John Ramsay McCulloch argues that smuggling is “wholly the result of vicious commercial and financial legislation” and that it could be ended immediately by abolishing this legislation (1899)

John Ramsay McCulloch

The advocate of Ricardian economics, John Ramsay McCulloch (1789-1864), argued that smuggling was caused by poor legislation, and that it resulted in the corruption of the law courts and the sending of troops into the field

This crime, which occupies so prominent a place in the criminal legislation of all modern states, is wholly the result of vicious commercial and financial legislation. It is the fruit either of prohibitions of importation, or of oppressively high duties. It does not originate in any depravity inherent in man; but in the folly and ignorance of legislators. … To create by means of high duties an overwhelming temptation to indulge in crime, and then to punish men for indulging in it, is a proceeding completely subversive of every principle of justice. It revolts the natural feelings of the people; and teaches them to feel an interest in the worst characters—for such smugglers generally are—to espouse their cause, and avenge their wrongs. … The true way to put down smuggling is to render it unprofitable; to diminish the temptation to engage in it; and this is not to be done by surrounding the coasts with cordons of troops, by the multiplication of oaths and penalties, and making the country the theatre of ferocious and bloody contests in the field, and of perjury and chicanery in the courts of law; but by repealing prohibitions, and reducing duties, so that their collection may be enforced with a moderate degree of vigilance; and that the forfeiture of the article may be a sufficient penalty upon the smuggler.

One has to admire McCulloch’s directness and simplicity. Who would have thought that so intractable problem like smuggling could be solved by one stroke of the pen? Adam Smith, Jean-Baptiste Say, Frédéric Bastiat, John Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer, perhaps?