David R. Henderson  

Tennessee's Roving Bandits

Two Favorite Lines of the Week... David Friedman on Markets vs. ...

Check out this video news story about Tennessee police stopping people and taking their money for keeps, simply on the suspicion that the money was earned on illegal drugs. The whole thing is well worth watching. Here are nine highlights in chronological order, not necessarily in order of importance:

1. 1:45: Asked if taking people's money "is a way to make money," District Attorney General Kim Helper can't quite bring herself to say yes. It's not, apparently, because she has an Ayn Rand-style attachment to the idea that "making money" means doing something productive. No, but she essentially admits it in her answer that "it is a way to fund our operations."

2. 2:18: "Is it OK to" search your vehicle? What happened to "Just say no?"

3. 2:35: Good to see Scott Bullock of the Institute for Justice speaking out against this.

4. 3:07: One of the county governments that "makes" money from taking it from people is the government of "Cheatham." You can't make this stuff up.

5. 3:10: "Can I search your truck and trailer?" Hmmm. I wonder what the right answer is.

6. 4:25: Notice how hard it is to fight this taking of private property without directly fighting against the drug war. While I'm sympathetic to Scott Bullock, does anyone doubt that if the cops manage to take a huge part of the money from the drug war, that's as good, from the viewpoint of fighting the drug war, as taking the drugs?

7. 4:30 to 5:10: This is the roving bandits part: police agencies fighting each other for the money and one of them threatening (I presume illegal) violence against another. Check here for a pdf of Mancur Olson's classic article on roving vs. stationary bandits.

8. 5:07: Dickson police chief Ricky Chandler says "Competition can be a good thing as long as you don't violate any person's rights." Well, yes. I think Mr. Chandler needs a little remedial Locke.

9. 6:25: Preview of cop shaking down driver: I won't ask you about drugs if you just give me the money.

Kudos to reporter Phil Williams of NewsChannel 5 in Nashville, Tennessee.

HT to Bob Murphy.

Comments and Sharing


COMMENTS (10 to date)
nazgulnarsil writes:

The DEA has been raiding medical marijuana facilities in many states and confiscating money without arresting anyone or filing any charges.

joewilliams writes:

This sort of thing has been going on for a long time (decades), and not just in TN. In college in the 90s, me and some friends used to take long road trips to the riverboat casinos to play poker, and we would take thousands in cash with us. After the first time getting a lot of money confiscated, we did everything we could to avoid being pulled over for any reason in a southern state. It had the side effect that we drove a lot slower, I suppose.

SkippyMaximus writes:


This is insane...and that's being polite.

Not only is this one of the most unconstitutional things I've ever seen in the U.S., the police are acting like the mafia with badges.

"Just give me the money, and I'll look the other way, capice?"

I enjoyed when the spokesman for the police said "competition is a good thing..." I thought to myself, yes, we should look into hiring a privately-funded police force to give you a little competition.

Thanks for this post!

David R. Henderson writes:

Sorry that happened to you. The new twist on this one, though, that I hadn't seen before, and what gave rise to the title was the almost violent competition between police forces.
"Mafia with badges." Good line.

Doc Merlin writes:

Yes, competition in looting leads to more looting:-( This is why overlapping jurisdiction is as bad idea. The whole idea of federalism was that the federal government wouldn't have jurisdiction over what the states looted (intrastate commerce) and the states not have it over the what the federal government looted (interstate commerce). This all changed in the 30's, but between ww2 and the 1970's the concurrent jurisdiction decreased, then since the 1970's its been mostly an increase in the scope of the concurrency (with a small drop during Regan's first term).

Joe Cushing writes:

Andrew Napolitano has been talking about this for some time. I'd like to see him as president or chief justice.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Joe Cushing,
Andrew Napolitano as chief justice would be great. Can you imagine? I'm picturing him bouncing off his seat as he asks lawyers questions.

Joe Cushing writes:

I just switched over to cafe Hayek and found them talking about a case in Michigan about the same topic. It's a terrible injustice and it is very unAmerican. It's the kind of thing that makes blood boil. I think it would end if if were more widely known.

DA Munroe writes:
does anyone doubt that if the cops manage to take a huge part of the money from the drug war, that's as good, from the viewpoint of fighting the drug war, as taking the drugs?

Yes, I doubt it.
Supply is still there. Demand is still there. Importers, runners, dealers, and users are all still there and still wanting to do business with each other. The only difference is that there's now another middle man, hanging around like Tony Soprano, with his hand out, taking his cut as well.

This will have zero effect on the drug trade.

The key is to enforce laws. Arrest and charge people when they break the law, don't arrest or charge them when they dont break the law.

Terilyn writes:

I really need help with this police stealing...

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