In past conversations I regularly confronted with know-it-all sceptics who hate their fellow human beings and doubt the existence of the counter economy. Generally the argument goes, that if they cannot immediately access it, or see it, it’s not there. It, “doesn’t exist.” Therefore it’s capacity for change is null. The problem with this line of thought is that it does exist and you can find it anywhere — if you know the right people.
For the largest existing practical example of the counter economy, you have to look no further than the close-nit immigrant communities. I know from personal experience; one of my parents was an immigrant and the other was born to an immigrant family. Though I will hardly name names or retell specifics, any ethnic minority who has arrived in a country in large enough numbers will inevitably start up their own counter economy. It doesn’t matter whether they are Indian, Pakistani, Vietnamese, Chinese, Greek, Italian, Lebanese or something else. These people are confronted each day with a noose made of red tape and the Australian Federal Government is regularly doing their best to hang these people with it. They are made to jump through hoops, backwards, given papers that award them particular human rights (but restrict others) and are often confronted with racism, xenophobia and ignorant comments about their practices. The underground economies that exist amongst these communities allow these people to feed themselves, their family’s, contribute to society and make their stay in this country a little more bearable when government employees are working against them. For the good of the country, of course.
The black market then becomes an important feature of these people’s lives and extends from the farms to the cities. It’s a necessity for survival, allowing these people to keep themselves out of the poverty which the government immigration regulations would keep them in until they’ve been signed, sealed, stamped and delivered. This can take the form of working in a restaurant, owned by a family friend, family member or some important member of the community. It can be working on a farm, working as a secretary, working as a labourer in construction or in various markets, even working as cashiers and salespeople in stores. These are all honourable occupations and all are counter economic that don’t conform to the usual, "drug dealers and prostitutes" examples provided by Agorists that, to the uninitiated, are immoral, indefensible and are of bad taste.
One case that fascinated me was the story of a young man, who is currently living in Australia on a student visa, that from what I was told, forbids him the right to work. Originally he had come out to Australia for an education, because back in his home country (unless you’re the offspring of some government official) your education ends abruptly and you spend your life, and I quote, ‘doing shit work.’ But then, little did he know how the bureaucracy in Australia worked, though he soon found out. Australian universities do their best to take the international students for all they are worth (particularly in accommodation fees which is why many try to stay with a relative) but also make the process of studying a degree increasingly difficult. That is how they earn their big money. Each university demands an up-front cash payment for any international student’s course, while students that are Australian citizens can simply apply for financial support from the government which allows them to pay back the money after they have completed a degree and found themselves employment. The problem arises that the foreign student cannot work legally in this country on a student visa, and unless their family is rich, they must come up with the money somehow. The only option then is to work illegally, and risk their visa in the process. However, this risk, while it still exists, is kept relatively small as the close-nit immigrant communities look after each other, don’t write anything down and pay whatever is owed in cash. The income never gets reported and to all intents and purposes; the transaction remains entirely off the tax man’s radar.
Another story, this time from another young student who passed away in a violent incident last year, makes for a similar tale. He originally arrived in Melbourne on a student visa, and had lied about his age in order to receive a passport. However, coming from a poor family, he had to work to support himself at the same time and quickly found that it was impossible — even though he did not realise it was illegal for him to work. On invite, he came to Adelaide and applied for a refugee visa, claiming that during his stay he had, “found Christianity,” and his family didn’t take too kindly to the idea. Of course his family knew what he was doing and even encouraged him. The whole thing was a drama commissioned for the purpose of allowing him to stay in the country. During this whole period he had been working for a family member to support himself as he would otherwise starve, in defiance of a clause in his visa that prevented him from working legally. Though it must be said that it was not until towards the end of his stay that he discovered this clause. Later, his application was given a 90% chance of failure by his lawyer, provided by the refugee association, based on the extraordinary circumstances he was in (that shall go unmentioned here), and it was recommended by the lawyer that he return voluntarily to his home country before he suffers deportation and would be consequently be denied the chance to return, forever. This left the individual two weeks to raise the money for a ticket home, while paying for his food and accommodation. How was this to be achieved? Answer: The counter economy. After a visit to a friend’s father who owned a restaurant, a deal was made that would get him enough work to pay for the ticket home and he soon returned to his home, to his family.
Both these individuals were from different ethnic backgrounds and both are just two cases of many more that you will find from others within their respective communities and elsewhere. I certainly know many more of these tales, experienced by the young and the old, but these two illustrate the counter economy perfectly. Both were able to find work and support themselves in spite of the red tape that bound them and would cause them to starve — or become dependent on welfare. The counter economy is alive and kicking, everyday. If it exists to such an extent in a tiny city such as Adelaide, then it doesn’t take much to imagine the scale of other underground economies in larger cities worldwide.