by New Dealer
On Wednesday October 2, 2013 a 29-year old man was arrested by FBI agents in a branch of the San Francisco Public Library. His name was Ross William Ulbricht and he seemed no different from any other San Francisco techie. He studied at the University of Texas and did graduate work at Penn State. He looks positively boyish in photographs. However, Ross William Ulbricht was allegedly known on the Internet as Dread Pirate Roberts and the mastermind behind a site called Silk Road. For the last two years, the Silk Road was an anonymous market on the Internet. Most of the sales were for narcotics and fake IDs but allegedly other illegal goods could be purchased as well. Dread Pirate Roberts also allegedly briefly ran an anonymous weapons market called The Armory but that shut down after a few months for lack of interest.
Ross William Ulbricht did leave a strong Internet trail about his political philosophy. Sometime during graduate school he stopped being interested in science and developed a stronger interest in far-reaching libertarian economics. He wrote on his LinkedIn page that he wanted to use economic theory to “abolish the use of coercion and aggression from mankind.” I will point out the irony of this stance with allegedly opening up a black market for weapons: Mr. Ulbricht allegedly solicited a hit man to murder a Canadian father who threatened to reveal the names of Silk Road users and workers. According to the criminal complaint, he whined to the hit man that 150K was too high a price for a clean hit and he was able to purchase a clean hit for 80K previously. Again, Ulbricht wanted to use libertarian economics to free the world for “coercion and aggression.”
Reason.com described the FBI’s bust of the Silk Road as “[terrible] news for lovers of lovers of the black market (that is, free market) commerce free of the watching eyes and clutching hands of government.” The reaction on reddit is equally hyperbolic with redditors expressing umbrage that undercover agents posed as a hit men — this ignoring the fact that Mr. Ulbricht was still allegedly the person who went to find a hit man in the first place. There was also talk about jury nullification and other things to save their hero.
We talk about the Drug War on Ordinary Times and most of us are in agreement that the War on (some) drugs is bad policy for a variety of reasons. We do not agree on which side is more to blame for the continuing of the drug war and what are the best methods to end the drug war on a policy front.
I will argue that the kind of radical libertarian philosophy that animated the Silk Road is not going to end the Drug War anytime soon. In fact, sites like Silk Road are probably more likely to continue the drug war on multiple fronts. Most people can probably be convinced that marijuana, hash, and maybe some other narcotics are perfectly acceptable to use on a recreational level. They can probably be convinced that the drug war on for these narcotics is costly and an attack on civil liberty. However, they do not want a freewheeling market. They would like to be something like alcohol or tobacco and sold in particular manner and regulated against impurities. They would like a marketplace that does not make it easy for minors to get the narcotics or have a drug dealer operate out of the apartment next door at all hours.
I doubt that most people think that heroin, cocaine, LSD, crack, or meth should be treated the same way as beer, tobacco, or marijuana. Those drugs pose more damage to the economy, environment, public health, and personal lives and are probably generally seen as dangerous. Nick Redding’s Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town is a good example of how meth causes a public health and environmental crisis when it ravages a town.
You might be able to convince the public that jailing meth, cocaine, and heroin addicts is not a good public policy stance. I think we might be able to get in some kind of European policy that allows heroin addicts to receive limited and clean supplies of the drug at a supply center or pharmacy. I have yet to seen evidence or proof that the majority of people can be convinced that it is good for people to be able to order heroin or crack in a marketplace like the Silk Road or on an Amazon.com type place. I have yet to see a convincing argument about why heroin should be legal like beer.
As a liberal, I think that the stance of Mr. Ulbricht and Reason is a perfect example of the perfect being the enemy of the good and Tod Kelly’s views that ideology is the enemy. It is simply not enough for some members of the libertarian movement to end the drug war or enact significant reforms but the drug war needs to end in a way that is in perfect accordance with their libertarian and anti-government ideology. This seems to be a way to not get anything instead of getting something. Is it better to have a super-regulated narcotic market for marijuana, hash, and some other drugs or is it better to have the status quo? This is not a rhetorical question because it seems inadvertently that the libertarian side chooses the status quo by refusing to see that most people probably do not want and is wary of an unregulated market for some to many substances or goods.
I am a liberal who wants to end or radically reform the War on Some Drugs. I would like to see the legalization of marijuana, hash, and MDMA for adults. But in good liberal fashion, I would like a regulated market place that takes into account environmental regulations and protections. California has a huge problem with marijuana growers being very bad for the environment. I would also like to see consumers be able to get a clean and safe product that is unadulterated and this requires rules and regulations. Cocaine, Crack, Heroin, and Meth seem like different beasts to me though and those drugs still present significant risks to the public health and safety and crime. They are poison. I firmly believe that sending drug addicts to prison is immoral and counter-productive but this does not mean I think that heroin should be legal and sold without restraint. Far from it. I don’t understand the inability of some people to see a that meth and heroin are different than marijuana. Nor do I see why the Silk Road is better than a regulated and safe marketplace.