As a general rule, if total liabilities and costs incurred in seizing a real property or business exceed the value of the property, the property should not be seized.

This is from Ryan Devereaux and Spencer Woodman, “Leaked ICE Guide Offers Unprecedented View of Agency’s Asset Forfeiture Tactics,” The Intercept, October 13, 2017.

This is actually not a bad criterion for a cost/benefit analysis. But what makes it flawed is that, I’m willing to bet dollars to doughnuts, they mismeasure the value of the property and badly mismeasure the cost. The value is the value in its current use. If that were not the value, it would be in a different use. And so the value will typically be above the market price. But their big, big mistake is in not counting the cost right. They say they want “total costs and liabilities.” Total costs include the loss to the person from whom the asset was seized. That is, the total cost includes the value to the owner. So with even a penny of transactions cost, the total liabilities and costs will exceed the value of the property. By ICE’s own standards, therefore, it should never seize property.