Eliminating the Silk Road leads to violence. Here's why:
Two weeks ago in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, four young men, all in their twenties, went to purchase marijuana, a substance that has been legalized or decriminalized in more than twenty states. They could not safely purchase their product online, so they went to a marijuana dealer, Cosmo DiNardo.
All drug deals are composed of three, and only three, components:
- Terms of delivery.
Adam Smith takes care of the first.
The second is based on either the reputation of the seller, or field testing.
The exchange is where, as they say, the rubber meets the road. If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong at this step. A stranger who unexpectedly comes to the place of delivery can make the seller edgy. An unexpected person present at the delivery can make the buyer wary. An aggressive move by anyone can lead to violence.
The Silk Road, operated by an internaut who went by the moniker "Dread Pirate Roberts," provided a valuable service by eliminating the inherent potential violence in the third step. Violence was still a possibility, but not at this most dangerous time, the point of exchange. A person who sells fraudulent goods to a buyer can expect that a buyer will take action. In the world of illicit business, that action may include violence. The result of a rip-off may well be violence, but that violence is planned and not accidental. Indeed, a person selling fake computers on E-Bay is just as likely to suffer retribution if he sells to an aggrieved buyer with a gun and the amount lost is high enough.
So four young men went to see Cosmo DiNardo. There they met their deaths. What happened at the delivery isn't clear, but afterwards their four bodies were buried in a common grave twelve feet deep. DiNardo confessed to their murders in exchange for avoiding the death penalty.
All over a minor marijuana sale.
Even though heroin is illegal, needle exchanges kept down the unintended and unwanted spread of infection to non-drug users. Doesn't the same logic apply to drug marketplaces like the Silk Road, in order to prevent accidental violence?
By eliminating casual or coincidental violence, the Silk Road provided a measurable public service. Dread Pirate Roberts may deserve a lengthy prison sentence for seeking to murder a rival--if true--but a long prison sentence for operating a service like the Silk Road leads to collateral consequences, like Cosmo DiNardo's murder of these four innocents; four young men whose lives were cut short merely because they sought to purchase what is available freely in more than a third of the country.
After the government shut down the Silk Road, two new services stepped into the breach. A multi-nation task force shut down these two as well, resulting in the suicide of one of the founders in a Thai prison. Were these new exchanges, like the Silk Road, such a threat to humanity that they were shut down immediately? Of course not. In fact, the government operated the exchanges itself for six months before finally pulling the plug. If the exchanges are so dangerous--and compared to street sales, they are not--why didn't the government shut them down right away?
The views expressed herein are those of the author and no other person.
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This article is unlike any of my others, but as long as Amazon refuses to sell to Saudi customers, I had to do something. Paypal's discrimination against Pakistani readers doesn't help either.