19A005 Smugglers' Delight by Jim Davies, 1/29/2019   


There's a real mess going on in the UK, over Brexit. To recap: a referendum in 2016 resulted, to the surprise and horror of the ruling class, in a "Leave" verdict; by 52 to 48, Brits wish to quit the EU. They are fed up with being regulated by bureau-rats in Brussels. The ruling class - most Members of Parliament, and the captains of industry who guide them, wish to "Remain". Ever since 2016, the Pols have been struggling to retain most of the reality of membership while nominally ending it.

The "Deal" they worked out satisfied nobody; it was too much of a clean break for the Remainers, and far too much of a continuing kind-of membership for the Leavers. So on January 14th, it was voted down in Parliament. It's quite possible that the ruling class has a trick up its sleeve, but if not a so-called "hard exit" will take place on March 29th; a departure from the EU, but without any agreement at all about how the change can be managed in an orderly way, or softened at the edges. Chaos (the bad kind) is likely to result, for quite a while.

One of the concerns is about Ireland. The island consists of two political divisions; in the South is independent Eire, which for now remains in the EU, and in the North is Ulster, basically a county within the UK. So whereas the whole island has hitherto been in the EU, now the border between them will become the only land border between the EU and the UK. To complicate it further the border is not a straight line, but very squiggly and 300 miles long.

The situation quite nicely illustrates the absurdity of having governments, which make agreements among themselves then compel their subjects to comply. When the border line across Ireland becomes "hard", those unwilling to comply will become smugglers - of goods and people. Their considerable expenses and fees will add to the price of the delivered products or persons.

After March 29th there may or may not be tariffs imposed on goods crossing that line; there probably will be on UK goods entering the EU, but the London government doesn't have to retaliate - though it may. Better if it doesn't. If not, the business opportunity for smugglers will be one-way; UK exports to the EU. The police in Eire will need to be bribed to look away. I fancy they might, for the Irish are usually easy-going people who like their Guinness.

Speaking of booze - a favorite cargo of smugglers - at top-right of the map are white bits representing parts of Scotland. It would not be beyond the wit of man to load up an ordinary fishing boat with cases of fine Scotch and sail them round to the arm of Eire that lies to the NW of Ulster, landing them in a deserted bay without even crossing the land border. The situation fairly bristles with opportunity.

A trickier matter is the movement of people. One (but only one) of the reasons so many voted for Brexit is that Brits feel they have enough job competition from Eastern European migrants; it's a bit like Middle America wanting no more from Mexico. So Rumanians seeking work in England will need to get first to Eire (in the EU) then cross that border to Ulster (in the UK but not the EU.) The squiggly border traverses many an open field or moor, but they will need help; hence, the business opportunity for smuggling people, for a fee. Police in Ulster are less flexible than their fellows in the South, so that fee will likely be rather high.

The evaporation of governments in the British Isles will, I think, trail that in North America - but not by long. When it's accomplished, that squiggly border will be no more significant than the traces of the Berlin Wall, and both goods and people will move across it freely. That will not mean a huge mass of Poles and Slovaks rushing to Liverpool and Leeds, for in the resulting free market labor prices will rapidly adjust to their proper market level, and one of the prime skills employers will demand is a good ability to speak English. Motives for moving will therefore weaken.

How about the meantime, the present period prior to that happy day when the UK government becomes history? - I have little idea what will happen, and no plans to try to make it easy for them. They dug this hole, and seem to be continuing to dig, and I'll not interfere with good advice. I expect that if the smugglers succeed there will be more and more border cops assigned along that 300-mile line, and that taxpayers will be forced to fund them. Possibly, the quiet beauty of the Irish countryside will be marred by a wall or razor-wire fence, like the one that separated East from West Germany. Maybe watch towers will be built, with machine-gun toting goons, taking care to keep Britain safe from freedom. A bleak future for sure, as always the case during this government era.

Just possibly, it could be even worse. Most of the 20th Century was marked by violence in Ireland; residents in the South (and a third of those in the North) were fed up with rule from London and wanted out; they began a revolution, savagely repressed in 1916. Ten years later, though, the island was divided as above; Eire came into being and the border was drawn. This failed to satisfy the Republican (and Roman Catholic) minority in Ulster, which ran a decades-long campaign of bombing and murder, with plenty of retaliation both by vigilantes and the British Army. The movie Patriot Games conveys the scene well. By 2000 the combatants were old and tired and the conflict ran out of steam; but if the above enforcement actions do take place, there's no telling how much of that violence will break out again.

There is no rational, peaceful alternative to a free market.

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