The Plight of the Counter-Economist
Written by Winter Trabex.
As authoritarians the world over attempt to gain increasing control of the various local economies for which they pretend to be responsible, one strange fact emerges: the standard, even expected, way to earn a living is for a person to sell their labor to another company. The days of earning a living by interacting with people on an individual level- whether in person or through the internet- appears to be over. At least, this is the prevailing belief among those who have not studied the changing world in which we live very closely.
This became apparent to me this past month when, as a successful freelancer who makes a living by working online, I experienced a great deal of difficulty finding an apartment or room to rent. I found fifty-three candidates. Some of them, due to the holiday season, did not return my phone calls or emails. Some of them were men who wanted to have a girlfriend move in with them. There were even advertisements on craigslist offering women a place to stay if they would give the male property owner oral sex.
Among those that I was able to contact, the people I met with insisted on seeing paystubs. People who make money online don’t have paystubs. They have records of payment. The belief that I encountered, time and again, was that the prospective renter would go out his way to fabricate his earning statements. Property owners want to make sure that they are not dealing with drug dealers. They believe that someone who makes a living by engaging in counter-economics must be a criminal.
The truth is somewhat murkier. In a world where some vocations are actively discouraged by means of taxation, licensing, copyright, regulation, and a host of other laws, individual labor can no longer flow through traditional channels. When people cannot find jobs, they become unemployed. The more unemployed people that any region has in its job market, the more that employers can be picky about who they select. The more that employers are picky about who they select, the more that some people begin to feel that they will never get hired no matter what they do. There must be a secret handshake, or a password. Nothing else can explain the inexplicable ways in which employers turn away people who are willing to make money in exchange for adding value to the company.
As a result, the people who are unemployed are left doing whatever work they can, or else applying to the government for welfare benefits. Those that choose to continue working do so through freelancing websites such as Upwork, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, and a host of others. In previous years, the market for ghostwriters who write romance and mystery stories was positively anemic. There were few opportunities, if any. Today, the market has positively exploded as people discover that they can make money by inviting anyone from around the world to do work for them.
One business owner that I know personally often makes a point that he never wants to work another day in his life. Nor he is alone in feeling this way. Human resources professionals the world over are baffled by a lack of employee engagement. Companies continue throwing benefits at their workers in the hopes that they’ll be able to retain people over the long term. Some companies have revolving doors where people come and go. If people could figure out how to be self-employed with control over what money they make and don’t make without having to answer to anyone else but themselves, is there anyone in the world that would choose not to do so?
Yet, in spite of all the evidence that freelancing is more popular than ever, the property owners of the world have not quite caught on. By and large, they still cling to the old ways from thirty years ago where people had no choice but to work for someone else before striking out on their own. This leaves the world’s agorists- those who participate in counter-economics- with a limited number of options. It also amounts to missed opportunities for profit on the part of property owners who haven’t quite caught on to the world that is changing all around us every day. Failing the recognize the truth of the situation amounts to potential profit lost. There is no other way to say it than this: those who use old business models for new situations make less money they could otherwise.
For a freelancer who works online, the options of where he can live are diminishing. If he finds like-minded people who clearly understand that people can make money by doing nothing other than typing words into a computer program, he will be able to reach an agreement that will benefit both parties. If he finds people who believe that factory work, warehouse work, or office work are the only means anyone can utilize to support themselves, the counter-economist and the property owner are both worse off.
In this way, it can be seen that the prejudices generated by those in power- many of whom deride peer-to-peer economics due to its inherent tendency to evade taxation- have an osmotic effect of discouraging people from interacting with freelancers, many of whom want nothing other than to be compensated for what they enjoy doing on a daily basis. Such attitudes, whether officially enforced or not, make everyone poorer. The attitude that law enforcement officers have that all drug dealers are violent criminals- which is not always the case- leads people to believe that renting a room to a drug dealer is a bad idea. This may not necessarily be the case: those drug dealers might have found a niche in selling cannabis oil to people who wish to use it as an attempt to cure cancer, or who sell medical marijuana to people who wish to use it as a palliative. Anyone who has closely investigated the effects of pain-killing drugs such as oxycontin might easily turn to marijuana as a safer alternative.
These facts are hardly taken into account when a person applies to rent a room from someone else, or apply for a new job, or for a new security clearance. The government has its own whitelist and its own blacklist of drugs that are approved and banned. That property owners, employers, and investigators follow the government’s list- which is based on obedience to laws- rather than attempting to establish an evaluation of a person’s characters suggests that morality is not valued in today’s world as much as people claim it might be. After all, morality is doing what is right regardless of what is one is told. Obedience is doing what one is told regardless of what is right.
The counter-economist, therefore, becomes excluded from activities that he might otherwise wish to engage in. He is prevented from adding value to the economy as a whole, and from putting himself in a better position in life. Yet, for as often as such a person might encounter frustrating situations in which he finds himself at a disadvantage when compared with other people, the practice of counter-economics is nonetheless as necessary to the health of a society as a beating heart is to the health of the human body. Innovation drives change, which in turn leads to an expansion of opportunities for individual people. This pattern can be observed with every technological invention that turned out to be useful in some way or other. The lightbulb extended working hours, and made it possible for companies to stay open twenty-four hours a day. The computer made it possible for people to communicate with one another no matter where in the world they might be. The automobile made it possible for people to commute to jobs that would have been previously inaccessible. The refrigerator made it possible for people to store food over long periods of time, which resulted in people having to travel to the store less often. The conveniences that we enjoy today and the high standard of living we have- in comparison to centuries past- is entirely due to people thinking outside of the box. The counter-economists of the world are the ones who invent new ways of doing things that drives society forward.
They will continue to do so, even if they must take to living in non-traditional places and working non-traditional jobs. Along the way, however, they will encounter resistance from those who choose to put their faith in what they are told rather than what they personally observe. The plight of the counter-economist is one of being constantly enmeshed in a struggle against those who resist change, be they bureaucrats, politicians, police officers, or statists who haven’t learned the trick of looking around corners to get a sense of what is coming next. Those who do resist change only hurt themselves by doing so. They cost themselves opportunities for growth and for profit. They turn their backs on the starting line while others are already racing ahead in the quest for personal excellence.
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