The Thuggery of Customs
The following post is by guest-author Jatin Bhatt.
From a few candies that cost almost nothing, to laptops, cars, homes and private planes, people are constantly engaged in commerce and exchange. We pay money to the person from whom we are making the purchase, and that person gives us the product which we want. This is a fair system, with each person getting what they are willing to exchange for.
Imagine the following. One day, you go to the supermarket. You buy milk, biscuits, bread, some vegetables, and a few chocolates. You pay the bill in cash, put the stuff in your car and drive home.
You reach your parking space, take the groceries out and proceed toward your home. In the way, a group of five men stop you. They ask for your bag. They intimidate you, and you hesitantly give it to them. They open it, take everything out, and stare at you condemningly. They talk among themselves for some time, while you sit, alone and worried, on an extremely uncomfortable chair, with your neighbors walking past you and giving you contemptuous looks.
After two hours, one of the men comes toward you. He says in a stern and arrogant voice, “You must give us 40% of what you paid for the bread, 50% of what you paid for the biscuits, 80% of what you paid for milk and vegetables, and 200% of what you paid for the chocolates”.
You are astonished beyond belief. You are bewildered as to why you should pay these thugs for doing nothing but harassing you, particularly after you already paid the supermarket cashier, with whom you actually made an exchange. You ask them why they are demanding money; they tell you they have been ordered to do so by their boss.
You stand there, wondering what any of these goons (or their boss) did to deserve any of your money. You have no business with them, they are not offering any products in exchange, and they have provided no services to you.
You are tired and exhausted, you feel angry, and you feel harassed. You call the police. Instead of coming to your aid, they handcuff you and demand that you pay the extortion money quietly and without protest.
The basic laws of economics say that one must participate in a productive activity, or produce something on one’s own, to earn money. Justice here says that when a consensual exchange is taking place, all parties involved must stand to gain something, else the exchange would not take place. But neither elementary economics nor any basic sense of justice can be expected to be present in the brains of these thuggish nincompoops.
If you were in this situation, what might you do? What might your reaction be? How would you feel toward the thugs and the corrupt police?
The situation described above is a simplified description of how customs service officials work. Would it make any difference if those five goons are dressed in suits and ties, and had government badges? Would you then pay them the money they demanded? Let us say you did pay them, willingly, reasoning that perhaps you are doing a service to your country. But what about the two very basic and simple notions of economics and justice described earlier? Are they both still not being violated?