More On the Ordered Liberty Allegedly Promoted by the ‘Drug War’

by Don Boudreaux on June 18, 2011

in Civil Asset Forfeiture, Civil Society, Crime, Other People's Money

From 1989 through 2009, U.S. District Attorneys alone have seized nearly $14 billion dollars worth of assets through civil-asset-forfeiture procedures.  (Data are here; using the Minnesota Fed’s inflation converter, I converted these current-dollar figures into 2011 dollars to determine that the grand total of such seizures during this 21-year span, measured in 2011 dollars, is $13,997,395,000.)

Note that this figure does not include the value of assets seized under civil-asset-forfeiture statutes by state- and local- government officials.

These assets were seized from their owners without any requirement that the seizing officials – in this case, agents of the U.S. Department of Justice – prove that the owners of these properties are guilty of the underlying criminal offenses that serve as the alleged justification for government to seize these properties.

I don’t know the exact proportion, but a huge portion (I believe a sizable majority) of civil-asset-forfeiture seizures are done on suspicion that the owners of the properties are somehow connected with trade in prohibited drugs.

So here we have significant injuries inflicted on two major organs of any free and civil society by the “war on drugs” war on peaceful people (only some of whom use intoxicants that the government disapproves of): the rule of law and security of property rights.

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Bill June 18, 2011 at 9:40 am

Prohibition gives the government the right to torture and murder people whose only crime is being sick, injured or simply in pain. Sorry no pain relief for you you might become addicted.

Prohibition increases the murder rate the “Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre” come to mind. (see Chicago 1929)

Prohibition corrupts law enforcement.

Prohibition is unconstitutional. Read the preamble, the part about insure domestic tranquility. Murder and corruption hardly seem tranquil.

DG Lesvic June 18, 2011 at 10:07 am

How about the security of propery rights in the value of the dollar that the Keynesians and Keynesian Austrians would inflate away?

Hate to keep asking the same question, but haven’t gotten an answer yet?

SaulOhio June 18, 2011 at 5:02 pm

What “Keynesian Austrians” are you talking about? What Austrians would inflate the dollar?

DG Lesvic June 18, 2011 at 8:09 pm

George Selgin, for one. Just ask him. He’s proud of it.

And I presume Don Boudreaux, too, who rushed to his defense.

And another one, here, Jonathon M.F.Catalan, along with Horwitz, Rizzo, White, Garrison, O’Driscoll, Woolsey, and, I would guess, the majority of the wobbly Austrian School, infected by the Keynesian as well as the Chicago virus.

DG Lesvic June 19, 2011 at 12:18 am


In a previous thread, you said that you knew for sure that Selgin was against inflation.

Here was how he put it to, under Harry Johnson on Keynes, below.

83 George Selgin June 12, 2011 at 6:59 pm

Oh stuff it, Lesvic. You don’t know diddly squat about the history of monetary economics, or you’d stop embarrassing yourself with this silly refrain you keep heckling me with. Read Yeager’s “The Keynesian Diversion,” if you want to learn something, and then consider whether you want to keep insisting that anyone who thinks that money growth is ever desirable, or that prices and wages don’t always adjust immediately to their market-clearing levels, must be a “Keynesian.”

That was Selgin.

This is Lesvic again.

Note his words, that I was wrong in “insisting that anyone who thinks that money growth is ever desirable…must be a Keynesian.”

What that means is that a non-Keynesian like himself could think that there were times when money growth was desirable.

What does money growth mean? It means inflation. He’s saying that there could be occasions when inflation was desirable.

By money growth he was no referring to the discovery of new supplies of gold in the ground. He was referring to printing press money, not real money, but fiat money, the kind that causes inflation.

The Austrian School is split on that, between Mises and his followers and, as Selgin claims, Hayek and his. Which of the two are closer to Keynes?.

vikingvista June 19, 2011 at 5:10 pm

If a free market with free banking and free money–which Selgin defends–were to sustain an inflating fiat money, it would be a coercive antiliberty act to violently suppress it.

It isn’t what free people choose that should matter to a libertarian, but rather what some want to impose on free people. Imposing 100% reserve banking or commodity money is as much an offense against free people as imposing a fractional reserve fiat money system.

DG Lesvic June 19, 2011 at 5:59 pm


On that I agree completely with both you and Selgin.

So, on what do I disagree?

That the “sticky wages” both he and Keynes fear would require the inflation both he and Keynes consider desirable.

DG Lesvic June 19, 2011 at 6:01 pm

I meant, of course, the inflation that both he and Keynes consider desirable in this circumstance, as the antidote to “sticky wages.”

mdb June 18, 2011 at 11:46 am

The most pernicious aspect of these laws are the effects on families. Have a family member that uses drugs, you better think long and hard before inviting them into your house. Not only do you put yourself at risk of a SWAT raid, you could lose your house. The last time my brother got out of rehab, he asked to stay with me – I knew the worst place for him was his apartment – but I had to say no to protect my family. The government will drag you into this stupid war even if you are only trying to help someone get off drugs.

nailheadtom June 18, 2011 at 11:50 am

Asset forfeiture is simply theft by government agencies. The idea that such can occur in a supposedly civilized society does a lot to discredit even representative government and justify loathing of authority. Here’s a great example:

vikingvista June 19, 2011 at 5:13 pm

The vast majority of all theft is by government agencies.

SheetWise June 18, 2011 at 5:04 pm

This is one of the reasons I have always been so offended when reading the civics textbooks my children brought home — but, I tried to teach them to be more responsible.

Rules about police –

1. Unless you called them, they are not your friend. Shut up.
2. If you did call them, tell them why and explain. If they want to know anything else, shut up.
3. If they want to talk to you about another person, and you are not personally thoroughly disgusted with that persons behavior — shut up.
4. At the first sign of intimidation, request your lawyer — and shut up.
5. If they request that you cooperate beyond what you are comfortable with, say no. Then shut up.
6. If they present a warrant — see it if it’s judicial or administrative. If it’s not signed by a judge, don’t cooperate — and then shut up.

The civics textbooks are Utopian and have nothing to do with reality.

PrometheeFeu June 18, 2011 at 9:31 pm

Very good advice. I can think of no good reason to ever cooperate with the police in any investigation which is not about helping an endangered person you care about. In every other case, the only cooperation you should provide is that which is ordered by a judge (In which case, contest immediately) or that which is coerced by the threat or use of force. All cooperation should always be accompanied by repeated, statements that you are doing so only under the threat of violence and that you do not consent.

I have never seen a civics textbook myself and I would be interested in learning what sort of “instruction” they give.

tdp June 18, 2011 at 10:27 pm

Paranoid much?

PrometheeFeu June 19, 2011 at 2:04 am

Maybe. But I like to think of it in a different way. Except in situations where you personally go to get their help, police officers can help you in no way, but they can harm you in plenty of ways. So the safe thing is to treat them as dangerous people and help them in no way since at best it’s a wash and at worst you are hurting yourself.

vikingvista June 19, 2011 at 5:16 pm

Whatever happened to “The innocent have nothing to fear?”

SheetWise June 20, 2011 at 11:11 am

Nothing happened to it — It was never true.

BZ June 20, 2011 at 10:06 pm

Why doesn’t cafehayek have a Like button? :)

vidyohs June 18, 2011 at 7:57 pm

It’s run-amok government.

Back in the 1990s Reason Magazine gave a detailed report on a California man who owned a nice cabin cruiser and went off shore in the Pacific to fish on occasions. He did that one weekend and when he returned to his dock he found the DEA waiting for him. They seized his boat, arrested him, and charged him with being a drug trafficker because his boat was observed in the sea lanes where drug runners would come up from Mexico to meet boats from the U.S. and exchange the dope for money (I guess).

When the was cleared of all charges in the investigation, the DEA would not release his boat. He fought in court for years, but the cruel part was that about a year into his battle to get his boat back (remember this is all costing him an enormous amount of money) his boat sprung leaks and begin to sink at the dock. He tried to get on board to pump and repair and was prevented by the DEA. His boat sank. By the time he won his case in court and the DEA was ordered to return his boat it had been sitting in the water for a couple of years.

Needless to say the government did not reimburse him a dime for all the expense he went through because of their false allegations and seizure.

We have a government problem in this country.

PrometheeFeu June 18, 2011 at 9:34 pm

I think the most appropriate approach to arrests and seizure which are not accompanied by a conviction is that the arresting officers AND the government should provide reparation.

Ken June 21, 2011 at 9:10 am

If by “government providing reparation” you mean “arresting officers’ chain of command from their personal resources,” I agree. The taxpayer is already on the hook too often for the crimes of state-licensed criminals.

nailheadtom June 18, 2011 at 11:07 pm

The only way that government agencies and their paid pirates can get away with what they do is through fear and intimidation. Instances like the conviction of Samuel J.T. Moore III in Richmond, VA keep the fear factor high with lots of publicity and the military costumes and equipment, along with black and white squad cars, raise the intimidation level. However, it works both ways. Fear is very much apparent in the sheer numbers of para-miltaries sent out to serve warrants and make arrests, bullet-proof vests on street officers. almost constant radio communication and instant calls for back-up in routine situations. They know they’re in the wrong.

PrometheeFeu June 19, 2011 at 2:10 am

It appears that person attempted to commit fraud against the court and generally hid his income for the purposes of tax evasion. I don’t think this counts as an abuse of power. Maybe the original levying of those taxes is given what some of that money is used for, but overall, I have little sympathy for people who evade taxes and attempt to defraud courts of law.

vikingvista June 19, 2011 at 5:51 pm

Exactly. Why should others be successful at avoiding victimization if we can’t?

John Kannarr June 19, 2011 at 1:24 am

My wife and I were traveling from Arizona to Illinois to visit my son’s family last year. We were stopped in a small town in Illinois for a minor traffic violation (our headlights weren’t on and it was raining). The policeman wanted to search our car (you know, unload everything into the rain as he pawed around). I refused. The officer then asked if I didn’t want to help him catch bad guys. Since I wasn’t carrying any contraband, I didn’t see how my giving up my 4th amendment rights would help him catch a bad guy, and I couldn’t imagine any bad guy wanting to help the police catch bad guys. Nonetheless, he ordered us to stay put while he called for drug dogs to sniff around our car, since I wouldn’t agree to the internal search.

I’m just glad he was honest enough not to have planted something on my car, though I wonder at what point he lost just enough integrity to believe that what he was doing and saying was constitutional or legitimate. I suspect he had been corrupted by the greed over what his department had to gain through civil forfeiture.

John Scott June 20, 2011 at 9:28 pm

I believe that if the republican would give up on this stupid drug war that Nixon started they might be able to shutdown communist democrats for good.

Ken June 21, 2011 at 9:12 am

Sure thing — Coke has always been at war with Pepsi.

Molon Lobe June 22, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Lets give up on the war in drugs. In ten years the gene pool would be free of the losers who require drugs to function in a free society.

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