Why Americans Abandoned Smuggling in Favor of Lobbying and Welfare
The American public’s hunger for liberty has decidedly diminished since colonial times. How has a people who once embraced subversive behavior in the name of liberty become complacent with an intrusive government? The difference between the attitudes of colonial smugglers and contemporary Americans toward their respective governments provides some insight.
In colonial America, smuggling was pervasive and largely embraced by the public. George H. Smith in his article “Americans with Attitudes: Smuggling in Colonial America” notes that smuggling was not restricted to a small class of otherwise immoral outlaws, but was practiced even by upstanding and religious merchants. Swaths of merchants had no qualms about defying British trade restrictions and were often supported by a sympathetic colonial legal apparatus if they were brought to trial. Smuggling was practically an institution in colonial New England, where merchants could even buy insurance policies to cover their losses in the event of a seizure by British customs authorities.
Essentially, smugglers reduce the cost of government interference. For example, the Molasses Act was mercantilist trade restriction that imposed duties on molasses from the Dutch, Spanish, and French West Indies in an effort to prop up more costly British substitutes. Smuggling supported New England’s rum industry, which was dependent on molasses for the production of the colonies’ most important export. The benefits of smuggling were not restricted to New England, as Smith also notes that at one point at least three-quarters of the tea consumed by Americans was smuggled into the colonies.
Besides the obvious economic gain from smuggling, Americans saw English interference with commerce as something akin to foreign aggression. Trade restrictions in the colonies were enacted by the British Parliament for the purpose of promoting British industry, leaving Americans of all stripes without motivation to comply. This made enforcement incredibly difficult for British customs
Article from Mises Wire