A good start.

Photographer: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Holder Lets Go of Some Cash

Megan McArdle is a Bloomberg View columnist. She wrote for the Daily Beast, Newsweek, the Atlantic and the Economist and founded the blog Asymmetrical Information. She is the author of "“The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.”
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Civil asset forfeiture has become a growing problem with law enforcement agencies. Note that I do not say it has become a growing problem for law enforcement agencies; they love it. Often the cash and other valuables seized go to the agencies that do the seizing. The potential for abuse is obvious, and as with so many obvious things, it has been acted upon. Essentially, the government turned to mugging people who made the mistake of carrying a lot of cash around. 

The program has its origin in an understandable desire for better law enforcement tools to combat drug gangs and other forms of violent organized crime. But as Nietsche said, we must beware that in fighting monsters, we do not ourselves become monsters. And there is some good news for us monster-haters: Eric Holder has decided to radically curtail a federal revenue-sharing program that gave local law enforcement agencies incentives to seize assets whenever they could. Agencies will still be able to perform civil asset forfeitures under state law, but that money often goes to the general fund rather than the agencies themselves, which lessens the incentives for indiscriminate seizures. This move won't fix all the problems with asset forfeiture statutes, but at least it's a good start.

Libertarians like to say that the nearest thing to immortality on this earth is a government program. Programs change their names or get absorbed into bigger programs, but they rarely just die. I'm pleased to see that there's an exception to this rule, and it's one that really matters. We're all a little bit more free today.

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To contact the author on this story:
Megan McArdle at mmcardle3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net