No matter how tyrannical the state gets, no matter what controls they put into place, they cannot suppress the market. What if you want to order something anonymously? In this day and age that can be very difficult because ordering items online generally requires a credit card that is tied to an account with your name attached to it. To get around this the denizens of the Internet decided to combine Tor and Bitcoin to create The Silk Road.
For those who haven’t heard of The Silk Road it’s a Tor hidden service where people can buy and sell anything (except weapons, they allow the sale of drugs but for some reason draw the line at weapons). Being a Tor hidden service it can only be accessed through the Tor network. If you download the Tor browser bundle you will be able to gain access to The Silk Road by going to http://silkroadvb5piz3r.onion/ (if you don’t have Tor running that address will lead you nowhere). Once you’re there you can buy anything from homemade cookies to drugs, so long as you have the Bitcoins.
Needless to say unhindered trade is big business. The Silk Road netted an estimated $22 million in annual sales:
In the year since Senator Joe Manchin called for the “audacious” drug-selling website Silk Road to be “shut down immediately,” the world’s most high-profile underground pharmacy hasn’t just survived. With $22 million in annual sales and around double the commission for the site’s owners compared with just six months ago, its black market business is booming.
In a research paper (PDF here) released earlier this month, Carnegie Mellon computer security professor Nicolas Christin has taken a crack at measuring the sales activity on Silk Road’s underground online marketplace, which runs as a “hidden service” on the Tor network and uses tough-to-trace digital Bitcoins as currency, two measures that have helped to obscure its sellers, buyers and operators from law enforcement.
When the state attempts to make the trade of a good or service illegal they don’t make it go away, they just make it go underground. Prohibitions are pointless, an exercise in futility.