Customs Officer Discovers Effects of International Trade
By David Henderson
About a week after I was made a Commissioner of the Customs, upon looking over the list of prohibited goods, (which is hung up in every Customhouse and which is well worth your considering) and upon examining my own wearing apparel, I found, to my great astonishment, that I had scarce a stock, a cravat, a pair of ruffles, or a pocket handkerchief which was not prohibited to be worn or used in G. Britain. I wished to set an example and burnt them all. I will not advise you to examine either your own or Mrs Eden’s apparal [sic] or household furniture, least you be brought into a scrape of the same kind.
This quote is from a letter written by Adam Smith to William Eden. It is quoted in a footnote in Chapter II of The Wealth of Nations. The chapter is titled “Of Restraints upon the Importation from Foreign Countries of such Goods as can be produced at Home.” The chapter is, of course, very clear in pointing out the damage done by restrictions on imports.
I don’t know enough about Adam Smith’s sense of humor (there is evidence of a great sense of humor throughout The Wealth of Nations) to know if he was kidding in the above quote. My gut feel is that he wasn’t, but also one can see him warning others not to look too carefully into what they own so that they will not “be brought into a scrape of the same kind.”