New Libertarian Manifesto

Samuel Edward Konkin III

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Critiques Index

Page numbers appear in blue: 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114


Murray N. Rothbard’s vigorous assault is refreshing; I’m not sure even I would have taken my first major theoretical attempt seriously if it had not evoked Dr. Rothbard at his trenchant top-of-form.  After all, Rothbard and his neo-Romantic view of Ideas as almost clashing super-heroes and villains inspired and maintained many, if not most, of us libertarian activists, most assuredly myself.

Having been offered a field of honour, Rothbard throws the gauntlet down swiftly: “I believe Konkin’s agorism to be a total failure.”  From then on, it’s lunge, parry and slash.

In fine form, Rothbard, alas, is decidedly short of actual weapons.  His accusation of a fatal flaw—seemingly the fatal flaw—of agorism is so irrelevant to the basis of agorism that it is barely mentioned en passant and in a footnote of the New Libertarian Movement [NLM] (footnote 33, on p. 52, in Chapter III).

Before I dismiss it as criticism of agorism, let me point out that a real debate is justified here between Rothbard (and many, many others, to be sure) and myself (and quite a few) on the validity of hiring oneself out.  The necessity of it is in question (cybernetics and robotics increasingly replace drudgery—up to [98] and including management activity); the psychology of it is in question (selling one’s personal activity under another’s direction and supervision encourages dependency and authoritarian relationships); and the profit in it is open to question (only the rarest skills—acting, art, superscience—command anywhere near the market reward of even low-level entrepreneurship).

Having said that, it remains that this debate is irrelevant in the context of the validity of agorism.  Surely, both Rothbard and I would agree on the desirability of increase of entrepreneurs in our society; surely we would both desire more entrepreneurs of libertarianism.  Rothbard would simply “let it happen” (laisser passer), finding the origins of entrepreneurs mysterious.  My own experience is that entrepreneurs are made, not born, and not with that great a difficulty, so that “entrepreneurizing (the production of) entrepreneurs” is a profitable activity.

But ceteris paribus, as the Maestro says, and let us hold the number of entrepreneurs constant.  How does that affect agorism?  It makes it difficult to convert libertarians to counter-economic entrepreneurism, but they still can (and ought) to become counter-economic capitalists and workers—even academics!  (George H. Smith has blazed trails in becoming a largely counter-economic philosopher!)  But when we’re talking about converting maybe two million libertarians (at present) to counter-economics and forty million or so counter-economists (already proven to have a strong entrepreneurial component) to libertarianism, [99] the loss of a few thousand extra entrepreneurs seems less than crucial.  Moreover, a degree of overlap exists between libertarians and counter-economists—a high degree in my associations.

Again, in passing only, my own observations are that independent contracting lowers transactions costs—in fact, nearly eliminates them relative to boss/worker relationships running the gamut from casual labor with annoying paperwork and records to full-scale Krupp worker welfarism.  But this is an empirical question, one, as Mises would say, not even for economists but economic historians.  Why my Austrian credentials should be called into question over such an observation is inexplicable—save as an act of verbal intimidation.  En garde, then.

And wage-labor’s historical benefit may have been as great as the invention of the diaper—but surely toilet-training (in this case, entrepreneurialization) is even a more significant advance?

With the side-excursion over, we turn to Counter-Economics, admittedly the basis of agorism and the New Libertarian Strategy.  Rothbard finds NLM neglecting the “white market”—yet there is one crucial point on which it is most definitely not neglected, here or in my other Counter-Economic writing.  The agorist imperative is to transform White into Black.  Nothing could be clearer.  To do so is to create a libertarian society.  What else can a libertarian society mean in economic terms but removing market activity from the control of the State?  Market activity [100] not under control of the State is black market.  “Market” activity under the control of the State is white market and we are against it.

To illustrate, slaves building pyramids are white market.  Slaves who run away, make deals on the side with stones and tools they have ripped off, and otherwise engage in non-slave activity are black market—and free to that extent.  What should the libertarian view be toward white-market pyramid building?  Or, if you think pyramids would not exist in a free society but aqueducts might, what should our view be toward aqueduct building on the white market vs black-market water smuggling?  New Libertarians urge the slaves to screw the aqueduct and go for their private buckets until such time as aqueducts can be built under voluntary arrangements.  Would Rothbard suggest anything else?  Gradual phasing out of aqueduct construction and hence gradual phasing out of slavery?

Rothbard’s abolitionist credentials are not challenged, though my own treatment on such matters may impel me otherwise.  But a mainly innocent businessman who pays taxes is enslaved to that extent; and is not his going black by dodging or defying the taxes (whichever works best) surely the immediate emancipation of this slave?  How can Rothbard reject any Counter-Economic moves (that have less than 100% risk of apprehension) by a white marketeer without yielding his abolitionist bona fides?

Rothbard’s listing of counter-economic services and goods are interesting in one respect: of “jewels, gold, drugs, candy bars, stockings, etc.” only one—drugs—is mentioned in the [101] Manifesto.  True, Counter-Economic is only now being published chapter by chapter, but even so, the few examples I gave were far more than a few service industries or easily concealed goods.  Here is a list, sifted from pages 42 to 45, which were mentioned: “food to television repair”; an entire country “Burma is almost a total black market”—this does include heavy industry, although Burma has less than the heavy industry of India which is mostly black; the large “black labor” force of Western Europe; housing in the Netherlands; tax evasion in Denmark; currency-control evasion in France; “underground economy” tax-free exchanges in the U.S.; “drugs including laetrile and forbidden medical material”; “prostitution, pornography, bootlegging, false identification papers, gambling, and proscribed sexual conduct between consenting adults”; trucking (the majority of this business, by the way); smuggling at all levels; and misdirection of government regulators.  All of these are not petty.  On the contrary, consciously or otherwise on the part of their practitioners, these activities are, in aggregate, big businesses!

Automobiles are made counter-economically.  Let me count the ways: shipping them across borders (whether physically or on paper) to evade taxes or controls; illegal alien labor for assembly-line production; skimming of parts by management, labor, or even at behest of the owners, which parts then go to produce custom cars; auto plant executives hired as “independent consultants”; design, research, engineering, executive, and computer “consultants” all paid in partial or full counter-economic [102] terms; union “corruption” to make sweetheart deals to avoid labor (State) regulations; OSHA and other inspectors bought off or misdirected; “unsold” product written off inventory and then sold; … forget it.  I cannot possibly count all the ways.  And next to autos, steel and cement have positively unsavory reputations—when it comes to “white collar” crime.

There is a problem of scale here, though.  Large, cartelized industries can buy politicians and gain their advantages directly from the State.  True, anyone about to be apprehended by the State can, should, and does pay off, bribe, and apply “grease” to the State’s enforcers.  But what highly competitive industry with a large number of producers can effectively buy votes and politicians—and hence be tempted into using their political clout offensively?  Big industry in the cartelized sense is no breeding ground for libertarian support but rather for the State’s vested interests.  However, there is no need to confuse large scale of production with oligopolist characteristics, as Rothbard seems to be doing here.

Finally, as we close out this area, Rothbard accuses me of ignoring the working class.  Considering how often he’s had the charge leveled at him, one might expect a bit more perceptivity if not sensitivity.  What are plumbers, mechanics, carpenters, welders, drivers, farm workers, pilots, actors, accountants, engineers, technicians, lab assistants, computer programmers and plain keypunch operators, nurses, midwives, paramedics and orthomedics (doctors), sales people, public relations people, bartenders, waitresses, writers, factory workers, [103] lawyers, executives, and all types of repairmen if not workers, covering the entire spectrum of proletarianism?

All on that list are at least 20% counter-economic and many are over 50%.  If they do not take the first step toward economic liberty by becoming independent contractors, then their employer does (tax-free tips for waitresses, off-the-book illegal-alien factory workers, agents handling it for actors, writers, and so on).  I challenge Dr. Rothbard to find any legitimate economic field (not serving the State) that cannot be counter-economized, ten that cannot be counter-economized without organizational or technological innovation, or a hundred that cannot be counter-economized without significant gain in organizational efficiency and profit.  “Konkinism” has plenty to say to everyone who is not a statist.

Rothbard’s claim that political action is superior and preferable to civil disobedience in lightening the levy is an incredible distortion of history coming from the one who converted me to revisionism.  There has never been a single repeal of taxation or significant cut (save a few minor ones in recent years for purposes of Keynesian tinkering or Lafferite “less gets more”) that did not result from massive refusal to pay or the threat of such disobedience.  Furthermore, political action has resulted in shifts in the tax base and higher total plunder—such as the infamously spectacular debacle of Proposition 13 here in California.

Rothbard’s agreement with Pyro Egon is ungraciously spurned by Mr. Egon who informs me that what he sees as my “political-like [104] activity” (NLA, MLL) will not generate more entrepreneurs but that entrepreneurs are indeed “makeable.”  Rothbard, in subsequent correspondence, added that he believes entrepreneurs are born and not made—or at least not makeable.

Successful entrepreneurs are not going to be agoric theoreticians like Mr. Konkin but successful entrepreneurs period.  What do they need with Konkin and his group?”  How about, “Successful businessmen are not going to be economic theoreticians like Dr. Rothbard but successful businessmen period.  What do they need of Dr. Rothbard?”  Or “Successful engineers are not going to be physics theoreticians like Dr. Einstein,…”  Or, “Successful writers are not going to be English instructors like Professor Strunk…”  Need I belabor the Rothbard fallacy?

Rothbard’s position on libertarians being dichotomized from entrepreneurs is absolutely monstrous to me.  “Libertarian” has nothing to do with what one says but with what one does.  Hence, libertarians must be more trustworthy and have a more rational understanding of the market or they are not libertarians regardless of what they beguilingly profess.  This is the basis for my muckraking for which Dr. Rothbard commends me.  And, on the whole, I find the same lack of black-colored glasses in him, I hasten to add.

And what personal experience or academic study leads Rothbard to conclude that pre-libertarian counter-economists do just fine without agorists “to cheer them on and free them from guilt”?  My personal experience leads me [105] to precisely the opposite conclusion—and I have the contributions and letters of gratitude to prove it.

In short, whatever planet that the good doctor is describing in contradistinction to my counter-economy sure is not Earth.

Rothbard’s statement that violent revolution (what other kind is there against a ruling class—would he like to mention an Establishment that stepped down peacefully?) never succeeded in history distorts either the language or history.  Either he is saying that no revolution has been libertarian enough to triumph without its contradictions bringing it down (true, but then irrelevant to bring it up as precedent) or he is saying that no group overthrew a ruling class that used democratic means of oppression.  The latter is not only false but a direct reversal of history.  Nearly all somewhat successful revolutions in recent history have overthrown precisely democratic trappings: American Revolutionaries vs the democratic British Imperialists; Jacobin Revolutionaries vs the bourgeois assemble; Liberal Revolutionaries against the Czar’s Duma (March 1917) and the Bolshevik revolution against the Liberals and Social Democrats (November 1917); the falange against the Spanish Republic (1936); Peron’s shirtless ones against the Argentine parliament; the National Liberation Front of Vietnam vs the South Vietnamese parliament (at least until near the end); the popular overthrow of Allende’s democratically-elected regime (with Pinochet co-opting the revolution for the military); and the recent overthrow of the democratically elected but [106] right-wing president of El Salvador by a centrist “popular” junta.

This list is not exhaustive.  A claim that “violent revolution” has only succeeded in “democratic countries with free elections” would be nearer the mark, and is often used by Latin American militaries as justification for preventive coups.

All of the above revolutionary groups have their credentials open to libertarian question, to be sure—but who has not so far?  To close up this side issue, either Rothbard is saying that all “violent” overthrows of States were not revolution because they were not libertarian (in which case the libertarian case is untried) or he is historically wrong.


Samuel Edward Konkin III

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