Economics is the realm of white markets: legal and lawful everyday exchanges in the above ground economy. Counter-economics is everything else: black market and grey market activity either specifically outlawed by the state or not licensed or approved by it.
Quick question: Do you think of yourself as a criminal? Of course you don't. But are you a criminal? Of course you are.
That's the surprising conclusion of Three Felonies A Day by Massachusetts-based attorney Harvey Silverglate. His thesis: that the federal criminal code has become so over-bloated with broad, vague, ill-defined laws and injunctions that the average American commits three felonies a day without even realizing it. It is only by virtue of the fact that the feds aren't after you that you aren't behind bars.
The examples of these daily breaches of federal law are as plentiful as they are outrageous. For example, did you know that it is illegal to:
Does this all sound a little too far-fetched? Well every single one of those examples has been prosecuted in real life.
And that's just the tip of the top of the iceberg. Think about the number of laws, rules, regulations, injunctions, orders and penalties contained in the 73,954 page long (and counting) American federal tax code. Or the millions of arcane laws from centuries past that are still on the books in cities across the US (and around the world).
"We see that nearly every action is regulated, taxed, prohibited, or subsidized. Much of this Statism — for it is only the State that wields such power — is so contradictory that little ever gets done. If you cannot obey the (State’s) laws and charge less than [because of "Fair Trade" laws], more than [because of "Anti-Trust" laws], or the same as [because of laws against cartels] your competitor, what do you do? You go out of business or you break the law. Suppose paying your taxes would drive you out of business? You go out of business — or you break the law. Government laws have no intrinsic relationship with right and wrong or good and evil. Historically, most people knew that the royal edicts were for the king’s good, not theirs. People went along with the king because the alternative looked worse. […] But everyone is a resister to the extent that he survives in a society where laws control everything and give contradictory orders. All (non-coercive) human action committed in defiance of the State constitutes the Counter-Economy."
In effect, Konkin takes the plight of the modern-day citizen, stuck in a web of ridiculous, contradictory, and impossible to follow laws, rules and regulations, and flips it on its head. It is not a source of shame to be acting against the arbitrary whims of the state, but a virtue. Economics is the realm of white markets: legal and lawful everyday exchanges in the above ground economy. Counter-economics is everything else: black market and grey market activity either specifically outlawed by the state or not licensed or approved by it.
People tend to get squeamish when they hear "black market," but we're not just talking about gun running, counterfeit smuggling or drug dealing here. Any (non-violent) activity that doesn't have the blessing of the state is counter-economic.
Of course, individually these actions seem unimportant, even trivial. But in combination they drain significant resources away from the clutches of the state and toward the people participating in the actual productive economy. It is estimated that 20 to 30% of Americans fail to report taxable income. In some parts of Latin America it's closer to 80%. Can you imagine if it was 100%? A few isolated counter-economists acting in a disorganized hap-hazard faction is a minor inconvenience to the powers-that-shouldn't-be. Millions of people acting in concert in a deliberate undermining of state authority is a revolution. This is the promise of counter-economics.
We're starting to get a taste of that phenomenon as new technologies enable a whole new crop of counter-economic enterprises to bloom. From ride-sharing services and task outsourcing sites to sharing circles and couchsurfing boards, it has never been easier for people to interact with each other without business licenses, tax agents and government bureaucrats coming in between them. When these counter-economic transactions take place in a non-government currency (precious metal, community currency, cryptocurrency, barter, etc.), so much the better. More money is sapped from the arms of a state that runs on the plunder of the people and exists mainly to enrich the fat cats and cronies on Wall Street.
Writing of the possibility for this alternative economy in upsetting the apple cart of those crony capitalists who pull the strings in Washington, mutualist philosopher Kevin Carson observes how the well-connected global corporate elite are able to thrive under the current system "precisely because the state gives them preferential access to large tracts of land and subsidizes the inefficiency costs of large-scale production. Those engaged in the alternative economy, on the other hand, will be making the most intensive and efficient use of the land and capital available to them." He goes on to say:
"If everyone capable of benefiting from the alternative economy participates in it, and it makes full and efficient use of the resources already available to them, eventually we'll have a society where most of what the average person consumes is produced in a network of self-employed or worker-owned production, and the owning classes are left with large tracts of land and understaffed factories that are almost useless to them because it's so hard to hire labor except at an unprofitable price."
In essence, with every counter-economic transaction we make we are re-directing resources away from the multi-nationals and their back pocket congress critters and toward real local artisans and craftsmen, away from the box stores and toward the mom and pops, away from the Federal Reserve and toward the people, away from Wall Street and toward Main Street.
It's a revolution that is already taking place and you, counter-economic three felony a day criminal that you are, are involved in it whether you know it or not. The only question is whether or not you embrace it.
Plastic bag lobster, anyone?