The Silk Road was a valuable counterbalance to government intrusion

Silk Road 2.0 is already set to launch.

Last week Ross William Ulbricht, aka Dread Pirate Roberts, was arrested for violation of US narcotics law. Ulbricht is founder of Silk Road a website dubbed "eBay for drugs". Silk Road, now closed, was accessible via Tor, a server system originally designed by the US Navy, that protects anonymity of the user "by bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world".

The Tor download page also states its purpose to "defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security". It lists its users as families, journalists and state bodies all concerned about privacy and seeking unscrutinised web access.

Such libertarianism has, as you would expect, encouraged a market. Websites such as Silk Road have championed their statelessness on the "dark web" and made a market for substances and services that would be illegal and largely unavailable on the street. Drug varieties were catalogued and suppliers reviewed much like eBay. Dealers were anonymous and money was often held by an intermediary to ensure reputable and fair transactions. The currency was Bitcoins.

Ulbricht is alleged to have hired a hitman, via Silk Road, to take out a former employee who was attempting to blackmail him. Ulbricht himself is a physics graduate who champions liberty of the individual created by unrestricted markets and an absence of imposing and violent masters.

His LinkedIn account reveals: "I want to use economic theory as a means to abolish the use of coercion and aggression amongst mankind… 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."

The power of free markets to improve the world remains at the centre of the Western liberal project. It is rightly seen as the vehicle to lift developing economies and bring about harmony and common interest in a diverse world. The role of states and governments in this process will be a subject of constant debate. The internet, as shown by the Arab Spring, has gone a long way to complementing processes typical of free markets. However with the advent of Wikileaks, cyber warfare, 3D printing and Bitcoins governments have a mandate to monitor and protect.

But Silk Road has its guardians too. It was credited by its creators and users as mitigating gangs and cartels, providing quality and going someway to breaking dependency cycles (by breaking people’s relationships with dealers on the street) – all objectives the unsuccessful state waged War on Drugs has put a premium on.

Those with the hard power couched in law courts, the Pentagon and GCHQ tread the razor’s edge of freedom. Real security stems from mutual interests (often embodied by healthy markets), not arbitrary censorship that makes enemies by miscomprehension.

Two key points will illuminate the road ahead: Following the closure of a website selling illegal drugs, Bitcoin fell 8.6 per cent, wiping approximately $130 million of its value, and Silk Road 2.0 is already set to launch.

Read more by Alex Matchett

This piece first appeared in Spear's Magazine

Photograph: Getty Images

This is a story from the team at Spears magazine.

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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.