Just What Is the “Counter-Economy” Anyway?

Sunni has written a follow-up to her comments at FSK’s Guide to Reality that I blogged about . Here are a few excerpts from Sunni’s post asking “just what is the ‘counter-economy,’ anyway?”:

Barter is one of a number of truly free-market exchange processes available to interested individuals. Some people use the term “counter-economy” for this, to more clearly separate it from the gov-monitored and -approved mainstream economy: the economy where licenses and permits are required, where one is increasingly prohibited from working from one’s home; where taxes and subsidies interfere with prices; where taxes are stolen at many steps in the process of creating, distributing, and selling goods and services; where, ultimately, it is impossible to separate the state from the economy, because the latter is conceived of as originating from the former — and thus rightfully must be taxed, supported, analyzed, adjusted, planned, bailed out, databased, monetized, mined, prioritized, specialized… in short, thoroughly controlled. Seen in this context, though, it should be obvious that the terms are backwards. The market that is free of state interference is the real economy; the state’s version originated much later, and to the degree any statist version succeeds in thwarting, subverting, or eliminating free trade, it successfully counters the free market. Semantics isn’t my focus today, however; identifying and expanding all manner of non-coercive, minimally-taxed exchange is.

Somewhat similarly, barter has come to have a more specific meaning than it used to; and my current favorite online dictionary helpfully buttresses my suspicion. Barter has a French etymology; its root means simply “to do business, exchange”. Nowadays it means, according to this source, “to trade by exchanging one commodity for another” … but isn’t money a commodity of sorts? Well, if it has intrinsic value, it would be; but what intrinsic value do certain patterns on pieces of special paper offer? Even for those of us who grok the meaning of “fiat”, there can be value in obtaining some of those pieces of paper in return for a good or service; doing so allows us to transact business with those who’re only comfortable in receiving that kind of payment, for starters.

All of the above is largely background to help elucidate why I cannot wrap my mind around statements such as this from FSK: “Right now, the agorist counter-economy is non-existent.” Even allowing for definitional differences, such a statement is mind-boggling. Aren’t the simple acts of neighbors lending each other tools and/or helping out with big jobs counter-economic? Aren’t Craigslist, Freecycle, and similar hubs counter-economic? I’d even say that garage sales, and to a lesser extent, auctions are counter-economic. Auctions have been somewhat regulated for a long time now, and more than a few locations are starting to apply that mentality to garage sales as well.

I hope that those of you who’ve expressed uncertainty about your ability to barter are now busily reorganizing your mental landscapes regarding what you might offer in a free trading environment.