Howdy duty

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Be careful what you wish for, the adage goes, for you just might get it. The European Union learned the perils of successful wish fulfillment Thursday when its eight-year quest to abolish the longstanding tradition of duty-free shopping ended in what many Europeans now see as a pyrrhic victory.

In 1991, EU nations decided to ditch duty-free as part of an elaborate plan to turn Europe into one big, really old country. The European money guys decided that once national borders were all but obliterated, the concept of getting a tax break by crossing those borders would become superfluous, even counterproductive. People, they reasoned, would only be reminded of the good old days.

By the time the EU's June 30, 1999 deadline came up, most European leaders had changed their minds but, of course, it was too late to drum up the unanimous support needed to reverse the decision.

I never shopped duty-free. I doubt I ever would have. But like the British Monarchy and the Italian army, it always seemed like a quaint European custom that would last forever. Now it's gone. I hate that.

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