There will always be a demand, so there will always be a supply. You can't stop it, you can just destroy people for violating it. (And there's an endless supply that will). Is that the right thing to do? Because that's what was done here.
This guy (Ross Ulbricht) made eBay for the darknet, he didn't do any transactions (or wasn't convicted of that), he just enabled Liberty: others to do it, without government licensing fees. So his punishment is death (in prison).
I'm not playing him off as a hero, he was a scumbag that knew people would do illegal things with it. I made different choices with some early web solutions I created, but decided to drop because I didn't like who my customer base would be. The fact that most of the transaction were not immoral, doesn't change that many were illegal. And some might have been legal, but were immoral. Some were neither and some were both: and he didn't care, until caught.
What kind of society do you want to be?
Ours just said that for violating the will of the minority, and allowing people to buy and sell goods without approved tax stamps and government licensing, a government oligarch (Judge) will destroy a life, as an example to the others: but what is it an example of? (E.g. We'd do something far less moral than what he did). And the results are known in advance: setting this example won't work. It serves no purpose. People will still do it, only now that they know the consequences, they might as well die fighting arrest, as to ever submit to it. What lesson was really sent?
Is that a win?
I don't know.
If you don't punish bad behavior, you'll get more of it.
But every ounce of energy you waste punishing non-violent crimes, is time/energy you could have spent on something more important. So this is a mixed bag.
Does the punishment fit the crime?
Are we a better society for saying information is free, just not THAT information (under penalty of death)?
I don't know.
He knew the rules, or should have.
But in the end China or North Korea disappearing their dissidents is a lot harder to whine about, when we do the same for what seems like the same crime: disagreeing with government on what people should be able to do with their own bodies. And punishing people based on what information we think should be free. It feels like a deal with the devil.
Our laws mean nothing if you don't enforce them.
But enforcing a law that you can't allow people to communicate or make deals, seems like a pretty bad law.
NOTE: As the article says, If the government convicted him of the murder for hires that went across his site, this punishment would have been justified. But they didn't. They convicted him for allowing people to communicate.
- This article sums up what just happened: https://fee.org/articles/ross-ulbricht-fool-martyr-or-trailblazer/
- Reason has some opinions too: http://reason.com/blog/2015/06/19/government-stifles-speech