Sad news today. Ross Ulbricht, otherwise known as Dread Pirate Roberts, was sentenced to life in prison without parole. This is terrible news for liberty in America, and another nail in the coffin for what was once the justice system in this country.
If anyone is not familiar, Ross is said to have run the online marketplace, The Silk Road. (Said to have run because there apparently was another Dread Pirate Roberts) The Silk Road resided on what some call the “Deep Web” or “Dark Web”. It is a part of the internet that is not readily accessible with a standard browser and a basic web address. I have never ventured there, but you need a “Tor Browser”. Basically you’re in an anonymous segment of the web, where unless you give yourself away with screen names and personal info, you can’t be tracked.
Dread Pirate Roberts created The Silk Road on the dark web. The Silk Road gets its name from the historical silk road, the ancient trading network throughout Asia. The modern Silk Road was a place where you could connect with anyone in the world, sell anything, and buy anything. It enabled unregulated, free-market transactions. It was anarchy in the most beautiful sense. Without some outside authoritarian force like a government, tens of thousands of people came together and peacefully traded with one another. The Silk Road was run like a business with private rules and boundaries. It had its own systems in place so everyone was happy, people weren’t ripped off, and it was all voluntary.
There was no “gun in the room”; the gun of government rules, regulations, taxes, authoritarian laws, jail time, tickets, fees, etc. It was just a buyer and a seller exchanging goods and money (Bitcoin in this case), and “shaking hands” over the internet. It’s like a digital yard sale.
When I say you could buy and sell anything; I mean anything. It was the black market of everything. And despite the dirty connotation of “the black market” – that is a good thing. Black market is just the negative term meant to slander any market without government meddling in it. It is a marketplace where government isn’t extorting fees and taxes; and isn’t telling everyone what to do. On the Silk Road you could buy drugs of all sorts, along with a variety of other assorted items. People associate it with drugs, because the media and politicians made a big deal about that, but it was really a marketplace for everything.
The Silk Road takes the concepts sites like eBay and Craigslist made popular and shows the world a fully functional example of a free-market environment – where we are all willing participants. There is no force or coercion. There is very little fraud. The money can’t be faked or stolen (because they use Bitcoin). Transactions are always win-win. No one is being “exploited”. No one is using anyone else. No one is demanding taxes at the point of a gun. In a real free market, as with eBay or Silk Road – there is a system of reputation so users have confidence in dealing with other strangers. In other words, a real free market, with reputation and trust systems developed to maturity, can bypass artificial and authoritarian ways of regulating business that governments now use.
One of the most common fears of free markets is that without government everyone would just be ripping everyone else off; that some guy could sell shoddy medicines, rake in millions, and maniacally laugh as thousands die from his bad products. At least that is the caricature. In reality, in a free market, in the absence of government, corrections are made immediately. (In our current system, not always immediately because virtually all industries are now intertwined with government, so there is always more to it than a simple business/customer relationship.) People do not want to lose customers and business from bad products. You see this all the time with companies recalling, fixing, and improving their products. But, the myth is that government makes this happen, and without them, these companies would just sell us cheap dangerous products. But government takes us for fools, because according to that myth – we as consumers are stupid enough to just keep on purchasing cheap, dangerous products.
Again, in comes the reputation system. With reputation and trust, buyers and sellers can get to know each other, and make independent judgements for themselves whether a transaction is a good idea or not. If someone sold a dangerous product, even one time, the record is entered, and all know about it. Others can take the independent risk of buying from that seller or not. Or that seller can up their standards and prove to the marketplace that they have improved and can be trusted again. Bitcoin adds an extra layer of trust. Built into Bitcoin – is an inherent system of trust. When someone sends me money with bitcoin, I know for a solid fact it is legitimate, genuine, and irrevocable. With money like this you don’t have to deal with issues of credit card fraud, companies losing account numbers, stolen checks, bouncing checks, etc. Bitcoin creates a solid trust framework for one half of every transaction. Reputation does the rest.
The Silk Road did one more great thing for the drug market specifically. It eliminated the violence from the system. There is no need for gangs, turf wars, deals gone bad, etc. There is no need to meet a drug dealer in some dangerous location. There was no need to hide, and sneak, and carry weapons to business transactions. Peaceful, verified transactions took place online, and the buyer received their product in the mail. Simple as that – one man created something that can essentially end “drug violence”.
But, we do have to note, this solution Ross Ulbricht created is only necessary because of government. That’s the dirty little secret of the “war on drugs”. The same way there was violence during alcohol prohibition; government’s prohibition of anything artificially creates a dangerous underground market. If the nanny state wasn’t trying to dictate to us what we can and can’t do with our bodies then there would be no need for the drug war, mass imprisonment, illegal searches, gang violence, and so on.
Ross Ulbricht was not some violent drug dealer. He is not the face of the drug epidemic in America. His goal was not to deal drugs, or hook new users, or take advantage of people. His goal was to create a peaceful marketplace for everything. His crime was that he didn’t obey the authoritarians. His crime was that he reduced violence in the drug market. His crime was that he made transactions safe and reliable. And you know what; his crime was that he was cutting into the action of the Police. If the goal is really to “protect and serve” (it is not) he was beating them at it; making them look like fools.
He was also cutting into their business. If the “illegal” drug industry just became part of the normal pharmaceutical drug industry (many of which are just as dangerous) it would change everything. Of course Ross didn’t quite make this possible, but it was a step in the right direction. He created a freer market and it showed great potential.
In a complete free market of drugs, police would not have drug dealers to get paid off by. They could not seize a drug dealer’s money and cars to add to their department coffers. They could not take a cut from the local boss. They also couldn’t fill up jails and prisons with nonviolent drug users. To the government Police/Court/Prison system, drugs are their bread and butter. The government actually loves drugs, loves that they can use this thing as an excuse for a police state and a massive prison system. They love drugs elsewhere too. They help out mexican cartels with fresh weapons. They basically help run global drug markets.
We keep following the money and see it go one step further. A legalized free market in drugs would mean a huge blow to many crony capitalist industries. As we’ve already noted the prison industry would take a huge hit. The pharmaceutical industry, which has become another branch of government these days, certainly does not want to see drugs legalized. A free market in marijuana alone would make a devastating blow to patented pharmaceutical sales. As hemp is incredibly useful in many products, the list also includes the paper, plastics, cotton, and building materials industries, among others. What this all comes down to is control, protectionism, and the government granting monopoly profits in favor of some companies and industries, at the expense of the potential drug industry, hemp industry, and millions of prisoners currently in jail.
Today, the very same day I see news that Ross was sentenced to life in prison without parole, I see another story that shows the vast divide between the US government and others in the world. The headline reads “Ecuador May Become First Country In Western Hemisphere To Legalize All Drugs“. Portugal has already done this, and with great success. Addiction rates are down, safety is up, and no need for a drug war. Amsterdam is another limited example. Recently we see Colorado have great success with their marijuana legalization. Violent crime is down, prescription drug deaths are down, and again, no need for a violent drug war waged by the gang called government.
So as you think about Ross Ulbricht sitting in jail for decades, consider all of this. Consider the potential of the service he created. Consider the implications of an end to violence in the “illegal” drug world. And consider an end to the life ruining, violent, kidnapping system known as the drug war. Think about how Ross Ulbricht could be in prison his entire life…because he ran a website. His customers didn’t complain. No one was unhappy. But the state didn’t like his website, so Ross gets thrown in a cage. Meanwhile violent criminals, child molesters, rapists, and murderers routinely get less than life without parole. In fact often they get paltry sentences like probation for child molesting or a few years for murder. “Justice” now a days is more about the arbitrary whims of government and their own incentives to enrich themselves than it is about actual right and wrong.
To exemplify this fact, it’s eye-opening to look at people who have committed “crimes against the state” or have stepped in on the government’s racket. These people are made examples of, are shown the harshest of treatment, tortured, thrown in solitary confinement, denied rights, and treated like less than human. These people are the greatest threat to government, and that is what gets priority in the “justice” system. These are people like Ross Ulbricht, Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden, Jeremy Hammond, Jeffrey Sterling, Aaron Swartz, Gary Webb, and others. These people are hounded, sometimes to death. Remember the supposed purpose of government security and courts is to provide a service to us; to protect us from aggression from our fellow citizens. Well that purpose disintegrated long ago. The state puts in minimum effort to catch real criminals. They’ll show up after a rape or burglary and write a report. They’ll investigate a murder, finger the wrong guy to keep up with conviction numbers, and call it a day. Justice served.
There is a still a glimmer of hope for Ross. Today ended his initial trial. He was found guilty and sentenced. But, now the appeals begin. See below for a video of his mother and his lawyer after the trial today. They describe how he reads his letter to the judge, and feels remorseful for what he did. Well I hope he doesn’t. I hope he’s just playing their games, and I don’t blame him for that at all. His life is on the line. But he did nothing “wrong”, nothing morally wrong; did not aggress against any other humans. He was an entrepreneur who provided a service. That is it. And that might get him life in prison.
You can support Ross’s defense as they begin to make appeals. They have a site set up called FreeRoss.org. Go take a look. They accept Bitcoin, Paypal, and checks.
*The Future of The Silk Road – A positive note here. The government can’t stop innovation. We see that everywhere. The Silk Road is no exception. If their goal is to intimidate would-be “wrong doers” by destroying Ross’s life; well they won’t. Right after The Silk Road was taken down, a Silk Road 2.0 sprung up, and when that was taken down, a Silk Road 3.0 popped up and is still in operation.
Additional Reading: Jeffrey Tucker’s “The Deeply Tragic Sentencing of Ross Ulbricht”
“Silk Road Logo” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Silk_Road_Logo.png#/media/File:Silk_Road_Logo.png]
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