Smuggler Nation

How Illicit Trade Made America

Peter Andreas 2013

I got much of value from this book, though I did not read all of it (way too many other books to read).

The premise is in the subtitle - the United States would not exist, and would not be a global superpower, without smuggling of people, contraband goods, ideas, and machines. In the 20th century, when the US became a superpower, a growing number of people had more to lose than to gain from free exchange and open immigration, so we put up fences and prisons to keep out new ideas and people, and to supposedly keep our ideas and wealth to ourselves.

The book is designed to illustrate the powerful economic and political benefits of freedom across borders, and while it doesn't call modern nativists and monopolists fools, it doesn't need to. I started the book with more or less that attitude - I don't need to read any more about why drug laws and immigration barriers and import inspections are evil, so I skipped to information new to me, and there is plenty.

With more money and time, I would be going to Space Horizons 2014, at Brown University in Providence R.I., where the author is a professor. It was fascinating to learn that Providence was a major hub of smuggling, and that John C. Brown, founder of Brown University, was a prominent owner of those ships. Before the revolutionary war, Brown violated British law by smuggling war materials and food to the French during the Seven Years War, and even instigated the burning of the British customs cutter Gaspee. The smugglers of New England brought in war materials for the Revolutionary War; after the revolution was won, they evaded the customs duties that supported the fledgling government, and supplied the British army in Canada during the war of 1812. Providence was the main home port of the molasses/rum/slave triangle trade, until New York moved to first place.

Rum (and later whiskey) wasn't only traded for slaves; John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company traded booze for furs, which made him America's first multimillionaire, and native americans drunk and doomed. When fur animals were wiped out east of the Rockies, his traders founded Astoria and did the same in the West. My Swedish grandfather immigrated to Astoria, where he met my Finnish-descent grandmother, so I have connections to him. A great-great-...-grandparent was a slave who escaped to Mexican Texas, so I have connections on the other side. I'm proud to have descended from the "scum of the earth" sneered at by now-dead aristocracies.

The manufacturing might of the United States began with the smuggling of textile machinery and technicians from Britain to the northeast. After a few decades, those N.E. manufacturers were leading the world with innovations of their own.

The last chapters of the book discuss the beginning of the War On Some Drugs (as my friend Michael Pearce labeled it), and the transition from a nation that welcomed immigrants like my grandfather, to a leading proponent of Global Economic Aparheid (as Lant Prichard terms it). Again, I read selectively, to find new stuff, not cover old ground. It was useful to be reminded just how recently the INS was strengthened (the early 1990s), more directly linking the battle for bigotry with the accelerating economic decline of the United States. Immigrants like my grandfather helped build this country with their own two hands, and immigrants like some of my recent business partners helped build it with screens and keyboards. Now those immigrants are going to Australia instead, or returning home to China and India to participate in those economic and de-centralization miracles.

Some of the reviews of the book pan it because it does not mention various government crimes associated with smuggling, such as Iran-Contra. I expected but did not find references to centuries of copyright wars. But the book focuses on Americans illegally moving people and goods across borders, and if it covered everyone's gripes, it would be too big to read. It expanded my mind, and that is all I can hope for from any book.

SmugglerNation (last edited 2014-02-14 20:16:13 by KeithLofstrom)