Tuesday, July 7, 2015

When I Do It, It's A Felony

15 U.S.C. § 1:
Every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, is declared to be illegal. Every person who shall make any contract or engage in any combination or conspiracy hereby declared to be illegal shall be deemed guilty of a felony, and, on conviction thereof, shall be punished by fine not exceeding $100,000,000 if a corporation, or, if any other person, $1,000,000, or by imprisonment not exceeding 10 years, or by both said punishments, in the discretion of the court.
Perhaps embarrassed by the revelation that the US wing of the Stasi had been running an inquisitorial summer camp deep in the heart of his jurisdiction, Cook County Shire Reeve Thomas J. Dart has politely requested of major credit card firms Visa and MasterCard (at a minimum) to cease processing payment requests made on Backpage.com (see Twitter hashtag #chargeisdeclined for all the latest updates to this sordid saga).

Backpage, according to the moral scolds who seek its capitulation, is the Mos Eisley of the Internet: a wretched hive of scummy pimps and their villainous whores. But I invite you to follow the link. There's nothing more salacious in there than you'd find in the pages of, say august Seattle publication The Stranger (indeed, few of the advertisements you're likely to find on backpage come within a country mile of the hilarious profanity you can find in the broadsheets of Seattle's Only Newspaper; ask me sometime about the pelican ad). Backpage sells nothing apart from advertising space, and there is no 1A exception robust enough to prosecute a publication for selling advertising space to folks who wish to privately arrange illicit transactions (of course, reasonable people may disagree with this claim, so don't take it as legal advice).

Read the excerpt from Title 15 up there at the top again. The economic case in favor of trust-busting is self-evident: concentrated authority directed to the purpose of thwarting markets impoverishes consumers. The legislative solution to collusion in restraint of trade? Why, someone should pass a law. Ergo, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and its procession of corrections, amendments, sister statutes, and clarifications. There is now in the United States a large, well-developed black letter statute basis for anti-trust authority. All of which, it seems, exists to divert attention from the original jurisprudence: preserve competition and you preserve the ability of consenting adults to truck, barter, and exchange.

I do confess to being a little puzzled by the major credit card companies' willingness to capitulate to the demands of a lone Chicago-area thug. Distributed P2P payment schemes like Bitcoin eg may still be in their infancy, but I can't imagine a maturation chamber more effective than threatening the ease by which prostitutes close sales. A Bitcoin-only Backpage might well provide the everyday proof-of-concept the alt currency needs to cease being a curio of nerd culture and begin being the lubricant that facilitates the smooth transaction of carnal commerce.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?