The Most Irrational Law in America

The most irrational law in America might be…wait for it…The Endangered Species Act. Some people believe that ESA violates the rights of more Americans on a day to day basis than any other law on the books. You can have much of your life savings invested in land, and then some bureaucrat shows up and says you can’t use your own land because of an endangered rodent or toad. Most recently, the law was enforced against landowners even though the critter did not even live on the land in question.

A federal appeals court declined to rehear a case brought against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for designating private property as critical habitat for an endangered frog that hasn’t lived on those lands for decades.

FWS officials designated 6,477 acres as critical habitat for the endangered dusky gopher frog in 2012. About 1,500 acres of the critical habitat was private land in St. Tammany Parish, despite the fact no frogs had been spotted there for decades.

Landowners sued, but were rebuffed by federal circuit court judges in June. They appealed their case, arguing the government can’t designate land as critical habitat for an endangered species that doesn’t even live there.

In an 8-to-6 decision, judges declined to rehear the case. But lawyers representing the landowners said they planned on taking the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ESA actually hurts endangered species as well by undermining the incentive of landowners to protect wildlife. If the legal sanctions weren’t so draconian, many landowners might be persuaded to work with conservationists to protect endangered species. But because the law is so unreasoning and punitive, landowners have the incentive to go scorched earth. If you find a nest of a kangaroo rat, the incentive is not to preserve it, but to burn it quickly before the authorities find out and take control of your land.

Brian Seasholes, an ESA expert, said the current way the government designates critical habitats ends up hurting more species than it helps.

“Ironically, this decision will most likely end up harming the dusky gopher frog and many other endangered and at-risk species by causing more landowners take actions to avoid the Endangered Species Act’s draconian penalties,” Seasholes told TheDCNF.

Seasholes said landowners have taken drastic actions to keep endangered species off their lands, “including ‘scorched earth’ (destroying habitat), ‘shoot, shovel and shut-up’ (killing species), going silent, denying researchers and government personnel access to their land, and refusing to become involved in species conservation efforts.”

Furthermore, I confess that I don’t even understand the point of the Endangered Species Act. In all seriousness, what is the point of this law? Ostensibly it is to prevent species extinction, but extinction has always occurred since the beginning of life on Earth. Something like 99 percent of all the species that ever lived are extinct. Life on Earth is in a constant state of flux, with old species being replaced by new. To stop species extinction is simply not possible. So why even try?

Environmentalists argue that human activity has caused a dramatic increase in the rate of extinction. But the fact is that nobody really knows how much higher the extinction rate is now compared to the rate that prevailed prior to human civilization.

Some environmentalists claim that tens of thousands of species are going extinct every year.

In 1979, Berkeley ecologist Norman Myers published a book called “The Sinking Ark,” which claimed 40,000 species were disappearing each year. The next decade, a biologist who worked for the World Wildlife Fund predicted up to 20 percent of all species would disappear by the turn of the millennium. That didn’t happen, but the drumbeat of alarms continues: A much-publicized paper in 2004 warned that by 2050, climate change could put 1 million species at risk of extinction.

Stuart Pimm … published a paper this summer warning that species are currently dying off at 1,000 times the rate they were before the human era, and in the future are likely to perish at 10,000 times that rate.

These numbers, however, are just guesses and not based on documented extinctions. The amount of documented extinctions is comparatively tiny.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature, which keeps the most definitive list of extinct and threatened species, has counted just over 800 total confirmed animal extinctions since the year 1600.

So that’s an average of about two per year, not tens of thousands. And these are extinctions due to all causes, not just human activity. The late economist Julian Simon noted the following excerpt from a 1992 book written by two ecologists.

[F]orests of the eastern United States were
reduced over two centuries to fragments totalling 1-2% of their original extent…during this destruction, only three forest birds went extinct — the Carolina parakeet … the ivory-billed woodpecker … and the passenger pigeon …. Although deforestation certainly
contributed to the decline of all three species, it was probably not critical for the pigeon or the parakeet (Greenway, 1967). Why, then, would one predict massive extinction from similar destruction of tropical forest?
(Simberloff, 1992, p. 85)

Closer examination of the existing data on both well-and little-known groups, however, supports the affirmation that little or no species extinction has yet occurred (though some may be in very fragile persistence) in the Atlantic forests. Indeed, an appreciable
number of species considered extinct 20 years ago, including several birds and six butterflies, have been rediscovered more recently. (Brown and Brown, 1992, p.
128)

So 200 years of destruction and absolute devastation of the virgin forests of the eastern U.S. caused between one and three bird extinctions. That’s it.

Scientists don’t even know how many total species exist, as estimates range widely from 2 million to as many as 100 million. The claims of high extinction numbers are based on assumed species number near the high end of the range.

There’s a sense in which the big numbers, however, tend to work against the conservation argument. If there are 100 million species, and a huge number go extinct due to natural causes, why should humans bear significant costs in order to save just a few species here and there? Why should one frog make thousands of acres off limits to humans? Especially since that frog might be unlikely to survive the next glacial period, a few thousand years from now. Why should the timber industry be devastated because of the spotted owl?

And in any event, if we do care about insuring that these species do not disappear forever, we have the ability and technology to preserve their genetic line even if they can no longer live in the wild.

Don’t get me wrong; I like animals, and I’d be genuinely bummed if, say, rhinos or lions went extinct. I’m sure millions of other people feel the same way, and for that reason, it would be desirable to expend considerable resources to protect them.

The other consideration is how important the species might be to the broader ecosystem. So for instance, plankton dying out would be catastrophic because it would threaten whales and other marine animals.

It seems pretty clear, however, that trying to preserve any and every species with little or no regard to cost makes no sense. Yet that is essentially the mandate of the ESA, perhaps the most irrational law on the books.

The Bullying of Business

The ‘socialists of all parties,’ to borrow a phrase of F.A. Hayek’s, have often pursued their political objectives by vilifying and intimidating the business community. This has been the practice of socialists throughout history, and it is worth considering just a few of the innumerable historical examples.

When the U.S. economy entered a double-dip recession in 1937, Franklin Delano Roosevelt responded by scapegoating and bullying the capitalists.

Roosevelt went on in later weeks to speculate that the slowdown in investment was not economically explicable but was, rather, part of a political conspiracy against him, a “capital strike” designed to dislodge him from office and destroy the New Deal…In a reprise of his tactics in the “wealth tax” battle of 1935 and the electoral campaign of 1936, Roosevelt loosed Assistant Attorney General Robert Jackson, along with Ickes, to give a series of blistering speeches in December 1937. Ickes inveighed against Henry Ford, Tom Girdler and the “Sixty Families,”…Left unchecked, Ickes thundered, they would create “big-business Fascist America – an enslaved America.” For his part, Jackson decried the slump in private investment as “a general strike – the first general strike in America – a strike against the government – a strike to coerce political action.” Roosevelt even ordered an FBI investigation of possible criminal conspiracy in the alleged capitalist strike, but it revealed nothing of substance.

More recently, Democrats have been conducting an extended campaign to demonize the entire fossil fuel industry, blaming the industry for nothing less than ‘destroying the planet.’ In 2009, President Obama and other Democrats blamed rising health insurance costs on the profits and ‘greed’ of the insurance industry.

In Venezuela, a country with abundant natural resources, the population has been plunged into economic misery and deprivation as the culmination of a 17-year campaign of vilification of the business community.

Writing at the Claremont Review of Books, Fred Smith wonders why capitalists don’t do more to defend themselves from socialist attacks and smears.

Is it possible to persuade capitalists to advance their case confidently rather than apologetically? Perhaps, but often the business community cedes the moral high ground to leftist critics. Business does well at communicating its contributions in the economic sphere, but has failed to develop a moral and intellectual defense of its role in modern life.
[…]
Economist Deirdre McCloskey has pointed out that business spends a vast proportion of its resources on “persuasion”—marketing, advertising, deal-making, negotiating with suppliers and distributors, bargaining with unions, and interactions with regulatory officials. Devoting a small fraction of those persuasive talents to demonstrating the moral legitimacy of economic activity might greatly reduce firms’ political vulnerability. As Strassel makes clear, the “intimidation game” is not only a political struggle but a culture war, one the intimidators have dominated.
[…]
The American Liberty League, a well-funded, business-led campaign against the New Deal, enlisted prominent business and political leaders and published significant intellectual arguments. That effort was soundly defeated, however. Progressives demonized League members—pro-market business leaders, academics, and politicians—as “special interests” intent on thwarting the “public interest.”

America is still in many ways a capitalist economy, but the Progressives succeeded in introducing an anti-capitalist element into its culture. The growing number and stridency of business critics in the media and academy, popular culture, the regulatory agencies, the judiciary, and Congress illustrate this reality, as do attacks by Democrats and even some Republicans in the recent political campaign.

Unsurprisingly, businesses’ regulatory burden has grown steadily from the Sherman Antitrust Act to the Dodd-Frank and Obamacare rules of today. Compliance and accommodation does nothing to mute criticism of the private sector. Rather, from the Muckrakers to Naomi Klein, businessmen have been caricatured as greedy, shortsighted villains. Even the most honorable business leaders have become reluctant to defend their social role. Intimidating a group that doubts its own moral legitimacy is not difficult.

Fred references an idea of Joseph Schumpeter’s which states that capitalism is a victim of its own success. Ironically, it is the vast surplus generated by the success of capitalism that enables the existence of a parasitic class of academics, activists, and bureaucrats that resents capitalists and supports itself by attacking capitalism.

In his essay, “Can Capitalism Survive?” the economist Joseph Schumpeter noted that by the late 19th century capitalism’s vast economic growth had created the world’s first broad middle class. This development, in turn, led to an increasingly influential intellectual class comprising people who would come to envy and resent entrepreneurs’ material success. The knowledge that a more politicized economy would create great numbers of prestigious advisory roles they could fill, Schumpeter argued, guaranteed intellectuals’ hostility to capitalism.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, American Progressives were inspired by the welfare/regulatory state Bismarck established, especially by the way it provided intellectuals respect, power, and rewards. Inspired by their travels to or studies in Germany, Progressives sought to replace America’s “chaotic” laissez faire capitalism with a technocracy. They captured key cultural institutions, including the universities and the media. Entrepreneurs continued to create wealth, but America’s culture became more critical of business. As antipathy to commerce grew, so did government intervention in the economy.

By the way, Fred Smith is the founder of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Three years ago we hosted Fred as a guest speaker at UD, and we enjoyed chatting with him while consuming an after-dinner cigar.

Read Fred’s whole piece here.

Thanksgiving Pilgrims Rejected Socialism in favor of Private Enterprise

Here is our annual Thanksgiving day post.

With the Thanksgiving holiday now upon us, millions of children will hear the story of the First Thanksgiving of 1621. The standard story as told in schools and the media depicts the First Thanksgiving as a celebration of the Pilgrims’ successful harvest and cooperation with the Indians. What the schools do not teach, however, is that a fuller account of the Pilgrims’ story reveals a failure of socialism and a triumph of private property and free enterprise.

1024px-Thanksgiving-BrownscombeThe Plymouth Colony started as a type of commune, or socialist community.

The members of the Plymouth colony had arrived in the New World with a plan for collective property ownership. Reflecting the current opinion of the aristocratic class in the 1620s, their charter called for farmland to be worked communally and for the harvests to be shared.

Interestingly, the colonists’ communist ideology was derived not from Karl Marx, who had not yet been born, but from Plato.

The charter of the Plymouth Colony reflected the most up-to-date economic, philosophical and religious thinking of the early 17th century. Plato was in vogue then, and Plato believed in central planning by intellectuals in the context of communal property, centralized state education, state centralized cultural offerings and communal family structure…This collectivist impulse reflected itself in various heretical offshoots of Protestant Christianity with names like The True Levelers, and the Diggers, mass movements of people who believed that property and income distinctions should be eliminated, that the wealthy should have their property expropriated and given to what we now call the 99%.

The experiment in collectivism failed.

What resulted is recorded in the diary of Governor William Bradford, the head of the colony. The colonists collectively cleared and worked land, but they brought forth neither the bountiful harvest they hoped for, nor did it create a spirit of shared and cheerful brotherhood.

The less industrious members of the colony came late to their work in the fields, and were slow and easy in their labors. Knowing that they and their families were to receive an equal share of whatever the group produced, they saw little reason to be more diligent their efforts. The harder working among the colonists became resentful that their efforts would be redistributed to the more malingering members of the colony. Soon they, too, were coming late to work and were less energetic in the fields.

As Governor Bradford explained in his old English (though with the spelling modernized):

“For the young men that were able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children, without recompense. The strong, or men of parts, had no more division of food, clothes, etc. then he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labor, and food, clothes, etc. with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignant and disrespect unto them. And for men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc. they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could man husbands brook it.”

To their credit, the colonists finally realized their error and changed course. In their third year at Plymouth, the colonists re-introduced private property, and allowed families to keep or trade whatever surplus they produced. As a result, conditions for the colonists improved significantly. As Governor Bradford recorded in his diary

By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God. And the effect of their planting was well seen, for all had, one way or other, pretty well to bring the year about, and some of the abler sort and more industrious had to spare, and sell to others, so as any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day.

And Governor Bradford seems to have interpreted the experience of the colony as an empirical rejection of Platonic communism.

The experience that was had in this common course [common property] and condition, tried sundry years, and that amongst the Godly and sober men, may well convince of the vanity and conceit of Plato’s and other ancients; — that the taking away of property, and bringing into a common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort.

So there you have it; the lesson of the First Thanksgiving is a triumph of freedom arising out of a failed attempt at socialism. The story must be quite damaging to progressivism, because during the Thanksgiving season several years ago, a progressive propaganda sheet known as The New York Times attempted to refute it. The progressive counterargument is based on two main points. First, common property in the Plymouth Colony did not result in famine and the system was not a failure.

The arrangement did not produce famine. If it had, Bradford would not have declared the three days of sport and feasting in 1621 that became known as the first Thanksgiving.

Fair enough, but we also have Bradford’s own testimony, quoted above, that Platonic socialism had proved unworkable. Furthermore, if the socialist system had succeeded as progressives allege, how do they explain why the colonists abandoned it?

Bradford did get rid of the common course — but it was in 1623, after the first Thanksgiving, and not because the system wasn’t working. The Pilgrims just didn’t like it. In the accounts of colonists, Mr. Pickering said, “there was griping and groaning.”

“Bachelors didn’t want to feed the wives of married men, and women don’t want to do the laundry of the bachelors,” he said.

In other words, the system was working except that it was making people miserable, so they got rid of it. That sounds to us like a social system that has failed. And it failed for the very reason we would expect, namely, a Tragedy of the Commons that undermined incentives (“Bachelors didn’t want to feed the wives of married men…”).

Progressives’ second counterargument is that the Plymouth Colony, as a for-profit corporation, cannot fairly be deemed socialist.

Historians say that the settlers in Plymouth, and their supporters in England, did indeed agree to hold their property in common — William Bradford, the governor, referred to it in his writings as the “common course.” But the plan was in the interest of realizing a profit sooner, and was only intended for the short term; historians say the Pilgrims were more like shareholders in an early corporation than subjects of socialism.

“It was directed ultimately to private profit,” said Richard Pickering, a historian of early America…

Well, words have meaning, and a society that replaces private property with collective ownership of the means of production meets the textbook definition of socialism. If that’s not socialism, then the word has no meaning. This remains true even if the colony as a whole sought to make a profit by trading with the rest of the world. The Pilgrims may have been capitalists when it came to exporting furs, but the essential fact is that production for domestic consumption was organized as socialism.

This second argument of the progressives also underscores the weakness of their first argument, that “common course” had not failed. Because we can be sure that if common course had been a ringing success, progressive journalists wouldn’t be working to disassociate it from socialism. They’d be hailing it as a triumph of socialism.

In summary, the story of the First Thanksgiving illuminates two crucial and eternal truths. First, collectivism always fails. Second, progressives, to defend their socialist beliefs, will deploy the most appalling sophistry, specious reasoning, and intellectual dishonesty.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Reminder: Banks Facilitate Government Theft

Megan McArdle recently wrote an excellent piece on the threat to liberty posed by moving to a cashless society. One of her anecdotes also reminded us of an ancillary point that McArdle might not have intended to make–it’s shockingly easy for the government to seize your bank deposit.

When I was just starting out as a journalist, the State of New York swooped down and seized all the money out of one of my bank accounts. It turned out — much later, after a series of telephone calls — that they had lost my tax return for the year that I had resided in both Illinois and New York, discovered income on my federal tax return that had not appeared on my New York State tax return, sent some letters to that effect to an old address I hadn’t lived at for some time, and neatly lifted all the money out of my bank. It took months to get it back.

There doesn’t seem to be any indication here that McArdle’s bank tried to warn her or that the bank put up any resistance to the government. When government comes after your deposit, the bank readily surrenders. Poof! Your deposit’s gone.

Another example involves the ongoing seizures of people’s deposits for allegedly engaging in “structuring.”

Since 1970 the humorously named Bank Secrecy Act has required financial institutions to report deposits of $10,000 or more to the Treasury Department, because such large sums of cash are obviously suspicious. You know what else is suspicious? Deposits of less than $10,000, because they suggest an attempt to evade the government’s reporting requirement, which has been a federal crime, known as “structuring,” since 1986.

In 2012 a Nassau County, New York, detective decided the banking records of Bi-County Distributors, a family-owned business that sells cigarettes and candy to convenience stores, were “consistent with structuring.” That judgment was enough to trigger an IRS seizure of all the money in the account, which caused an immediate financial crisis for Bi-County’s owners, brothers Jeffrey, Richard, and Mitch Hirsch.

Here the government has enlisted the banks to serve as spies, reporting on your deposit activities, and when the government decides to seize your deposit, the bank readily accedes. There’s not even the slightest notion that the bank might have a legal or moral obligation to protect the assets of its client from the depredations of government.

Or consider Greece, where the government last summer restricted peoples’ access to their deposits by enforcing a withdrawal limit of 60 euros per day.

In contrast, the government would seemingly find it much more difficult to seize or restrict access to funds in a non-bank institution, such as a mutual fund or hedge fund. Even a credit union, though subject to government oversight, might offer marginally more protection.

Of course, the banks would argue that when they cooperate in government seizures they are merely following the law. But experience shows that banks themselves enjoy considerable ability to shape the laws that apply to them, and they appear quite comfortable operating with the current laws that designate them as an effective spy network and enforcement arm for the government.

The fact is that banks and government have always existed in a close and symbiotic relationship. Through the process of chartering, every bank owes its very existence to government. And banking remains the most highly regulated sector of the entire economy.

Even in the early 19th century, when American banking was still in its infancy, banks were chartered at the state level primarily for political purposes, and individual banks owed political allegiance to particular factions and politicians. When the federal government later created the system of national banks now comprising roughly half of all bank assets, the purpose was not to serve the interest of the public. The purpose of the national banking system was primarily to serve the interests of government by requiring the banks to lend to the government.

The bottom line is that banks, although privately owned, could be considered quasi-government institutions. (Even the Federal Reserve is technically privately owned.) When you put money in a bank deposit, you are essentially putting your money in the hands of the government. Indeed, probably no asset is easier for the government to seize than a bank deposit.

Just something to keep in mind.

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It’s Official: Law Enforcement in America Steals More than Burglars

And yes, we do mean steal, because the vast majority of assets that law enforcement seizes are those of people who have not been convicted or even charged with a crime.

We believe it was Albert Jay Nock who wrote, roughly a century ago, that government seeks not to abolish crime, but to monopolize it.

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Note: The graph (sourced from here) reflects only assets seized by federal law enforcement, and does not include hundreds of millions of dollars seized by state and local law enforcement.

 

 

Socialists: Out of Date by Centuries

The Washington Post recently published an attack on capitalism entitled “Tired of Capitalism? There Could be a Better Way.” What people should be tired of by now are the same old arguments against capitalism. This article rehashes arguments on property and labor markets that have been endlessly repeated–and refuted–since about 1840. But thanks to the Washington Post, we get to hear yet again about how capitalism ‘exploits’ workers.

When the physical resources necessary for production are privately held in the hands of very few, as in the United States, the majority of the population is forced to submit itself to well-financed employers in order to live. The precarious position of most workers in this position — desperate for employment but aware that they could lose their jobs at any time — is coercive on its face and susceptible to exploitation and abuse.
Labor protection in the form of safety laws, collective bargaining and prohibitions against harassment and discrimination have helped cut down on many of the worst employer abuses. But no amount of labor regulation can ever undo the fact that workers are confronted daily with the choice between obeying a supervisor or losing all their income. The only way to break the coercion at the core of the employment relationship is to give people the genuine ability to say no to their employers. And the only way to make that feasible is to guarantee that working-age adults, at least, have some way to support themselves whether they work or not.

We’re ready to bet a substantial sum that the author of this piece, Matt Bruenig, has never had a job in business where he had authority to hire people. If he had, he would know that a huge problem for businesses is retaining employees after spending a lot on hiring and training them. The fact is that workers already have “the genuine ability to say no to their employers.” They can quit, and thousands do so every day, often to their employer’s dismay. Workers quit in most cases because they have already found, or expect to find, another job. In other words, there is competition among employers for their services.

This competition for workers explains why the vast majority of employees earn more than the legal minimum wage. The author says that “the majority of the population is forced to submit itself to well-financed employers” and that “workers are confronted daily with the choice between obeying a supervisor or losing all their income.” But the other side of that transaction is that the employer is confronted daily with the choice between keeping his workers happy or losing them to another employer. As a result, employers must pay market wages, which for almost all workers are well above the legal minimum.

The Pew organization found that all but 2.6% of employees earn more than the minimum. Even this figure overstates those who earn only the minimum because some of these workers get extra income from tips. The real figure is somewhere between 1.2 and 2.6 percent; call it roughly 2 percent. If employers really have employees at their mercy, then why do they pay 98% of them more than the legal minimum? The answer is competition.

What protects workers is not primarily “safety laws, collective bargaining and prohibitions against harassment and discrimination.” What protects workers is competition among employers for their services. As a result, anyone who truly cares about workers should oppose socialism. Full-fledged socialism replaces competition among private employers with employment only by the state. When the state becomes the only employer, then the worker becomes subject to coercion and exploitation. State socialism, not free enterprise, is precisely the situation in which the worker is “confronted daily with the choice between obeying” and utter destruction. As Trotsky wrote of state socialism, “The old principle: who does not work shall not eat, has been replaced with a new one: who does not obey shall not eat.”

The author of the Washington Post piece calls for alleviating poverty with government welfare programs. Another fresh new idea from the 19th century! As if America did not already have dozens of means-tested welfare programs on which we spend nearly a trillion dollars every year. The author wants people to “have some way to support themselves whether they work or not,” as if America did not already have welfare, social security, and literally millions of people living on often-phony SSI disability claims.

By now, it is well established that capitalism is fundamentally built upon threats of force. As libertarian philosophers Robert Nozick and Matt Zwolinski have explained, the only way to turn unowned natural resources (such as land, minerals and other goods) into privately owned property is by violently preventing all others from using them.

Although the author cites modern writers, this idea that property is coercive and a form of theft goes back to at least 1840 and the writings of the French theorist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. It’s amazing; for socialists like Matt Bruenig we’re always living in the Marxist-Dickensian world of the 19th century with grinding poverty, no welfare state, and no billions of people yet lifted out of poverty by capitalism–including hundreds of millions in China alone. Socialists are not just years out of date; they are centuries out of date.

Maybe by the year 2525–if man is still alive–capitalism will have terraformed Mars for human habitation and some scruffy Red professor at Red Planet University will still be droning on about capitalist ‘exploitation.’

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Civil Forfeiture at Airports Too

We’ve heard about civil forfeiture at the roadside and on trains, but of course the Feds have not forgotten planes as well. Basically, it is now illegal in America to travel at all with large amounts of cash. That’s in addition to the apparent crime of making multiple cash withdrawls of less than $10,000 from a bank account.

The following story hits hits home for us because it involves an airport that we frequent.

Carrying large amounts of cash is not a crime, yet thousands of Americans who do so are being treated like criminals. Law enforcement officials are using civil forfeiture to seize the cash of domestic travelers at airports, like 24-year-old Charles Clarke. Charles had $11,000 seized at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport in 2014.

In February 2014, law enforcement officials took Charles’ entire life savings right before he was scheduled to board a flight, and they have kept his money for over a year.

[…]

Charles saved his money for the past five years from financial aid, various jobs, educational benefits based on his mother’s status as a disabled veteran and gifts from family. Charles was visiting relatives in Cincinnati while he and his mother were moving to a new apartment back in Florida. He did not want to lose the $11,000, so he took it with him. On his way home, law enforcement officials at the airport seized Charles’ money because they claimed his checked bag smelled like marijuana. Although Charles was a recreational smoker at the time, the officers did not find any drugs or anything illegal on his person or in his carry-on or checked bag. The government should have to prove that Charles committed a crime if it wants to keep his money.

“Carrying cash is not a crime,” explained IJ Attorney Darpana Sheth. “No one should lose their life savings when no drugs or evidence of any crime are found on them or their belongings.”

Since the late 1990s, the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport police took part in a couple dozen seizures per year—but by 2013 that figure skyrocketed to almost 100 seizures, totaling more than $2 million.

Almost 100 seizures at just one airport, and an airport that is not even particularly large. That’s an average of two seizures a week. Amazing. We’ll never view Cincinnati airport the same way again.

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NYU Prof Advocates Property Theft

Socialists at New York University, following in the footsteps of UD, are currently in the process of pushing their university to divest its endowment from fossil fuels. On the divestiture group’s website, NYU Professor Christian Parenti writes the following.

Divestment by colleges and universities indicates a broad and mainstream concern about the climate crisis. It is a powerful symbolic act that reminds our law makers that the fossil fuel industry needs to be tightly regulated, stripped of subsidies, then put out of business and replaced with a new clean energy system.

That project, rebuilding our energy system, is not as far-fetched as it sounds. We have three of the four components we need to make the transition. We have the technology, for example commercial scale solar and wind power. We have the money, the American private sector is sitting on more uninvested  cash than at any time since such records were kept…

Here is our open letter to Professor Parenti.

Dear Professor Parenti:

We’re not sure which specific assets “uninvested cash” (as opposed to “invested cash”?) refers to, but in any event, that money is not yours. As you point out, that money belongs to the private sector; it is the property of your fellow citizens. Your fellow citizens have a right to their property. The right to property is indeed a fundamental and inalienable human right. You may not personally believe in property rights, but those rights exist regardless of what NYU professors might believe.

As a consequence, you and your friends have no right to take the property of others and use it for your own purpose, even if that purpose is a good one, and even if you conduct a vote in advance. To do so would be theft.

We suspect you would not be happy if your fellow citizens took an inventory of your personal property and decided that some of your assets could be put to better use. We ask that you therefore extend the same consideration to your fellow citizens as you would expect from them.

Very few of us, probably not even you, professor, would want to live in a society that does not respect property rights. In such a society, despots would rule by terror and force, and the rest of us would have nothing–no property, no freedom, and no rights.

That’s why the U.S. Constitution, and specifically the Fifth Amendment, recognizes explicitly the right to property.

No person shall be…deprived of…property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Again, you may not personally approve of that constitutional right, but it nonetheless exists, regardless of what you believe. And you can fully expect those of us who do cherish those rights to fight to the death to defend them.

Thank you and have a nice day.

Sincerely yours,

Marc Poitras

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IRS Thievery Continues

We’ve written before about how the IRS uses “deposit structuring” as an excuse to seize (civil forfeiture) the bank deposits of Americans who have committed no crime. (See here and here.) After some damaging publicity last fall, including an exposé in the New York Times, the IRS promised to stop the unwarranted deposit seizures. The Institute for Justice, however, reports that the IRS seizures have not stopped.

Violation of citizens’ rights is unlawful. Nothing in the law requires the IRS to make these unwarranted seizures. These seizures are the willful policy of President Obama’s IRS.

We have a dream. We dream of a day when somebody in the White House press corps will momentarily drop the lap-dog routine and commit a random act of journalism by asking President Obama if he approves of IRS thievery, and if not, what he intends to do about it.

Anyway, we can dream.

spacemanExit questions: Who is SpiffTheSpaceman, and can we send him to Washington, DC, in some official capacity?

Police Use Department Wish List When Deciding Which Assets to Seize

No, we are not making this stuff up.  Here is the story in today’s New York Times:

The seminars offered police officers some useful tips on seizing property from suspected criminals. Don’t bother with jewelry (too hard to dispose of) and computers (“everybody’s got one already”), the experts counseled. Do go after flat screen TVs, cash and cars. Especially nice cars.

In one seminar, captured on video in September, Harry S. Connelly Jr., the city attorney of Las Cruces, N.M., called them “little goodies.” And then Mr. Connelly described how officers in his jurisdiction could not wait to seize one man’s “exotic vehicle” outside a local bar.

“A guy drives up in a 2008 Mercedes, brand new,” he explained. “Just so beautiful, I mean, the cops were undercover and they were just like ‘Ahhhh.’ And he gets out and he’s just reeking of alcohol. And it’s like, ‘Oh, my goodness, we can hardly wait.’ ”

Mr. Connelly was talking about a practice known as civil asset forfeiture, which allows the government, without ever securing a conviction or even filing a criminal charge, to seize property suspected of having ties to crime. The practice, expanded during the war on drugs in the 1980s, has become a staple of law enforcement agencies because it helps finance their work. It is difficult to tell how much has been seized by state and local law enforcement, but under a Justice Department program, the value of assets seized has ballooned to $4.3 billion in the 2012 fiscal year from $407 million in 2001. Much of that money is shared with local police forces

Hmm.  What could go wrong with that system?