Thursday, August 27, 2015

An Overview of Countereconomics

A friend and notable activist just asked me a while ago what my idea of countereconomics is. As I contemplated his question, I realized that the answer was going to be far greater than the scope of a single Facebook message, and would require far more effort than something only one person was going to read warranted. So, I'm putting my answer on here for everyone to read.

For those not in the know, countereconomics is a form of civil resistance which involves circumventing a state-imposed economic system by engaging in economic activities outside of that system, to the end of furthering the subversion of that system. This doesn't necessarily involve anything illegal, and it can be something as simple as two people growing a garden and trading the produce with each other directly – as opposed to selling it to a store or in some venue where sales tax is collected. But more on the specifics later. First, there are some preliminaries to cover.

But before we can even talk about countereconomics, we have to talk about the more fundamental paradigm that underlies it: the paradigm of empowerment and disempowerment. Empowerment is what enables us to do things and to exercise our rights, and disempowerment is the lack thereof. Any action you take, you can only take because you are empowered to take it. If you build your own home, it means that you must have the know-how, the physical abilities, and the resources to build it. If you bake a pie, it means you know the recipe for a pie, have the physical ability to do what is necessary to bake it, have the necessary utensils and facilities to carry out the operation, and have access to the ingredients. Even simple things most people take for granted require empowerment. Walking requires a functional set of legs, strength, balance, and the neurological ability to make it all work together – and there are many people who lack these things. There is also such thing as psychological empowerment. Someone with an anxiety disorder may not be empowered to do things you find simple, and by no fault of their own. Even exercising the right to your own life and self requires empowerment – food to provide your body with the nutrients and energy to function, and the ability to protect yourself from things and people that might snuff out that right. This empowerment does not originate from within, it has to be obtained or received externally. And not everyone is empowered to empower themselves in every way. Empowerment is everything, but it is so rarely talked about or thought about in a fully pragmatic sense. And that is why I've taken this whole huge paragraph for it. It is imperative to thoroughly understand this principle. (It really deserves its own article.)

Statism, rule-by-violence, corrupt economic and political systems – at the end of the day they are all empowerment problems. It's all about disempowering people in general and empowering a select few, thus allowing the few to control and exploit the many. And most of these systems work from both ends. On one hand, they might use force and pressure to take power away from people. On the other hand, they use propaganda and bribes to convince people to surrender their empowerment all on their own. This is how statism works in all its forms.

If statism is disempowerment, and empowerment is the opposite of disempowerment, then what is the antithesis of statism? What creates empowerment for the many and disempowers the rulers who would subjugate them? I would assert that the antithesis of statism is cooperation.

Cooperation is simply when two or more people work together, uncoerced, for mutual benefit. Or, that is to say, mutual empowerment. It requires that two people take responsibility for themselves, to the degree that they are empowered to do so, and work together without being forced to. And this is the exact the opposite of the state in three ways: 1) It empowers the individuals instead of their rulers by allowing them to be dependent on themselves and one another, instead of some other party, to provide for their needs and wants. 2) It requires individual responsibility instead of deferring that responsibility to the state. No more wondering who is going to take care of you. No more, "They should really fix these roads!" followed by begging those in power to act. Instead, you and your community work together, pool your resources, and fix your own roads. 3) It takes the violence and coercion out of the equation.

Cooperation is more than the antithesis of the state: it is the antidote to the state. It takes the power, responsibility, and necessity away from the state and puts it back in the hands of the individual, robbing the state of its leverage, its legitimacy, and the resources it needs to survive. Because the state requires the support, finances, and labor of the masses in order to stand, but cooperation diverts that support, finance, and labor back to the masses themselves. It's supporting your neighbor, financing your community, and laboring together towards a common goal. Cooperation, when practiced broadly, effectively renders the state obsolete and irrelevant, starves it, dissolves it, and perpetuates itself as it replaces the state. For this reason, cooperation is to the state what fire is to wood.

So, when am I going to start talking about countereconomics? I already have been, and for some time now. Cooperation is the fundamental mechanism and essential form of true countereconomics. Countereconomics doesn't even necessarily have to involve trade, although trade is likely to be a major element as it is a form of cooperation when it takes place without coercion. But whatever form countereconomics takes, it must inevitably involve cooperation, and empowering individuals, in order to be effectual. Because the goal of countereconomics is the empowerment of individuals and communities and the disempowerment of rulers and their institutions.

So how can you conduct countereconomics? That depends what resources you have available. The essential element is empowering and working together with others, especially in ways that helps them become less dependent on the state, corporations, etc; and more inclined to participate in the countereconomy. If you know how to grow food, bartering or giving away what you grow is a good start. Teaching someone else to grow food is even better. Working together with that person you taught in order to sell, barter, or distribute that food and teach even more people, while including people with other skills, trades, and abilities and helping them do the same – that's hardcore. From there you can branch out, expand into nearby communities, form networks, and move chunks of the economy out of the bank-corporate-government controlled realm bit by bit.

This isn't limited to food of course. It applies to anything: fixing cars, digging wells, making jewelry, giving rides to people who need them, going shopping for the elderly, painting houses, cleaning trash out of ditches and gutters, playing music, teaching kids math, etc; And the aforementioned patching of roads, like they are doing in Detroit. Do as much business locally as you can and buy from co-ops when you can find them. Build networks and expand beyond the bounds of your community. Acts of charity also gets special mention, because that is reaching out to the least empowered and empowering them. If you have a small farm, consider hiring a homeless person to help you out in return for food, and teach them your skills while you are at it.

Countereconomics also has one distinct advantage over other types of resistance: you don't have to "convert" someone ideologically to get them to be part of the countereconomy. Just like the CEO of a major corporation doesn't have to get someone to agree with him politically in order to get them to support his business: he just has to convince them to buy his product. A countereconomy is a product. If that product is shown to others to be desirable or beneficial, chances are they will buy some of it. Your neighbor may not agree with the assertion that the system is corrupt, but they might be more than happy to buy eggs laid by your chickens for a lower price than they can get at the grocery store. If you provide benefit to someone's life they are going to be much more likely to listen to you. That's why the state gets followers: it offers people enticing benefits as bait.

I should also point out that countereconomics doesn't mean that you have no dealings with the current corrupt economy. You may work a job and get paid in dollars because it's the only way you can currently get by. Or you may even find yourself having to accept government benefits to survive. That's okay. Things suck right now, and no one has the right to condemn you for this. I received food stamps for years because I couldn't make it without them, but I used that extra income to improve my situation until I was no longer dependent on the government to put food on the table.

I have been without food stamps for nearly two years now. I still work a job, as my personal resources are limited, and even in a best case scenario I will have to acquire and use dollars for some transactions. And of course, I still drive on government roads because that's the only option I have to get from place to place. But I am trying to use what resources I have to reduce my dependence and look into alternate sources of income, monetary or otherwise.

That is to say, I'm pulling wealth from the system and looking for ways to consolidate it outside of the system. It's a long, slow, tedious process since I'm currently by myself on it where I am. But I have made progress. I am using what I have to empower myself so I can empower others.

And it really all comes back to empowerment. You want a revolution? Don't go trying to force someone else to do what you want them to. Instead, find someone to empower. Find something to give to or trade with someone else. Find a homeless person to feed, a snowy walkway that needs shoveled, or a single mom working two jobs who needs a babysitter at odd hours. Even if you can't help directly, maybe you know someone you can, or maybe you have something to give or teach that would help them help themselves. Teach others that they can provide for themselves and each other outside of this broken system, and condemn that system every step of the way. This is how you start it. It might become more complicated along the way, nothing like this is ever "that simple". But if we are serious about changing things, this is how it's done.

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." ~Buckminster Fullur