[Ross Ulbricht’s mother will be on Liberty.me Live to talk with us on Monday evening.]

If you didn’t know it already, the sentencing of Ross Ulbricht, life in prison, underscores the point. There are deep structural injustices that take place in the United States under the cover of law and justice. This is one of the most egregious I’ve seen.

This brilliant and creative young man has been put away for performing a much-needed digital experiment. He opened an open-air market in the digital cloud and thereby demonstrated to the world that there is a better way than the state’s deeply destructive war on drugs. For having done so, he is now sentenced and put away. Yes, the whole thing makes me deeply sad, and very angry.

All over the world, economists are working on advanced applications of what is called experimental economics. It is an attempt to run controlled experiments on issues of human choice. The Nobel Prize committee has rewarded these attempts. The ongoing problem with the field, as the practitioners all know, is that they take place in artificial environments. You can simulate trade and choice but you cannot recreate the authentic risk, ownership, and daring that are required in real markets.

What Ross did in founding the Silk Road, a darknet market, is take this whole field to a new level. He sought to conduct an experiment. What would happen if there were a realm of exchange that completely bypassed all elements of coercive control, regulation, and taxing? Would people use it? Would it be orderly? Could it make a dent in the vast global underground economy that is currently controlled by drug lords and other criminal elements?

The results were marvelous. People from all over the world used private browsers to access the private website and traded billions in an entirely peaceful way. The drug lords must have been running scared. Yes, most of the products were illegal drugs, but keep in mind that during these years, the dominant product, namely marijuana, became legal in many places. Ross is being jailed for being ahead of his time!

More importantly, what Ross found is that there is massive pent up demand for products that are wrongly made illegal all over the world. The war on drugs has empowered drug lords, corrupted political systems, militarized the police, and led to countless deaths, and, meanwhile, done nothing to stop the spread of narcotics. Ross’s solution was a peaceful market in the cloud, where buyers and sellers could exchange peer to peer. His experiment proved that a new system could actually work.

Ross did not create a black market. He provided a peaceful alternative to the one that already exists, and he brought to it producer accountability, user ratings, and quality control. He began the process of toppling the drug lords from their perches of power. This is a huge innovation on the level of many other peer-to-peer technologies of our time. Yes, he took risks to do this but he acted out of love for liberty and drive to innovate.

So this is the system. If you are a tenured professor performing artificial trading experiments in a classroom and publishing your results in expensive journals, you are toasted as a genius and sometimes given prestigious prizes. If you innovate with venture capital funding and the backing of large tech firms, you are rewarded with riches and fame. But if you are a quiet geek who creates a more realistic experiment online, one that actually benefits humanity, and never sought funding from any establishment source, you are swept up in a sting operation and imprisoned for life. I don’t see how this has anything to do with justice.

As for the online markets themselves, the jailing of Ross does nothing to stop them. They are now larger than ever. The old Silk Road is still around, under its 3rd iteration, but there are now many more. Indeed, there are dozens. They are doing a bang up business, and not making the same mistakes that Ross did. Meanwhile, there are vast and legal operations of selling pot that are active in all parts of the country. Entrepreneurs in this sector are getting rich, and meanwhile the earnest and brilliant Ross is taken from us and holed up in a prison.

Yes, this is unjust. I can’t say whether Ross was in technical violation of the law, but it doesn’t matter. Let us just say it: what’s wrong is the law itself.