Tuesday, May 6, 2014


Knowing that Frank's bridge playing colleagues would soon appear, Bjorn rose from his chair and headed back to his room. But just as he was about to go up the stairs he heard Ante swear loudly in the kitchen. Suddenly remembering his desire to talk to Ante, and curious to know what made Ante so furious, Bjorn turned away from the stairs and entered the kitchen instead.

"So, what's going on?" Bjorn asked.
"These darn peppercorns refuse to go into the grinder," Ante replied. "And now I managed to drop the whole bag on the floor."

There were little black peppercorns everywhere, both on the counter and on the floor. But the paper bag was still intact, with most of its content inside of it.

"You want some help with that?" Bjorn asked.
"Yeah, if you could," Ante replied before picking up the paper bag. "Can you hold this funnel for me while I pour the corns into the grinder?"

Happy to help, Bjorn did as he was asked, and pretty soon the grinder was full of pepper.

"So what do you think of us soon having to act as customs officers here at the check point?" Bjorn asked as Ante put away the bag with the remaining peppercorns.
"Are we?" Ante asked. "That's news to me."
"That's because we haven't actually been asked to do it yet," Bjorn replied. "But Frank expects it to happen quite soon, and I think he's right. There were quite a few cars coming in from Neiden, and returning with cartloads of cheap stuff."
"And we can't have that, can we?" Ante replied dryly while picking up a small handheld vacuum cleaner from a cupboard.
"Exactly! Its smuggling. And we will surely have to deal with it, sooner or later."
"Yeah, because cheap stuff is bad for people, right?" Ante said with a big smile to soften his sarcasm.
"Eh... but the smuggling will hurt the economy," Bjorn ventured.

Bjorn felt less than sure of his last statement, and Ante did not seem bothered to go directly into any discussion about it, turning on the vacuum cleaner to rid the counter and the floor of the spilled peppercorns instead.

"And in what way will the smuggling hurt the local economy?" Ante asked as he turned off the noisy handheld device.
"Well, its unfair for the local merchants in Neiden and Kirkenes, isn't it?" Bjorn suggested. "After all, they have to pay taxes, and that gives Pingo an unfair advantage."

Ante put away the vacuum cleaner before turning to Bjorn.

"So, we will soon have to tax everyone leaving the colony with more than a minimum of stuff in order to help the merchants in Neiden and Kirkenes."
"Yeah. I mean... Or else, they will go out of business, right? And that would hurt the local economy."
"So, why not give the merchants in Kirkenes and Neiden a tax break. That way everybody would be happy. People would get their cheap stuff closer to home, and the merchants can compete on an equal footing with Pingo."
"But we have to pay taxes!" Bjorn insisted. "I mean... how else are we going to pay for schools and health services, and..."
"And the poor?" Ante suggested helpfully.
"How, indeed!" Ante confirmed with a smile.

Bjorn was a little confused by Ante's lingering sarcasm. Was he serious, or just pulling his leg?

"So you agree that we will soon have to act as customs officers in order to even out the playing field."
"We will indeed," Ante replied, still smiling. "I'm sure Frank is right."
"So what was all that about?" Bjorn asked, still puzzled by Ante's sarcasm.
"I've been listening too much to Thomas lately, I guess," Ante replied. "That man is an anti-tax fanatic, and I thought I'd try out his logic on you."
"He is?" Bjorn asked, curious to hear Ante's view of Thomas.
"Haven't you noticed how he always comes up with those so called voluntary solutions to everything?"
"Yeah, now that you mention it... He's not a great fan of government solutions, is he?"
"Not at all," Ante confirmed. "He has some valid points, though."
"You think so?"
"Yeah, I do... Once you start thinking of government agents as a bunch of corrupt crooks, all sorts of things suddenly start to make sense."
"Such as?" Bjorn asked.
"The war in Libya for instance."
"Well... It's all about the oil, isn't it. Why do you think the foreign minister is so eager to send troops down there?"
"To protect our interests and help the people rebuild their nation," Bjorn replied, parroting what he had heard the foreign minister say on TV.
"And what exactly is our so called interest in Libya?"

Bjorn shook his head. Ante's point was just too simple minded. The profits from the state controlled oil company was after all funnelled into the national coffers, thereby providing vital funding for social services such as education and health care. Without the profits from oil wells abroad, much of the welfare state would have to be dismantled. Protecting the oil fields from terrorists was clearly of national importance, as well as a good thing for the locals in Libya.

"Okay! So they are all a bunch of crooks!" Bjorn replied, this time being the one with heavy sarcasm in his voice.

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