Agora,Anarchy,Action! Wayne Sturgeon interviews J.Neil.Schulman.
1) Please could you introduce yourself and how you become an agorist?
I’m J. Neil Schulman. I grew up reading the science-fiction of Robert Heinlein. One story of his stories in particular, “Coventry,” expressed to me a basic idea that I thought made sense: that instead of an archaic system of crime and punishment, someone who willfully damages others must either submit to reorientation until he understands why not willfully damaging others is necessary whenever there’s more than one person involved, or choose to exile himself from others who say you’re too much trouble and put you outside society, where you can’t willfully damage them any more. This stuck with me so when before I started college in New York City in 1971, my mom pointed out to me Heinlein’s picture in a New York Times Magazine article called “The New Right Credo: Libertarianism.” When I started college one of the first things I did was start a campus libertarian group. Then, when I looked back at the article and tracked down a nearby libertarian group, I met Samuel Edward Konkin III, a post-graduate student at New York University, who had started a libertarian magazine called NYU Libertarian Notes — later New Libertarian Notes. Sam immediately started using me to write for and help produce his magazine, and we became good friends. Because he understood that politics paid off in power, not liberty, Sam started seeking out a non-political means of achieving a libertarian society, eventually focusing on counter-economic activism as the means, which evolved into agorism. I was with him and contributed to this evolution. I wrote Alongside Night to be the first major work both showing and telling the principles of agorism.
2)Could you briefly explain what agorism is for people not familar with the term?
Agorism comes from the Greek word for market — agora. It seeks a free society where all human action is voluntary, and develops strategy and tactics that rely only on voluntary human action — free trade to expand markets– to achieve that goal.
3) Could you explain the significance of Samuel Edward Konkin the 3rd on agorism and his concept of “Counter Economics”?
Samuel Edward Konkin III (SEK3) is its founder. Counter-economics is trading unsanctioned and resistant to state control — usually considered the black market, the underground economy, or the informal market. Sam’s breakthrough was to realize this moving both labor and capital to the black market was as much a holistic revolutionary strategy as Marxist-Leninism, and required the same thing: an exploited class to revolt against their exploiters, in this case black-market traders who consciously adopted the goal of a society free from statist thieves and murderers, achieved by respect for others, honesty, and willingness to settle disputes through peaceful means rather than violence.
4)What is the influence of Austrian economics on agorism?
Agorism relies on the premises of Austrian economics — specifically Ludwig von Mises’s theories of praxeology and his premises following earlier Austrian-school theories of marginal utility — as much as Marxism relies on economic theories dependent on Adam Smith’s labor theory of value. Without Smith’s theory of value there can be no surplus labor value for capitalists to exploit, and there goes Marxism. Agorism is directly derived from the distinctions Austrian school economists make between freedom and hegemony.
5)To what extent if any is agorism anti-capitalist or if not is it merely a form of left wing anarcho-capitalism?
It’s a semantic argument. If by capitalism you mean the privileged, protected partly free, partly coerced corporate fascism that’s called capitalism these days, Agorists are enemies of that. If by capitalism you mean what Von Mises and Ayn Rand meant by the word — laissez-faire free enterprise with no advantages handed out as political plums to one set of robber barons — then Agorism is anarcho-capitalist.
6)Where does agorism differ from the anarcho-capitalism of Murray Rothbard?
There are more similarities than differences, but the significant difference is in strategy and some imagined projections of what a fully developed free-market would look like. Rothbard thought large enterprises with division of labor between financiers, accountants, managers and workers would survive the transition; SEK3 believed they were uneconomic and a free-market would evolve entirely into independent self-employed entrepreneurs, whether artisans or service providers. It’s a pedantic issue to divide over in my view; let the market be free and que sera sera. More to the point, Rothbard had no consistent strategy for how to achieve a libertarian society. He tended to ally with anyone who opposed whoever was currently in power, even if the outs — when they got in — would be as abusive of power, or worse, than the previous ins. Rothbard was SEK3’s mentor and a lot of Sam’s approach was trying to figure out where Rothbard was going off in the wrong direction.
7) Why is “Gold” so important to a underground or free economy?
It’s simply a commodity that historically is popularly chosen as money, due to its utility for being a medium of exchange. It’s an element that doesn’t break down into constituent parts, chemically reacts to very few things (especially air or water; gold doesn’t rust), is infinitely malleable; it’s easily recognized and provable as gold; it’s almost impossible to counterfeit; it’s pretty and lustrous; and it has a high enough value per weight of it that carrying a little carries a lot of value. So people are often willing to trade other things for it. In the context of the underground economy, it’s not dependent on the government to certify its value, and its harder to track.
8) Could you explain the history and significance of the Madison Flag with its slogen of “Dont tread on me”!?
The Gadsen flag “Dont Treat on Me” with the coiled snake was the most popular flag used by the Americans during the revolutionary war.
9)I understand that SEK3 at one time was interested in Social Credit-why did he later reject this?
Very simply, he found Ludwig von Mises’s Human Action superior in its arguments and reasoning.
10)Does agorism have anything in common with the economic theory of Distributionism?
I’m not familiar enough to make a detailed comparison.
11)Whats the main differences between the Mutualism of Kevin Carlson and agorism? Is it true that agorism would reject the labour theory of value and accept economic concepts like rent,interest and profit?
You just stated the differences very well. Labor theory of value is easily disproved junk science. Kevin Carson reverts to a time not only before Mises but before Bastiat; it’s quaint but about like trading in tractors for oxen. carson’s Mutualism is the economic equivalent of the Amish. Rent is a simple fee paid for exclusive use of someone else’s property for s set period of time, just as interest is a rental payment for the use of someone else’s money for a set period of time. Profit is what’s left over when all other expenses are deducted, and that remainder the all the incentive that exists to engage in any production for trade.
12)What do you think of Georgism-the idea developed by Henry George that in a freed market land should not be sold as a permanet possession but that those who “own” land should pay a “single tax” to the wider community?
Land is no different from any other commodity. In its undeveloped state it’s of limited human utility. Most of its utility comes from someone acting to dedicate a bounded area of land to specific purposes, even if it’s only grazing animals or preserving its botanical or animal wildlife. By the time you get to agriculture, mining, forestry and logging, building homes and shopping centers, uncountable other factors come into play, whereby the desire for land is simply one out of many subjective values in a marketplace. There’s no more logic to imposing a single-tax on those who develop the utility of land as a commodity than those who take any other less-useful thing and make it more useful.
13)You wrote the novel Alongside Night to illustrate how an agorist society and revolution may occur-do you think the current debt crisis in the USA is leading us to a situation akin to that described in your novel?
I can’t predict the future but Alongside Night certainly is the handwriting on the wall for precisely that loss of unified central government control due to their driving away the producers and traders that constitute the host for their redistributive parasitism. Alongside Night had a long view of economic degradation due to statist interference with economic action, and because of that a lot of its projections have proved out in the real world. We are fast approaching the end game portrayed in Alongside Night in which the United States loses its pre-eminent position in the world due to its no longer having either a powerful innovative and productive economy, and therefore no means to dominate the world marketplace.
14) What is the agorist relationship to the more collectivist side of the anarchist movement? Would workers co operatives and trade union syndicalist organisations be welcome in an agorist society?
Ultimately all property in a free society is private; but there is no limit to the number of owners of any particular property so long as their dealings both with outsiders and internally is not coercive. In Alongside Night I envision workers co-ops taking over those government bureaus that actually provide some useful service. There is nothing wrong with workers achieving controlling ownership in the companies they work for — although I imagine former workers on pension would be in competition for distribution of profits with the workers who follow them.
15)What do you think of Ron Paul and the Libertarian party?
The Libertarian Party is occasionally useful in expressing libertarian ideas. Ron Paul is so consistently libertarian that he makes politicians look good.
16)What are your current projects and how can one find out more about agorism and left-libertarianism?
My current project is producing and directing Alongside Night from my own screenplay adaptation. My script is faithful to the agorist premises of the original novel, though I’ve taken the opportunity to focus and update the story a bit from the novel finished in 1978 and published in 1979. Full info at the official movie website at http://www.alongsidenightmovie.com.
The novel is downloadable as a free 30th anniversary edition PDF file from http://www.alongsidenight.net. About 290,000 copies of this edition have been downloaded since June, 2009.
Both the New Libertarian Manifesto and Agorist primer are widely available. Check c4ss.org and Amazon.com.
J. Neil Schulman Interviewed by Wayne John Sturgeon
Agora,Anarchy,Action! Wayne Sturgeon interviews J.Neil.Schulman.