It’s easy to be negative about the U.S. economy these days. Find a glint of silver, and folks come running to point out all of the dark clouds looming about. This, of course, is what we got last week when the monthly jobs report was released from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Folks pooh-poohed the number of jobs and whining that they’re not enough or that it’s less than a bunch of economists thought that it might be. But you know what? Stuff ’em.
Given how poorly states like California and Illinois have funded the pension funds for their own employees, one would think that this would stop dead in its tracks any plan to have the government assist in managing private sector funds too. The spate of recent activity, however, suggests otherwise.
The financial world is plodding along like a drunken sailor avoiding debt collectors by keeping no cash in his wallet. It’s not the kind of calm that’s going to last or end well. But the storm will have to wait until after the Olympics.What a game! We’ve never watched ice hockey closely before. But watching […]
“When they come for my gun, they will have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands,” is a common refrain I often hear from the Neo-Cons when there is a threat, credible or otherwise, that the U.S. government is going to take their firearms.And, when I hear this crazy talk, I agree with […]
Last year was quite the year for Bitcoin. We’ve seen exponential growth in Bitcoin’s exchange rate and extensive coverage in the media. Another phenomenon we have witnessed is the proliferation of alternative cryptocurrencies, five of which we’ve provided below.What all of these cryptocurrencies have in common is that they rely on a decentralized network to […]
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is acting in a bipartisan way to cover up the biggest single threat to the bipartisan political alliance that is stripping America of its wealth: the United States Congress.There is no question that the following policy is bipartisan. Democrats and Republicans in Congress are completely agreed that the following information […]
Amidst all the revelations about how the American people, many of whom are absolutely convinced they live in a free society, have their telephone calls, emails, website visits, and who knows what else under surveillance by their own government, let’s not forget the massive infringements on financial privacy that have gone on for decades.Consider, for […]
Image: ShutterstockBitInstant CEO Charlie Shrem, along with alleged co-conspirator Robert Faiella, was arrested by federal authorities last week for allegedly laundering more than $1 million worth of Bitcoins. This is a tiny amount compared to the largest drug-and-terrorism money laundering case ever. Yet when British bank HSBC was found guilty in 2012 of laundering billions, […]
The exercise had an awesome name, inspired by the movies: “Quantum Dawn 2.”On July 18, scads of U.S. banks, stock exchanges and government agencies took part in a digital fire drill — a practice run in the event all of Wall Street came under massive cyberattack.This isn’t the first time banks have come under an […]
The faces of the Detroit bankruptcy are the thousands of pensioners whose promised benefits are suddenly part of the restructure negotiation. When Motown filed for Chapter 9 last July, the city had $11.5 billion in unsecured liabilities. The vast majority of this was pension and health care benefits owed to retired city employees.The images of […]
So you’ve maneuvered the Obamacare website, plugged in your top-secret information and found out how much you are forced to pay to avoid a fine.And for some of you, it turns out you qualify for a government subsidy — making the premium sound like a bargain. But signing on that line to accept the government’s […]
The Largest Company in History:“The United States Corporation of Government (USCOG)”I follow global social and commercial networks, looking for entrepreneurial opportunities.Innovation surges when industry and government models change. Buggy whips. Landline phones. Railroads. The Soviet Union. Apartheid South Africa. All marked social and commercial innovation, both bad and good.We are witnessing a new form of […]
We’d like to give the banks in Australia some credit. They’ve finally gone and done it. They have caught up with 1960s technology. They’ve figured out how to use PIN numbers.How to only use PIN numbers, that is. They’re considering scrapping signatures on credit cards to cut down on fraud. Apparently, having to verify your […]
We put in a good-citizen call to the SEC the other day.“There’s a massive scheme to manipulate stock prices,” we told the friendly agent.“I have to tell you that your call is being monitored so that we can better serve the public,” he replied.“Oh, don’t worry about that. The NSA is tapping our call anyway.”“Are […]
Bitcoins are largely considered digital currency (or “crypto currency”) so you’d expect it to be treated like currency on a retail web site. But the Internal Revenue Service might not think so.
Politicians — elected officials — are street smart rather than book smart.If you care about influencing government policy it helps to know how they think.Forbes contributor Nathan Lewis argues that:“Too much is done today on the oral tradition. That is, literally, what it is. In this post-Gutenberg age, we have some better alternatives.“Thus, we need […]
Bitcoin has been making headlines for months now. Extreme price fluctuations have sparked a vigorous debate: Is it a currency or a scam? Is Bitcoin viable in the long-term, or are we witnessing a bubble waiting to burst?The answers to these questions are simple: Yes, Bitcoin is a currency, but we cannot know if it […]
The Silk Road was an undercover website where you could buy or sell illegal goods — drugs mainly. I believe passports were changing hands for about $6,000, and I understand weapons were also sold, but that was ceased in response to the spate of shootings in the U.S. over the summer. The essence of the […]
The market has selected different things as money throughout history. Some of these items have served as money in isolated places for specific periods of time — for instance, cigarettes in prisoner-of-war camps. Cigarettes continue to be a currency in prisons if allowed, but if not, according to Wikipedia, “postage stamps have become a more […]
[Ed. Note: This article originally published on Jan. 24, 2013]Stocks up. Gold down. Bitcoin… waaay up.The S&P 500 busted through the 1,500 mark this morning. Stocks haven’t been this expensive since 2007… right before they got a whole lot cheaper… for a whole lot longer. Gold, meanwhile, dipped a tad. This, despite central bankers of […]
Now, this is sheer entertainment. The Chicago branch of the Federal Reserve has addressed the great monetary question of our day. A researcher has taken a detailed look at the prospects for market-based crypto-currency, with a special focus on Bitcoin. It concludes that Bitcoin is not a viable replacement for the dollar. The report includes […]
The standard version of how money came to be goes like this: First, there was barter. (A handful of nails for a pint of ale!) Then, along came various forms of money. An evolutionary derby eventually crowned gold and silver as the supreme money. And finally, credit (or debt) was born. This is the apex […]
2013 represents another turning point in the demise of the American Empire. If you view it in economic (rather than ethical or moral) terms, the high water mark of Empire was probably in the late 1990s.But the Internet bubble and bust marked an important turning point. It coincided with the birth of the euro, a […]
It was a wild ride last week in the world of the Deep Web, that section of the Internet that requires special tools to access. The feds took down the site called Silk Road and claim to have arrested its founder and administrator. The news streams were filled with lurid tales of derring-do in this […]
My community in the Deep South prides itself on friendship, community feeling, and an overall happy spirit. So it was a bit strange for all of this to be utterly smashed and obliterated in the course of a few calamitous weeks in which friend turned against friend, colleagues became antagonists and enemies, and families were […]
A new assessment of state pension obligations suggests the problem is even worse than it already appears.How much worse?EMPTY COOKIE JAR: Pension liabilities are worse than many states’ official figures indicate.Using a more conservative method of accounting for financial gains in the marketplace, there is a $4.1 trillion gap between assets and liabilities — known […]
I dreamed I saw Bernard von NotHaus, alive as you or me.Said I, “But Bernard, you’ve been jailed two years.”“I never was,” said he.Bernard has been the called the Rosa Parks of the alternative money movement. More than 10 years ago, he had this idea that he would make his own money — not the […]
It was a wild ride last week in the world of the Deep Web, that section of the Internet that requires special tools to access. The feds took down the site called Silk Road and claim to have arrested its founder and administrator. The news streams were filled with lurid tales of derring-do in this world that seem to be drawn from a TV mini-series.
My first step was to see if I knew this fellow named Ross Ulbricht whom the feds unmasked as the Dread Pirate Roberts, the hero to cyberpunks everywhere. Sure enough, I found a correspondence from 2009 in which he spoke about a real-time experiment in market action. Thinking that he was talking about business cycles — this must have been on my mind — I said it sounds great.
In the meantime, it never occurred to me that I might actually have exchanged emails with the founder of the Silk Road. It has long been an eBay-style marketplace for illicit goods and services. Yes, narcotics are among them. It sounds scary, doesn’t it? Yes, it does, until you actually visit the place, as I did only a few months ago.
Here you have many sellers of marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, and many psychedelics. There are customer reviews, solid product descriptions, lots of back and forths between users, a high level of quality control, and all the apparatus we’ve come to expect from regular Internet shopping.
None of these products appeal to me in the slightest. The drugs I like — caffeine and alcohol — you can buy at the grocery store. But you come to realize something important after browsing the Silk Road. Maybe it is obvious. Maybe you already know this. But it needs to be said: The desire on the part of a large swath of humanity to dope itself up with something cannot be suppressed, no matter how hard governments try.
Yes, many of these drugs are personally harmful. Some are not, and it is absurd that they are illegal at all. Regardless, none of them embody some kind of evil that can be or must be vanquished from the planet. At these markets, you find willing buyers and willing sellers, no different from any other sector of life. What makes this market different is that it is illegal, so, therefore, it is dangerous.
At one level, it is incredible and amazing that the Silk Road survived as long as it did — out there in plain view for anyone who downloaded the right browsing software. It was the most conspicuous sign on the planet of the impotence of government. Despite all the power, all the guns, all the courts and legal status, government couldn’t get rid of the thing.
The tools of the Deep Web take some of the danger away, and that is all to the good.
So how did the feds finally catch up with the guy who ran the Silk Road? It wasn’t through technological failure or compromise. Ulbricht, who allegedly ran the site, was just a bit too reckless in throwing around his name and clues to his identity. The investigator on the case traced him through various public postings, connected the dots, and even ran a little sting operation designed to ramp up the charges (an agent pretended to be a hit man for hire, and got himself hired!).
Who cheered the shutdown? Governments, sure. But there’s another group out there who would be thrilled by the end of Silk Road. That would be the drug cartels. Just as Amazon meant competitive pressure on the big sellers and publishers, just as PayPal became a rival to the big money transfer companies, and just as online brokers have eaten into the market for large brokerage houses, so too did Silk Road begin to loosen the grip of the violent drug cartels.
In other words, this site was a threat to the powers that be both in government and in the drug business. Imagine bypassing the middleman and letting producers and consumers connect directly? No more dangerous alleyways. No more risky cash transfers. No more turf wars. The “turf” becomes digital, which is perhaps the best way to optimize search. Guns and bullets are replaced by user rankings and reviews.
So let’s just grant that there will be no end to the demand for, and, therefore, the supply of, drugs. The government’s war on drugs has actually intensified use and driven people to ever harder forms of drugs. Everyone has an interest in seeing peace and normalcy come to these markets. Silk Road was achieving exactly this, which is why many people think that the Dread Pirate Roberts (the nomenclature of Silk Road’s owner) ought to get the Nobel Peace Prize.
And please, don’t think for even one instant that this shutdown does anything to curb the progress of these Deep Web markets. At least three replacements for Silk Road popped up overnight. Users and suppliers are all busy making other plans. The next iteration won’t make the same mistakes. Just as the Napster shutdown began the great era of file sharing, so too will the Silk Road shutdown mean a boom-time business in online drug hookups.
In the course of the seizure of the domain, the government also took all money that was in escrow within the system. The money, however, was denominated in the currency that the Silk Road accepted, which was Bitcoin. Suddenly, the government has found itself as a major holder of Bitcoin: all 27,000, which are easily visible on the blockchain. Now the government has a public address, to which many thousands have been sending Bitcoin along with choice words in the comment section of the transaction. You can enjoy a fun evening reading them all.
Interestingly, however, there are still another 600,000 Bitcoin (valued at around $80 million) that the feds can’t seem to get. Most likely, that’s because the key to Ulbricht’s personal stash is in cold storage on the blockchain and can be accessed only through what’s called a “brain wallet.” That means that only Ross himself has the key to access it. What will they do to pry it out of him? To what lengths will they go? Waterboarding? Solitary confinement? Worse?
Fascinating, isn’t it? One year ago, governments were laughing at this digital currency. Most everyone was. People said it was a fake currency, an Internet scam, a money-crankish Ponzi scheme. How times change! Now the world largest government is crying out, desperately trying to grab these coins. They consider them valuable assets, which, at $140 a pop, they certainly are.
Until last week, there were plenty of people who claimed that the value of Bitcoin was entirely wrapped up with its use on the Silk Road. That’s a testable proposition. The Road went down, and Bitcoin swooned for a few hours. But by the next day, the dollar exchange rate was actually higher than it was before the seizure. Now it is stabilized.
Therefore, there is another irony. Bitcoin is benefiting from this shutdown. What was marginal and odd only last week is now seen as robust and growing and probably the future of monetary economics. Where are the critics? As always, they have snuck away and have not admitted that, as always, technology has proven itself a superior guide to the future than intellectuals and governments.
Even so, the tragedy remains. Many users of Silk Road have been looted for no reason. A peaceful marketplace has been shuttered. A promising path to a future world without drug cartels has been blocked. But so long as government gets its Bitcoin, I gather the power elite don’t really care.