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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

What is Counter-Economics?

As part of the ongoing symposium on the , Wally Conger answers Vache Folle's question with a quote from Sam Konkin's New Libertarian Manifesto:

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 for short. The actual practice of human actions that evade, avoid and defy the State is counter-economic activity....

Wally adds:

In short, a peaceful black market or underground economy is an example of counter-economics in practice.

I suggest that free market counter-economics, as a form of praxis, can benefit greatly from the venerable anarchist tradition of "alternative social institutions" or "social counter-power." A good summary of this can be found in the section of the Anarchist FAQ: "J5. What alternative social organizations do anarchists create?" It includes sections on rank and file-controlled labor unions, mutual banks and LETS, cooperatives, alternative schools, and mutual aid associations. This article by Brian Dominick on "dual power" strategy is also a good one. I also recommend Karl Hess' Community Technology for lots of examples of decentralized, bottom-up technology in action; if you want lots more of that sort of things, check out the Intermediate Technology Development Group and the utterly mind-blowing Appropriate Technology Sourcebook.

I attempted myself, in a post last March, to deal with the way these various forms of practice might dovetail together in creating an alternative economy--with the intention of gradually supplanting the state capitalist economy. The title, "Building the Structure of the New Society Within the Shell of the Old," comes from a Wobbly slogan; but the concept is a central one to most strains of the anarchist tradition.


Blogger Vache Folle said...

I appreciate the education in left libertarianism. Some of my confusion arises from the perceived implication that the counter-economy is necessarily illicit. It seems to me that it could be just "off the grid" so to speak or alternative or in opposition to the established order.

An example I might cite of a completely lawful but alternative institution is the private credit associations in some immigrant communities. Members contribute a sum of money each week and bid for the right to draw the pot that week. The group gets the benefit of the premium paid each week, and every member gets to draw funds once. This permits borrowing for business formation or other purposes and competes with banks and other mainstream institutions. The immigrants also had some mutual aid societies that were an alternative to insurance.

Would these kind of institutions be regarded as counter-economical?

June 22, 2005 11:22 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

I can't speak for Sam Konkin (and he can't speak for himself, obviously), but I don't think positive illegality is a necessary requirement--that would be, in a perverse way, defining our ideal society in terms of what the state permits, instead of what we want to do. When we can do the kind of stuff we want to without state interference, so much the better.

June 22, 2005 11:34 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

I once had to teach a politics class on the "Northern Ireland troubles," and it was my task to address the background of the issue, In my research I discovered that the original idea behind Sinn Fein was counter-economic, rather than, as present, being a political party. Sinn-Fein started life as a newspaper advocating the building of the Irish Free State within the shell of the old, with people seeking arbitration rather than using the courts, setting up their own mutual insurance. Unfortunately, they also advocated a protectionist "buy Irish" scheme, but it was the spirit that was interesting.

June 22, 2005 12:28 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

What, if any, relation did they have to the earlier Irish Land League that Benjamin Tucker wrote about? According to him, the League refused to pay taxes or rent--with some degree of success, before it collapsed. That sounds like an exercise in counter-economics in itself, based on the principle of starving the beast.

June 22, 2005 7:39 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Thanks, Peter. It should work now.

June 23, 2005 8:09 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Hm, I'm not sure of the link to the Land League. I don't doubt that many were involved in the League that were involved in other aspects of Irish Republicanism. Sinn Fein was later, I think.

I think Boycotts and tax strikes may be a part of counter-economics, but I have generally seen counter economics as less controntational. Rather than saying "Hell, know - I'm paying no income tax" you say, "income tax? What income tax? I got no income, 'cause I did no work" because you got paid cash in hand so there is no proof! Or "tax my assets? I got no assets" because they are all in some off shore account somewhere.

June 23, 2005 3:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The catch with so many of these things is that if they worked well enough to be more than an inconvenience, "they" would change the rules on you, for instance bringing in the sort of tax and corvee systems used to make the natives work in colonial situations (what the authorities considered lazy was merely the natives declining to do mor cash work than a few luxuries warranted). As things stand, these tactics are only successful in the same way that you can win at a crooked roulette table once you realise it's bent: make small unobvious bets against most of the money. On a small scale it feeds the beast, but a large scale is just the fallacy of composition.

June 25, 2005 7:54 AM  
Blogger Jesse said...

I can't speak for Sam Konkin (and he can't speak for himself, obviously), but I don't think positive illegality is a necessary requirement

It shouldn't be, but unfortunately Sam sometimes wrote as thought it were. Maybe I'm misremembering, but one point (I think in the NLM) I think he pointed to exceeding the speed limit as an example of countereconomic activity.

June 26, 2005 4:40 PM  

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