Agorism is the philosophy of counter-economic activity eventually overcoming the statist economic consensus. It’s not simply black market activity, but rather a whole alternative economy that operates just below the surface of state capitalism. While seen by some (including Rothbard) as a niche element to the state’s leviathan, Konkin himself noted that the counter economy encompasses a huge range of activity, from black market heavy industry in Burma to the cottage industry of medical marijuana in the United States. In the modern world, where regulation is more pernicious than ever before, and is enforced through a huge range of trade agreements, product directives and intellectual property law, agorism is more important than ever. New developments in technology and software are increasingly enclosed by corporate vested interests through the mechanisms of intellectual property and complex trade law.
With the advent of electricity, theorists like Mumford and Kropotkin saw the advent of a new technological age of decentralised production based around individuals contracting their goods voluntarily. Electricity was the means to this as it eliminated the need for large factories to use the full capacity of the existing technology. As a result, the artificial hierarchies of bosses and wage labourers became obsolete and instead society could move toward individual contractors who could choose to work collectively or individually. However, such a picture was never painted. Electricity was integrated into large-scale mass production systems, and the centralising tendencies of industrial capitalism continued unabated. The capacity that needed to be fully utilised became much larger through electrical power, and meant that the state was increasingly required to soak up the excess product. The Bretton Woods system of regulated trade was the first major internationalisation of production which accomplished this, itself borne out of the New Deal and its legislated trade associations and massive infrastructure projects. Military Keynesianism through Cold War spending enlarged this infrastructure, “opening up” economies through the power of the state, as well as creating new technologies through R&D spending which furthered economic centralisation.
Neoliberalism was the next step in this process, co-opting newer technologies into its huge economies of scale and monopoly markets. Things like the Wal-Mart style of retail, the Amazon style of distribution and the Apple system of production predominate due to state infrastructure and its soaking up of overproduction. New technologies are integrated to continue these processes, negating their decentralist functions, much like electrical power a century ago. Agorism opens up the decentralist actualities of these technologies and means a new way of operating these technologies away from statist and corporate networks. “Every single transaction that takes place outside the nexus of state control is a victory for those individuals taking part in the transaction”, allowing those individuals to ignore the increasing stringency of state control. The Shanzhai economy in Shenzhen, China already shows some of these possibilities. A clustered economy of small contractors and firms creating new forms of technology around existing products, particularly cell phones and computers. In a similar vein, the black economy of the internet functions through small contractors and small-batch production. These only exist due to their ignoring the nexus of intellectual property laws.
There is an increasing viability of these new technologies being a means toward new production models that counter the economic narratives of neoliberal state capitalism. The development of new forms of consumer analytics (direct comparison sites and the tailoring of consumer needs directly toward the consumer) means the redevelopment of counter-economic consumerism toward the direct economy, engendering new economies of scale. Open source technologies, ranging from the Blockchain to Tor, give power back to the individual in an economy, allowing for the creation of a new entrepreneuriat by decentralising the means of production. P2P finance and online bartering sites represent another element to this, providing significantly higher consumer choice and getting around the problem of coincidence of wants by connecting individuals and firms to a huge variety of differently scaled economies. It also means capital is unlocked, opened up to a huge range of potentials for entrepreneurs and producers. Even in the realm of distribution, technology empowers alternative market activity as drones are becoming a new way of transporting deliverable goods. This has an inherent decentralist tendency as drones are affordable for the layperson and thus spread the capability to join the entrepreneuriat even wider.
However, such technologies are already trying to be appropriated by existing corporate behemoths. Amazon is now looking to use drones for its distribution networks, limiting this technology’s capacity to decentralise distribution to local economies of scale. Consumer analytics are being co-opted by large advertising firms and technology giants. The Blockchain is now beginning to be used by too-big-to-fail banks, negating the decentralisation of capital and instead maintaining the corporate kleptocracy present in large, subsidised firms.
Thus the importance of Agorism. It hands power back to the individual. Konkin saw this as moving from the figure of the wage labourer to that of the independent contractor, which creates a more equal bargaining position from which economic relations can flourish. Technology can continue this trajectory, allowing different service providers and consumers to link up through the internet. What’s created is a “meshwork” of producers and consumers linked into a small market system.
“Small markets…allow the assemblage of human beings by interlocking complementary demands. These markets are indeed, self-organized decentralized structures: they arise spontaneously without the need for central planning. As dynamic entities they have absolutely nothing to do with an “invisible hand”, since models based on Adam Smith’s concept operate in a frictionless environment in which agents have perfect rationality and all information flows freely. Yet, by eliminating nonlinearities, these models preclude the spontaneous emergence of order, which depends crucially on friction: delays, bottlenecks, imperfect decision-making and so on.”
These bottlenecks and centralised imperfections give rise to agorism. In the cracks of state capitalism there exists a capacity for entrepreneurs to jump on such competitive opportunities, whether legal or illegal. Such can already be seen in Greece with the development of a cornucopia of alternative economies which encourage geographic boundaries around communities of consumers and producers. This naturally reorients economies toward a more human scale. The integration of technology has played an important part in this process. Open source programs have been used to develop alternative currencies that are as accessible as possible, as well as being a way to advertise their political and social aims. The burgeoning barter systems in Greece also rely on the use of open source internet technologies. The associations of doctors and patients which have slowly replaced the destruction of Greek healthcare have developed through internet technologies controlled by their users which connect those in need of their service with a service-provider. These open source platforms also reorient these sectors toward systems of trust rather than as systems of commodification.
But it’s not just a counter-economy of consumers in Greece. Counter-economic production has already begun with the taking of the state broadcaster and the Vio.Me factory by their respective workers. This Rothbardian homesteading pushes economies of scale down as workers and community members refocus economic ends toward more direct needs, as has happened with the Piquetero movement in Argentina. Similar takeovers may well occur with the “privatisation” of Greek shipyards and docks, meaning a fundamental change of direction away from international shipping toward national and regional shipping and production-consumption structures. It means a social change similar to what Colin Ward has described when understanding worker ownership. It’s not a simple transition but rather a radical reorientation of what an economy represents and entails, as workers take over elements of the means of production and use their own basis of needs and desires to reconstruct the current socio-economic paradigm toward an alternative counter-economy. These coming horizons present a new opportunity for counter-economic practices and entrepreneurial activity. The Greek people have an opportunity to create a counter-economy based within regional and local economies of scale simply by ignoring both the corrupt Greek state and the capitalist forces of the European Union.
Going to a different arena, that of the UK, there exists developing horizons of opportunity for counter-economics and the development of an agorist alternative economy. With the possibility of the UK exiting the EU, there may well be economic uncertainty surrounding the viability of corporate behemoths (particularly manufacturing firms) and farm subsidies. With this, there is a potential for re-envisioning the prevailing economies of scale that ail the British economy. By removing themselves from the internationalised marketplace that is the EU, radically reoriented economies can be developed through worker control of major manufacturers (such as British steel plants or car makers) and the creation of local economies of scale for food production and consumption as a result of high food tariffs and a lack of farm subsidies. By connecting through the internet, such firms could connect with their local or regional direct economy and produce therein. This technological agorism decentralises power to the entrepreneur and the consumer, and away from corporate kleptocracies that require massive state intervention on their behalf.
The new technologies that are developing have a natural inclination to be integrated into small-scale production outfits and reduced economies of scale. However, the presiding corporate powers are using intellectual property and the entry barriers present in regulatory apparatuses to make sure that these technologies are instead integrated into the corporate-state nexus, maintaining the position of wage labourers instead of allowing for the development of a new, radical entrepreneuriat of independent contractors and worker-owners. Agorism is needed to correct this economic injustice, and make sure new technology is available to potential entrepreneurs and producers. Already such developments can be seen in Shanzhai (an economy based on ignoring the stupidities of intellectual property) and Greece, where austerity has destroyed the prevailing capitalist economy and required direct action by consumers and workers. Combining the burgeoning technological agorism with these coming horizons of economic recession means the ability to create a whole new raft of alternative local and regional economies that rival the corporate state.
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 Ward, C. A Self-Employed Society, 2012