The Virtual & IRL: How Our Economy Is Changing
In most ways cryptomarkets on the Dark Net defy prohibition and make it harder for law enforcement to pinpoint where production and distributers are located. Monica Barratt critiques a book written by James Martin on the subject titled, Drugs on the Dark Net: How Cryptomarkets are Transforming the Global Trade in Illicit Drugs, where she explains Martin describing that the harms from the Dark Net are usually based on perception. For law enforcement, it is more harmful than good because it is harder for them to do anything about it. “From the user perspective, the benefits of cryptomarkets appear to outweigh the harms: physical violence associated with street-based markets can be avoided, and user feedback systems ensure that vendors are motivated to retain market share by providing a superior product and service,” (Barratt, 1). This makes the anonymous markets more enticing for users. The vendors on the sites also feel a sense of immunity to law enforcement. Barratt also explains that, “he defines a cryptomarket as ‘an online forum where goods and services are exchanged between parties who use digital encryption to conceal their identities,” (Barratt, 2). It can be said by this remark that the Dark Net is shifting towards a non-capitalistic economic system, just on an anonymous scale. Cryptocurrencies and cryptomarkets are changing the game both economically and politically.
A German internet activist compared the Tor browser to a hammer. He said if he really wanted to, he could bash someone’s head in with a hammer, but this is not a cause to make hammers illegal. All things can be used in a way which they shouldn’t, but to this he said that at the end of the day he would be the repressed one, not the people doing wrong. Everyone has the right to information, good and bad, and the Dark Web allows just that.
The anonymity that the Dark Web provides has been used for far more than drug deals, in fact, it is said that about one percent of the transactions on it are drug related. “For the most part, the dark net is not used for illicit purposes. It is filled with activists' websites, anonymous stock traders, information databases for journalists, political chat rooms, instant messaging services, artist platforms, as well as the WikiLeaks portal where whistleblowers can submit information anonymously,” (ABC News report). More and more companies and marketers are turning to the Dark Web and its various uses and abilities. People feel protected when they feel they aren’t being surveilled on the internet, even if they have nothing to hide. This has opened many doors in the virtual economy and post-capitalism. There is ultimate freedom on the internet, and many different places which one can browse and shop.
The internet and its virtual economy have picked up traction at a rapid rate with no future of slowing down. It’s becoming evident that the virtual economy is going to rule the future—but what does this mean for capitalism? Empire@Play states that, "’virtual’ also denotes potentiality; the manifold directions in which a given, actual, situation might develop.” There are all sorts of potentiality situations that come into play with the Dark Web and the virtual economy. Companies that are being encouraged to have stores on the Dark Web for potential clients or shoppers that are concerned with anonymity. There are even guidebooks that give tips and pointers for people to market on the Dark Web.
Another point which is brought up in Empire@Play is the idea of the virtual world and computers having the ability to create alternative universes. This is true in a lot of games such as SecondLife and World of Warcraft, but this can also be applied to virtual economies. “Computers create potential universes. They model, dynamically, what might be. Such simulation is vital to a power system engaged in the high-risk military, financial and corporate calculus required for globalized control,” and this is true in more ways than one. The idea of what might be in this article further provides evidence that the virtual world has endless possibilities and continues to morph and change based on whatever the person creating it decides. The creation of software on the computer, be it games or a secure browser, leaves room for edits, changes, and rebuilds to be done on a global scale. Since the internet and computers are so accessible literally anything is possible. Potentially, this could mean that the economy’s shift to the virtual face will be more complex, and yet at the same time maybe more simple and easily accomplished then traditional capitalism. Or, as it’s put in Empire@Play, “virtual games are the exemplary media producing subjects for twenty-first century global hyper-capitalism but also, perhaps, of exodus from it.”
Information was the what and why which sparked the creation Tor. The information was abundant and anonymous, and there was high potential for positive and negative uses. This was why the military originally felt its use was vital in keeping government documents classified as they were distributed to the proper (or maybe not so) people. The idea of vendors selling and trading things that can be illegal on the surface web is a shift away from capitalism. Paul Mason claims that “The End of Capitalism Has Begun” and he believes this directly correlates with the virtual economy. He explained it like this:
“Technology & Postcapitalism: it has reduced the need for work, blurred the edges between work and free time and loosened the relationship between work and wages. information is corroding the market’s ability to form prices correctly. we’re seeing the spontaneous rise of collaborative production: goods, services and organisations are appearing that no longer respond to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy.”
This model which he presents is very similar to what is happening on the dark side of the web. The market has become so vast and so powerful that the markets in a capitalistic economy can no longer control any part of it. People are able to set up shop and produce anything with a demand in the virtual sphere, and the dark net makes it so that laws and regulations need no longer apply. With this, the idea of labor being reduced has become an important feature in the virtual economy and profit. There is less leg work for vendors, they can just as easily sell a product to another country as they can send a letter to their parent. Mason also claimed that, “individualism replaced collectivism and solidarity,” which creates a huge opening in the market for things that may not necessarily have an extremely high demand. This relates back to the long tail theory where people are lead to purchase things that they would not have been able to discover in a corporate store where shelf space is an issue.
Information has been playing a major role in this post-capitalistic theory. “We’re surrounded not just by intelligent machines but by a new layer of reality centred on information,” Mason claimed. He stated that information cannot be exploited or owned because it lacks the materiality of other goods. This might not be entirely true, however he made a good point when he brought Marx into the mix, with who he explained, “imagines an economy in which the main role of machines is to produce, and the main role of people is to supervise them. He was clear that, in such an economy, the main productive force would be information.” This idea of collaborative production goes against what the market system is useful for.
Adding to the idea of information, he remarked that it can be copied and pasted infinitely, just like any other thing that is made. This creates a stir in the virtual economy and in capitalisms plans because out of that will stem piracy. This was mentioned in Empire@Play, the article written by Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter. Piracy is inevitable in any economy, just look at the counterfeit handbags and watches produced and sold in small markets. But does that mean it goes against capitalism? They say yes, and that it actually benefits in some ways. “Virtual piracy is (alongside the smuggling of drugs, guns, exotic animals and maritime piracy) just one of the many avenues by which immiserated planetary populations make a de facto redistribution of wealth away from the bloated centers of consumer capital.” This inherently makes the dark net and all of its vendors part of the post-capitalist, or anti-capitalist in this case, economy.