There are days when I wish that classes in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century European history were mandatory for government officials – wait, no, I always wish that. There are simply days where my desires are given explicit validation by a new report: “More than half of the cigarettes sold in New York State are smuggled in from other places to avoid the Empire State’s taxes on smokes, which have soared nearly 200 percent since 2006, according to a report issued by the conservative Tax Foundation.” And apparently that’s also true for a bunch of other places in at least the Northeast.

Now, the reason for the history: if our erstwhile public servants had ever read any (books that have ‘Peoples’ or ‘Social’ in the title don’t count) they’d know that when you create a situation where a legal good is available in one place for price X, and available in another for price X+Y, with Y being a protective / ruinously high government tariff, something inevitably happens. And no, that inevitable thing is not smuggling. Human beings already smuggle as naturally as we breathe. It is practically instinctive for us. No, what inevitably happens in that situation is that the population enthusiastically joins in on breaking the law. And gets remarkably close-mouthed when tax men start nosing around*.

Some people may be dimly aware of this: the CBS report mentioned above said that a spokesman for the prohibitionist American Lung Association is claiming that the original Tax Foundation report was tainted by Big Tobacco money, and that the problem “is a lot smaller than the study lets on.” CBS, however, doesn’t seem to be buying that, given that it notes that a shipment of knockoff Chinese cigarettes (street value: $4.5 million) got seized last year in NYC. Unless you assume that this was the only shipment that the Chinese have ever ran in** (HAHAHA!), or that the tax men intercept every chest of tobacco that people try to smuggle in from abroad (HAHAHA!), or that NYC is the only American port where one might get illicit duty-free foreign cigarettes (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!)… well, I suggest that the ALA crack open more history books.

And that’s just foreign. Loading up a case of Virginia cigarettes or two in the back of one’s car and driving it to a high-tariff state is a trivially easy exercise. The trick is in knowing a guy who will take it off of your hands.

Moe Lane (crosspost)

*I once saw the basic Western dichotomy on smuggling perfectly explained in, of all things, a Bond movie. Bond and current-woman-in-tow were investigating this European guy who was reputed to be smuggling drugs. The guy captured them, and explained to them quite reasonably that while yes, he was a smuggler, he did not smuggle drugs – but he knew the guy who did, and of course he would be happy to go help take that guy out. And just like that the smuggler joined the ‘good guys’ and became a loveable rogue in the Romantic Scoundrel mode. And that’s because people make at least an unconscious distinction between transporting goods that society has made illegal, and transporting goods without giving local governments their cuts. And no amount of pounding the table and shouting ever seems sufficient to convince people to stop doing that.

**If you don’t think that the Chinese don’t both appreciate the irony of smuggling an addictive drug into Western ports contra the desires of the local governments, and wish that tobacco was as devastating a drug as, say, opium… well, you haven’t read enough East Asian history. Because, believe me: the Chinese still hold a grudge over the Opium Wars.