Heroin dealers for liberty?

6 June 2009 by Mike Gogulski
Posted in philosophy | 6 Comments »

No, not really.

Patri Friedman puts forth a quibble with agorist theory which is worth addressing in Indirectly Improving Institutions: Agorism and Civil Society.

Let us consider one of the largest black markets in the world, the market for illegal drugs, which has been thriving for decades. Has this resulted in market demand for protection agencies to replace the government? Um, no. It has resulted in exactly the opposite – a strengthening of the monopoly provider of security and law. It has given us the militarization of policy, legalized theft via civil asset forfeiture, and a well-funded DEA.


I believe in a different indirect path: global competition between governments. Let’s hit states where they are weak – at providing good services to their customers, not where they are strong – at holding onto territory with violence. We can do this by competing for citizens and capital, not for territory. Whether this is done through seasteading, free zones, or some other method entirely, I think it is a far more plausible route to indirectly improving political institutions.

In the end, Patri’s focus seems to be that there might be greater value in devoting effort and resources to projects like the ones he mentions, in preference to counter-economics. At the end of things, he might be proven right. Meanwhile, I say, “let a thousand tactics bloom” for liberty. The agorist crowd and the seasteading crowd might have differences of emphasis and approach, but from what I have seen out of both camps they are natural allies. Let’s run our experiments, let hard reality (ie: the market) reward what works, and where we see a benefit in changing tactics in order to advance freedom, let us not be blinkered by devotion to barren ideology of any sort. Amen.

Orthodox Konkinite Brad Spangler responds with “Misconception: agorism is solely a word for black market” and A3 comrade Royce Christian chimes in too with “Agorist response to a Libertarian criticism“, both of which approach the discussion from interesting and distinct angles and are well worth a click and a read.

Veteran counter-economist Jim Davidson also replies to Patri’s blog post with a direct challenge:

You wrote, “the market for illegal drugs, which has been thriving for decades. Has this resulted in market demand for protection agencies to replace the government?”

The answer is yes, it has. And most drug dealers provide their own protection, often in concert with other dealers in their area. These private protection agencies are referred to as “gangs” and their leaders as “drug lords.” They employ violence to enforce contracts, control territory, and defend the sovereignty of their members.

And that’s all for the lesson.

  1. 6 Responses to “Heroin dealers for liberty?”

  2. By Theodore on 6 June 2009

    Exactly… the Current set up of the “Black Market” is actually a Red Market, where violence is the accepted norm. In order to get a true black market in the counter-economic sense, we must set up a dispute resolution system that does not involve violence, Such as arbitration. Anyone want to start a Black-market arbitration firm with me?

  3. By David Z on 6 June 2009

    Without reading Davidson’s reply, I’d have to say he’s spot-on. There is an ideological element to agorism, such that even not all counter-economics is agorism. Theodore’s comment, above, regarding the Red/Black dichotomy is also correct IMO.

  4. By jdavidb on 8 June 2009

    Friedman seems to be mixing up cause and effect, does he not?

  5. By Anna Morgenstern on 9 June 2009

  6. By Patri Friedman on 27 June 2009

    Have drug gangs and violence led to demand for private law enforcement among drug gangs? Certainly. Have drug gangs and violence led to demand for private law enforcement among other people? Have they increased the alternatives to the state? Have they decreased the iron grip of the state on our lives, or the violence it attacks us with?

    No. It has done the opposite. Drug gangs and drug violence have militarized the police, and increased the grip of the state on our lives, increased the violence it subjects us to. It has had exactly the opposite of the effect which agorism predicts – that increasing the black market will move more of the economy, including law enforcement and physical security, out of the public sector. In the agorist world, black market counter-economic enclaves promote safe, effective alternatives to government law enforcement. In the real world, areas with high drug gang activity are impoverished, violent ghettos. They are not models for a new, better society, they are models of a worse society, a devolution, not an evolution.

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  2. 26 June 2009: Seasteading: Homesteading the High Seas

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