Ross Ulbricht was sentenced to life in prison on Friday. Another individual that can be added to the long rabble of victims of the U.S. Government’s senseless war on drugs. He was the creator of the Silk Road web site, which ran on the TOR network and took payment in Bitcoin, thus making the trading of what the government calls “illicit” goods easier and more private.
You can read in plenty of other places how the web site worked and the details of the case. What I wish to focus on specifically is why Mr. Ulbricht was sentenced to life? This was the harshest sentence that could be given and even worse than the prosecution itself was asking for.
The minimum was 20 years. Mr. Ulbricht is 31 years of age so a 20 year stint would have freed him when he was 51 and still left him some semblance of life left to live. However the judge literally threw the book at him and gave him what really amounts to a death sentence. He will now spend the rest of his natural life behind bars and never again know freedom in this life. So why give such a brutal sentence?
The first main reason is the government, like most crime syndicates, doesn’t tolerate competition well. The government needs the “War on Drugs” to finance and finish building the huge police state apparatus it has been quietly building for decades. The so called “Patriot” Act, is simply the latest law that was sold to us to stop terrorism, but is really used to stop competition in the drug war (As of midnight Sunday this has been updated to the USA “Freedom” Act).
In addition, the government needs a large slush fund that isn’t transparent to the public to finance off the books military and spy operations around the globe. If these activities were paid for through traditional channels it would require disclosure in the budget (public information) and be subject to FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests. Would a good police state allow its subjects to see that kind of stuff?
The drug trade is a very profitable enterprise for the U.S. government and to the extent Silk Road was cutting in on that monopoly was completely unacceptable to the thugocracy running our government. Mr. Ulbricht had to be completely crushed to send a message. The jack booted thugs in the government needed to send a clear message to other young upstarts. You mess with our drug business we will end you and use our kangaroo courts to make it look all nice and legal.
The second reason is far more interesting in my opinion. The technology used to build the Silk Road is readily available all over the Internet. The skills used to harness this technology are available to any web developer worth his/her salt. In other words to set up this enterprise didn’t require vast resources, money, manpower or a large enterprise. It required a web developer with some decent programming skills and a laptop.
Think about that for a moment, some guy in his basement with a laptop can create another Silk Road web site, utilize Bitcoin, TOR, and readily available encryption and create a lucrative marketplace that would literally end the government’s monopoly on the drug trade if it catches on and lots of people do it. In addition, it isn’t just about drugs, in fact, I would argue that is actually a small part of the future.
The real power will come when totally free, anonymous, unregulated, and tax free networks and lassie fare capitalism can truly be practiced without interference from the Federalies. People will be able to buy anything they want without the nanny state blocking it, taxing it, or regulating it.
As new people start to do this they will learn from the mistakes of others. They will learn at the speed of light how to hide more effectively from the growing police state, move money around more quietly and easier, facilitate better more frictionless capitalism and they can do it from anyplace in the world. They will get harder to track and harder to stop.
Such a site can be set up in about month with a little elbow grease. In fact, others have already been set up. Many of them have been shut down, but new ones are coming. Think technology boom, but in this case being used to run circles around the behemoth and slow moving Federalies. The innovations that created our modern Internet can and will be applied to ending the Federalies alternative income schemes and totalitarian control over our lives to exercise truly free markets.
The real reason Mr. Ulbricht was given such a harsh sentence is because he dared open Pandora’s Box, he showed how ANYONE can do this. The government is feeling stark terror right now. They see their precious drug business being usurped by a dude with a laptop. They fully understand that if more and more of these sites pop up that the resources needed to track them all down all over the world and arrest everyone involved will quickly outstrip even their resources and manpower. They are terrified.
Like any jack booted tyrant or animal that is terrified it is lashing out viciously in an attempt to stop the inevitable from occurring. They won’t be successful. More will follow and some will be busted and receive similar treatment, but eventually the market will become unstoppable. They know this. So, in an attempt to strike fear into anyone else thinking of doing this they gave Mr. Ulbricht a life sentence. Not because they care about society, but because he dared to cut into their business and usurp their authority.
Many feel that in this case the punishment didn’t fit crime and is truly an injustice. Sadly it has been this way throughout history. The first pioneers into any endeavor often get the arrows in the back. They die trying to push boundaries and advance into areas unexplored. However his sacrifice will only inspire others.
Others will follow and soon the technology, processes, skills, and brave individuals willing to poke a finger in the eye of the jack booted thugs running the U.S. government’s crime syndicate will grow. Soon they will be unstoppable. The government is terrified.