One doesn't have to be a direct blood descendent of Adam Smith to comprehend that when there is a popular demand for a product and government arbitrarily curtails its availability, provenders will arise -- whether legally or not -- to supply and profit from the demand.
So it came as no surprise to me when the other day, while dog walking, I was approached by a rather seedy but eminently resourceful young entrepreneur, who asked me if I cared for a pack of Newports for "only" five bucks. It was a genuine bargain, given the fact that a simple pack of cigarettes, which costs about 30 cents to produce, now approaches $20 at Walgreens.
The budding young Rockefeller showed me the pack, which had Illinois, Cook County and Chicago tax stamps affixed, which led me to believe that he was either a merchandising and cost accounting genius or a thief.
His torn blue jeans and stubble of beard suggested the latter.
I declined the purchase, not because I am above buying hot goods, but rather due to an aversion to menthols. I told him to get back to me if his purchasing agent should happen to acquire Pall Mall straights.
But within a half an hour this guy was the most popular fellow in the park. Teenaged kids from Sullivan High School and St. Scholastic H.S. were literally running after him throwing fins at his feet, much to the envy of the illegal-alien elote vendors, whose business was dismal by comparison. (Look for them to expand their inventory any day now, "I'll take an elote slathered in mayonnaise and a pack of bootleg Marlboro Lights.")
So why is there now an embyonic -- and soon to be burgeoning -- black market trade in tobacco products in Chicago?
Well, in March of this year, the Hyde Park Messiah (to the delight of health conscious school marms, do-gooders and hall monitors everywhere) signed into law, Nancy Pelosi's 62 cent per pack increase on cigarettes, bringing the total federal tax to $1.01 per pack -- more than 3 times the actual cost of production. Piled on top of this are Illinois, Cook County and Chicago "sin taxes," which have driven the cost of smokes into the stratosphere and supply into the hands of Al Capone wannabees.
It was the inane goo-goo experiment spawned by the little old ladies of the temperance movement that managed to elevate Alphonse "Scarface" Capone from a lowly Bronx olive oil saleman to the lofty heights of a multimillionaire organized crime kingpin.
Now the accidental Illinois Governor, Pat Quinn, wants another 60 c state tax increase on cigarettes.
I am reasonably confident that in the coming months my dog and I will be running into a lot of new entrpreneurs in the Chicago parks, ready to cash in on the new tobacco prohibition folly.
This should really come as no surprise to anyone in Chicago.