Natural Consequences: Agorism 101

Posted: October 11th, 2010 by Militant Libertarian

Hypothesis: Many Americans Have Withdrawn

by Jim Davidson, The Libertarian Enterprise

For about two years, I have been promoting the idea that the path forward is agorism. Samuel Edward Konkin III is perhaps the most noteworthy proponent of this ideology, although Murray Rothbard, Henry David Thoreau, Etienne de la Boetie, and Laozi are among the many other notables who have written in favour of this idea.

What is agorism? It is the deliberate withdrawal of your wealth, productivity, inventiveness, creativity, and other resources from the control of the state. By engaging in private freed market economic activities you provide much less to the government to waste and destroy. By deliberately ignoring government regulations, bans, prohibitions, limits on competition, and dictates you engage in trade and commerce with many advantages. What the government cannot detect, it cannot tax, nor regulate, nor prohibit. The agorist is going even further, toward the creation of an alternative society using counter-economic activity as its basis.

However, we see that there is a substantial “black market” already. People buy and sell marijuana and other drugs. People buy untaxed tobacco products. People brew beer at home. Some people continue to distil hard liquor, without government licence or tax stamps. Prostitutes and other sex workers have long been forced into the underground economy, along with “illegal” gambling and many other activities. Many people I know re-load ammo. Some make their own firearms. I’ve even been shown around some very impressive shipping containers loaded with numerical control machinery which can become a factory anywhere you can plug it into power. (Given a diesel generator, that is, anywhere at all.)

For over a year, I have been advancing the hypothesis that many Americans have already withdrawn. I now have a number of pieces of data that seem to corroborate this hypothesis. I wanted to advance the discussion of these facts and figures in order to encourage people to disprove my hypothesis. If I’m mistaken, we would be better served to find out so we can develop a better theory to account for the data. If I’m correct, we can potentially use this information to advance our purposes. Let’s have a look.

1. Voting
Tens of millions of Americans who were qualified to vote in November 2008 chose not to do so. I expect even more aren’t going to vote this year.

How many? If you look at the results of the election, you get roughly the following figures: 69,456,897 voted for Obama/Biden at 52.9% of the popular vote. 59,934,814 votes were counted for McCain/Palin. Using the Obama vote total and percentage, we can get a calculated total vote of 131,298,482. This corresponds to 131.3 million which is widely reported. If we then subtract from the total vote the figures for the two major party candidates, we get a remainder of 1,906,771. These are the votes which were counted for third party presidential candidates. Nader, Barr, Baldwin, and McKinney account for most of those votes counted. (I do not say that we know how many votes were cast, because, of course, we do not.)

There were a reported 308 million Americans in the country in November 2008. Of these, approximately 75 million were deprived of the opportunity to vote by reason of age discrimination policies. Only persons age 18 or older are allowed to vote. That gives us a figure of roughly 233 million potentially eligible voters.

However, voting is not available to persons who are severely mentally handicapped, many who are currently incarcerated, and many who are previously convicted of a felony. As you may know, the number of felony crimes has been expanded dramatically since 1980, along with mandatory sentencing guidelines, as a direct attack on the freedom and independence of Americans and as a direct subsidy of the prison industrial complex. Whereas prison populations before 1980 averaged about 450,000 persons they rose very rapidly to today’s figure of around 2 million and more. The area under the curve may be as much as 25 million persons.

seems to corroborate that analysis. It shows a total eligible voting population of 208 million persons.

Another analysis gives a substantially different figure. It shows a voting population of 212 million eligible persons. (I regard 4 million as significant in a population of 308 million.)

You are welcome to form your own conclusion. I’m going to take a middle path between these two figures and note that roughly 210 million people were probably qualified to vote. Which means that roughly 23 million were disqualified by some factor other than age. Since some of these people might have been able to apply to have their voting privileges restored, I think these 23 million are “built in” as part of the population which has withdrawn, which disobeys the rules (enough to get convicted) and which isn’t necessarily on the side of the state and its thugs.

Using my figure, the population that chose not to vote is 78.7 million. Given where I got my numbers from, the error bar on my figure is plus or minus two million. So as few as 76.7 million or as many as 80.7 million had the opportunity to vote, were fully qualified, and may even have been registered to vote, but simply chose not to appear at the polls. You should point out to your friends who are Obamaniax that more people chose not to vote for any of the candidates on the ballot than voted for Obama, by a very substantial margin, even under the worst assumptions I have found.

If we add back in those persons who have been stripped of the voting privilege (I do not call franchise a right, because I don’t think you have a right to impose your will on other people, and because if it were a right it couldn’t be taken away) we get a figure for “withdrawn Americans” of around 101.7 million. So, on the close order of 100 million. Nearly a third of the total population.

We cannot make any definite assumptions about the 75 million children, but we can guess that they are likely to follow the lead of their parents and siblings. Many of them already have a “bad” attitude about government. Just look at the way they choose to dress. So if we divide off about a third of these children, we can anticipate another 25 million persons “joining the ranks” in the next 16 to 18 years.

So, altogether, based on these figures, I surmise a total population of roughly 125 million Americans who are not big enthusiasts of government. That works out to about 40% of the population as of November 2008.

2. Income taxes
Tens of millions of Americans who would be expected to file income taxes do not do so, every year.

Figures on this have varied widely, but I have been following them for some time. You may remember back in 1998 or so when Congress called the IRS on the carpet for being brutal, unreasonable, violent, and despicable toward people the IRS targeted (almost always falsely and maliciously) for enforcement. Of course, Congress did nothing meaningful to rein them in. Ending the income tax, firing everyone at the IRS, and putting their entire enforcement division on trial for treason, murder, assault, rape, and theft would be a meaningful action.

One of the things that I noticed came out of those hearings was a figure of around 60 million Americans that the IRS thinks “should” be filing income tax papers every year who do not. Of course, the IRS proudly trotted this figure out to explain why it was so “important” for them to be brutal and horrid toward people like my friend Dick Simkanin or my buddy Walt Anderson. Heh.

Since that time I have seen other figures, ranging from a high of around 138 million who allegedly filed taxes in 2008 (when doing so got many of them “stimulus” direct payments from the national government) to a figure of 129 million in April 2010. (Extensions are included in the figure.) In addition, either through truthful reporting or through various carefully nuanced approaches, something like 47% of households paid no income tax for 2009.

It isn’t always clear what is meant by “household” but if we applied that percentage to the population, we would come up with 145.7 million Americans (out of 310 million, estimated population for 2010) who aren’t filing any form of income tax. Some of them wouldn’t be expected to, being less than 16 years old and denied many opportunities to work for a living by age discrimination.

When I was in college, I spent some time pursuing a major in astrophysics. So when I see a number like 125 million and a number like 145.7 million, I think of them as roughly the same. They are of the same order of magnitude, anyway. And when two independent paths of analysis come to roughly the same result, I think there is something to the ideas involved.

If we assume that the 75 million children are evenly divided among every year from zero to 17.99 then we can figure that about 4.17 million are of each age by year. That means that there are about 8.34 million who are 16 and 17 years old, altogether. So if we take 310 million and subtract 75 million children not yet 18 and add back in those 16 and 17 years old who are able to get “regular” jobs we find about 243.3 million “adults” who are potentially expected to file income tax papers of some sort. If we then subtract out the 129 million who seem to have filed taxes, we get a figure of 114.3 million.

But, of course, to this number, we have to add back in the 66.66 million children who exist, who are just as human as anyone else, and who aren’t counted for purposes of the government’s expectations of filing taxes. You can take my approach, which is to say they are innocent until proven guilty, in which case all of them belong in the counter-economics category. That gives us a high water mark (so far) of 180.96 million Americans not filing (including many for reasons of age).

Or you could take the attitude that if 47% of them are in households that don’t file, you should expect the rest to follow the lead of their parents and file when they get older. Using this approach, we add back 31.33 million youngsters. That gives us 145.63 million. Which is very close to our first approach with the tax data. So, something like corroboration.

3. Census
Tens of millions of Americans who were expected to return a completed census form did not do so. Figures varied widely, but I saw many reports suggesting that as many as one in three households were not responding. These figures were used in justifying the huge government hiring surge in April and May, as you may recall. You can probably still find archived news stories from that time to corroborate.

So, again, if we take the estimate of 310 million (and you are welcome to offer some other estimate of population—I have never believed that the USA government could count, nor that it was motivated to tell us what it found out if it did count everyone) and we divide by three we get 103 million Americans who chose not to respond to the census. Again, that is the same order of magnitude as the other figures we’ve seen.

4. Funds
Tens of millions of Americans who have money “coming to them” through one sort of entitlement program or another not only have not received that money, but have apparently made no effort to apply for any of it.

This one is a new technique for estimation that I just ran across. Kevin Trudeau who is a sometimes controversial figure in the info-mercial marketing industry, has a new “free money” book. In it he claims to have condensed the knowledge from many other big books, including a tome of foundation grants that typically sells for $70 and a bunch of books about free government money (entitlements, special subsidies, etc.) that are marketed by guys like Matthew Lesko. None of which interests me because I have no intention to take anything from the government that I can possibly avoid.

Trudeau makes the claim that something like 22 million people who applied for money from the government were eventually able to get it. (I have no estimate on what number of hours they spent filling out reams of paper, responding to denials, appealing, etc.) He also makes the claim that something like 147 million Americans qualify for one or more of these “entitlement” programs. Which, to me, is an interesting figure.

Combined, that means that right around 125 million Americans who would qualify for money from the government have not sought to get that money. Now, you’ll immediately say there are many reasons not to do so. And I agree. Many people who are in the group of persons not filing taxes presumably don’t want to ask the government to send them money because they might show up at their private mailbox and find that the government has an arrest warrant for them. Or foolishly fill in the address where they sleep at night only to find the door kicked in at 4 a.m., goons all over the house slaughtering the pets, raping the children, and dragging them off to prison.

But isn’t it interesting that this figure is also of the same order of magnitude? In fact, it is very close to the figures on voting and taxes. So it seems to me that it corroborates those figures. In any event, there seems to be something to this idea that many Americans have withdrawn.

The figures I’ve shown you range from about 76.7 million up to 180.96 million. The raw average of those two figures is 129 million. Some of these people are children who may change their minds about how to behave later on, but that is also true of everyone in the country.

Are these people who have withdrawn from the system, by one measure or another, committed agorists, ideological anarchists, and anarcho-capitalists, one and all? No, I don’t think so. I think many non-voters are simply frustrated by a system which not only doesn’t accurately and ethically count all the votes, not only doesn’t represent their point of view in government, but also seems to deliberately ignore majority preference in the bank bailouts, auto bailouts, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obamacare, and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell votes by Congress, among many other examples.

A system that was honest, ethical, and just would potentially attract some of these voters back into the system. A candidate such as Ron Paul, if he were the candidate for one of the major parties, might attract many voters into the system, even to register for the first time. So, no, I don’t think there is an ideological commitment here.

And, for the purposes of withdrawing support from the state, reducing the amount of the economy it can prey upon, reducing the amount of taxes collected, increasing the number of competitors in the freed market, making more options available to more people, it really doesn’t matter why people are choosing to withdraw. It seems clear that they are, and that this development is a positive thing. Given the numbers involved, it is apparently not a recent thing, either.

Hat Tip: Freedom Shenanigans


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