The Unlucky Smuggler

My friend Tora works at the Museum of Taxes and Tariffs in Copenhagen. (Yes, we actually have such a one). I still have yet to get my own private tour of the museum, but I am looking much forward to it. As many will know, the history of taxing and tariffs is not only fascinating in itself; it is also important for understanding the making of modern states; how it ever came about, this extensive welfare-transfer state of ours, with warts and all.

A core problem for developing countries is to develop mechanisms of taxation and representation. Those things don’t come into being just like that. Therefore, an important body of scholarship, one example of which is to be found here, seeks to understand what determines various systems, and what the effects of those systems are. One way to better understand the processes involved is to study the history of taxing and tariffs in a more developed country. And one way of doing that, of course, is to go to… the Museum of Taxes and Tariffs.

On the museum’s website you can read the story of the unlucky smuggler. I have taken the liberty of translating the story from the Danish. Here goes::

One day in 1991 a thirty-three year old Pole landed in Copenhagen, and sought out the first office building his eyes came upon. His errand in Denmark was not altogether legal as he had come to sell nineteen cartons of cigarettes and seven litres of pure alcohol that he had purchased cheaply in Poland. He must have calculated with a considerable profit, since apparently he had no other business in Copenhagen. Apart from the cigarettes and alcohol, he brought only a pack of mints, shaving gear and a few Danish Kroner.

The man was not exactly proficient in Danish. At least, the sign on the door of the MUSEUM OF TAXES AND TARIFFS did not cause him to worry. Inside the museum, a kind person asked the eager tradesman to wait for a short while. A customs officer was called, and the Polish man made yet another attempt to sell his wares. He was now made aware of his somewhat poor choice of customers., and was fined for 10,000 Kroner, and to pay a fee of 6,398 Kroner (at that time, about 2,500 US dollars). But if the unfortunate had had that much money, he would not have ventured into smuggling. Instead of paying the fine and fee, he was imprisoned for a shorter term. The nineteen cartons of cigarettes and the seven litres of alcohol never left the building. They now form part of the exhibition at the Museum of Taxes and Tariffs.

And that’s a fact.


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