While picking up my fresh milk from a local farm, I asked the farmer if her business was profitable. “Not really”, she said, “I do this because I love the lifestyle”. Selling fresh milk and eggs to her neighbors didn’t make much money, but it brought in just enough to keep her farm going.
The radical anarchist philosopher Samual Edward Konkin III, posited that the best way to achieve greater freedom in the world was through self-sufficiency and direct trade. He called the idea Agorism. It is the idea that providing for oneself and directly trading with others can increase freedom.
Konkin was opposed to the welfare-warfare state. He believed that by doing things like growing your own food, you could eventually cause the state to wither away. For example, if you grow your own food, you don’t have to pay taxes on the food. You also don’t have to earn taxable income to pay for the food. For Konkin, this way of living would keep more money away from the state to spend on welfare and warfare.
In some respect, we all participate in agorism. For example, when you host a garage sale, most don’t report the income on their taxes. Konkin believed that this was a good idea. He simply wanted more people to do this type of thing on a regular basis.
Konkin believed that creative entrepreneurship made the world a better place by outsmarting regulation. Take Uber, for example. They maneuvered around existing taxi cab regulations by moving quickly and providing a great service. Instead of asking for permission to innovate, they made the app available to so many people so quickly that by the time legislators could react, people had already incorporated it into their daily lives.
The Mother of Libertarianism
The Mother of Libertarianism, Rose Wilder Lane, had similar thoughts about self-sufficiency. Later in her life, she lived the agorist lifestyle, bragging that she made so little money that she no longer had to pay taxes to the state.
The Problem with Agorism
The problem with self-sufficiency is that it isolates you from the vast efficiency of the worldwide marketplace. Sure you can grow your own food, but you’ll probably find that it is not as inexpensive as you first imagined. I found this out when I tried growing my own tomatoes. The amount I paid for fertilizer alone costs more than several dozen tomatoes from the grocery store. There are ways to use regenerative farming to fertilize your crops, but I have not yet learned how to economically produced my own food.
The anarchist philosopher, Murray Rothbard, wrote a critique of Konkin’s work highlighting how Konkin ignored the vast efficiencies of the marketplace.
If you’d like to learn more about Konkin’s ideas, you can listen to a discussion about his ideas on the Tom Woods podcast linked below.