In Defense of the Silk Road
Remember Napster? It was a solution that was strangled by government. But this action killed nothing. It started a new era of file sharing and online music distribution that has changed the dynamic of the world economy.
The same thing is right now happening with illegal drugs. They will never again be restricted in their production and distribution to dark corners of the physical world where people take inordinate risks. And just as with file sharing and illegal downloads, this is a magnificent triumph for humanitarian social evolution.
Consider that since 2006, more people have died in drug-related violence than have died in the Iraq war. By drug-related, I mean what happens somewhere in the United States nearly every day.
There is a meeting or a turf war. A dispute ensues. Lacking courts and normal channels for managing, the knives and guns come out and someone is hurt and killed. It has happened hundreds of thousands of times in the last ten years, all over the world.
None of it is necessary. This doesn’t happen when you make or buy a hamburger, when you download an app for your smartphone, or when you grab a bottle of water from the convenience store. There is no ongoing threat of death and no shedding of blood.
What’s the difference? Markets are about peaceful human cooperation. Some drugs, however, are illegal so the risk, profits, and stakes are really high. There are no channels for settling disputes that occur in physical space. Because of prohibition, people must risk their lives to buy and sell.
The solution is obvious. The “war on drugs” (those that the regime purports to dislike) needs to stop. All drugs need to be completely legal so that normal institutions of quality control, competition, rating systems, and dispute resolution can emerge as within every market. To favor this solution does not mean favoring drugs, any more than my own willingness to tolerate legalized boxing makes me want to practice it or watch it.
Nothing will ever stop the production and distribution of drugs that the state doesn’t like, e.g. marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, and the endlessly changing varieties of designer drugs that big and small labs all over the world make every day. They are with us always and forever. The only way forward is laissez-faire et laissez passer.
However, there is a problem. Our political leaders are cowards and, frankly, don’t give a damn about this violence. What’s more, the bureaucratic army has a deep entrenched interest in continuing the war as a way of protecting their jobs and power. There are probably even deeper conspiracies, such as the desire on the part of the deep state to side with one aspect of the resulting dark cartel over another. In any case and regardless, the political system is stuck. It seems incapable of rationality, not only in this area but in neither every other area of life.
That where’s the genius of Silk Road came in. It was invented in 2011 as a “darknet” solution that allowed anyone to buy or sell anything online using a digital currency. It was Amazon.com except for products and services that are frowned upon by political elites. It brought peace to the drug markets. If you wanted to make some or buy some, you just did it. No coercion, just exchange.
Instead of creeping around dark allies or dangerous burnout areas of town, you could open your computer and exchange on a mutually advantageous basis. No risk, no threats, no violence. Peace at last. If the series “Breaking Bad” were about Silk Road, it would have been impossibly boring. A guy would sit at his computer and fill orders, the end.
This innovation was epic, solving a problem that began the first day that one government decided to control what people could or could not do with their own bodies. Governments have never been able to achieve their prohibitionists aims but they do create conditions that lead to massive carnage.
So far as I’m concerned, the administrator named the “Dread Pirate Roberts” should get the Nobel Peace Prize. This is not only because he loved human liberty and explicitly so. It’s because he stuck his neck out to make progress in human affairs possible, just as every great entrepreneur in history.
Governments have expended trillions of dollars, caused a million deaths, and shredded every civilized liberty in the name of the war on drugs. The key to the Silk Road is that it found a solution to the violence that did not rely on political reform. It flowed from a technological innovation. It opened up a venue for people to cooperate with each other on a mutually beneficial basis. This undoubtedly made the drug cartels furious, and I wouldn’t even be surprised if some of them backed the shuttering of the Road.
The Silk Road operated brilliantly for nearly three years, saving countless lives. For my own part, I ended up there two or three times and each time was a revealing experience. No, I didn’t buy anything but I was amazed to see how the existence of a marketplace takes the evil mystique out of that which the civic culture attempts to demonize.
Suddenly, while surfing with my eyes popping out, it finally occurred to me: drugs are just things people make and people take. Some people abuse them, as with anything else. Lots of people just use them recreationally. There’s really nothing more to say.
But instead of thanking the Silk Road for doing for society what needs to be done — a brilliant and peaceful alternative to ghastly war — the state shut it down, arrested the alleged mastermind. That man who is now in jail is my friend Ross Ulbricht, and he is a brilliant and wonderful person, as is his mother who works every day for real justice for her son. For the love of God, support this man and his loving mother.
In the meantime, what has happened? Silk Road 2.0 is up and running. It is doing a booming business, more than ever. Even after a recent hacking, it is working to get customers their money. There are more products than ever before. The volume of trade is higher than before. There are safe measures for escrow and for encrypted contact between trading partners.
The old products are all back.
The user reviews are back.
The vendor reviews are back.
Most importantly, people are engaging with each other peacefully. No war! No violence! No threats and risk and suffering!
The new Silk Road has no central point of failure. The code is distributed all over the world so that it can’t be taken down, at least not permanently.
The state will never win this war. It cannot and it should not. In the name of humanity and peace, it should stop and move on.
The Silk Road solves an enormous problem created by the state that has resulted in a huge and pointless cost. Markets solve problems and bring peace where the government only offers violence, power, and bloodshed.
If you want peace, defend the Silk Road’s right to exist. But even if you do not, it is going to exist regardless. There are some things mere mortals cannot accomplish. Controlling what people do or don’t do with their talents and their bodies counts among the unachievable.
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The Economics of Life Itself : Beautiful Anarchy is the writing platform of Jeffrey Tucker, in which he covers economics, art, popular culture, and politics from a pro-liberty, anti-state point of view.