction in 1975, the story predicted the USSR would fall to counter-economic forces by 1990 and soon thereafter turn into such a free-market paradise that it would be invaded statist world lead by the imperialist U.S. (as this article is being written, the last of that prophecy would come to pass).

The Counter-Economic alternative gave the agorists a devastating weapon. Rather than slowly amass votes until some critical mass would allow state retreat (if the new statists did not change sides to protect their new vested interests), one could commit civil disobedience profitably, dodging taxes and regulations, having lower costs and (potentially) greater efficiency than one’s statist competitors – if any. For many goods and services could only arise or be provided counter-economically.

In 1975, the New Libertarian Alliance left their campuses and aboveground “white market” jobs and went full-time counter-economic for a decade to prove the strategy’s viability. In 1980, the long delayed New Libertarian Manifesto was issued to those into party politics or other forms of hopelessness.

Agorism Today
Surprisingly little systematic research has been done in counter-economics since the agorist discovery a decade after the immersion of the agorist cadre. They surfaced to find a changed political landscape. It had been expected that their more-timid allies would stay aboveground to conduct officially-sanctioned research, but that failed to happen for now obvious institutional reasons. Hence, determined to report their findings, take advantage of freedom of the press and academic freedom to do so, and, incidentally, raise families, the publishing cadre formed the Agorist Institute in the libertarian-rich American Southwest at the end (symbolically) of 1984. The rest of the history of agorism is the history of The
Agorist Institute’s trials and tribulations (which will presumably be published someday). AI flourished at the end of the 1980’s, hitting its nadir as counter-economics – if not full agorism – swept the globe and tossed socialism into the dustbin of history.

The Future of Agorism
Unlike in the Counter-Economy itself, agorists had a problem with market feedback operating aboveground, especially in the almost-market-devoid realm of tax-deductible, educational foundations – a fund devouring unreality forbidding enough to consume a fat chunk of the Koch family fortune and spit out Charles and David. Although receiving some financial support from mid-range successful entrepreneurs, AI attempted to do it all: research support, classes, seminars, academic conferences and publication of journals and newsletters (internal and external). (All the staff had additional jobs or businesses to support themselves.)

Hence, the 1995 revival also marks the AI’S tenth anniversary and the long-awaited and delayed publication of this quarterly. Once again, we embark on studying the vast iceberg below the tip – the Counter-Economy – and report our findings. To avoid our previous pitfalls, AI is focusing on three self-supporting (in short order) publications: AQ, the already appearing but infrequent New Isolationist, and new moment-by-moment newsletter of the primary concern, Counter-Economics. The test or preview issue, #0, follows this journal.

The world has changed in a second decade – but, strangely enough, the Russian nalevo market is still there to study after the Second Revolution – only this time, we will not be able to rely on CIA sponsored published accounts. How will the European Counter-Economy, particularly the Black Labor market, fare with the dropping of borders? What about Canada’s and Mexico’s “informal” economies with the passage of NAFTA? Is Hernando de Soto’s El Otro Sendero going to win over Abimael Guzman’s Sendero Luminoso, especially after betrayal by de Soto’s alleged political (partyarch) disciples, Mario Vargas Llosa and then Alberto Fujimori? Recently, the former Comandate Cero  of the Tercerista (uncompromising) faction of the Sandanistas, Eden Pastora, chose the agorist Karl Hess Club to announce his candidacy for President of Nicaragua.

And what about the United States? How does all of the above affect America’s counter-economic foreign interface [academic for “the smuggling industry”]? What effect will Clinton’s State medicine do to the health-providing service? Will all medical treatment end up like 1950’s abortion, and will people grab free needles at the AIDS-prevention center to give to their black doctors for unauthorized immunization of their children who cannot wait their “turn” (due after their scheduled death, as in Canada and England)?

Every issue in today’s press from Bosnia to Oklahoma City has an overlooked Counter-Economic component that AI can explore, compile and publish. Other areas can be excavated from the underground that will become issues once exposed and explained, and then there is the new battleground for agorists and statists: cyberspace, where cypherpunk agorist road warriors have an early lead over the Gore statist superhighwaymen.

But, finally and overall, the issue needing the most attention is that of agorism itself. To the extent that it is “agorology” and not just ideology, what is and should be its methodology? We most urgently invite our newly awakened and empowered students of agorism and multi-disciplinarians of counter-economics to contribute their first – and second – thoughts on the subject. Are some methods out of bounds in agorism that are academically acceptable, for example? Or are some methods acceptable  in counter-economic study that are unacceptable to academic researchers? Can we wertfrei when we are
obviously attracted to the Black as Departments of Marxist Studies are to the Red? Should there be competing methodologies? (In case there was the least doubt, AI encourages one, two, many agorist foundations.)

And what about that new Power Mac equipment to hook up to the Video Toaster? Is traditional publishing enough or should it be supplemented – or supplanted – by full-scale video production passed along by videotape – or hurtled through the Internet like “Breaker, breaker” trucks on the information superhighway? Should AQ continue to appear on paper, or in .PDF on-line files as New Libertarian magazine is now doing?

Now it is the “Rightist” Militia instead of New Left cadre blowing up federal
buildings and protesting massacres of peaceful women and children, but
fighting for freedom against the American Empire is turning serious again. In
an important way, our Nineties are like the Sixties: we don’t know where
we’re going to end up, but we know we’re on our way. Or, in 90’s parlance, as
our children’s spokesperson would say, when asked about “the future,”
agorists answer, “The Future? We’re there.”

Originally published in The Agorist Quarterly, Fall 1995, Volume 1, Number 1.


“Counter-Economics: Our Means” by Samuel Edward Konkin III

The following is a chapter from SEK3’s “New Libertarian Manifesto”.

Having detailed our past and statist present and glimpsed a credible view of a far better society achievable with present understanding and technology – no change in human nature needed – we come to the critical part of the manifesto: how do we get from here to there? The answer breaks into two naturally – or maybe unnaturally. Without a State, the differentiation into micro (manipulation of an individual by himself in his environment – including the market) and the macro (manipulation of collectives) would be at best an interesting statistical exercise with some small reference to marketing agencies. Even so, a person with a highly sophisticated decency may wish to understand the social consequences of his or her acts even if they harm no other.

With a State tainting every act and befouling our minds with unearned guilt, ait becomes extremely important to understand the social consequences of our acts. For example, if we fail to pay at tax and get away with it, who is hurt: us? The State? Innocents? Libertarian analysis shows us that the State is responsible for any damage to innocents it alleges the “selfish tax-evader” has incurred; and the “services” the State “provides” us are illusory. But even so, there must be more than lonely resistance cleverly concealed or “dropping out?” If a political party or revolutionary army is inappropriate and self-defeating for libertarian goals, what collective action works? The answer is agorism.

It is possible, practical, and even profitable to entrepreneur large collections of humanity from statist society to the agora. This is, in the deepest sense, true revolutionary activity and will be covered in the next chapter. But to understand this macro answer, we must first outline the micro answer. [1]

The function of the pseudo-science of Establishment economics, even more than making predictions (like the Imperial Roman augurers) for the ruling class, is to mystify and confuse the ruled class as to where their wealth is going and how it is taken. An explanation of how people keep their wealth and property from the State is then Counter-Establishment economics, or Counter- Economics [2] for short. The actual practice of human actions that evade, avoid and defy the State is counter-economic activity, but in the same sloppy way “economics” refers to both the science and what it studies, Counter- Economics will undoubtedly be used. Since this writing is Counter-Economic theory itself, what will be referred to as Counter-Economics is the practice.

Mapping and describing all or even a significantly useful part of Counter- Economics will require at least a full volume itself. [3] Just enough will be sketched here to provide understanding for the rest of the manifesto.

Going from an agorist society to a statist one should be uphill work, equivalent to a path of high negative entropy in physics. After all, once one is living in and understanding a well-run free society, why would one wish to return to systematic coercion, plunder, and anxiety? Spreading ignorance and irrationality among the knowledgeable and rational is difficult; mystifying that which is already clearly understood is nearly impossible. The agorist society should be fairly stable relative to decadence, though highly open to improvement.

Let us run backwards in time, like running a film backward, from the agorist society to the present statist society. What would we expect to see?

Pockets of statism, mostly contiguous in territory, since the State requires regional monopolies, would first appear. The remaining victims are becoming more and more aware of the wonderful free world around them and “evaporating” from these pockets. Large syndicates of market protection agencies are containing the State by defending those who have signed up for protection- insurance. Most importantly, those outside the statist pockets or sub- societies are enjoying an agorist society save for a higher cost of insurance premiums and some care as to where they travel. The agorists could co-exist with statists at this point, maintaining an isolationist “foreign policy” since the costs of invasion of statist sub-societies and liberation would be higher than immediate returns (unless the State launches an all-out last aggression), but there is no real reason to imagine the remaining victims will choose to remain oppressed when the libertarian alternative is so visible and accessible. The State’s areas are like a super-saturated solution ready to precipitate anarchy.

Run backward another step and we find the situation reversed. We find larger sectors of society under Statism and smaller ones living as agorically as possible. However, there is one visible difference: the agorists need not be territorially contiguous. They can live anywhere, though they will tend to associate with their fellow agorists not only for social reinforcement but for ease and profitability of trade. It’s always safer and more profitable to deal with more trustworthy customers and suppliers. The tendency is for greater association among more agorist individuals and for dissociation with more statist elements. (This tendency is not only theoretically strong; it already exists in embryonic practice today.) Some easily defendable territories, perhaps in space or islands in the ocean (or under the ocean) or big-city “ghettos” may be almost entirely agorist, where the State is impotent to crush them. But most agorists will live within statist-claimed areas.

There will be a spectrum of the degree of agorism in most individuals, as there is today, with a few benefiting from the State being highly statist, a few fully conscious of the agorist alternative and competent as living free to the hilt, and the rest in the middle with varying degrees of confusion.

Finally, we step back to where only a handful understand agorism, the vast majority perceiving illusory gains from the existence of the State or unable to perceive an alternative, and the statists themselves: the government apparatus and the class defined by receiving a new gain from the State’s intervention in the Market. [4]

This is a description of our present society. We are “home.”

Before we reverse course and describe the path from statism to agorism, let us look around at our present society with our newly-acquired agorist perception. Much as a traveller who returns home and sees things in a new light from what he or she has learned from foreign lands and ways of life, we may gain new insights on our present circumstances.

Besides a few enlightened New Libertarians tolerated in the more liberal statist areas on the globe (“toleration” exists to the degree of libertarian contamination of statism), we now perceive something else: large numbers of people who are acting in an agorist manner with little understanding of any theory but who are induced by material gain to evade, avoid, or defy the State. Surely they are a hopeful potential?

In the Soviet Union, a bastion of arch-statism and a nearly totally collapsed “official” economy, a giant black market provides the Russians, Armenian, Ukrainian and others with everything from food to television repair to official papers and favors from the ruling class. As the Guardian Weekly reports, Burma is almost a total black market with the government reduced to an army, police, and a few strutting politicians. In varying degrees, this is true of nearly all the Second and Third Worlds.

What of the “First” World? In the social-democrat countries, the black market is smaller because the “white market” of legally accepted market transactions is larger, but the former is still quite prominent. Italy, for example, has a “problem” of a large part of its civil services which works officially from 7 A.M. to 2 P.M. working unofficially at various jobs the rest of the day earning “black” money. The Netherlands has a large black market in housing because of the high regulation of this industry. Denmark has a tax evasion movement so large that those in it seduced to politics have formed the second largest party. And these are only the grossest examples that the press has been able or willing to cover. Currency controls are evaded rampantly; in France, for example, everyone is assumed to have a large gold stash and trips to Switzerland for more than touring and skiing are commonplace.

To really appreciate the extent of this counter=economic activity, one must view the relatively free “capitalist” economies. Let us look at the black and grey markets [5] in North America and remember this is the case of lowest activity in the world today.

According to the American Internal Revenue Service, at least twenty million people belong in the “underground economy” of tax evaders using cash to avoid detections of transactions or barter exchange. Millions keep money in gold or in foreign accounts to avoid the hidden taxation of inflation. Millions of “illegal aliens” are employed, according to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Millions more deal or consume marijuana and other proscribed drugs, including laetrile and forbidden medical material.

And there are all the practitioners of “victimless crimes.” Besides drug use, there are prostitution, pornography, bootlegging, false identification papers, gambling, and proscribed sexual conduct between consenting adults. Regardless of “reform movements” to gain political acceptance of these acts, the populace has chosen to act now – and by so doing are creating a counter-economy.

But it doesnt stop here. Since the 55 mph speed limit enacted federally in the U.S., most Americans have become counter-economic drivers. The trucking industry has developed CB communications to evade state enforcement of regulations. For independents who can make four runs at 75 mph rather than three runs at 55 mph, counter-economic driving is a question of survival.

The ancient custom of smuggling thrives today from boatloads of marijuana and foreign appliances with high tariffs and truckloads of people from less- developed countries to the tourists stashing a little extra in their luggage and not reporting to customs agents.

Nearly everyone engages in some sort of misrepresentation or misdirection on their tax forms, off-the-books payments for services, unreported trade with relatives and illegal sexual positions with their mates.

To some extent, then, everybody is a counter-economist! And this is predictable from libertarian theory. Nearly every aspect of human action has statist legislation prohibiting, regulating or controlling it. These laws are so numerous that “Libertarian” Party which prevented any new legislation and briskly repealed ten or twenty laws a session would not have significantly repealed the State (let alone the mechanism itself!) for a millennia! [6]

Obviously, the State is unable to obtain enforcement of its edicts. Yet the State continues. And if everyone is somewhat counter-economic, why hasn’t the Counter-Economy overwhelmed the economy?

Outside of North America we can add the effect of imperialism. The Soviet Union has received support from the more developed countries in the 1930’s and large quantities of instruments of violence during World War II. Even today, “trade” heavily subsidized by non-repayable loans props up the Soviet and new Chinese regimes. This capital (or anti-capital, being destructive of value) flow, together with military aid, from both blocs maintains regimes in the rest of the globe. But that does not explain the North American case.

What exists everywhere on Earth allowing the State to continue is the sanction of the victim. [7] Every victim of statism has internalized the State to some degree. The IRS’s annual proclamation that the income tax depends on “voluntary compliance” is ironically true. Should the taxpayers completely cut off the blood supply, the vampire State would helplessly perish, its unpaid police and army deserting almost immediately, defanging the Monster. If everyone abandoned “legal tender” for gold and goods in contracts and other exchanges, it is doubtful that even taxation could sustain the modern State. [8]

This is where the State’s control of education and the information media, either directly or through ruling-class ownership, becomes crucial. In earlier days, the established priesthood served the function to sanctify the king and aristocracy, mystify the relations of oppression, and induce guilt in evaders and registers. The disestablishment of religion has put this burden on the new resisters. The disestablishment of religion has put this burden on the new intellectual class (what the Russians called the intelligentsia). Some intellectuals, holding truth as their highest value (as did earlier dissenting theologians and clerics), do work at clarifying rather than mystifying, but they are dismissed or reviled and kept away from State and foundation-controlled income. Thus is the phenomenon of dissidence and revisionism created; and thus is the attitude of anti-intellectualism generated among the populace who suspect or incompletely understand the function of the Court Intellectual.

Note well how anarchist intellectuals are attacked and repressed under every State; and those arguing for an overthrow of the present ruling class – even only to replace it with another – are suppressed. Those who propose changes which eliminate some beneficiaries of the State and add other\s are often laud ed by the benefiting elements of the Higher Circles and attacked by the potential losers.

A common characteristic of most hardened black marketeers is their guilt. They wish to “make their bundle” and return to the “straight society.” Bootleggers and hookers all long some day for re-acceptance in society – even when they form a supportive “sub-society” of outcasts. Yet there have been exceptions to this phenomenon of longing for acceptance: the religious dissenting communities of the 1700s, the political utopian communities of the 1800s, and most recently, the counter-culture of the hippies and New Left. What they had was a conviction that thir sub-society was superior to the rest of society. The fearful reaction to themselves they generated in the rest of society was the fear they were correct.

All of these examples of self-sustaining sub-societies failed for one overriding reason: ignorance of economics. No social binding, no mater how beautiful, can overcome the basic glue of society – division of labor. Thu anti-market commune defies the only enforceable law – the law of nature. The basic organizational structure of society (above the family) is not the commune (or tribe or extended tribe or State) but eh agora. No matter how many wish communism to work and devote themselves to it, it will fail. They can hold back agorism indefinitely by great effort, but when they let go, the “flow” or “Invisible Hand” or “tides of history” or “profit incentive” or “doing what comes naturally” or “spontaneity” will carry society inexorably closer to the pure agora.

Why is there such resistance to eventual happiness? Psychologists have been dealing with that since they began their embryonic science. But we can at least give two broad answers when it comes to socioeconomic questions: internalization of anti=principles (those seeming like principles but actually contrary to natural law) and the opposition of vested interests.

Now we can see clearly what is needed to create a libertarian society. One the one hand we need the education of the libertarian activists and the consciousness-raising of counter-economists to libertarian understanding and mutual supportive ness. “We are right, we are better, we are surviving in a moral, consistent way and we are building a better society – of benefit to ourselves and others,” our counter-economic “encounter groups” might affirm.

Note well that libertarian activists who are not themselves full practicing counter-economists are unlikely to be convincing. “Libertarian” political candidates undercut everything they say (of value) by what they are doing; some candidates have even held jobs in taxing bureaus and defense departments!

On the other hand, we must defend ourselves against the vested interests or at the very least lower their oppression as much as possible. If we eschew reformist activity as counter-productive, how will we achieve that?

One way is o bring more and more people into the counter-economy and lower the plunder available to the State. But evasion isn’t enough; how do we protect ourselves and even counter-attack?

Slowly but steadily we will move to the free society turning more counter- economists onto libertarianism and more libertarians onto counter-economics, finally integrating theory and practice. The counter-economy will grow and spread to the next step we saw in our trip backward, with an ever=-larger agorist sub-society embedded in the statist society. Some agorists may even condense into discernible districts and ghettos and predominate in islands or space colonies. At this point, the question of protection and defense will become important

Using our agorist model (Chapter 2), we can see how the protection industry must evolve. Firstly, why do people engage in counter-economics with no protection? the pay-off for the risk they take is greater than their expected loss. This statement is true, of course, for all economic activity, but for counter-economics it requires special emphasis:

The fundamental principle of counter-economics is to trade risk for profit. [9]

The higher the expected profit, the greater the risk taken. Note that if risk is lowered, a lot more would be attempted and accomplished – surely an indicator that a free society is wealthier than an unfree one.

Risk may be lowered by increasing care, precautions, security (locks and stashes), and by trusting fewer persons of higher trustworthiness. The last indicates a high preference for dealing with fellow agorist and a strong economic incentive binding an agorist sub-society and an incentive to recruit or support recruitment.

Counter-economic entrepreneurs have an incentive to provide better security devices, places of concealment, instructions to help evasion and screen potential customers and suppliers for other counter-economic entrepreneurs. And thus is the counter-economic protection industry born.

As it grows, it may begin insuring against “bursts,” lowering counter-economic risks further and accelerating counter-economic growth. Then it may provide lookouts and guarded areas of safekeeping with alarm systems and highly technological concealment mechanisms. Guards may be provided against real criminals (other than the State). Already many residential, business and even minority districts have private patrols, having given up on the State’s alleged protection of property.

Along the way the risk of contract-violation between counter-economic traders will be lowered by arbitration. Then the protection agencies will start providing contract enforcement between agorists, although the greatest “enforcer” in the early stages will be the State to which each can turn the other cone into. Yet that act would quickly result in one’s expulsion from the sub-society; so an internal enforcement mechanism will be valued.

In the final stages counter-economist transactions with statists will be enforceable by the protection agencies and the agorists protected against the criminality of the State. [10]

At this point we have reached the final step before the achievement of a libertarian society. Society is divided between large agorist areas inviolate and statist sectors. And we stand on the brink of Revolution.


[1] Micro and macro are terms from present Establishment economics. While Counter-Economics is part of agorism (until the State is gone), agorism includes both Counter-Economics in practice and libertarianism in theory. Since that theory includes an awareness of the consequences of large-scale Counter-Economic practice, I will use agorist in the macro sense and counter- economic in the micro sense. Since the division is inherently ambiguous, some overlap and interchangeability will occur.

[2] “Counter-Economics” was formed the same way as “counter-culture;” it does not mean anti-economic science any more than counter-culture was anti-culture.

[3] This volume, Counter-Economics (the book), has been begun and should be completed in 1981 and published in 1982 one way or the other, Market willing!

o Note to Second Edition: The Market is not yet willing, but soon…

[4] That class has been called the Ruling Class, Power Elite, or Conspiracy, depending on whether the analysis comes from a Marxist, Liberal, or Bircher background. The terms will be used inter changeably to show the commonality of the identification.

[5] While some coercive acts are often lumped into the label “black market,” such as murder and theft, the vast majority of this “organized crime” is perfectly legitimate to a libertarian, though occasionally unsavory. The Mafia, for example, is not black market but as government over some of the black market which collects protection money (taxes) from its victims and enforces its control with executions and beatings (law enforcement), and even conducts wars when its monopoly is threatened. These acts will be considered red market to differentiate them from the moral acts of the black market which will be discussed below. In short, the “black market” is anything non-violent prohibited by the State and carried on anyways.

The “grey market” is used here to mean dealing in goods and services not themselves illegal but obtained or distributed in ways legislated against by The State. Much of what is called “white-collar crime” falls under this and is smiled upon by most of society.

Where one draws the line between black and grey market depends largely on the state of consciousness of the society one is in. The red market is clearly separable. Murder is red market; defending oneself against a criminal (when the State forbids self-defense) – including a police officer – is black in New York City and grey in Orange County.

[6] Thus an “L”P would perpetuate statism. In addition, and “L”P would preserve the ill-gotten gain of the ruling class and maintain the State’s enforcement and execution.

[7] An example of how this works may be helpful. Suppose I wished to receive and sell a contraband or evade a tax or violate a regulation. Let’s say I can make $100,000 a transaction.

Using government figures on criminal apprehension, always exaggerated in the State’s favor simply because they cannot know how much we got away with, I find an apprehension rate of 20%. One may then find out the percentage of those cases that come for trial and the percentage of those that result in conviction even with a good lawyer. let’s say 25% make it to trial and 50% result in conviction. (The latter is high but we’ll throw in the legal fees involved so that even a decision involving loss of legal costs but acquittal is still a “loss.”) I therefore incur a 2.5% risk (.20 x .25 x .50 = 0.025). This is high for most real cases.

Suppose my maximum fine is $500,000 or five years in jail – or both. Excluding my counter-economic transactions (one certainly cannot count them when deciding whether or not to do them), I might make $20,000 a year so that I would lose another $100,000. It’s very hard to ascribe a value to five years of incarceration, but at least in our present society it’s not too much worse than other institutionalization (school, army, hospital) and at least the counter-economist won’t be plagued with guilt and remorse.

So I weigh 2.5% of $600,000 loss or $15,000 and five years against $100,000 gain! And I could easily insure myself for $14,000 (or less) to pay all costs and fines! In short, it works.

[8] It probably should be noted explicitly that businesses could grow quite large in the counter-economy. Whether or not “wage workers” would exist instead of “independent contractors” for all steps of production is arguable, but this author feels that the whole concept of “worker-boss” is a holdover from feudalism and not, as Marx claims, fundamental to “capitalism.” Of course, capital-statism is the opposite of what the libertarian advocates.

Furthermore, even large businesses today could go partially counter-economic, leaving a portion in the “white market” to satisfy government agents and pay some modicum of taxes and report a token number of workers. The rest of the business would (and already often does) expand off the books with independent contractors who supply, service, and distribute the finished product. Nobody, no business, no worker, and no entrepreneur need be white market.

“Foreword to “The Market For Liberty” by Karl Hess

The most interesting political questions throughout history have been whether or not humans will be ruled or free, whether they will be responsible for their actions as individuals or left irresponsible as members of society, and whether they can live in peace by volitional agreements alone.

The fundamental question of politics has always been whether there should be politics.

Morris and Linda Tannehill, in this book, which has become something of a classic even while being (until now) out of print, answer that politics is not necessary, that the ancient and ongoing contrivance of the marketplace can be substituted for it with ennobling results.

Advocates of state power will of course recoil from the idea and point out that it is all idle dreaming, that the state has always existed and must always exist lest brutal humans descend into, horrors, ANARCHY.  They are correct, of course.  Without the state there would be anarchy for that is, despite all of the perfervid ravings of the Marxist Left and statist Right, all that anarchy means—the absence of the state, the opportunity for liberty.

As for the direction that a world headed for liberty would be taking (descending or ascending) the Tannehills and many others have reviewed the record of the nation state and have discovered a curiously powerful fact.  The nation state has never been associated with peace on earth.  Its most powerful recommendation and record is, as a matter of fact, as a wager of war.  The history of nation states is written around the dates of wars, not peace, around arms and not arts.  The organization of warfare without the coercive power of the nation state is simply unimaginable at the scale with which we have become familiar.

Having shown no capacity whatsoever to bring peace to earth, then what is the claim of the state on our allegiance?  In closely reasoned arguments, the Tannehills maintain that there should be no claim at all; that the state is not needed at any point in our lives and that other, volitional, arrangements can be substituted for every single state function.  They see these arrangements operating in the framework of a truly free market and they carefully explain them.

The benefits, they argue, are as numerous as the problems that now plague us.  Pollution is more easily opposed when it is seen sensibly as an aggression against property rather than as a political cause or licensure.  Monopoly is less likely in a laissez faire world than in a regulated one.  Crime is less likely in communities responsible for their own protection than in those which are simply precinct outposts of the state’s police forces.  And so on and on throughout the entire, dreary record of state activity and through the exciting possibilities of libertarian activity.

Much of what the Tannehills have to say has become familiar to libertarians since the book was first published in 1970.  It is their proposition that it will become familiar to more and more people as the myths of the state topple under the weight of reality.  It is also their proposition that the changed order that will ensue from libertarian ideas will be enduring and beneficent, unlike the changes that have occurred in the past as the result of violence.

Supporting their contention is an analysis of the state which even if it seemed fanciful to some in 1970 must seem almost modest today.  The free economies of the world, the so-called underground economies, are growing at an astonishing rate.  In Italy it is the underground economy that keeps the country afloat.  In America it is the least inflation-prone and probably the fastest growing part of the economy, having elicited from President Reagan the wistful comment that if the underground paid its taxes (tribute) to the state then he could balance the budget.  In the countries of the Soviet police-state the underground economy is at one and the same time a powerful force in keeping people alive and also a powerful force in keeping alive their hopes for freedom.

Meantime, the economy of the least free state, the Soviet, continues to sputter along at a rate so depressed that the subjects of the state tyranny cannot even feed themselves adequately.  And the economy of the most free state, America, drags itself deeper and deeper into state-related debt and depression.  Only, in America at least, a renewed sense of entrepreneurial possibility keeps anything moving ahead.  Seeing such activity should remind us all that the entrepreneurial shine in a state society could become star-bright brilliance in a fully free society.

The importance of re-issuing the Tannehills’ book at this time, it seems to me, is in the probability that it will inspire and enlarge the horizons of young entrepreneurs who may enormously enjoy what they are doing but may not fully appreciate the larger implications of a free market world.  Some will appreciate, from reading the Tannehills, that not only can they make money but that they can help make a new world as they do it.

“Bartering” by Karl Hess

About 10 years ago, back in the days when I worked for Republican politicians battling Democratic Presidents, constant harassment by the Internal Revenue Service caused me to snap my twig and just stop paying taxes altogether. I won’t go into the tedious details, but I will note that I announced my decision to the I.R.S. by sending along a copy of the Declaration of Independence. By return mail, my tax collector informed me that a lien would be placed against all my property–that they would take every cent, literally 100 percent, of every penny I might earn and that they could discern.

I asked, then, how they would handle it if I decided to just barter for a living. They had a ready answer: “If you get some turnips for your work, we’ll take the turnips.” Fortunately for me, either the I.R.S. is surfeited with vegetables, or turnips are a good deal more difficult to track down than cold cash.

And so I survive. The other day I welded up a fish-smoking rack for a family in Washington, D.C. It will earn me a year’s supply of smoked fish. At about the same time, I helped a friend dig a foundation. He’ll help me lay the concrete blocks for a workshop. Part of my pay for a lecture at a New England college was the use of the school’s welding shop, to make some metal sculptures. Three such sculptures have paid my attorney’s fees in maintaining the tax resistance which is the reason barter has become such an integral part of my life.

Cash is not altogether gone from my existence. First of all, the taxpaying lady with whom I live generates a bit. Second, there are jobs I can do for hard cash, getting the money before the tax collector. Of course, although I don’t pay my taxes, I dutifully file tax returns, publicly discuss my tax resistance, and always overstate, rather than ever try to hide, or falsify, income. Otherwise it wouldn’t be tax resistance, but simple fraud.

But barter, when you get into it, beats cash all hollow.

For all its practical uses as a formalistic place to “store” labor, cash becomes after a while a symbol without substance. It should always represent something: work, exchange, And yet it doesn’t for so many. It didn’t for me. I used to think of it as a value in and of itself.

With barter, the symbol can never outpace the source. Work is exchanged for work, value is exchanged for value. Furthermore, if freely given to someone, work, or an object, represents a true transfer of something of value. Sharing your food with a neighbor (barter charity) is an act both personal and understandable–and expectantly reciprocal, should you sometime be the needy one. There is no hint of undignified pleading as with a person facing a welfare bureaucrat. But in money-charity, say, involving the impersonal billions of the Government welfare system, values are hard to keep straight.

Perhaps that is what being “reduced” in part to barter has taught me most strikingly. Being part of a nation is like being part of a bookkeeping system in which you are a mere entry.

Let me give you an example. Recently, my drivers license expired. (Well, actually, when I went to renew my license, I was informed that the District of Columbia had instituted a new regulation: I needed to show my Social Security card. Since I had lost my card, I had to fill out an application for a new one–which could not be processed, I was informed, for at least a month. Eventually, it arrived in the mail. By then, of course, my license had expired.)

Now, this fateful license is not just a vehicular adjunct to my life. It is my only, absolutely only, piece of official identification. The reason is–you guessed it–my long-standing tax resistance. That means no bank account, no credit cards, nothing in the way of usual identification. Just the driver’s license.

As it happens, I was recently summoned to lecture at the University of Wisconsin, in Milwaukee. Where there, I was given a check for expenses, to enable me to return to Washington. I needed cash. The check, I was told, could easily be cashed at the bank handling the university account. Up to the window, hand over the check. Then the voice of doom. “May I see some identification, please.”

I offered up my one, my only piece of identification. “I’m sorry, sir,” she reported, “we can’t accept this item of identification. It has expired.”

It dawned on me that I did not exist for the bank, excepting only as an unidentifiable object. To the bank, the license, the photo, the description–and, therefore, the person–had ceased to be recognizable as of the expiration date of the license.

“Well,” I said, “the license may have expired but I haven’t.” The cashier really had to think about that She did. Then she started to chuckle. Then she agreed. And I got my cash! But I knew that, for the bank, my identity had expired.

Needless to say, this sort of exchange would be inconceivable in the bartering life. Being part of a transaction of barter means that you are an equal person, fairly exchanging. It is flesh and blood, human, face to face.

Of course, to the extent that money does represent just the sort of barter exchange that I have been practicing, there seems to me to be no objection to it. Indeed, I still use money whenever necessary, as in buying airline ticket to reach a college where I may earn an honorarium for a lecture. The cash thus earned, because it is the immediate exchange for a job of work, seems fairly meaningful to me.

But in the days that such cash got deposited in a bank account–where it began a wild arithmetical dance with debts–the idea of money as an exchange value got lost, as I recall. This or that piece of debt did not seem to represent this or that specific amount of work. It was all just numbers.

Now, for a bookkeeper with a very sharp pencil, there might be one great disadvantage to barter. Its dynamic seems to press you toward wanting to be always just a bit on the short end of the deal; that is, to be in a position where you try to do a bit more than you receive so as to relieve any gnawing doubts of irresponsibility. It is my experience, however, that everyone involved in bartering feels the same way, and so the system remains dynamic and satisfying, not stultifying and worrisome.

This is not a system that every American could follow–heck, it was forced on me–and, anyhow, I wouldn’t seek to impose my economic life-style on others. But it works for me. It is important for me to know that the money from this essay, if i can find someone to cash the check for me, will be directly and personally transformed to trade goods in my neighborhood–payment for work done by me which will help some neighbor, then pay for some work done by someone else.

It will have been a living process all the way.

Originally published in The New York Times November 9, 1975.