Black Markets

Silk Road Proprietor Says Libertarian Mission is Most Important Part of the Online Black Market


Reason 24/7

Like the literary pirate captain from whom he borrowed his name, Silk Road proprietor Dread Pirate Roberts is the successor to the actual founder of a criminal enterprise — although, in the real world case, it's the victimless activity of peddling forbidden intoxicants and other illicit goods to willing buyers. As fascinating as the encrypted and anonymous online black market is, though, it's made even more intriguing by the Dread Pirate Roberts's libertarian philosophical musings. 

From Andy Greenberg at Forbes:

Roberts also has a political agenda: He sees himself not just as an enabler of street-corner pushers but also as a radical libertarian revolutionary carving out an anarchic digital space beyond the reach of the taxation and regulatory powers of the state–Julian Assange with a hypodermic needle. "We can't stay silent forever. We have an important message, and the time is ripe for the world to hear it," says Roberts. "What we're doing isn't about scoring drugs or 'sticking it to the man.' It's about standing up for our rights as human beings and refusing to submit when we've done no wrong."

"Silk Road is a vehicle for that message," he writes to me from somewhere in the Internet's encrypted void. "All else is secondary." …

"We're talking about the potential for a monumental shift in the power structure of the world," Roberts writes. "The people now can control the flow and distribution of information and the flow of money. Sector by sector the State is being cut out of the equation and power is being returned to the individual."

Roberts's ideas are pretty specific. Greenberg writes that "he's even hosted a Dread Pirate Roberts Book Club where he moderated discussions on authors from the Austrian school of free market economics."

You don't need ideology to participate in a successful underground business, however, and intriguing ideas won't make such a venture fly. An earlier interview by Vice with some of the dealers who sell through Silk Road found that they were "really nice guys" who were very concerned about customer service (Silk Road has seller ratings and holds payments in escrow until goods are delivered).

The technology on which Silk Road and Roberts rely — Tor and Bitcoin — are nominally neutral, but inherently political, since they allow for free and anonymous transactions with or without the consent of the state. That certainly explains why so many government officials are openly hostile to both encryption and digital currencies. And, then again, the control-driven antagonism to such technologies is exactly what drives their development

Says Roberts in the extended interview:

At its core, Silk Road is a way to get around regulation from the state. If they say we can't buy and sell certain things, we'll do it anyway and suffer no abuse from them. But the state tries to control nearly every aspect of our lives, not just drug use. Anywhere they do that, there is an opportunity to live your life as you see fit despite their efforts.

Next up, suggests Roberts, is a renewed effort to sell firearms and ammunition online, to escape tightened controls around the world. Also, the site is looking at basic consumer electronics, since high tariffs have created an opening for black market operators.

As Reason's Matthew Feeney noted, Silk Road's success has spawned competition, most notably the recent startup, Atlantis.

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