Promoted from the diaries by streiff. Promotion does not imply endorsement.
As the ever-growing gaggle of Democratic presidential candidates continues to move ever-leftward, looking for some desperate way to find that niche to pick up an advantage which will translate to votes in the primaries, the subject of reparations for slavery has once again reared its head.
Slavery ended in this country in 1865; there is no one alive today who was an American slave, nor are there any slaveowners alive. There are no soldiers who fought in the War Between the States left alive. The way the math works out, there is a very small possibility there could be the child of someone born into slavery still alive today, but such a person would very old.¹
But, it doesn’t matter: many of the candidates are raising the subject. From The New York Times:
The idea of economic amends for past injustices and persistent disparities is getting renewed attention. Here are some formulas for achieving the aim.
By Patricia Cohen | May 23, 2019 | A version of this article appears in print on May 26, 2019, on Page BU1 of the New York edition with the headline: Reparations for Slavery: Visions for Today.
If you’re surprised that the issue of reparations for black Americans has taken so long to resolve, blame the president. President Andrew Johnson.
As the Civil War wound down in 1865, Gen. William T. Sherman made the promise that would come to be known as “40 acres and a mule” — redistributing a huge tract of Atlantic coastline to black Americans recently freed from bondage. President Abraham Lincoln and Congress gave their approval, and soon 40,000 freedmen in the South had started to plant and build.
Within months of Lincoln’s assassination, though, President Johnson rescinded the order and returned the land to its former owners. Congress made another attempt at compensation, but Johnson vetoed it.
Now, in the early phase of the 2020 presidential campaign, the question of compensating black Americans for suffering under slavery and other forms of racial injustice has resurfaced. The current effort focuses on a congressional bill that would commission a study on reparations, a version of legislation first introduced in 1989. Several Democratic presidential hopefuls have declared their support, including Senators Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.
If this latest revival has excited supporters, it has worried some party moderates who fear that such an effort would alienate many voters. Polls have shown a big deficit in popular support. While a majority of black Americans in a 2016 Marist poll supported reparations, whites rejected it by an overwhelming margin.
Though the Times article only mentioned the poll, I followed the link: white Americans believed that reparations should not be paid by an 81% to 15% margin, with 5% unsure. Black Americans favored reparations by a 58% to 35% margin, with 7% unsure. Interestingly enough, Latino Americans, another minority group, but many of whom would not qualify to receive the reparations, very slightly opposed them, 47% to 46%, with 6% unsure.
Perhaps the most revealing paragraph was a short one:
The reparations issue raises profound moral, social and political considerations. Still, the economic nuts and bolts of such a program have gotten scant public attention: Who would be paid? How much? Where would the money come from?
Yeah, from where would the money come? At least the article was honest enough about that, in the next to last paragraph:
The biggest economic objection is that any meaningful program would be unaffordable. Like other government spending, reparations would ultimately be paid for by some kind of tax or fee, or borrowing, say, through government bonds. Such a program would almost certainly require increasing the federal debt and be structured over time.
OK, perhaps that wasn’t quite as honest as I’d have liked to see: when the author mentioned “some kind of tax or fee,” she nevertheless paid no attention to just who pays those taxes or fees. When she mentioned “borrowing,” she seemed unconcerned with just who would have to pay back those borrowed funds.
And this is where the case for reparations really falls through. Miss Cohen told us not only about the evils of slavery, but about persistent de facto and de jure discrimination after emancipation. But much of that unraveled in the 1950s and 1960s. Brown v Board of Education 347 U.S. 483, was decided in 1954. The United States passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965. To put that in perspective, I didn’t turn eighteen until 1971, and I’m retired now.
Why is that important? Because the people who are still working, the people who would have to pay those taxes or fees didn’t enter the workforce until legal discrimination was outlawed, (most) schools were integrated, private businesses were declared to be public accommodations, making it actionable to discriminate against people in pricing, service or sales, and Affirmative Action was enacted. The people paying taxes today are not those who were benefiting from discrimination, but the first few generations whose lives were changed by anti-discrimination efforts and, in some cases, discriminated against in the name of Affirmative Action.
In paying reparations to people whose great- and great, great-grandparents were enslaved, the advocates would charge the great, great-grandchildren of the people who lived in the mid nineteenth century, most of whom were never slave owners. In paying reparations to people whose fathers and grandfathers were discriminated against in the 1930s and 40s, the advocates would charge the people were not the ones who discriminated against black Americans.
The Times article proposes a standard by which those who would receive reparations would be set:
William A. Darity Jr., an economist at Duke University and a leading scholar on reparations, suggests two qualifying conditions: having at least one ancestor who was enslaved in the United States, and having identified oneself as African-American on a legal document for at least a decade before the approval of any reparations. The 10-year rule, he said, would help screen out anyone trying to cash in on a windfall.
I suppose that would mean Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Sussex would be owed reparations!
The definition would seem to exclude anyone whose earliest (known) American ancestor did not arrive on our shores until 1866 or later. By the same logic, shouldn’t it also exclude anyone whose earliest known American ancestor did not arrive until 1866 from having to pay taxes for reparations?
No such exclusion was suggested in the article. We are simply supposed to assume that all white people in the United States are guilty.
This is the underlying problem with reparations. Even if we assume that the calls for reparations are simply a matter of perceived justice, rather than opportunistic venality,² reparations would penalize not those who committed the injustices, but their several generations later progeny. More, they would punish those whose ancestors were not only in no way connected with slavery, but whose families did not get to the United States long after slavery was abolished, perhaps well after Jim Crow was abolished as well, simply because they are white.
The problem is that those who see reparations as simple justice are attempting to create that justice via the mechanism of injustice. The perpetrators of American slavery are a century and more in their graves. Other than the silliness of taking George Washington’s and Thomas Jefferson’s names off of buildings — a punishment those two gentlemen do not feel in the slightest — there is nothing which can be done to former slaveowners. All that the ‘reparationists’ can do is try to exact their pound of flesh from descendants who had nothing to do with slavery or even Jim Crow.
Two wrongs, we have been taught, do not somehow make a right. That’s a lesson the reparationists seem not to have learned.
¹ – If we assume that a baby born into slavery just before the surrender at Appomattox Court House fathered a child at age 60, a very late age, that child would have been born in 1926. A person born in 1926 would be 93 years old today.
² – I do not so assume, but simply have for the purposes of this article.
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