Breaking Better: Decriminalizing Agorist Markets
I just watched the entire series Breaking Bad in a few marathon sessions. This is my entire review, right here:
Breaking Bad is wonderful. Watch it if you love great, compelling drama with a lot of comic riffs. But watch only if you have a strong stomach.
Now let me move on to the point of this essay.
Breaking Bad shows us the operations of a counter-economic manufacturing and distribution industry: the production and sales of the mood-altering drug methamphetamine — meth, for short. Our primary viewpoint character is a chemist who is able to produce a higher-grade of meth than is otherwise available on the black market, eventually in clandestine laboratories able to manufacture mass-market quantities.
Now, Breaking Bad is a TV show, and it ran six seasons. So plot points needed to be dramatic, ironic, and extreme. The characters needed to be, well, characters.
So this was a series filled with characters who committed a lot of murders, thefts, and mayhem; lied their asses off with a straight face; and their promises were never straightforward but always conditional and capricious. Business disputes were as often as not resolved with violence, usually fatal.
But, even as fantasized drama, this TV series raises a lot of thoughtful challenges that need to be answered by the Agorist theoretician who is arguing for stateless Agorist markets that can eventually replace that monopoly of legitimized violence we tag the State. If we argue that a stateless solution can be both more practical and more capable of producing an ethically preferable outcome, we need to find solid ground to stand on.
Breaking Bad, if taken literally as a parable, pulls a lot of ground out from under the Agorist theoretician — and that’s as much of a problem for the Agorist as was the failure of Marxism to achieve its stated predictions.
Any theory has to be reality tested. If applying the theory does not produce results as advertised, but adverse unintended consequences, it’s back to the drawing board.
A lot of social theories are considered utopian — unrealistically optimistic — because success requires future actors within the paradigm to act better than historical actors.
The Breaking Bad challenge to the Agorist is simply this: how can you operate in an illegal marketplace with the expectation that criminal personalities will not dominate it? And by criminal personalities I mean people whose ordinary, every day choices include every form of human rights violation that we Agorists despise: murder, robbery, fraud, physical abuse and mayhem, enslavement, and threats and intimidation using all of the above in order to manipulate a desired outcome.
I am not prepared at this point to answer the Breaking Bad challenge exhaustively. But I do think I have a few opening ideas that I hope will provoke further discussion among other Agorists.
- Agorist markets need to be decriminalized. I am not using the word “decriminalize” as a euphemism for “legalize.” As one who sees the State and its functions as hopelessly dysfunctional, the whole point of Agorism is not to seek permission from the State to engage in a commercial enterprise but to operate without such permission yet achieve marketplaces which thrive on and reward honesty, decency, and honor. Immediately this provokes the challenge of not attempting to achieve a utopian result by the goal of seeking New Libertarian Man — but merely by demanding in underground marketplaces business standards equal to or superior to businesses operating in the legal, above-ground markets. So by “decriminalize” I literally mean driving criminals out of the black market.
- A marketplace in a product or service tends to reflect the standards of the consumer. For example, a slave factor would be out of business if there were no customers who wanted to buy slaves. There would be no market for “organic” food products if there were not consumers who prefer products with fewer artificial additives and kinder treatment of animals bred as food. Tuna cans would not be labelled as “dolphin safe” if its consumers had not been made aware that the tuna-fishing industry was making dolphins collateral damage to their harvesting methods. So perhaps marketing methamphetamine or cocaine to a class of consumers who are solely interested in getting high without a thought to the human rights violations used in the manufacture and distribution of their product should not be the first choice for Agorists whose intent is to free markets from Statist domination. Is it really unacceptable to suggest that fulfulling the needs of more enlightened consumers might be a better first step in building Agorist markets?
- The very statist police agencies who enforce statist laws may find common cause with Agorists who have a desire to decriminalize Agorist markets. The idea of the “snitch” or “rat” needs to mean one thing and one thing only: turning in to the State honest and decent underground businesspeople who abide by their words, stand behind the quality of their products, and reject violence as a means of dispute settlement. Turning in the violent criminal to the State is the exile from the Agora of those who do not respect the Agora.
- Using violence to enforce a monopoly on sales territory is probably the single most destructive thing to the advancement and expansion of Agorist marketplaces. Markets work by bringing buyers and sellers together so markets can clear products. The Cartel system by which sales “turfs” are monopolized by violence against competitors is nothing other than importing all the worst traits of statism into underground markets. Agorism and Cartelism are polar opposites. The Agorist has no goal more important than either destroying the Cartel or convincing the Cartelite of the superiority and greater profitability of the Agorist marketplace.
Agorism, according to its founder Samuel Edward Konkin III, is libertarianism in practice. Libertarianism is the new manual for operating human commerce that is premised on the Zero Aggression Principle: violence is only rightful when used against an aggressor, and the “collateral damage” to the innocent bystander is to be deplored, minimized a much as humanly possible, and repaired to whatever extent possible when this standard has not been met.
The wonderful TV series Breaking Bad is a set of counterfactuals that tell us how not to operate an Agorist Underground.
Agorism, if it is to succeed, needs to learn that lesson and find both practical and moral solutions to its intellectual challenges.