Conservative libertarians claim that a true “free market,” free from evil gub’mint regulations, will be The Best Thing Ever. It doesn’t matter if some people try to cheat the system, the “invisible hand” of the market will fix everything, and all will be rainbows and candy and fluffy bunnies.
This, of course, is total bullshit that a 10-year-old can see through. The problem with an actual “free market” is that there are always, ALWAYS people who will lie, cheat and steal. Ironically, libertarianism (mememe!) fails for the exact same reason its polar opposite, Communism (wewewe), fails: Human beings can be, and often are, total dicks.
But, how do we know a REAL free market wouldn’t be the mythical success people like Rand Paul and Paul Ryan insist it would be? Easy. Because someone tried it and it failed exactly like you’d think, except even funnier.
Let me explain.
You remember Bitcoin, don’t you? The magical digital currency that’s supposed to destroy the evil American dollar? It’s an untraceable way to buy stuff, and libertarians have been masturbating over it for years. Well, one enterprising genius, Ross Ulbricht, decided to combine Bitcoin with something called the “Dark Web” to create ULTIMATE FREEDOM™.
The Dark Web is the stuff of cheesy Hollywood hacker films, except it’s actually real. Basically, it’s websites that have been intentionally hidden from what we consider the internet (as well as from all that pesky law enforcement). As you can imagine, this is a wet dream come true for people who want to conduct illegal activities online.
So Dark Web + Bitcoin = The Silk Road, a completely anonymous market free from any and all government oversight or “interference.” You could buy drugs, stolen credit card numbers, child pornography, explosives, etc. Pretty much anything illegal was up for grabs. But there was a catch: Since everyone was completely anonymous, no one trusted anyone else. People engaging in criminal activity not trusting other criminals? Shocking, I know. They needed middlemen they could trust not to screw them over.
Henry Farrell of AEON writes about how Ross Ulbricht was there to save the day:
No entrepreneur of trust was more successful than the Texan Ross Ulbricht, who, under his ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’ pseudonym, founded and ran the notorious Silk Road marketplace for drugs and other contraband. And no-one better exemplifies how the libertarian dream of freedom from the state turned sour.
And holy crap did it turn sour!
Over time, Ulbricht found that he had to put rules into place to keep the market working properly. We call those rules “laws” out here in the real world. But libertarians HATE laws, don’t they? Sure they do, but hating laws doesn’t make them less vital any more than hating gravity makes a fall from 300 feet less terminal.
As time went on, Ulbricht was “forced” to kick people off the Silk Road for being cheats and thieves. This was not an unreasonable development since, as I stated earlier, there will always be dicks running around trying to screw people. Yet, Ulbricht kept trying to pretend he wasn’t the absolute ruler (government) of his own kingdom:
It seems that Ulbricht felt a little defensive about his new political role. In his persona as the Dread Pirate Roberts, he claimed in Silk Road forums that there was a fundamental difference between an organisation such as Silk Road and a state. Silk Road was ‘regulated by market forces, not a central power,’ and even he, the Dread Pirate Roberts, was subject to market competition. If sellers and customers didn’t like the rules he made, they could go to other drug bazaars on the hidden web. He acknowledged the theoretical possibility that ‘voluntary organisations’ such as his site might spy on users, imprison them or even kill them. This would indeed mean that ‘[W]e’re back to where we started, the present day state.’ However, he insisted, market competition would make sure that this never came to pass.
But it absolutely did because, again, people are total dicks. Ulbricht’s fellow
criminals freedom lovers found that they were repeatedly ripped off in a number of ways. My personal favorites were the people who spent the time to become trusted sellers so they could make a bunch of high priced sales at the same time ,and then disappear with the money. Millions of dollars worth of Bitcoins were stolen. And there wasn’t a damn thing anyone could do about it. It was the libertarian dream writ large. They got theirs and screw everyone else.
But the best was yet to come, as Ulbricht resorted to murder to protect his kingdom (or at least tried to). You see, dealers who have drugs delivered to people’s homes are supposed to delete that information according to one of those pesky “rules” on the Silk Road. But, of course, they didn’t. That meant they could expose a lot of the customers on the Road. Once it got out that people’s private information was not safe, that would be the end of the whole thing.
To the surprise of absolutely no one but Ulbricht, one of the dealers on his site threatened to destroy him with this kind of information. It’s almost like the people selling drugs weren’t the paragons of capitalist virtue we read about in Ayn Rand’s
delusional fantasy ground-breaking epic Atlas Shrugged. So how did Ulbricht respond? Exactly how you’d think a libertarian protecting his multi-million dollar fiefdom would respond.
He hired a hitman to do his dirty work for him:
Ulbricht did not invoke Silk Road’s internal rules or rely on impersonal market forces. Instead, he tried to use the final argument of kings: physical violence. He paid $150,000 to someone whom he believed to be a senior member of the Hells Angels to arrange for the murder of his blackmailer, later paying another $500,000 to have associates of FriendlyChemist murdered too.
Ulbricht was arrested in 2013 and convicted in February of 2015 on seven drug and conspiracy charges. He faces a sentence of 20 years to life in prison. He still has a trial waiting for him in Baltimore for the attempted assassinations.
In the end, Ulbricht became the very thing he despised (government), because the thing he despised is something that society simply cannot exist without. It’s a lesson that Ulbricht had to learn the hard way. Although his mother Lyn Ulbricht seems unconvinced her son did something wrong:
What do I think about what he did? He’s a very freedom-oriented and libertarian guy, and I respect that. There might have been some youthful zeal in there. I think young people sometimes don’t know the consequences; they’re very idealistic.
I totally agree, Ross Ulbricht had no idea what he was doing. He set up a true free market and seemed shocked that it didn’t work, and could never work, without a rigid set of
laws rules and
law enforcement in place. Libertarian theory states that you should do what is best for you and everyone else can
go f*ck off look after themselves. Why be surprised when that’s exactly what people do?
But like every libertarian, Ulbricht was a flaming hypocrite. Rules and regulations and the “initiation of force” (a libertarian buzzphrase meaning enforcement of those rules) are the enemy until it comes time to protect THEIR wealth and property. Then all those terrible gub’mint regulations are absolutely required! Heck, even murder is just fine as long as the libertarian is the one who profits from it!
I would also like to point out that libertarians are supposedly against “coercion,” but child pornography is the very definition of coercion. Children can not consent to sex. Period. But since there was money to be made from coercing children, Ulbricht didn’t seem to mind because, you know, freedom and liberty.
Farrell sums up the delusion of libertarian ideology perfectly as he explains why an actual free market will ALWAYS fail:
Ulbricht’s carelessness brought about the early demise of Silk Road. But if he hadn’t been stupid, the marketplace would have soon collapsed under its own weight, or become the creature of larger organisations with a far greater capacity for violence. The libertarian dream of free online drug markets that can magically and peacefully regulate themselves is just that: a dream. Playing at pirates is only fun as long as the other players are kids too. The trouble is, once adults with real swords appear, it may be too late to wake up.
In other words, there will always, ALWAYS be people who will lie, cheat ,and steal to get ahead. Libertarian conservativescelebrate this kind of greed. To them, it’s the superman that takes what he wants regardless of what society says. On the other hand, libertarian conservatives seem unable to understand how this amoral self-interest is diametrically opposed to the existence of a working free market in the real world. It’s like setting fire to the living room rug because you’re cold and then wondering how the house burned to the ground.
So the next time you come across a libertarian conservative blathering on about how the free market can solve everything, tell the story of the Silk Road and then ask them to kindly STFU.