In This Review

Smuggler Nation: How Illicit Trade Made America
Smuggler Nation: How Illicit Trade Made America
By Peter Andreas
Oxford University Press, 2014, 472 pp

Smuggler Nation is one of those rare books that compellingly reconstructs history by examining familiar events through an entirely novel lens. Andreas’ subject is the long American tradition of turning a profit by illicitly evading overbearing rules and laws imposed for reasons of national security, revenue collection, or morality. Whenever authorities have sought to deny intense consumer demand or to impose prohibitive taxes on commerce, enterprising Americans have smuggled a remarkable range of unauthorized goods: from tea, rum, and hard drugs, to condoms and pornography, to industrial technology, skilled workers, and immigrant laborers. But Andreas is no mere collector of amusing tales from the underground: rather, in demonstrating that cross-border criminality is nothing new, he counters sensationalistic fearmongers who warn that globalization presents unprecedented dangers and requires more expansive policing. Washington’s repeated overreaction to the alleged threat of illicit trade and illegal immigration has resulted in a massive, invasive, and increasingly militarized federal law enforcement bureaucracy and has badly damaged relations between the United States and Mexico, among other countries. Washington, he argues, should recognize that contraband capitalism is driven by demand and that solutions to the problem of illicit trade must address that reality. Smuggler Nation should appeal to libertarians on the right and progressives on the left alike.