Productive, self-sufficient people naturally seek to trade the excess of their productive effort for other goods and services they do not possess and would like to have. In doing so, they place lower value on their excess output than on goods that they would like to acquire. A producer may have extra tomatoes but no potatoes or onions while another producer may have extra potatoes and lack tomatoes and onions. Free markets allow producers to peacefully exchange their excess production for goods they would like to have, thereby enhancing individuals’ quality of life in communities.
In addition to exchanging in local markets, producers may seek to transport some of their excess production to remote markets that are under foreign rule. The region’s leader will generally want to keep a portion of the goods imported as a tax for allowing visiting merchants to enter their territory for purposes of trade and exchange of goods and/or services. Or, to protect some local merchants, the leader may prohibit some types of goods from entering the territory at all. But where there are potential customers, innovative entrepreneurs will seek to deliver goods.
The Many Faces of Prohibition
During the era of American prohibition, large volumes of alcoholic beverages moved across the border from Canada by a variety of methods including on the backs of trained animals, in modified boats, inside hidden compartments installed into private cars and even attached under railway cars and carriages. Border patrol agents only intercepted a comparatively small volume of the alcoholic beverages that crossed the border. Today, large volumes of drugs cross national borders, including the borders of nations that impose extremely severe penalties on people who are caught engaging in such trade.
The history of trade includes multiple episodes of innovative smugglers who moved goods across national borders while avoiding state officials seeking to interrupt such trade. In many countries, including Australia and even Canada, regional governments even seek to prevent some forms of domestic trade from crossing regional boundaries that are within the same nation. Some governments prohibit trans-border movement of services like electrical power and telecommunications signals. But innovative entrepreneurs have developed methods of discretely transmitting some forms of energy and telecommunications signals without the need for metal wires or optical cables over short distances across territorial borders.
Optical technology dating from the age of wind-driven sailing ships involves a prism that collects sunlight and redirects that light into rooms located below decks. Modern versions of this technology distribute natural sunlight inside large buildings. At night, it is possible to transmit a highly concentrated beam of light to optical technology located above a building at a distant location such as an offshore island, with related optical technology distributing light throughout the interior of the building. There are also new technologies capable of transmitting electrical and related forms of energy through the atmosphere without the need for wires.
In a truly free market, people would be free to convert and transmit energy, and also to produce and transmit telecommunications signals carrying entertainment programs. Governments assert ownership over the airwaves and restrict citizens from connecting conductive electrical wires and optical cables across property lines and across territorial borders. But courtesy of modern technology, it is possible to transmit energy without electrical wires, and telecommunications independently of airwaves, optical cables or electrical wires. It was over one hundred years ago that inventor and physicist Nikola Tesla first theorized about transmitting electric power through the air, independently of copper wires.
However, modern governments seem to have forgotten the central lesson of prohibition, that being its ultimate failure. Today, drug-related violence occurs in several pairs of nearby towns on either side of the Mexican-American border, with the violence being more severe on the Mexican side. Despite harsh and sometimes brutal enforcement of drug laws, earnings from the drug trade continue to increase as prohibition raises the prices of banned goods.
In 2005, American satellite television signals crossed international borders and the government of Canada sought to prohibit citizens from accessing those signals for purposes of private entertainment. At the time, detection technology used by law enforcement agencies could identify homes that were receiving unauthorized satellite signals. Today, as a result of governments eavesdropping or jamming signals, entrepreneurs have developed various types of modern telecommunications technology that can privately and securely transmit telecommunications signals without risk of eavesdropping signal jamming. A journalist who has access to such technology could “visit” the territory of a repressive regime from a place where he or she could safely and discretely report on local events. Such technology exists as a direct result of earlier episodes of overzealous government snooping.
Restrictive regulation on the transmission of energy and electrical power has created a market in border towns where wireless technology can transmit energy across the border, perhaps unseen and undetected by government authorities. Citizens who have access to low-priced electrical power on one side of the border could transmit energy across the border by a variety of methods to customers on the other side interested in purchasing low-cost energy. In a free-market environment, energy would flow across borders between private sellers and their customers, including along private wires.
However, totalitarian state behaviour has emerged in several regions across North America in regard to people who live in “off-grid” homes that are independent of the power grid. In the state of Florida, as a result of state market protection of the power utility, a peaceful citizen recently lost ownership of her off-grid house and was evicted. While peaceful citizens may benefit from technology that can transmit telecommunications signals and energy across borders, there is the risk of heavy-handed police action from governments that seek to enforce market protection for political friends.
Citizens living in pairs of towns located on either side of a regional or national border will face a tough choice as they gain access to technology that can discretely transmit energy and telecommunications signals over short distances across the border. Citizens receiving such energy or telecommunications could risk heavy-handed police action, as occurred when Canada blocked citizens from decoding foreign satellite television signals that landed on their property. While advancing technology offers citizens new opportunities, they run the risk of governments ruthlessly enforcing totalitarian standards as they protect markets for political friends.
* Harry Valentine is a free-marketeer living in Eastern Ontario.