The shadowy bazaar’s hyper-shadowy founder talks why it’s libertarian politics first, selling drugs second in an interview with Forbes.
For “Dread Pirate Roberts” the war on drugs is over, and his side won. The man behind the day-to-day operations of the drugs-and-guns bazaar Silk Road sees himself as something of a counter culture revolutionary, telling Forbes in a recent profile piece that Silk Road’s primary objective is creating a digital space free from the leviathan of the state — a virtual Arcadia — while actual commerce comes second.
“Silk Road is a vehicle for that message,” Roberts said to Forbes. “All else is secondary.”
Business is good for Roberts, who assumed the position of day-to-day administrator in February 2012. Research by Carnegie Mellon researcher Nicolas Christin puts combined revenue from Silk Road’s merchants (which only number in the dozens) at $1.2 million a month during 2012. Estimates by Forbes put revenue as having jumped to between $30 to $45 million a year in 2013. This doesn’t quite make them a motley crew of Gus Frings, but considering that Silk Road’s suppliers have less overhead and the security guarantor of anonymity though Tor, instead street thugs, they likely aren’t short of filthy lucre either. With Silk Road skimming commissions that max-out at 10 percent, it’s reasonable to expect that Silk Road has made millionaires out of its stakeholders.
Also read: A storm is brewing for Bitcoin in the U.S
Silk Road doesn’t have a monopoly in the business. A competitor known as “Atlantis” has sprung up, which promises less commissions for sellers and less server downtime.
But Roberts isn’t phased. Competition was bound to happen at some point, but the idea behind Silk Road supersedes petty business squabbles between rivals.
“The people now can control the flow and distribution of information and the flow of money,” he said to Forbes. “Sector by sector the State is being cut out of the equation and power is being returned to the individual.”
“We’ve won the State’s War on Drugs because of Bitcoin.”
So rules Ozymandias
Eventually all empires fall. While the complexity of Silk Road, Tor, and Roberts’ penchant for hyper-anonymity make tracking down Silk Road and its stakeholders an arduous task, such a brazen display of contempt for drug trafficking laws will eventually run its toll.
It might be that an associate of Roberts is caught, and trades his knowledge of the inner workings of the Silk Road ecosystem for a lesser sentence. Or it could be that law enforcement exploits a back door in Tor that allows them to gather enough evidence in to round up all the key players in Silk Road in their dragnet. One of Silk Road’s earlier competitors, which called itself Farmer’s Market, fell when its operators had the hubris to accept a handful of payments via Paypal.
Alternatively, U.S. financial regulators could squeeze the life out of Bitcoin by requiring all exchanges that convert BTC to dollars to enforce “know your customer” regulations and pass information onto taxation authorities.
Silk Road may have won this battle in the War on Drugs, but it’s a little premature to say that it has won the war. All empires eventually fall and while Roberts might have assembled history’s most technologically complex drug trading business, law enforcement is bound to catch up to him.