Walter E. Williams
by Walter E. Williams: Eat
heroes of sorts. The essence of what a smuggler offers is: "Government
tyrants want to either prevent or interfere with peaceable voluntary
exchange among individuals. I can reduce the impact of that interference."
Let's look at smuggling, keeping in mind that not everything illegal
is immoral and not everything legal is moral.
to our War of Independence, the British, under the Navigation Acts,
had levied taxes on a wide range of imports. One of those taxes
was on molasses imported from non-British islands. John Hancock,
whose flamboyant signature graces our Declaration of Independence,
had a thriving business smuggling an estimated 1.5 million gallons
of molasses a year. His smuggling practices financed much of the
resistance to British authority. In fact, a joke of the time was
"Sam Adams writes the letters (to newspapers) and John Hancock pays
as well as that of many others, made the people of our nation better
off by providing cheaper prices for molasses used for making rum.
British oppressors were worse off by having lower tax revenues.
In 1920, the
18th Amendment, prohibiting the production, distribution and sale
of alcoholic beverages in the United States, went into effect. It
had wide public support. In my opinion, no case can be made for
stopping another person from enjoying beer, wine and whiskey. That's
oppression, but along came heroes to the rescue. The ink hadn't
dried on the 18th Amendment before smugglers started smuggling beer
and whiskey from Canada and Mexico. Ships lined up along our shores,
just beyond the three-mile limit, to off-load whiskey onto speedboats.
Smugglers and bootleggers spared millions of Americans from do-gooder
While the smuggler
qua smuggler is my hero, several important negative effects surround
his activity. Smuggling is illegal. It becomes a sometimes-nasty
criminal enterprise because those who engage in it tend to be people
with an overall lower regard for the law. Since smuggling is illegal,
disputes must be settled with guns and violence instead of courts.
Plus, police and other public officials are corrupted. Worse of
all is the reduced respect for laws by the public at large. After
the 18th Amendment's repeal, virtually all of the crime and corruption
associated with Prohibition disappeared.
Not many Americans
are aware of today's big smuggling activity – cigarette smuggling.
Confiscatory taxes that are as high as $7 a pack, in New York City,
making one pack of cigarettes sell for $13, have encouraged a thriving
smuggling business across our country. Like Prohibition, confiscatory
tobacco taxes are popular with Americans.
A recent study
by Michael LaFaive and Todd Nesbit of the Midland, Michigan-based
Mackinac Center for Public Policy titled "Cigarette Taxes and Smuggling"
shows that states with the highest cigarette smuggling rates are
those with the highest tobacco taxes such as Arizona (51.8 percent
of the state's total consumption are smuggled), New York (47.5 percent),
Rhode Island (40.5 percent), New Mexico (37.2 percent) and California
smuggling, like yesteryear's whiskey smuggling, has become a livelihood
for criminals. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
has found that Russian, Armenian, Ukrainian, Chinese, Taiwanese
and Middle Eastern (mainly Pakistani, Lebanese and Syrian) organized
crime groups are highly involved in the trafficking of contraband
and counterfeit cigarettes. What's worse is that some of these groups
use their earnings to provide financial assistance to terrorist
organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas. That means tax-hungry
politicians and anti-tobacco zealots are providing the means for
aid to America's enemies.
to cigarette smuggling, and the criminal activities associated with
it, is to eliminate the confiscatory taxes. Unfortunately for tax-hungry
politicians and anti-tobacco zealots, who see confiscatory taxes
as a tool in their moral crusade against tobacco, only benefits
count. For them, the costs of their agenda are irrelevant or secondary
at best. And, as novelist C.S. Lewis put it, "Of all tyrannies a
tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the
E. Williams is the John M. Olin distinguished professor of economics
at George Mason University, and a nationally syndicated columnist.
To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other
Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators
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