Who? Me?

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Gosh, I’m a crook. I never imagined. Maybe thirty years ago I read somewhere that all human behavior was illegal, but I didn’t take it seriously. C’mon guys, so I have a yard sale, so what? Gimme a break.

Nope. I broke the law. Any price I set on any thing was illegal. Furthermore, I didn’t inventory the junk I sold, I didn’t record my capital gains (or loss, subject to review), I didn’t have a commercial license, and worst of all, I didn’t charge, or pay, the state sales tax. The bureaucrats on the policing end of this deal, people who earn their living from collecting taxes, really don’t care for people like me, hence I’m a crook.

Now let’s take that idea to the Internet, and see what happens. Here we have the biggest garage sale in history. We can buy anything, and the price, oh my, might be set by the buyers, and not the sellers. Here is a conundrum for the bureaucrats: both the buyers and the sellers are crooks. And what about sales tax? Where do the regulators get their cut?

Without revealing where I happen to live at the moment, which might not be a good idea, I will say that we can buy a whole lot of stuff tax-free, and still be happy with shipping charges, which can go to private companies if we choose. I have purchased big-ticket items this way, and I always came out ahead.

They want to stop this, of course; what’s commerce without our friendly government’s hand in our pocket, for gosh sakes? Besides, it’s a major big deal! I save, on average, about a hundred dollars a month by buying on-line from out of state. This must stop!

Well, it’s stopping. Tax-supported agencies are using tax-supported courts to stop it. Easy. These people know where their money comes from. Courts are, of course, well protected from backlash by an angry population, if people even hear about a lawsuit under way. Appointed federal courts are beyond any judgment of the people whatever.

The attack on Internet commerce has begun. Cigarettes are an easy target, and a major source of sales tax revenue. In some states prices can be three times greater than Internet prices. The states can’t attack the Indian Reservations that sell tax-free cigarettes directly, so they first attacked the transaction: you can’t use a credit or debit card, but must use an electronic check instead. The added complication and delay peeled off some consumers, but not enough, so they attacked the shipping, making it illegal for the retailer to ship from some states to certain other states, or especially within a state, like New York. That’s still not enough, so now courts are squeezing the manufacturers with mere threats to not sell their product to the Indian retailers.

So it’s only tobacco products, so what? Foot-in-door is what. The real question is, what’s next? Amazon and E-Bay come to mind, but specialty retailers are also in sight, like Drugstore.com and The Crutchfield. Domestic shipping companies are also at risk of losing their home delivery business, including the USPS.

This moment of Internet freedom in commercial history may be slipping through our fingers as we read about it. Meanwhile, I’m a crook.

Robert Klassen [send him mail] retired from a forty-year career in critical-care respiratory therapy. He is the author of five books, including Atlantis: A Novel about Economic Government, and Economic Government, which describe a solution to the problem of political government. Here’s his web site.

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