'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 We would wager that if the prohibition of currently criminalized drugs (most of which are produced by nature) were rescinded, this business would suffer a steep decline.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 If prohibition were rescinded, a major source of revenue for criminal cartels would dry up, and a great many minions of the State would see their jobs becoming redundant.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
You may have noticed that our so-called “semiannual” funding drive, which started sometime in the summer if memory serves, has seamlessly segued into the winter. In fact, the year is almost over! We assure you this is not merely evidence of our chutzpa; rather, it is indicative of the fact that ad income still needs to be supplemented in order to support upkeep of the site. Naturally, the traditional benefits that can be spontaneously triggered by donations to this site remain operative regardless of the season - ranging from a boost to general well-being/happiness (inter alia featuring improved sleep & appetite), children including you in their songs, up to the likely allotment of privileges in the afterlife, etc., etc., but the Christmas season is probably an especially propitious time to cross our palms with silver. A special thank you to all readers who have already chipped in, your generosity is greatly appreciated. Regardless of that, we are honored by everybody's readership and hope we have managed to add a little value to your life.
Bitcoin address: 1DRkVzUmkGaz9xAP81us86zzxh5VMEhNke
10 Responses to “Bitcoin and the Silk Road Bust”
Most read in the last 20 days:
- Gold Sector: Positioning and Sentiment
A Case of Botched Timing, But... When last we wrote about the gold sector in mid February, we discussed historical patterns in the HUI following breaches of its 200-day moving average from below. Given that we expected such a breach to occur relatively soon, the post turned out to be rather ill-timed. Luckily we always advise readers that we are not exactly Nostradamus (occasionally our timing is a bit better). Below is a chart of the HUI Index depicting the action since the January...
- India: The next Pakistan?
India’s Rapid Degradation This is Part XI of a series of articles (the most recent of which is linked here) in which I have provided regular updates on what started as the demonetization of 86% of India's currency. The story of demonetization and the ensuing developments were merely a vehicle for me to explore Indian institutions, culture and society. The Modimobile is making the rounds amid a flower shower. [PT] Photo credit: PTI Photo Tribal cultures face...
- The Long Run Economics of Debt Based Stimulus
Onward vs. Upward Something both unwanted and unexpected has tormented western economies in the 21st century. Gross domestic product (GDP) has moderated onward while government debt has spiked upward. Orthodox economists continue to be flummoxed by what has transpired. What happened to the miracle? The Keynesian wet dream of an unfettered fiat debt money system has been realized, and debt has been duly expanded at every opportunity. Although the fat lady has so far only...
- March to Default
Style Over Substance “May you live in interesting times,” says the ancient Chinese curse. No doubt about it, we live in interesting times. Hardly a day goes by that we’re not aghast and astounded by a series of grotesque caricatures of the world as at devolves towards vulgarity. Just this week, for instance, U.S. Representative Maxine Waters tweeted, “Get ready for impeachment.” Well, Maxine Waters is obviously right – impeaching the president is an urgent...
- Welcome to Totalitarian America, President Trump!
Trump vs. the Deep State If there had been any doubt that the land of the free and home of the brave is now a totalitarian society, the revelations that its Chief Executive Officer has been spied upon while campaigning for that office and during his brief tenure as president should now be allayed. Image adapted from the cover of “Deep State #5” - depicting an assassin from the future President Trump joins the very crowded list of opponents of the American...
- Searching for Truth
Heresy or Truth? RANCHO SANTANA, NICARAGUA – In the fifth century, Christian scholars counted 88 different heresies. Arianism. Eutychianism. Nestorianism. If there was a way to “offend” God, they had a name for it. One group of “heretics” argued that there was no such thing as “original sin.” Another denied the trinity. And another claimed Jesus was not divine. Which one had the truth? Depiction of the first Council of Ephesus in 431 AD, convened by Emperor...
- Why the 21st Century Sucks - Turtles All the Way Down
A Truly Sucky Century BALTIMORE – What an awful century! Worst we’ve ever seen. Household incomes are down. Employment is down, with 7 million people in the U.S. of working age without jobs. Productivity growth is down. GDP growth is down – to only about 0.5% per capita last year. Even life expectancies are down. Drug overdoses are up. Suicides are up. One out of every eight children lives in a family getting food stamps. One of out every eight adults takes psychoactive drugs...
- Gold and the Fed's Looming Rate Hike in March
Long Term Technical Backdrop Constructive After a challenging Q4 in 2016 in the context of rising bond yields and a stronger US dollar, gold seems to be getting its shine back in Q1. The technical picture is beginning to look a little more constructive and the “reflation trade”, spurred on further by expectations of higher infrastructure spending and tax cuts in the US, has thus far also benefited gold. From a technical perspective, there are indications that the low at $1045.40,...
- The Unstable Empire – A Campfire Tale
Campfire Tale Caesar: The Ides of March are come. Soothsayer: Ay, Caesar, but not gone. — Julius Caesar, Shakespeare GRANADA, NICARAGUA – Today, we stop the horses and circle the wagons. For 19 years, we have been rolling along, exploring, discovering. We began with the assumption that we didn’t “know” anything - so we kept our eyes open. Now we know even less. Famous people who knew nothing and were not shy to admit it: Sergeant Schultz...
- Off the Beaten Path in Mesoamerica
Greeted by Rooster There’s an endearing quality to a steadfast rooster call at the crack of dawn when overheard from a warm country farmhouse. There’s a reassuring charm that comes with the committed gallinaceous greeting of daybreak that’s particularly suited to a rural ambiance. The allure of a morning cock-a-doodle-doo somehow falls flat in all other settings. Good morning everyone! Before meteorological forecasts were available on TV and smart phones, people...
- Why Silver Went Down – Precious Metals Supply and Demand
Rumor-Mongering vs. Data The question on the lips of everyone who plans to exchange his metal for dollars—widely thought to be money—is why did silver go down? The price of silver in dollar terms dropped from about 18 bucks to about 17, or about 5 percent. Reportedly silver was already assassinated in the late 19th century... so last week they must have assassinated its corpse. [PT] Illustration taken from 'Coin's Financial School' The facile answer is...
- Systematic Trading - Unwrapping the Onion
Lumpy but Robust [ed note: this article has originally appeared at the Evil Speculator and was written by trader and ES contributor Scott. We provide a link to Scott's past articles below this post for readers who want to get more familiar with his ideas and/or any unusual terminology used in this article] One continual theme in my trading is that every time I think I have it figured out, I get punched in the face by an unexpected problem. The tendency is to go more...