Pugsley was born in Minnesota. He attended El Camino Junior College, the University of Florida, and graduated from UCLA. After serving in the U.S. Army, he spent a year cruising on a 38-foot sailboat, and another year living in Mexico with his wife and children. He then returned to the U.S. and spent the next two decades as a businessman.
In the late 1960s Pugsley entered the investment business, where he founded a publishing company (The Common Sense Press) and wrote his first book, Common Sense Economics. It sold over 150,000 hardcover copies. His second book, The Alpha Strategy (1980), was on the New York Times bestseller list for nine weeks in 1981. Pugsley distributed a PDF format edition of the book, free of charge. Even after 28 years in circulation (as of 2008), The Alpha Strategy is considered a standard reference on stocking up on food and household goods as a hedge against inflation. This has made the book popular with survivalists.
In Common Sense Economics he cites as influences, Murray Rothbard, Henry Hazlitt, and Ludwig von Mises, and subsequent works also cite the influence of Andrew J. Galambos. In 1995 he authored an open letter to Harry Browne advising him against running for president; Pugsley's argument against Browne running was based on the principles of voluntaryism and non-voting.
In 1975 he began a newsletter on economic and political events, Common Sense Viewpoint (1974), which had 30,000 subscribers at its peak. In 1988 he began publication of John Pugsley's Journal, an investment-economic newsletter covering political, economic, and investment topics.
In the mid-1970s, after reading E.O. Wilson's book, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, Pugsley began to study evolutionary biology. As his study continued over the subsequent 25 years, Pugsley founded The Bio-Rational Institute.Currently, the Institute's website is not regularly updated.
Pugsley was one of the founding members of The Eris Society. In 1997, Pugsley helped to found The Sovereign Society, an international organization dedicated to maintaining the privacy and protecting the wealth and liberty of its members. The society is primarily geared toward expatriate relocation and offshore banking and trusts. Pugsley was the Chairman of the society at the time of his death and wrote a monthly column for their e-newsletter The Sovereign Individual. In 2006, Pugsley founded "The Stealth Investor", a weekly e-letter stock advisory letter.He also wrote for The Daily Reckoning e-newsletter.
Pugsley lived in Carlsbad, California, and just prior to moving to Carlsbad he lived aboard the 50-foot sloop named Eris Island in the Abacos, Bahamas, along with Kiana Delamare. Delamare has written for EscapeArtist.com and the International Living e-newsletter.
Pugsley had a blog.
Pugsley died at 77 on April 8, 2011.