"I wish there were people who were honest crooks."
February 22, 2015 7:15 PM   Subscribe

 
EVERY libertarian experiment is doomed to end as a fiefdom run by pirate kings. It's what we call "meritocracy".
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:20 PM on February 22, 2015 [56 favorites]


It's what we call "meritocracy".

Or "primitive accumulation".
posted by pompomtom at 7:24 PM on February 22, 2015 [11 favorites]


So ... working as intended, then.
posted by kafziel at 7:29 PM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


EVERY libertarian experiment is doomed to end as a fiefdom run by pirate kings.

It's what we call "meritocracy".

Or "primitive accumulation".


Or human nature.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:35 PM on February 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


Life is tough for an honest crook. Didn't you see how much Captain Mal got beat up?
posted by rikschell at 7:43 PM on February 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


Reputational analysis goes all the way back to Adam Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments, so one would think free market libertarians understand the importance of game theoretical reputation to markets. But I guess when you're really worked up about income taxes, it's easy to skip the lit review of prior research.

On the other hand, these experiments do bit of service to society; one more anecdote to point to when a Koch brothers elected Congress asks to test the policy on everyone.
posted by pwnguin at 7:48 PM on February 22, 2015 [8 favorites]


Yet market competition was no guarantee of honesty.

Never has been, never will be.
posted by emjaybee at 7:52 PM on February 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yet market competition was no guarantee of honesty.

Nobody wants to compete. Competition is hard, and uncertain - there is always someone faster, smarter, or whatever. Besides, competition is a poor way to find the best product in many cases.

But if you can subvert the market by exploiting asymmetries and inequities ? That's a license to print money.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:05 PM on February 22, 2015 [10 favorites]


EVERY libertarian experiment is doomed to end as a fiefdom run by pirate kings. It's what we call "meritocracy".

Well, no, but that is the best-case scenario. They can also end with everyone dying in a raging inferno or a disease-ridden slum.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:06 PM on February 22, 2015 [19 favorites]


Libertarianism and communism have equally charmingly naïve views of human nature. Neither of them have ever worked with actual human beings.
posted by monotreme at 8:48 PM on February 22, 2015 [11 favorites]


Everyone wants to found a far reaching long lived empire that benefits many as well as keeps the founder in truffles. Not actually concerned about the other platitude that all great fortunes are based on a great crime.
posted by sammyo at 8:50 PM on February 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


'in communism, man exploits man, under capitalism the situation is reversed.' (stolen from someone)
posted by el io at 9:14 PM on February 22, 2015 [19 favorites]


there is one honest crook: Mark Karpelès.
posted by subbes at 9:17 PM on February 22, 2015


It's time for some melawan raja!
posted by dirigibleman at 9:20 PM on February 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


I loved this article because HUMANS GONNA LEVIATHAN whenever you get them in groups. Like, the most human thing humans do is self-organize, create trust networks, and expel people who violate them. Being shocked that human trust networks require state-sanctioned violence is like being shocked that humans like to have sex.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:33 PM on February 22, 2015 [25 favorites]


On his LinkedIn profile, Ulbricht declared his intention to use ‘economic theory as a means to abolish the use of coercion and aggression amongst mankind’, and to build an ‘economic simulation’ that would let people see what it was like to live in a world without the ‘systemic use of force’.

And he was willing to kill, in order to make that happen.

And it is, it is a glorious thing, to be a Pirate King.
It is! Hurrah for the Pirate King!
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:17 PM on February 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


An interesting read, especially about the problems of running a major darknet site: paying off DDOS attackers, coping with blackmailers threatening to release the names and addresses of buyers.

Not sure I buy the conclusions though, especially this bit:
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.
Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn't: we don't know. Buy other markets like Agora and OpenBazaar seem to have taken its place, which suggests to me that the model itself isn't unsustainable. Some of the failures, like the people paying up before delivery allowing the supplier to disappear don't seem to be systemic: the buyers should have kept the money in escrow as the system recommended.

Moreover, if it wasn't for the threat of the authorities shutting down the site, the incentives would be even more in favour of milking the cow rather than slaughtering it: keeping blackmail demands modest and continual, use your reputation to keep selling rather than doing a sudden mass bilk.

Also while I think that Libertarianism is flawed, I'm not convinced that these flaws extend to the online world.

One flaw of libertarianism is that tries to draw a largely meaningless line between "coercive" governments and "free" property owners. E.g. there used to be a private town called Celebration, owned by the Disney corporation. If you wanted to live there, you had to pay fees to Disney and obey their rules. If you didn't want to pay and obey, your only option was to leave. That's essentially the same as a state, where if you don't want to pay the taxes and obey the laws, your only option is to leave. It's not like there's an infinite supply of free habitable land where you can go off and set up on your own. When you have a limited supply of land parcelled up between different collective entities, it doesn't really matter whether they're labelled "states" or "corporations".

The online world though does have an infinite supply of space. If you don't like the rules of Agora or Silk Road 2, you really can go off and set up on your own. So, the libertarian argument that the internal rules are not "coercive" since you can leave does actually make some sense in cyberspace. It's only in the real world that the argument fails.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 10:38 PM on February 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


Moving the domain online just shifts the conservation issue to a more core limitation: people's time and attention span.

Given the number of people who dislike Facebook's policies, you'd think there'd be an alternative that people would flock to in droves, right?
posted by mikurski at 12:28 AM on February 23, 2015


Buy other markets like Agora and OpenBazaar seem to have taken its place, which suggests to me that the model itself isn't unsustainable.

Wait, so one short-lived market was replaced by other (so far) short-lived markets and you think that's evidence that the model is sustainable? Could you define 'sustainable' here please?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:29 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


working as intended, then

As intended? Probably not. As designed? Absolutely.
posted by flabdablet at 12:29 AM on February 23, 2015


essentially the same as a state, where if you don't want to pay the taxes and obey the laws, your only option is to leave.

In practice, your option to have your assets forcibly seized and your liberty removed seems to be exercised rather more often.
posted by flabdablet at 12:32 AM on February 23, 2015


it doesn't really matter whether they're labelled "states" or "corporations"

It kind of does, though. Most people seem to accept unaccountable top-down command and control structures without question when they occur in a corporate context, while there is at least some token expectation of a democratic state's leaders being accountable to the led.
posted by flabdablet at 12:36 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wait, so one short-lived market was replaced by other (so far) short-lived markets and you think that's evidence that the model is sustainable? Could you define 'sustainable' here please?

Silk Roads One and Two did not "collapse under their own weight", nor were taken offline by DDOS blackmailers, nor disappear after lists of buyers were leaked, nor were taken over by existing mafias. They were taken down by the authorities. So, their failure doesn't prove that their business model was flawed in the ways the article claims.

"So far short-lived" could also mean "so far long-lived". But capitalism (anarcho- or not) is supposed to be a process of creative destruction. Or if you prefer: "constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation". The failure of one organisation doesn't prove the failure of the system when the system is supposed to be one of constant destruction and creation.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:48 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:49 AM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have been scammed more than twice now by assholes who say they’re legit when I say I want to purchase stolen credit cards. I want to do tons of business but I DO NOT want to be scammed. I wish there were people who were honest crooks. If anyone could help me out that would be awesome!
Therapy, stat.
posted by flabdablet at 1:01 AM on February 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


This is my favorite anti-libertarian thread ever, and I have libertarian sympathies even.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:57 AM on February 23, 2015


I have been scammed more than twice now by assholes who say they’re legit when I say I want to purchase stolen credit cards. I want to do tons of business but I DO NOT want to be scammed. I wish there were people who were honest crooks. If anyone could help me out that would be awesome!

flabdablet, I am experiencing so much schadenfreude with that quote, as the kids say, I CAN'T EVEN.
posted by duffell at 4:19 AM on February 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


E.g. there used to be a private town called Celebration, owned by the Disney corporation

The town is still there, and doing quite well. Disney sold it off (and really, what that meant was "sold the commercial properties in the town center" ) after a certain number of residential lots were sold. Basically, Disney brought in and supported the commercial core until there were enough residents to support it, thus solving the "won't build a store until someone lives there, won't move there until there's a store" paradox.

It was also part of the EPCOT project, which Disney abandoned after Walt died and then turned it from an actual Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow into the EPCOT theme park.

You can think of Celebration as Disney's planned suburb to EPCOT.

Oddly enough, while designed as the "quintessential small town", it doesn't have a Main Street. Osceola County already had one and state laws didn't allow duplication.

People who live there seem to like it. Personally, not my thing.
posted by eriko at 6:12 AM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


HUMANS GONNA LEVIATHAN

Even as a pretty big fan of other people being able to more easily get their drug use on responsibly AND libertarian experiments going down in less flames, this phrase might be my favorite thing that's come from Silk Road.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 6:48 AM on February 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


Some of the failures, like the people paying up before delivery allowing the supplier to disappear don't seem to be systemic: the buyers should have kept the money in escrow as the system recommended.

But the reason the buyers didn't keep the money in escrow is that some sellers refused to sell unless the escrow provisions were waived. You could stipulate that sellers' participation in an anonymous e-marketplace means that they must allow buyers to put money in escrow, but that would be regulation, man! Hence, that's a nonstarter with the libertarian crowd. In addition, even if your e-marketplace did enforce that rule, there's nothing to stop people from using your marketplace as a place to set up transactions, cut out you (the e-marketplace owner) as the middleman, and thereby completely undercut your ability to make your marketplace economically sustainable.
posted by jonp72 at 7:08 AM on February 23, 2015


Also while I think that Libertarianism is flawed, I'm not convinced that these flaws extend to the online world.

You don't think that a newly liberated online space won't be a vehicle for transferring value from one real-world entity to another? Because that seems to be "as designed", like flabdablet says above. Isn't the whole thrust/problem of online Libertarianism that it's a useful public model for real-world Libertarianism?
posted by sneebler at 7:09 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's only in the real world that the argument fails.

The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia
posted by bukvich at 7:30 AM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


That book looks fascinating and is already on my to-read list, but from what I know of the lifestyle of Southeast Asian Highlanders, given the option most of them would instantly switch to US quality of life in return for US government domination.

Isn't one of the themes of the book that highland communities would remain anarchic until the lowlanders perceived that there was some value to be extracted there through taxes?
posted by fivebells at 7:48 AM on February 23, 2015


bukvich: "The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia"

This is a super-interesting book that is actually on my end table right now. But I think most libertarians want protection of private property and consider that a legitimate function of authority, whereas most of the peoples in this book are willing to forego property to avoid being governed. There are, for example, any number of radical religious pacifists in the U.S. who deliberately earn so little money that they don't pay taxes, so as not to support the U.S. military; the libertarian argument, however, is that they should be able to be wealthy AND not subject to government regulation/taxation (beyond a very low minimum threshhold necessary to protect property). Very few libertarians are willing to deliberately avoid taxes by living in extreme poverty. The "hill people" in this book are much more radical than libertarians in their desire to avoid governance, and willing to give up a great deal more than libertarians are.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:53 AM on February 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


I am only through the first 90 pages or so of the book. There have so far been about 5 or 6 mind-blowing observations. Here is the biggest one: the warlords, the colonialists, and recently the communists have all had the exact same playbook with regard to the hill people in Vietnam: get all of them onto rice paddies and collect their surplus. Maybe we should do a fanfare thread.
posted by bukvich at 8:33 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wait, did Open Bazaar ever actually become a real site? I thought it was a failed Bitcoiner experiment that hyped itself to high heavens.
posted by GreyboxHero at 9:17 AM on February 23, 2015


Quick aside: I've read a few books about Disney's Celebration, and this is probably the best one.
posted by box at 9:18 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


The American strain of Libertarianism seems to have woven together both "Fuck You, I've Got Mine" and a naive utopian belief that everyone will be a rational-by-our-definition-of-rational actor and so everything will work just as it should.

I don't know enough about other strains of Libertarianism to say if they fall prey to it, too.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:03 AM on February 23, 2015


Also I discovered an error in the Scott book.

The quotation attributed to Marx which is the epigraph to the section on Techniques of Population Control on page 86 was actually written by Engels. It is from the Anti-Duhring chapter 16. Yay google!
posted by bukvich at 10:50 AM on February 23, 2015


TheophileEscargot

SR 1 and 2 were brought down by the authorities, but other libertarian Bitcoin endeavors haven't been. The last few years have been a parade of entities like Mt. Gox or Bitstamp rising up and then crashing amidst fraud and theft, one after the other. There does seem to be something deeply flawed about the model. The only even semi-stable ones like Coinbase are the ones that have embraced regulation and "legitimate" investment.

The "creative destruction" angle seems like a very convenient way of ever having to confront the failures of the beliefs, since any failure can be framed as part of the process. It becomes essentially meaningless because literally everything that happens is now proof that it works.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:18 AM on February 23, 2015


Wait, so one short-lived market was replaced by other (so far) short-lived markets and you think that's evidence that the model is sustainable? Could you define 'sustainable' here please?

Well what some people seem to be positing is that incidence of fraud - or, I dunno, maybe actual assassinations - would have taken doomed the site if authorities hadn't taken it down. The persistence of clone sites is something of a counterargument to this. I think the original was probably doomed because Ulbricht was so in over his head. It will be interesting to see what comes out about SR2/Blake Benthall and whether he was more able to avoid depredation by hackers etc.

There are really two different questions. Does the SR model work as a Libertarian free-market dreamland? Or does it at least work well enough as a way to extend the benefits of ecommerce to black markets, that something like it will stick around? The answer to the first is "no, duh." The second is more complicated and unresolved. They're competing in a domain where some amount of fraud is an accepted hazard of business. I think the biggest problem with these sites right now it that they've remained aboard the very leaky ship of Bitcoin. Plus smart money would be to get off Tor and onto the next thing at this point. People have been buying and selling drugs by mail forever, and coordinating these transactions online for a couple of decades at least - even on clearnet for a shockingly long time - and that's not going to stop without USPS and all package handlers putting a whole lot of work into it. The retail marketplace angle might or might not turn out to be more trouble than it's worth.
posted by atoxyl at 11:24 AM on February 23, 2015


HUMANS GONNA LEVIATHAN

For no reason, I decided to try googling "humans gonna Leviathan." The search bar suggested "humans gonna Hume."
posted by tickingclock at 4:41 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


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