The Libertarians Are Not All Wrong

I’m fond of making sport of libertarians, but they are not wrong about everything. In fact, I’d go so far as to say most libertarian arguments are mostly right, when they bother to make them. But, that’s a story for another day. The one thing they have right is that every new law leads to a new abuse, because all state power is abused eventually. Here is a classic example of the phenomenon.

An Iowa widow is charged with a crime and had nearly $19,000 seized from her bank after depositing her late husband’s legally earned money in a way that evaded federal reporting requirements.

Janet Malone, 68, of Dubuque, is facing civil and criminal proceedings under a law intended to help investigators track large sums of cash tied to criminal activity such as drug trafficking and terrorism. But some members of Congress and libertarian groups have complained that the IRS and federal prosecutors are unfairly using it against ordinary people who deposit lawfully obtained money in increments below $10,000.

At issue is a law requiring banks to report deposits of more than $10,000 cash to the federal government. Anyone who breaks deposits into increments below that level to avoid the requirement is committing a crime known as “structuring” — whether their money is legal or not.

The IRS has increasingly used civil forfeiture proceedings to seize money from individuals and small businesses suspected of structuring violations, according to a review by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian group. The agency seized $242 million in 2,500 cases from 2005 to 2012 — a third of which arose from nothing more than cash transactions under $10,000. Nearly half was returned after owners challenged the action, often a year later.

Some of the depositors had broken up the deposits to save their bankers from having to submit paperwork or because they mistakenly believed it was a way to avoid unwarranted government scrutiny. The Treasury Department receives millions of reports every year, and deposits above the $10,000 threshold incur no additional fees or taxes.

Facing criticism of the practice, the IRS announced in October that investigators would no longer seize funds in cases involving legal sources of money “unless there are exceptional circumstances” and would focus on illegal sources. A U.S. House subcommittee is expected to hear testimony about the practice Wednesday, at a hearing called, “Protecting Small Businesses from IRS Abuse.”

Larry Salzman, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, criticized the government’s case against Malone given its declared shift in practice.

“This is shocking because it demonstrates that prosecutors are not taking seriously the IRS’ alleged policy change not to prosecute legal source structuring,” he said.

Of course not. The people in these jobs are horrible people. In another era, they would be robbing travelers or accusing the local hag of being a witch. Five minutes with this old couple and the agents involved knew exactly what was happening. They were harmless old coots with some eccentric ideas, but that’s it. But, we’re dealing with government employees, tinpot tyrants with a badge that enjoy harassing an old women.

The reasons for passing these laws are well known. The people in the IRS and the FBI all know the laws are to help keep up with drug dealers and organized criminals. They know that, but it is hard chasing drug dealers, terrorists and gangsters. Instead, they go after old women, small business people and dentists. These people are willfully, knowingly abusing the law. The worse part is the people who wrote the laws do nothing about it. They just laugh.

The great Bob Novak said it best. Love your country, but hate your government.

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5 years ago

I try not to attribute to malice what could be best explained by ignorance or incompetence. But we are talking about the federal government after all.

5 years ago

See also the Federal Government Swat Team raiding Gibson guitars with full automatic weapons for what turns out to be no legal reason. I for one am glad those dangerous luthiers were brought under control. Now moving targets like jihidis, that’s a more difficult task than stationary craftsmen.

5 years ago

I always liked Novak, especially when he got all fired up and sprayed spit all over the place when he talked.