Three principles. The first is Stein’s Law: if something can’t go on forever, it won’t. The second is that governing is ruled by the law of unintended consequences. The third is that expanding government power will ultimately be tyrannical inasmuch as its exercise of its power will become increasingly capricious. Governments can be remarkably creative when it comes to dipping their hands into our pockets.

What brings this on? This remarkable story by Sarah Stillman in The New Yorker dealing with “civil forfeiture,” by which local authorities have essentially grabbed citizens’ property with impunity. The principle of civil forfeiture, originally a strategy employed in the Reagan “war on drugs” (why conservatives insist on thinking of Reagan as one of them is beyond me), has been expanded in such a way that municipalities are confiscating wealth directly and terrorizing innocent persons in the process.

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Jeffrey Polet
Jeffrey Polet grew up in an immigrant household in the immigrant town of Holland MI. After twenty years of academic wandering he returned to Holland and now teaches political science at Hope College, where he also grudgingly serves as chair of the department, having unsuccessfully evaded all requests. In the interim, he continues to nurture quirky beliefs: Division III basketball is both athletically and morally superior to Division I; the Hope/Calvin rivalry is the greatest in sports; the lecture is still the best form of classroom instruction; never buy a car with less than 100,000 miles on it; putts will still lip out in heaven; bears are the incarnation of evil; Athens actually has something to do with Jerusalem; and Tombstone is a cinematic classic. His academic work has mirrored his peripatetic career. Originally trained at the Catholic University of America in German philosophy and hermeneutical theory, he has since gravitated to American Political Thought. He still occasionally writes about European thinkers such as Michel Foucault or the great Max Weber, but mostly is interested in the relationship between theological reflection and political formation in the American context. In the process of working on a book on John Marshall for The Johns Hopkins University Press, he became more sensitive to the ways in which centralized decision-making undid local communities and autonomy. He has also written on figures such as William James and the unjustly neglected Swedish novelist Paer Lagerkvist. A knee injury and arthritis eliminated daily basketball playing, and he now spends his excess energy annoying his saintly wife and their three children, two of whom are off to college. Expressions of sympathy for the one who remains can be posted in the comments section. He doesn’t care too much for movies, but thinks opera is indeed the Gesamtkuntswerk, that the music of Gustav Mahler is as close as human beings get to expressing the ineffable, that God listens to Mozart in his spare time, and that Bach is history’s greatest genius.


  1. Later when I have a few minutes I’ll be glad to explain why we conservatives consider St. Ronald to be one of us, even though he did some very un-conservative things like you describe. And this is not the worst of it.

    But by putting a comment here now, I can get notification of follow-up comments, which will remind me to explain later.

  2. That such an obvious conflict of interests could be enacted into law is absolutely stunning. The author points out that in states where civil forfeiture proceeds are put into generic statewide funds (for, say, education) that the abuses seem much smaller. No kidding.

    We have arrived at a state of affairs where the very institutions that are tasked with prosecuting the “war on drugs” are utterly dependent on illegal drug profits for their day-to-day operations. Note the accounts of true drug-money launderers being set free without charges after the cash is confiscated. An effective parasite never kills its host.

    Enough is enough. It’s time to end drug prohibition.

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