I have been a full time Agorist since October 2012. That means I set my own hours, I don’t answer to an employer, and I have no one to blame for my failure but myself. I have jokingly called it, “bootstrapping through life.” Agorism is a species of market activism where people trade voluntarily in an untaxed, unregulated barter economy to avoid faceless corporations and intrusive bureaucracies. Agorism holds all coercion and fraud as moral evils, and aims at manifesting a society where all coercive systems are replaced by consensual competitors. Being an Agorist combines the skill set of an entrepreneur with the sensibilities of a radically anti-establishment political activist.
The first thing you learn as an Agorist is that the full weight of your decisions falls on your own shoulders, and no one else’s. It’s not a weekend waving signs for the politician that you want making decisions for you. It’s not a hobby. It’s not a game. The Agorist puts their livelihood on the line for their principles. I don’t live paycheck to paycheck, because I don’t get a paycheck. If I need more money I don’t beg for a raise or search for a better job. I’ve got to come up with a way to earn it.
Try to imagine this. I knew it was time to get out of the rat race when I realized that during the day I was sitting in a jail cell, designing achievement awards for the cops who were firing tear gas at me in the evening. You think I’m kidding? The shop I used to work in was converted from an old police station. The cops moved into a larger facility. My office was literally an old jail cell. The bars were gone, but it got plenty cold in that concrete block. I was doing production art for screen printing and laser engraving. The recession dried up a lot of our legitimate business, but somehow municipal clients always had plenty of money. I set up jerseys for high schools, lapel pins for bureaucrats, and yes… award plaques for same Oakland cops who evicted us from Occupy Oakland with tear gas. The irony was not lost on me.
I also lost a lot of good legitimate clients when I left. That’s my fault. I depended on the company to maintain the contact information for all these great relationships that I had spent years cultivating. I depended on the company to bring in sales, to advertise, and to seek out opportunities with new vendors. And because I spent those years content to keep my head down and do my art in isolation, I didn’t spend nearly enough time looking around to see how the business was run. Now these things are my responsibility. I maintain my contacts. I build my relationships. I advertise. And I invest in new products to launch.
The next thing you learn is that an Agorist lives and dies by the demands of their clients. Anyone who tells you that the free market isn’t controlled by the customers has never run their own business. I am constantly seeking customer feedback. Constantly over delivering. Constantly trying to improve the experience of my clients, because the food in my belly and the roof over my head are dependent entirely on my customer’s satisfaction.
My first successful Agorist enterprise, other than freelance work, was ShinyBadges.com. It is essentially a mockery of my previous work. I design products that parody government insignia. I am literally using my power for good instead of evil, which is a good feeling. I began with a simple black and yellow flag pin, similar yet entirely different from the flag pins worn by bureaucrats. What I discovered is that people are eager to ask about an embossed lapel pin in a way that they never ask about conventional political buttons, making them ideal for outreach.
Since then ShinyBadges.com has launched dozens of pin designs, full sized police badges, full sized and desk sized black and yellow flags, and a number of bitcoin themed iron on patches. It’s grown into an entire Agorist product line, and every new design is crowd tested before I ever go into production. I solicit feedback from previous customers. I post new designs on the ShinyBadges facebook page, so fans vote them up or down. Even the motto on my most popular pin, “Free the Market – Free the World,” actually derived from a highly popular Tweet that originally read, “End the Fed – End the War – Free the Market – Free the World.”
It may seem like there is a tension between being responsible for all your decisions, and being beholden to your customers, but not really. What you have to realize is that what customers say, and what customers are actually going to do, are different things. Fundamentally this is why markets succeed, and democracies fail. Because apparently political activists will clamor for gun-run health care, but when it comes time to actually register for it they stay home. Similarly, I received at least a dozen emails from left anarchists who wanted a black and red flag pin. So, I made it. In fact I made the whole rainbow of anarchist flag pins, and in over a year I have sold exactly two of the red pins. So, just like in politics, the Communists are all demand, and no supply. This is how we learn. The point is, the Agorist is not a slave to consumer demand, merely guided by it. Ultimately is it the Agorist who is taking the risk, and the reward.
And the third Agorist realization, profit is the key to sustainability and growth. Most political activism is a losing economic proposition. It relies on the irrational exuberance of the activists, and when that enthusiasm bubble pops it depends on the zeal of converts, which is a non-renewable resource. The unsustainable activist burns out, and soon can’t be bothered to do more than vote. Conversely, the Agorist typically doesn’t bother voting, seeking activism that might actually work, and profit is the dividing line between sustainable and unsustainable activity.
Enter SurvivorMax.com. When I do freelance art on commission it’s worthwhile on an hourly basis, but once the job is done that’s it. I can not continue to earn from that labor. I can choose like-minded clients, but I don’t really control the message. Shiny Badges gave me the ability to mass produce designs and sell them over and over, but I still have to manage an inventory, and shipping procedures. Survivor Max is a fast-paced adventure story about an eleven-year-old boy surviving alone in the zombie apocalypse. Luckily, his father imparted the training he needs to be prepared. It’s the first in a three book series. Like promotional products, a book series is mass produced, and I even solicit reader feedback on the Survivor Max facebook page when Max gets stuck and I don’t know how to get him out. But a novel allows me to introduce the philosophy of liberty to a young audience who has never heard it before, and in a fun and exciting way. And best of all it generates a passive income, which means that while it’s selling on Amazon and from the publisher, my time is freed to pursue other projects, making my activism that much more sustainable in general.
Most Agorists have one foot in the counter economy, and the other in some day job. We’re like superheroes with a secret identity. But the key to putting both feet in the counter economy is taking the initiative, soliciting feedback, and making a profit. Agorism provides the most sustainable activist strategies because it’s rooted in the market, not in the political system. But perhaps the most important lesson for successful Agorism is to cultivate the relationships and partnerships that will support you along the way. Striving to be self-sustaining shouldn’t mean being isolationists. We have to be willing to hire each other in mutually beneficial arraignments rather than trying to do everything ourselves.