'Dread Pirate Roberts', Drug Prohibition and the Dark Web
By now it is well known that the proprietor of the 'Silk Road' internet marketplace for drugs and other illicit products has been busted by the FBI. Of course, the idea that the State should prohibit drug use by adults is highly questionable. If one studies the history of legislation in this regard, it soon becomes clear that while these prohibitions have been variously dressed up in Puritan morality or appeals to the need to preserve the 'Volksgesundheit' (the peoples' health), these laws really were largely protectionist measures.
For instance, it is no coincidence that marihuana use became illegal around the time chemical concerns such as Du Pont de Nemours introduced artificial fibers. Making the plant that produces marihuana illegal at the same time removed the biggest competition to artificial fibers – hemp.
Similarly, drug prohibition leaves the field of supplying the population with various uppers and downers in the hands of the pharmaceutical industry, which is producing dangerous psychoactive medication by the wagon loads these days. What the long term consequences of feeding the population with various benzodiazepines and other types of psychoactive drugs that influence the serotonin, norepinephrine or dopamine balance in the brain (such as the infamous and widely prescribed antidepressant Prozac) are is not really known, but we do know that a great many mass murderers that have gone 'postal' in modern times have been taking such psychotropic drugs.
Today here is a vast variety of anti-depressants, stimulants, 'mood stabilizers', anxiolytics and anti-psychotic drugs on the market that produce billions in profits for the pharmaceutical industry. We would wager that if the prohibition of currently criminalized drugs (most of which are produced by nature) were rescinded, this business would suffer a steep decline.
The senseless 'war on drugs' has not achieved a single one of its purported objectives. Drug use has not decreased because of it. However, it has had a huge cost both in terms of money and lives. So why is it continuing in spite of the crushing weight of evidence proving that it does more harm than good? That's simple: if you want to know why, follow the money.
A huge amount of money is made because certain drugs are illegal. If prohibition were rescinded, a major source of revenue for criminal cartels would dry up, and a great many minions of the State would see their jobs becoming redundant. Moreover, a major source of their funding would disappear as well, which is currently available to them via 'the same article we argued that the changing social mood could actually lead to an end of prohibition in spite of all the vested interests arrayed in favor of maintaining it.'. As we pointed out previously, this pays inter alia for the militarization of the police, which these days can deploy a great many lethal toys as a result of this source of income. In
The 'Dread Pirate' apparently believed in non-coerced free markets, which he cited as a major reason to open his online drug bazaar. What is perhaps not widely known is that he was actually not busted because of any weaknesses in the TOR-based 'dark web'. He simply made a number of stupid mistakes that allowed the authorities to track him down by employing standard investigative procedures. The following cartoon probably illustrates it well:
How to bust dark web users
(Image source unknown, via askqtp.com)
For readers interested in the technical aspects of the bust, this article at 'The Verge' has more detail on the topic. As the Verge maintains, the 'Dread Pirate' may have been busted, but the 'Dark Web' lives on. Note here that the TOR network is not merely something that is exclusively used by criminals. For many a regime critic and political dissident living in an authoritarian regime the anonymity of the 'Dark Web' is a literally a life saver. Naturally, governments everywhere dislike it, regardless of whether they are democratic or authoritarian: they dislike it simply because it is not under their control. However, there seems nothing they can do about it short of shutting down the internet altogether.
The Bitcoin Connection
In order to make anonymous payments on 'Silk Road' possible, the site used Bitcoin. In fact, when it became widely known that the drug marketplace accepted Bitcoin in payment, the price of the currency began its fantastic climb. This is no surprise, as these news were the first hard evidence that Bitcoin was actually used as a medium of exchange.
Bitcoin detractors everywhere no doubt rejoiced when Solk Road was busted: finally, a major prop helping the currency retain its value had been removed. Bitcoin duly suffered a 'mini crash' when the news hit, but it seems now that the currency's detractors have overestimated Silk Road's importance and underestimated the degree to which Bitcoin has become accepted as a store of value (it is not yet a widely used medium of exchange, but it would probably be correct to refer to it as a secondary medium of exchange by now).
After the initial crash, the currency quickly recovered, as dip buyers stepped in. Note also that Bitcoin has increased by nearly 100% in value since the low it made in July this year.
Bitcoin: after initially crashing on the news of the Silk Road bust, the currency has recovered almost the entire loss – click to enlarge.
We would note here that we still regard Bitcoin mainly as a trading sardine. However, it is possible to integrate its existence into monetary theory: one only needs to keep in mind that its exchange value is highly dependent on the fact that it is convertible into standard money issued by governments. Monetary theorists are debating whether the currency can really be regarded as 'money'. After all, it is not a commodity with a preexisting use value, such as is the case with gold and silver.
However, it can at the same time not be denied that it has arisen in the market. No government committee decided one day 'let there be Bitcoin'. Instead a couple of computer nerds created the currency for the sheer fun of it. In the meantime, it has evidently become a serious contender in the world of currencies. Its rising exchange value suggests that it is widely regarded as a better money than the monies issued by States.
It is easy to see why this is so: although Bitcoin is not a commodity money and has no preexisting use value, it must be 'mined' at great cost and effort. Moreover, its supply is strictly limited: there will never be more than 21 million Bitcoins in existence.
This fact alone makes it interesting to many people as a potential store of value, especially if its acceptance as a medium of exchange continues to increase. Naturally its cash-like anonymity remains a big draw as well. Consider in this context the example of the 'Saddam dinar' in Iraq: after the invasion of Iraq, the currency began to rise strongly. This was so because it continued to be accepted as a medium of exchange, and people knew at the same time that henceforth, printing of the currency would stop. The central bank of Iraq had been forced to cease to add to the supply of Saddam dinars.
Having said all that, until Bitcoin is more widely accepted in exchange (so far its use as a medium of exchange remains rather limited), the main prop keeping its value up is the fact that it can be converted into other currencies. If Bitcoin owners were not certain that they can indeed exchange their Bitcoins for dollars, euro, etc. at anytime at a Bitcoin exchange, its value would immediately come into question. In the end, it is just a collection of bits and bytes – the fact that it is not a commodity money remains its most severe flaw. It is therefore probably best regarded as an extension, or adjunct to existing paper monies.
Bitcoin: nothing but bits and bytes – and yet, a currency that has arisen in the market
Charts by MtGox Bitcoin exchange
Dear Readers! We are happy to report that we have reached our turn-of-the-year funding goal and want to extend a special thank you to all of you who have chipped in. We are very grateful for your support! As a general remark, according to usually well informed circles, exercising the donation button in between funding drives is definitely legal and highly appreciated as well.
Bitcoin address: 1DRkVzUmkGaz9xAP81us86zzxh5VMEhNke
10 Responses to “Bitcoin and the Silk Road Bust”
Most read in the last 20 days:
- A Historic Rally in Gold Stocks – and Most Investors Missed It
Buy Low, Sell High? It is an old truism and everybody has surely heard it more than once. If you want to make money in the stock market, you're supposed to buy low and sell high. Simple, right? Successful stock market investing in two simple steps Photo via slideshare.net As Bill Bonner once related, this is how a stock market advisor in Germany explained the process to him: Thirty years ago, at an investment conference, there was a scalawag analyst...
- Gold and Negative Interest Rates
The Inflation Illusion We hear more and more talk about the possibility of imposing negative interest rates in the US. In a recent article former Fed chairman Ben Bernanke asks what tools the Fed has left to support the economy and inter alia discusses the use of negative rates. We first have to define what we mean by negative interest rates. For nominal rates it’s simple. When the interest rate charged goes negative we have negative nominal rates. To get the real rate of...
- Why is the Stock Market so Strong?
Dismal Earnings, Extreme Valuations The current earnings season hasn't been very good so far. Companies continue to “beat expectations” of course, but this is just a silly game. The stock market's valuation is already between the highest and third highest in history depending on how it is measured. Photo credit: Kjetil Ree Corporate earnings are clearly weakening, and yet, the market keeps climbing. The rally is a bit of a “all of worry” type of...
- Cultural Marxism and the Birth of Modern Thought-Crime
What the Establishment Wants, the Establishment Gets If a person has no philosophical thoughts, certain questions will never cross his mind. As a young man, there were many issues and ideas that never concerned me as they do today. There is one question, however, which has intrigued me for the longest time, and it still fascinates me as intensely as it did back then: Does spirit precede matter or is it the other way around? In other words, does human consciousness create what we...
- Gold Stampede
Stampeding Animals The mass impulse of a cattle stampede can be triggered by something as innocuous as a blowing tumbleweed. A sudden startle, or a perceived threat, is all it takes to it set off. Once the herd collectively begins charging in one direction it will eliminate everything in its path. Better get out of the way... stampeding bisons Photo credit: Surface Niusance The only chance a rancher has is to fire off a pistol with the hope that the shot...
- Russian Aggression Unmasked (Sort Of)
Provocative Fighter Jocks Back in 2014, a Russian jet made headlines when it passed several times close to the USS Donald Cook in the Black Sea. As CBS reported at the time: “A Pentagon spokesperson told CBS Radio that a Russian SU-24 fighter jet made several low altitude, close passes in the vicinity of the USS Donald Cook in international waters of the western Black Sea on April 12. While the jet did not overfly the deck, Col. Steve Warren called the action "provocative and...
- US Economy – Ongoing Distortions
Business under Pressure A recent post by Mish points to the fact that many of the business-related data that have been released in recent months continue to point to growing weakness in many parts of the business sector. We show a few charts illustrating the situation below: A long term chart of total business sales. The recent decline seems congruent with a recession, but many other indicators are not yet confirming a recession - click to enlarge. Wholesale...
- Getting it Wrong on Silver
Erroneous Analysis of Precious Metals Fundamentals We came across an article at Bloomberg today, talking about silver supply troubles. We get it. The price of silver has rallied quite a lot, so the press needs to cover the story. They need to explain why. Must be a shortage developing, right? At first, we thought to just put out a short Soggy Dollars post highlighting the error. Then we thought we would go deeper. Here’s a graph showing the price action in silver since the...
- Political Pundits, or Getting Paid for Wishful Thinking
Bill Kristol - the Gartman of Politics? It has become a popular sport at Zerohedge to make fun of financial pundits who appear regularly on TV and tend to be consistently wrong with their market calls. While this Schadenfreude type reportage may strike some as a bit dubious, it should be noted that it is quite harmless compared to continually leading people astray with dodgy advice. To answer the question posed in the picture with the benefit of hindsight: not really.... (look...
- Running Mate Turns Into Fall Girl
Odd Couple While checking on the US primaries a few days ago, we came across a piece of news informing us that pretend candle-swallower Ted Cruz had picked Carly Fiorina as his “vice-presidential running mate”. Our first thought upon hearing this was “WTF”? The match made in heaven... two loooosers find each other. Photo credit: AP It's not so much that he's picking another “loooooser” as The Donald would put it...the real absurdity of it is that...
- 100 Years of Mismanagement
Lost From the Get-Go There must be some dark corner of Hell warming up for modern, mainstream economists. They helped bring on the worst bubble ever… with their theories of efficient markets and modern portfolio management. They failed to see it for what it was. Then, when trouble came, they made it worse. But instead of atoning in a dank cell, these same economists strut onto the stage to congratulate themselves. The scalawag himself. Keynes provided governments with the...
- Bank of Japan: The Limits of Monetary Tinkering
Damned If You Do... After waking up on Thursday, we quickly glanced at the overnight market action in Asia and noticed that the Nikkei had tanked rather noticeably. Our first thought upon seeing this was “must be the yen” - and so it was: June yen futures, daily – taking off again - click to enlarge. Given the BoJ's bizarre plan to push consumer price inflation to a 2% annualized rate within [enter movable goal post here] years, Mr. Kuroda cannot be overly...