The Instrument of Plunder

“How is it that the law enforcer itself does not have to keep the law? How is it that the law permits the state to lawfully engage in actions which, if undertaken by individuals, would land them in jail?” — Frédéric Bastiat, from his 1850 pamphlet, “The Law.”

In July 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency decided that federal law allows it to “garnish non-Federal wages to collect delinquent non-tax debts owed the United States without first obtaining a court order.” The EPA claims this new authority by citing the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996, approved under the Clinton administration.

Apparently, the DCIA gives all federal agencies the power to conduct administrative wage garnishment. The agency also pointed to a Department of Treasury rule from 2011 outlining debt collection for various agencies, including the EPA.

“Administrative Wage Garnishment would apply only after EPA attempts to collect delinquent debts and after Treasury attempts to collect delinquent debts through other means prior to any action,” giving the debtor the opportunity to “review, contest or enter into a repayment agreement.”

Americans have had to contend with such actions before. In fact, this same thing was addressed in a list of grievances by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence: “He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent out hither Swarms of Officers to harass our People, and eat out their Substance,” as well as “imposing Taxes on us without our Consent.”

The amount of money the EPA has collected in fines has increased steadily since President Obama took office. In 2012, the agency took in $252 million in fines, up from just $96 million in 2009.

This is what Bastiat meant when he also wrote, “It is impossible to introduce into society a greater change and a greater evil than this: the conversion of the law into an instrument of plunder.”

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