Smugglers As Heroes

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Smugglers are 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.

Leading up 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 the postage.”

Hancock’s smuggling, 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 oppression.

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.

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  • ajnn

    sometimes the real world, reality, is just not very much fun.

    i always supported high 'sin taxes' but then was informed that they created 'rents' for criminals and terrorists.

    confronted with the 'unintended consequences', i have changed my mind. i think the unintended consequences create a bigger problem than the positive impacts of the 'sin taxes'.

    i am not happy about this, but then nobody asked my opinion before the world was created what the rules should be.

    • EdwinS

      me too! nobody asked my opinion and now when I offer it nobody pays any attention..
      its .very frustrating….

  • coyote3

    Well, I don't know about "beneficial". Anytime you smoke anything, and ingest it into your lungs, it tends not to be good for you. That said, it is not more harmful than a lot of the products we legally market to the public. At the same time we denegrate these products and the people who produce them, but are willing to accept millions and millions of dollars in tax revenue from farming, manufacturing, distributing and selling them. If we are going to make cannabis illegal, those products, e.g. alcoholic beverages, and regular tobacco ought to be illegal as well. But, but, but, "people might drive while under the influence of cannabis." Oh, yeah, he, he, they already do that with alcoholic beverage and we arrest them for it.

  • kwg1

    I agree with all of you. But watch out your libertarian principles are showing and some may take umbridge to that! God forbid we should exercise the liberty he gave us along with personal responsibility. What a concept.

  • Joel


    Unfortunately, the taxes are popular today and the temperance movement was popular in the late 1910's. I try to help change the former.

    One reason I distrust democracy, but of course, all the alternatives are worse.