This is just to note an article in Ars Technica about the recent government takedown of Silk Road, a website devoted to letting individuals buy and sell anything. The site had gained substantial notoriety in recent years because all transactions were negotiated in BitCoins, a supposedly completely anonymous cyber currency. The entire article is worth a read. However, what particularly interested me was the link to Austrian economics, the semi-official economics of the Tea Party.
I quote the relevant parts of the article below the fold.
Discussing how the owner of Silk Road was caught, started with
A subpoena to Google revealed that this account was in fact registered to one "Ross Ulbricht." The account was also linked to a Google+ profile, which had a picture of Ulbricht and a link to his favorite videos on YouTube. The videos provided a key clue; several of them were from the libertarian Mises Institute, whose views jibed with the leanings of the Dread Pirate Roberts. In addition, Roberts had repeatedly linked up Mises videos when posting in the Silk Road forum and had referenced "Austrian school" economists like Ludwig von Mises, for whom the Institute was named. The clue was suggestive but not conclusive.Of course, one of the crimes the Ulbricht is now charged with a contracting for the torture and murder of an associate who had stolen from him. So much for avoiding violence.
Still, the pieces were coming together.
The economic simulator
With the name Ross Ulbricht, the feds went to other social networks. They found Ulbricht on LinkedIn, where he talked about his dissatisfaction with the physics work he had been doing as a graduate student at Penn State. "Now, my goals have shifted," Ulbricht wrote. "I want to use economic theory as a means to abolish the use of coercion and aggression amongst mankind... The most widespread and systemic use of force is amongst institutions and governments, so this is my current point of effort. The best way to change a government is to change the minds of the governed, however. To that end, I am creating an economic simulation to give people a first-hand experience of what it would be like to live in a world without the systemic use of force."
Could the "economic simulation" be, in fact, Silk Road? One tantalizing hint comes from an anonymous article published in alternative newspaper The Austin Cut, located in Austin, Texas where Ulbricht grew up. The story was, in essence, a primer on how to build Silk Road and an explanation of what made the site so amazing—and the answers were "freedom" and "lack of force."
"Hackers, anarchists, and criminals have been dreaming about these days since forever," wrote the author. "Where you can turn on your computer, browse the web anonymously, make an untraceable cash-like transaction, and have a product in your hands, regardless of what any government or authority decides... This is about real freedom. Freedom from violence, from arbitrary morals and law, from corrupt centralized authorities, and from centralization altogether. While Silk Road and Bitcoin may fade or be crushed by their enemies, we've seen what free, leaderless systems can do. You can only chop off so many heads."
The article's author then relayed a telling anecdote from Silk Road, one in which people began arguing over a botched deal. They got angry; one threatened violence, but he was simply mocked by other users because he had no way to find his target. "It showed how successful Silk Road really is," wrote the author. "It makes drug buying and selling so smooth that it's easy to forget what kinds of violent fuckers drug dealers can be. That's the whole point of Silk Road. It totally takes evil pieces of shit out of the drug equation. Whether they're vicious drug dealers or bloodthirsty narcotics cops, both sides of that coin suck and end pretty much the same way. Death, despair, madness, prison, etc. Thanks to decentralization and powerful encryption, we're able to operate in a digital world that is almost free from prohibition and the violence it causes."