Agorism and cryptocurrency go hand in hand, which is one reason for the increase in online marketplace activity and growth. Cryptocurrency provides a means of transacting outside of standard (fiat) currency financial systems and state regulations, allowing agorists, who value personal freedom and voluntary interactions, to exchange goods and services in a way that was not previously an option.
Cryptocurrency and the Counter-Economy
Decentralized digital currencies provide individuals with control and agency over their finances. In other words, digital currencies allow people to “be their own bank” as was intended with the creation of the world’s first cryptocurrency, bitcoin. Bitcoin is being used by citizens of Venezuela to overcome the skyrocketing levels of inflation. They use the cryptocurrency as a hedge against hyperinflation as well as an exchange medium. This is giving people a new way to grow and control their financial standing, outside of the realms that the government can affect through legislation or otherwise. This is similar to how things are progressing in Zimbabwe, where citizens are suffering from a declining local “bond note” that is meant to be pegged to the U.S. dollar but trades at much lower rates in reality.
Additionally, the growing popularity of cryptocurrencies is facilitating the practice and re-emergence of counter-economic acts. The “counter-economy” is defined as:
“the sum of all non-aggressive Human Action which is forbidden by the State. Counter-economics is the study of the Counter-Economy and its practices. The Counter-Economy includes the free market, the Black Market, the ‘underground economy,’ all acts of civil and social disobedience, all acts of forbidden association (sexual, racial, cross-religious), and anything else the State, at any place or time, chooses to prohibit, control, regulate, tax, or tariff. The Counter-Economy excludes all State-approved action (the “White Market”) and the Red Market (violence and theft not approved by the State).”
Due to the inherent design of digital currencies in terms of decentralization and, to a certain extent, privacy, they are ideal for use as currency in counter-economics. Cryptocurrencies are thus allowing expressions of agorism to crop up in a number of ways.
What is Agorism
Agorism is an expression of counter-economics. The philosophy is the brainchild of Samuel Edward Konkin III, popularly referred to as SEK3. Konkin initially described the school of thought in two conferences in the late seventies. However, SEK3 eventually published a book called New Libertarian Manifesto in 1980 where he explained in detail the new economic theory called agorism. In addition to libertarianism, SEK3 cites Austrian Economics as an influence.
Konkin was a libertarian philosopher who opposed the involvement of the state in defining human interactions. SEK3 believed a free-market would be the best vehicle for freedom of all those involved. He wrote:
“Libertarianism elaborates an entire philosophy from one simple premise: initiatory violence or its threat (coercion) is wrong (immoral, evil, bad, supremely impractical, etc) and is forbidden; nothing else is. Libertarianism, as developed to this point, discovered the problem and defined the solution: the State vs the Market. The Market is the sum of all voluntary human action.  If one acts non-coercively, one is part of the Market. Thus did Economics become part of Libertarianism.”
As defined by his Libertarian leanings, SEK3 envisioned a society where the state did not exist and people entered into all actions voluntarily.
Agorism gets its name from the Greek word, Agora, which refers to a gathering place or assembly. In Greek culture, Agorae were central within the society as they were the grounds on which a number of important activities crucial to the community were carried out. As such, the philosophy of agorism refers to a society where members interact with each other on a purely voluntary basis. There is no state and therefore no violence of coercion as a result.
The market, referring to the sum of all human activity, would be central to the community as was the case with their ancient Greek counterparts. Describing this society, Konkin stated, “Some hallmarks of this society – libertarian in theory and free-market in practice, called agorist, from the Greek agora, meaning “open marketplace” – are rapid innovations in science, technology, communication, transportation, production and distribution.”
SEK3 believed an agorist society would lead to a greater level of innovation and wealth because people would be incentivized to create goods or services of value. Furthermore, the oppressive machine of the state, as well as corporations, would not be able to profit off the work of others.
“In an agorist society, division of labor and self-respect of each worker-capitalist entrepreneur will probably eliminate the traditional business organization – especially the corporate hierarchy, an imitation of the State and not the Market. Most companies will be associations of independent contractors, consultants, and other companies. Many may be just one entrepreneur and all his services, computers, suppliers and customers. This mode of operation is already around and growing in the freer segments of Western economies.”
In further published works, SEK3 detailed how it would be possible to move a society or world from statism to agorism as well as the steps in which this would happen. Konkin believed this was a peaceful form of revolution that would likely start in small communities before it would spread and eventually co-exist with states and then finally become the status quo.
A simpler definition of agorism was presented by Mises Institute ambassador, Peter Kallman, in a blog post. He describes agorism as “a practice of civil disobedience through ‘counter-economics’ by which one avoids State harassment and thereby lives a more peaceful and prosperous life,” which provides a good explanation of agorism in the 21st century.
How Cryptocurrencies are Breathing New Life into Agorism
Agorism can be practiced in conjunction with everyday life. This is what makes the philosophy so attractive for its proponents. It is a non-violent way to assert one’s freedom.
Before the advent of cryptocurrencies, agorists would trade in small communities of trusted like-minded members, but they primarily engaged in barter trade. Of course, it is difficult to effectively define the value of two different goods in relation to each other. However, using cryptocurrencies, agorists are able to exchange goods and services using currency outside of state control that is still able to retain value. Additionally, agorism is better expressed through the use of privacy-centric digital currencies than through use of fiat currency, because the digital currencies better uphold the individual’s freedom by protecting and preserving transactional histories.
While cryptocurrencies are bettering the way agorists are interacting with each other, they are also creating platforms through which people, who may not know or confess the belief, are practicing the philosophy. Online marketplaces are arguably the best modern-day expression of voluntary markets as per SEK3. For instance, Openbazaar is a peer-to-peer marketplace that is agorism in action. The platform allows people to buy and sell goods and services without charging fees from either party. The website connects people directly, removing the need for middlemen. Additionally, the marketplace is not controlled by one single entity nor is its data stored on one single server. These factors mean that it is impervious to control by any central party. This is in line with the principles of agorism where markets are allowed to exist without external force or state intervention.
Most importantly, the platform allows buyers to settle trades in over 50 cryptocurrencies. This is an added advantage, as without digital currencies it would be difficult to have a functioning peer-to-peer marketplace with people from different areas of the world without resorting to a standard (fiat) currency as a basis. Reliance on fiat currency would introduce aspects of the modern financial system into the marketplace that could be heavily intrusive and make the marketplace infeasible for agorists. By avoiding fiat currency altogether, cryptocurrencies allow users of the platform to engage with each other while still preserving their personal financial sovereignty.
Another great example of cryptocurrency-driven agorism in action is the new anonymous marketplace by Particl. The privacy-focused cryptocurrency project Particl aims to create a whole ecosystem which is completely controlled by its users. One of its flagship products is its anonymous decentralized marketplace. All actions on the marketplace are supported and facilitated by the project’s native token, PART, which is a privacy-centric digital currency.
Another manifestation of agorism, albeit in a more extreme form, are dark web marketplaces. On dark web marketplaces, all good and services whether legal or illegal are available for purchase. These include drugs, computer software, firearms, and other restricted material. Trades are generally settled in bitcoin, although privacy coins such as monero and zcash are increasing in popularity on the dark web due to their privacy-enhancing features.
Dark web marketplaces and their operators are largely considered to be operating outside of the bounds of the law. For instance, Ross Ulbricht, the alleged creator and operator of the dark web marketplace, Silk Road, is currently serving a life sentence for his activities in connection with the marketplace. However, proponents of the marketplaces believe they are simply the purest expression of the market. While these views vary from person to person, what is certain is that dark web marketplaces continue to grow even with state intervention.
Lastly, citizens of countries where the government operates with a heavy and oppressive hand, such as aforementioned Venezuela and Zimbabwe, are participating in agorist acts by selling goods and services to each other, using cryptocurrencies instead of fledgling local currencies to preserve the value of the money they receive.