Civil Asset Forfeiture

"Asset forfeiture, drug legalization, and the mainstreaming of libertarian ideas"


The "Libertarian Moment" proceeds apace, writes Ilya Somin at The Washington Post's Volokh Conspiracy blog, as asset forfeiture takes center stage in policy debates:

As in the case of drug legalization, asset forfeiture reform is a cause long-championed by libertarians, which has recently hit the mainstream. The Institute for Justice, a prominent libertarian public interest law firm, has highlighted the issue for years, and is currently spearheading both legal and legislative challenges to the system. Similarly, libertarians have for decades advocated abolishing the War on Drugs; at times, they were almost the only ones doing so, with the exception of a few on the far left. But only recently has this idea begun to attract widespread mainstream public and elite support.

Somin, who teaches law at George Mason University, occasionally contributes to Reason, and is regularly cited in our pages, sagely notes:

…libertarians have successfully helped put these issues on the political agenda, it remains to be seen whether they and their new allies on the left and right will be able to push through effective reforms. In both cases, there is a danger that newfound public interest in the issue will be quiesced by merely cosmetic changes that only marginally improve the situation. And, obviously, the majority of non-libertarians do not – so far – fully endorse the libertarian approach to these issues, which calls for the complete abolition of both civil asset forfeiture and the War on Drugs. Still, the two cases are dramatic examples of previously marginalized libertarian ideas becoming a part of mainstream political discourse.

Read the full thing.

He's right to fret that real reform will be difficult to achieve (often a pessimist, he remains a skeptic of whether state-level eminent-domain reforms have worked).

But his larger point about libertarian ideas being mainstreamed is inarguable and cause for optimism. It's essential to recognize that what we at call the Libertarian Moment (or Era) is not fundamentally about politics but about larger currents in American and society that will ultimately inform politics and policy.

Growing out a huge set of massive and inter-connected social, demographic, economic, and technological changes, the Libertarian Moment is about power being spread throughout the system and end-users making more and more decisions about how they want to live. When Matt Welch and I first started yapping about the Libertarian Moment back in December 2008, we were in the throes of the financial panic. George W. Bush was launching TARP and auto bailouts, both of which came only after endless incursions on choice and freedom in the political arena. Barack Obama had just won the White House (giving the Democrats full legislative control of the federal government) on the promise of massive stimulus spending and a national health system. The point isn't that there are not endless examples of expansive government. It's that

folks are still getting on with their lives regardless, asking less permission and figuring out workarounds to live the lives they prefer (this is the large point of my and Matt Welch's Declaration of Independents). And if you don't understand that such attitudes are growing and flourishing in every aspect of contemporary America—in churches, in business, in education, in entertainment, you name it—you'll never understand that it's coming soon to politics too.

This is where we are, even as a largely unreconstructed GOP is poised to capture the Senate. Libertarian issues and sentiments are popping up all over the place in spite of attempts by pols and partys and vested interests to maintain the status quo. Such issues and sentiments have already swept through virtually all aspects of American life: work, love, family, culture, you name it—all are more varied, expressive, and accommodating of difference and choice than ever before. Politics is the endgame and it's already underway.