What do our border control authorities have against musical instruments? First it was pianist Kristian Zimerman’s Steinway, destroyed by TSA agents because they thought the glue in it smelled suspicious. Then it was the prized cello bow that Alban Gerhardt says was snapped in two by TSA agents (bows are surprisingly costly things, and can run the price of a Mercedes). Now, according to a report in the Boston Globe, customs agents mistook a rare collection of handmade flutes for pieces of bamboo and destroyed them as illicit agricultural goods. I’ve got a discussion at Cato at Liberty.
Cato trade analyst Dan Ikenson draws my attention to this passage of Frederic Bastiat’s:
Between Paris and Brussels obstacles of many kinds exist. First of all, there is distance, which entails loss of time, and we must either submit to this ourselves, or pay another to submit to it. Then come rivers, marshes, accidents, bad roads, which are so many difficulties to be surmounted. We succeed in building bridges, in forming roads, and making them smoother by pavements, iron rails, etc. But all this is costly, and the commodity must be made to bear the cost. Then there are robbers who infest the roads, and a body of police must be kept up, etc.
Now, among these obstacles there is one which we have ourselves set up, and at no little cost, too, between Brussels and Paris. There are men who lie in ambuscade along the frontier, armed to the teeth, and whose business it is to throw difficulties in the way of transporting merchandise from the one country to the other. They are called Customhouse officers, and they act in precisely the same way as ruts and bad roads.
Further update from Foreign Policy (h/t reader JohnC): “In an e-mail exchange with NPR Music, a Customs official says no musical instruments were involved in the CPB’s actions — a claim not offered to FP. The story indicates that fresh bamboo was found in the luggage separate from Razgui’s 11 flutes. However, when American Airlines eventually delivered Razgui’s luggage, it did not contain the flutes. If both claims are true, it remains a mystery as to what actually happened to the flutes and why they didn’t show up in his luggage.” (& Greenfield, Above the Law) More: Zenon Evans, Reason.