Systemic Racism: a Rationalist Take (Part 8 of 9)


To my mind, the inheritance of slavery, segregation, and other forms of discrimination against African-Americans means that something is owed to the descendants of slaves irrespective of the current reality or existence of “systemic racism.” All emotions carefully kept aside, refusing to subscribe to present-day irrationality, I am persuaded that if I looked into the matter, I would find a material debt. I mean that once you have accounted for the real costs of maintaining slaves and deducting that amount from what free labor would have cost to perform the same tasks at the same level, I would find a certain quantity of unpaid wages. As a conservative, I believe that unpaid wages should be paid, and paid with interest. A very good book published in the seventies pretty much did the work I describe in commendable detail: Robert Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman: Time on the Cross.

Specialized economists and actuarians – whose job it is – could arrive at a rough but good approximation of the amount owed to descendants of slaves because of unpaid wages. The approximation would, of course, take into account some reasonable rate of growth for the debt and the likelihood that some of the slaves and some of their descendants would have simply lost or wasted early some of their unpaid wages had they been paid in good time. Computing the amount due would be a complex task and subject to disputation but doable and healthy on the whole as a collective memory aid. It would be about a reasonably objective reality. Again, I think that not paying one’s debt will trouble one’s conscience, and in the end, cloud one’s judgment.

Such a limited program of reparations would be more easily accepted by conservatives if it were seen as an overall and final settlement of this well defined debt – the debt concerning unpaid wages only – and as the beginning of the phasing out of government imposed affirmative action programs. The form this compensation should take could be open for discussion. Obvious collective forms such as massive subsidies to African American education come to mind. Yet, the possibility of individual grants to all who could prove slave ancestry should not be summarily eliminated from consideration. (I intuit that collective reparations would not make many individual descendants of slaves feel whole.) There have actually been recent conversations among conservatives about the topic of compensation. Walter Russel Mead’s “The Work of Atonement,” a critique of book From Here to Equality by William A. Darity and A. Kristen Mullen, in WSJ 6/18/20, is a good place to start thinking about the issue that is free of hysteria.

Note that I am not proposing anything resembling compensation for pain and suffering, or punitive damages – another discussion, a problematic one, one posing vastly different issues on which honest people can differ – but just the settlement of a tangible conventional business debt, something again, fairly objective and naturally limited.

Ethical Issues about Limited Compensation

Any reparation proposal will raise what looks like other ethical issues. Why should I, for example, be taxed to compensate victims of old American racist policies since my ancestors where digging potatoes in eastern France when all the abuse took place? Why should the vast majority of northerners, of descendants of northerners and of post Civil War immigrants be held accountable for the failure of others to pay wages? The answer is that by living in the US (especially, by choice, in my case and that of other immigrants, and of their children, etc.), we benefit from the existence of the same polity that did quite a bit to shore up and support the first abuse – slavery – before it finally acted decisively to end it. It’s the same polity that later contemplated with equanimity and passively supported the unequal treatment of the freed slaves and of their descendants on some of its territory. I refer to the United States of America, the federal entity of course.

All this being said, the passive economic heritage of slavery does not logically exclude current racial discrimination, with its own disastrous consequences, separate from the economic inheritance of slavery and segregation. On the contrary, it would make sense to argue, negative discrimination tends to be a bad habit if it’s not forcefully interrupted: We discriminate against Peter today because we did so against his father Paul yesterday. Yet, it’s important to distinguish between the consequences of (possible) current discrimination and the rather certain collective fallout of past ill treatment.

Two reasons to try to keep this distinction: First, if we don’t, we risk assuming that the ill treatment continues even if it ceased long ago. This places us, collectively in an impossible situation: How to stop something that does not exist? It will cause its own bitterness. It will lead to twisted pseudo-remedies. It will prompt those who think themselves as victims of the putative current ill-treatment to fight against the wrong forces and to commit trespasses of their own in the process. Second, the remedies for the results of past bad treatment – including the slave trade, American slavery, racial segregation, official racial discrimination – those remedies are different from the kinds of redress that would apply to currently oppressive behavior: “Fix it” and “Stop it” imply different strategies.

Of course, reparations will not stop police from thinking of African American citizens as prone to breaking the law or as especially dangerous. Reparations would thus not restrain the police from stopping blacks and thus killing them, disproportionately. Reparations for lost wages would, I think, help the white majority to think more clearly about racial issues in general. Indirectly, this would help devise more rational policies regarding perceived racial injustice. Reparations would go a long way toward undermining the dogma of systemic racism. It would boost the influence of those African American leaders who prefer accommodation to intransigence.

How about Personal Experience?

While I try to rely on numbers, no part of this essay is meant to disparage the relevance of all personal experience nor even of all subjectivity. As we know from novels, subjectivity both acts as a blinder and it opens eyes. Yet, much of it is useless and worse.

An old friend of mine is on record on Facebook asserting that the Floyd killing was obviously racially motivated because the killer was white and the victim black. A logical implication of this view is that if a white policeman killed a black criminal about to behead a black child, the shooting would be a racial crime. My friend earned his doctorate from the same program, in the same university as I did, also in sociology, at about the same time. He has a respectable academic career behind him. He is African American.

When the still respected and still-staid WSJ decides to do its bit and contributes personal experience stories form black executives, it does it in the soft part of its weekend edition, of course. It turns into a maudlin fiasco, I think. (“Black executives Break Their Silence” by Khadeeja Safdar and Keach Hagey, Weekend edition, 6/27-28/2020.) Two executives interviewed by WSJ have to wander off to China and to apartheid South Africa to come up with something worth re-telling. One goes straight to fiction, I believe, and he recycles an urban story about being stopped and terrified by a mean racist cop as a young teenager. Several fall back to the common narratives of being followed and humiliated by store personnel who suspect them of trying to shoplift. Everyone, including the interviewers, is too polite to ask why black customers may be singled out in that specific manner. No one thinks either of wondering what other category – not based on race – store personnel single out for special attention on similar grounds. (I am thinking of little old white ladies carrying large purses.)

The habitual silly brandishing of numbers underscores the absence of ordinary criticality presiding over the WSJ subjectivist story. “Only 3.2% of senior executive positions are held by black people.” How in the world is this calculated? If it’s true, what does it mean? What is it proof of? Repeating myself: About 60% of players in the NBA, that millionaires factory, are African American, which demonstrates what? And I would bet that African Americans are over-represented in federal government employment, which also would show what (except the effectiveness of government affirmative action programs)?

Personal experience wrapped in story telling talent may be important nevertheless, some of the time. I am fairly sure reading Richard Wright, James Baldwin a long time ago, and Toni Morrison more recently, opened my mind without persuading me of anything. Perhaps, reading good fiction by black authors taught me to look. That’s not nothing. On 6/20/20 I heard the talented young writer Aezi Dungee speak of her experience as a black actress playing a slave at Mount Vernon during the summers. (“Moth Radio Hour” on PBS). It caused me to feel her pain and her rage infinitely more than any objective figures ever would, it’s true. Yet, her rage is her rage. I am not ethically bound to espouse it. The best I can do is act according to principles that we share. Many of those are clearly established in the founding documents of this great nation. Other relevant principles I derive directly from a classical conservative stance. Ms Dungee is entitled to justice for now and to reparation for harm done long ago and that still trammels her life today. I cannot do more without betraying justice itself and undermining the foundations of both of our lives, of my present liberty and of hers.

[Editor’s note: you can find Part 7 here, or read the whole thing here.]

40 thoughts on “Systemic Racism: a Rationalist Take (Part 8 of 9)

    • Do the reparations go per capital to all descendants, including the billionaires. And what about the descendants who have intermarried Should they get the full amount ir a partial amount a percentage based in the per cent if their ancestors who are descendants of slaves.
      And considering that not all descendants of slaved are poor, how do know being descendants made any if them poor.

    • Good questions, OG, all but mostly technicalities whereas a principle is involved. Easy question first: Some compensation must go to all who can prove American slave ancestry. Since I refer to unpaid wages, need is irrelevant. Yes, the billionaires also get their $2053 each. But, I only warned against closing the door to individual compensation; I did not promote the idea. If I had a say in designing solutions, I would go first to a massive effort to improve education in black areas. This could be done by detaching school funding from real estate taxes. If the federal government, directly or indirectly, guaranteed X2 the prevailing salary to teachers in certain designated areas we would quickly see some improvement, I think immediately. Yes, whites and others might move into those areas to enjoy their schools. That would be good too. I wold also propose entrepreneurship grants: So much to start a business; you need two co-signers. No questions asked. Please, get rich! I I think there is a fair chance these two forms of public spending would pay for themselves eventually. (It’s not a tough guess because both welfare and prison are expensive.) To go back to your question: Who cares about mixed descent? The more slave ancestors you can demonstrate, the greater the putative damage, the greater the likely unpaid wages, the more you get. Is it unfair to suspect you of raising practical objections the better to sidestep the principle? I will believe whichever answer you give.

    • I am against the principle, but aside from that I think the questions I raised should ve considered. Most of the solutions you suggest are in place now in one form or another or have already been tried. I lived in Appalachia during President Johnson’s war on poverty there. It was area, not racially based. The program had very little success.

  1. The only reasonable formula that I could endorse for reparations would be to establish net harm by comparing the average incomes of people whose ancestors were not enslaved to those whose ancestors were. In other words we will need to compare average income of African Americans against PPP incomes in Africa.

    The “problem” here is that this indicates that the American descendants of slaves were massively helped and enriched by their historical situation. Their income would have been close to an order of magnitude less if it wasn’t for their ancestor’s plight.

    Nothing is owed. Indeed, what needs to be acknowledged is how fortunate we ALL are to be born in a modern Western nation state.

    • An interesting exercise, but the fact of the matter is that any such proposal would be rejected by the overwhelming majority of our citizens. The sins of the fathers shall not be visited upon the sons, either individually or collectively.

  2. J Delacroix has highlighted an obvious way forward, a path which has been staring everyone in the face for decades – the upgrading of the education of African American kids (and I would add Hispanics as well). But
    this is something which should have (and could have) been done decades ago. Why hasn’t it? Who has been in charge of the failed school administrations in New York City, Detroit, Chicago, St Louis? Why speak of reparations when they already have an unfulfilled obligation on current account?

    • Swami: By the same reasoning, we should compare the incomes of descendants of Portuguese Americans with those of Portuguese, and take away the difference from Portuguese Americans. And also, African Americans might pay back the difference between the cost of their upkeep as slaves in the US and the lesser amount it would have cost to hire Africans to do the same work. What you contributed in a given economic system is always what’s relevant. I wonder if you could find a single exception.

    • Jon: I think none of this modest proposal has been advanced on the moral basis of unpaid a wages. To my mind, this principle only applies to some (most) African Americans, those who have slave ancestry. For this reason, there is no ground to include Hispanics whose sole merit is that their grandparents or parents had the good sense to move to this country under their own power. (The tiny number of Californios and original Texas Mexicans are a special, different, not very big issue. I am not covering it here.) The bad schooling in the areas you mention is a poor reason to not do the principled thing. There are other forms of delivery for education by-passing the bad administration of the cities you mention. That’s one of the reasons I was careful to no (not) exclude individual compensation. By the way, the fact that none of the areas you mention practice or benefit by superior funding based on former slave status and its historical implications may have something to do with the waste and the incompetence there. I would look to many contracts with private organizations, including for profit organizations. This may not be complete.

  3. There is much more to this very complicated issue. (1) How do we factor in the punitive function of reparations, especially with respect to the blameless? (2) How do we account for individual behavior as to the consequences of free choices? (3) To what extent do reparations counter balance remedies like affirmative action, employment discrimination, civil rights legislation, etc. (4) Do reparations obviate continuing consequences of past wrongs? (5) Does present payment constitute an estoppel as to future claims? (6) How do we account for past transfers of wealth to the aggrieved population? (7) Can payment of any amount of money absolve moral guilt?

    • Charles Carter: Everything one does not try to simplify tends to be a complicated issue. (1 and 2) I explicitly stayed away from the issue of punitive damage. It does not stop us from dealing with unpaid wages. I covered what you call individual behavior. What you cover under (3) could be worked in though it would be like asking for reaching no agreement. (4) Yes, as far as the past wrongs of slavery included under unpaid wages and only that. (5) Yes, as far as unpaid wages are concerned and only that. (6) I can’t think of past transfers of wealth to the former slaves and their descendants you have not mentioned elsewhere. (7) I stayed carefully away from that question but, two comments: First, courts do it every day. Second: Not knowing what to do exactly is not an excuse for doing nothing.

  4. Two big problems:

    The first is the detailed accounting. While determining unpaid wages due to a slave’s descendants is easier, figuring out who pays that bill is much harder. Expect to upset far more people than you make happy.

    Second, and more important, what happens when it doesn’t work? Reparations won’t fix most of the problems cited to justify them, for a host of reasons. We’ll just be back where we started but with a lot more people upset and a lot fewer willing to write checks.

    • “figuring out who pays that bill is much harder”

      Who pays? Nobody!! We just print more money and run up more debt – it’ll NEVER get paid off.

      Money (at the governmental and megacorporate level, anyways) isn’t real anymore, just some random abstract idea they use to make stuff and buy votes by both sides. Republicans used to at least pretend to care about spending and the debt, but not since 1990 or so.

      The ONLY hope we have of paying off the debt is to harvest an asteroid filled with minerals so rich that’ll dwarf the global economy. We own China $50T? Here, have this chunk of Asteroid X and we’re even.

    • James B. We don’t need to know if it will work to do the right thing. I covered the “who pays” question in the text. It’s all those who benefit from living in the United States polity, including immigrants from yesterday’s boat. Compensation for unpaid wages will not solve all problems associated with both slavery and segregation. It will not dry up the piss and vinegar among many African Americans. I think it will do two things: 1) The expression of the willingness to talk instead of saying a flat “No” will transform the national mood; 2 Putting a concrete figure on a vaguely defined grief makes for healthy thinking all around. The courts do it all the time.

  5. I say no to reparations, but long overlooked was the obvious compromise already enshrined in the Constitution.

    The 14th Amendment requires equal protection of all under the law, including by States.

    Jim Crow laws violated this Amendment.

    Americans have long had the right to sue and collect damages for such discrimination.

    All Congress had to do was to pass a law that any living person who was actually the victim of Jim Crow could collect predetermined damages for how long they were citizens forced by States to live under State law.

    No need to debate what some descendant of somebody dead for 300 hundred years should be paid for suffering no direct damage, or I could spend all my time studying my DNA to search out what king of what feudal barony did what to some ancestor of mine. Instead, the obviously discriminated against person would be standing right in front of us and we would all know the damage was real.

    However, if there were damages for slavery, what is the offset owed for hundreds of thousands of dead Yankee soldiers and the taxes that fed, clothed, and armed them to free the slaves. Or, doesn’t that count, and if not, why not.

    • Keevan: Interesting start then, I think you go into the tall weeds. Hundreds of thousands of Yankee soldiers did nothing about unpaid wages. They only put an end to an evil situation in which their polity was complicit till near that very end.

    • Good partial solution but you did not deal with my argument about wages lost under slavery itself. I know it’s not a legal issue,; it’s the moral issue antecedent to the legal issue you point to. Do your debts become extinguished in your own mind if you fail to pay them back long enough?

    • Keevan: You respond as if my arguments were made in terms of injustice and horribleness of treatment. It’s not. Don’t think too much about what king or what baron did your ancestors dirt: Their blood courses through your own veins!

  6. The theory of paying descendants of slaves reparations needs to work both ways. The same amount of research to identify descendants of slaves should be allocated to identifying descendants of slave owners. At that time, this is a financial compensation issue between two groups most directly involved. Those families that did not own slaves or those that arrived in the U.S. after slavery was abolished do not have to be involved directly or through taxation by the government.

  7. Three thoughts, but many come to mind.
    1. When my great grand parents were treated like serfs and left to starve by the English during the potato famines in 19th century Ireland, they saved their few pennies and sailed to America to work their way up the ladder from nothing. They received no back-pay from British landlords. They arrived after slavery was eliminated here, and neither they nor I have any responsibility to pay for that evil, anymore than a Nigerian or Mexican immigrant who arrived here yesterday.
    2. Slavery has existed as long as civilization. Are the Jews going to recover from modern Egyptians for their work on the pyramids? Where is the historical precident, and when does the statute of limitations apply?
    3. Do I get a credit for the death of 600,000 Americans during the Civil War to end slavery?

    • Thomas: I thought my argument was clearly stated: The polity in which we chose to live and from which we benefit day was complicit in slavery. That makes you and me at least partly responsible for unpaid wages. No need for mindless genetic research. An important point I made seems to have missed you: I emigrated on last night’s boat, therefore your argument seems to run, I am not responsible. On the contrary, I deliberately joined an entity that is responsible.

    • william: 3. No. See above; 2. The Jews were not slaves in Egypt and they did not build the Pyramids 3. It would be a good thing for Great Britain to repay Irish and Irish emigrants for the livelihood they lost in Ireland. To the extent that they were starving when they left, it wouldn’t be much. “Serfdom” has not much to do with any of this. Sorry. This is too far off-field for me. And the fact that we cannot fix all historical injustices does not mean we shouldn’t fix any. The common arguments made by American of Irish decent: “Poor me too,” annoys me no end, sorry. Your ancestors paid for the trip. Do you know what that means?

  8. If present-day blacks are going to be paid ‘compensation’ for the labor of their long-dead ancestors, then the present-day survivors of the 1st Nations should be compensated for the theft of their lands and the many massacres than were deliberately inflicted on their ancestors. The crimes committed against them, which include deliberate attempts at genocide, are far in excess of those committed against blacks

  9. Utter nonsense. Even if something was owed to descendants of slaves, you’d be hard-pressed to identify specifically who was responsible for the payments.

  10. Interesting article and dialogue that deserves rational and open debate. As a moderate conservative I personally have wrestled with this question for many years.There are many pros and cons, so many conflicting principles at play; some of which have been mentioned in the article and by commentators. At the end of the day I’d rather err on the side of what is restorative and fair to the descendants of slaves than over valued and respected fiscal principles. I would add to the author’s points that even though, you can rightfully argue that the reparations should being monetary (back pay) I believe that more would be gained for the descendants of the slave reparations recipient (single point in time) if reparations were paid in a form that would have long term benefits to the recipient, their descendants and their community such as free tuition, charter school vouchers, technical trade school and free union dues and in such a way you honor the principle of its better to teach someone to fish than to give them fish for one day.

  11. Thanks for the response, Jacques, I appreciate it. Sorry about responding down here, but your reply doesn’t have a response button.

    As I thought my final paragraph made clear, I am not actually asking anybody to pay anything to anybody. The point of the exercise is to show that when correctly tabulated vs the hypothetical of not having slaves for ancestors, that they are NOT harmed in the slightest. They were benefitted, and thus nothing is owed by anyone to anyone else. We should be grateful we were born in a liberal Western Democracy.

    As to your comment about taking from Portuguese Americans, see above. Nothing is being asked of anyone. Plus, you already made it clear below that reparations are not a question for those whose ancestors “paid for the trip.”

    Honestly, you lost me with the tabulation of net damages of slave costs vs African wages. Nobody is recommending that dead people be compensated or that living people be compensated for harm to their distant relatives. The discussion is about paying living people for supposed harms. And blacks born in the US today were on net benefitted compared to what would have happened if their ancestors had not been enslaved and shipped against their will to a foreign land. Their ancestors were harmed. African Americans alive today, including those in my family, were only benefitted. Nothing is owed.

    • If, for whatever reason, I do work for you on your palatial mansion in Mexico and you failed to pay my whole wages, it’s Mexican wages you owe me, not Norwegian wages. PS I know, there is no response to response button. Frustrating.!Let’s all bitch at Brandon.

    • The question is still, where is the harm, on net? The reparations people aren’t asking for reparations with interest for harm done to their ancestors. Maybe they would take the money if offered, but they wouldn’t stop asking for more, indeed it would just embolden them to try to ride the infinite gravy train of reparations for new insults and injuries, real or imagined.

      The reparations crowd is not asking for the present value of lost wages for current descendants. They are asking for and I quote “the elimination of the racial wealth divide” with a specific goal of giving blacks 13% of US wealth, or slightly more than $700,000 per household. (Per nbc news Opinion piece)

      They come to this supposed harm by comparing black wealth to average wealth and assuming that households are the same in all other ways except for a legacy of discrimination and enslavement. There can’t be any difference in culture, time frame, education, hours worked, percent spent vs invested, etc, except in terms of how these factors were themselves caused directly by this same history of slavery and discrimination. And if they were given this wealth, next year they will come back and ask for more assuming that the proportion of wealth again begins to differ over time. Thus we would incentivize a never ending dysfunctional gravy train of a free riding race who get handouts, spend it and then wait for the next round. A political party will grow around this movement, being sure to find a way to siphon off a sum for themselves.

      This will incentivize good cultural habits and healthy political systems! (sarcasm).

      This is the systemic definition of creating a permanent supposedly victimized class which uses its exalted victimhood to exploit the supposed oppressors.

      The more reasonable approach is to ask blacks to adopt the cultural habits and values of the rest of the west (of the 87% they compare themselves to). You know, hard work, invest in education and children, marriage, delayed spending, invest for financial security and growth, entrepreneurial creativity, norms against crime and free riding, and so on. To the extent they agree, institutions could be built and or funded to assist this conversion.

      Now, I certainly agree that a legacy of slavery, discrimination and disparate institutional treatment could lead to negative cultural habits and pathologies. But the only way out is to take the self initiative and begin to replace dysfunctional culture with a functional one. Reparations are exactly the wrong approach. Black people in the US are better off here than black people anywhere else on earth. I certainly ensure that everyone in my family (including those that are black) know this. They are owed nothing and should take advantage of the institutional opportunities that don’t require exploiting and free riding off the rest of the US (those creating the disproportionate share of the wealth).

      Taking from the productive 87% With healthy culture and giving to the (Statistically) less productive with cultural pathologies is a recipe for disaster. It will lead to the majority becoming really angry and will lead to someone capturing that anger and redirecting it in horrible ways. See Europe circa 1938.

      And we thought Trump was as bad as it could get.

      The only possible way I could support giving hundreds of thousands to every black family is if it came with a conditional offer.


      Choose wisely.

    • Cardiffkook. I don’t care what the illiterate totalitarians you listen to claim. Sorry, but you are repeating all the beliefs about failed policies none of which were especially fair to begin with. Obviously, I agree with the Black cultural pathologies thesis. So do a large number of predominantly black churches. It does not help much. Changing culture deliberately, in a predetermined direction, is one of the most difficult things that can be undertaken: Ask Chairman Mao. That’s on the one hand. On the other hand, paying one’s debts is relatively easy once you decide to do it. It can be done whether or not you think that doing so will change anybody’s mind. The proposal has the great merit of not having been tried. A second merit of this proposal to pay for back wages is that there is a good chance it will divide Black claimants between those who demand special treatment forever and those who will consider accepting a fair settlement. Many of the responses to the proposal smack of a sense of injustice toward whites. This should not happen among conservatives. (Libertarians: below.) As a conservative, I think that good things and bad things happen through the family. Take any category of people, transport them somewhere else absent any choice by themselves, deny them most opportunities to accumulate wealth, stop most of them from acquiring even basic skills, deprive them of even elementary education, degrade their sexuality in different ways, foster on them a religious practice long on submission and with infinite capacity for redemption (no accountability). That’s slavery in an incomplete nutshell. Please, note the lack of moral outrage in my description. One hundred years after the end of slavery, continue to force them to marry within the same category of inferiorly situated people. (until 1967) Can you really be surprised that members of this category will exhibit systematically inferior performance , both economically and socially? I mean even after ten generations? Paying back wages is one thing we can do to redress this situation. Arguing that since we can’t do everything we should do nothing is _____ (Complete the sentence.) Here is the libertarian wrinkle, I think: Your argument (at the end) that resources should not be moved from the more productive to the less productive is also a good argument for regressive (regressive) taxation. Do yo also mean that – to the extent that we tax at all – we should tax poverty instead of wealth, as we do now, failure, instead of success? I am not against the principle of your proposal, in caps at the very end . It may be even better than you think: Many countries would welcome immigrants with several times X
      hundred thousand dollars per family. I suspect, however, that your estimated compensation is much too high. Last time I looked, the net worth per American did not reach much above one hundred thousand (if that – I did not check). So, your proposal would assume that African Americans, barring the unpaid wages of slavery, would find themselves toward the top of American society from a economic standpoint. Seems to me, there is no reason to believe this. In-text, I proposed that actuarians and some specialized economists could arrive at a reasonable figure per slave ancestry. PS I decline to deal with your comparison of black people in America with black people elsewhere. It’s not reasonable. If it were, you would propose that African Americans pay a special tax to compensate for the economic and health advantages they enjoy over Africans in Mali and in Zambia, for example. Good thinking. Thanks.

    • cardfiicook: You are back on the “hundred s of thousands” of dollars, which is far from what the average white family owns. The demand has no justification at all. My version does (unpaid wages +). I think you fall for this (fall) because you think there is actually as “they” in the “reparations people.” There isn’t and there aren’t . When I am at the flea market, I am not bound to negotiate to the first merchant who names a figure. I can just walk past him and talk to someone else. Also, it seems to me that you want guaranteed results and a lasting solution to the point where no one whines ever again. Last point first: Someone will always whine. I think you know that. The other point is guarantees : At the great risk of repeating my own repetitions : we don’t need guarantees to do the morally right thing though we may hope it will help to some extent. Why do I suspect that you believe the US, the polity, does not owe anything, that you just wish for an end to a recurring big problem? Is it just me? Probably more later. I am just sleepy,

    • cardiffcook: More: You cannot ask blacks (or anyone)” to adopt the cultural habits…” of anyone. It would be both futile and insulting. The latter because most African Americans already have them (get jobs, keep jobs, work steadily). And then, repeating myself again, the behavior of those I have cheated does not exonerate me from responsibility for cheating them. How hard is it to accept this? Your comment and others on this thread seem to assume that I have offered an overall grand solution to racial discontent in America. I have not. America needs to do what it needs to do whether it helps or not. It might even help.

  12. Doug: I appreciate your overall agreement but I still have two points of difference with you. 1 I don’t think there are that many moral principles in conflict here. It’s likely that many Americans are STILL suffering the consequences of unpaid wages. There is broad agreement that wages should be paid in full. Those who benefited from the fact that some wages remain unpaid should pay. We cannot find those who profited the most (slave owners) but there a very broad category of beneficiaries that are easy to identify. That’s all Americans, of any race excluding the descendants of slaves. Artfully defined other allegedly “racial” categories should not be exempted. There is no reason why they should be. Mario’s grandfather, who crawled under the fence to come in illegally fro Mexico was drawn by the benefits The American polity offers to all. The numerous children to the Irish Diaspora almost all come from volunteer stock. A few exceptions: Before the Famine, some Irish came as indentured servants; some of them may not have volunteered. There were indeed Irish slaves in the 17th century but they were sold in Barbados, probably none in what is now the US. 2 The idea of providing reparations that redound to the “long term benefit” of the recipients sounds horribly familiar. It’s reminiscent of the many federal welfare program that have failed so spectacularly. That’s why I would not eliminate the notion of individual or family compensation . Barring this, it seems to me, it should be possible to arrive at an overall agreement with many broadly representative African American organizations. Democrats would have to be included but I wouldn’t trust them to do it alone or on a majority basis because of their crummy welfare past. It would have to be a conservative project. If the Libertarian Party had any brain, it would take this idea and make it one of the centers of its platform.

  13. The people who weren’t paid for their labor are dead. The slaveowners who didn’t pay them are all dead.

    I never owned any slaves. My ancestors never owned any slaves. I don’t owe anything to anybody. So no, I do no support reparations in any way. The entire idea is insulting.

  14. “I don’t care what the illiterate totalitarians you listen to claim.”

    The only source I listed was NBC, which I just ran across in looking up what the pro-reparations groups was saying. The point of giving their position was not to argue that you or I should care about it, but to lay out what the framework of the reparations crowd is.

    “Changing culture deliberately, in a predetermined direction, is one of the most difficult things that can be undertaken.”

    Agreed. But what is your point? I didn’t say it would be easy, I didn’t even suggest it was possible. My point is that it is pretty much the only way we will see black living standards match up with people with completely different cultural habits, norms, values and expectations. Read McCloskey’s works — rhetoric and culture matters. You seem like the drunk looking for keys under the street lamp. I am suggesting we look where they were actually lost.

    “On the other hand, paying one’s debts is relatively easy once you decide to do it. It can be done whether or not you think that doing so will change anybody’s mind. The proposal has the great merit of not having been tried. A second merit of this proposal to pay for back wages is that there is a good chance it will divide Black claimants between those who demand special treatment forever and those who will consider accepting a fair settlement.”

    The current divide exists today between those that think reparations are not appropriate. Last year, one fourth of blacks were opposed to the idea. This entire proposal of yours comes off like giving in to extortion or blackmail. In addition, it will CREATE a divide between non black Americans who will feel cheated by giving undeserved handouts to the least productive subculture in the US, and will just increase demands for anyone else who can come up with a half thought out rationalization for class dividing extortion.

    Nothing is owed. Blacks are immensely HELPED on net by being born in the US. Full stop.
    “Can you really be surprised that members of this category will exhibit systematically inferior performance , both economically and socially?”

    Compared to whom? They also exhibit systematically superior performance compared to Africans not brought here. Your comparison is not pre-ordained.

    “Your argument (at the end) that resources should not be moved from the more productive to the less productive is also a good argument for regressive (regressive) taxation. Do yo also mean that – to the extent that we tax at all – we should tax poverty instead of wealth, as we do now, failure, instead of success?”

    Let’s stick to one subject. I think proportionate taxation (say 25% perhaps with a large exemption) is a reasonable way to pay for public goods and safety nets.

    “I am not against the principle of your proposal, in caps at the very end.”

    I got the number from NBC, with minor additional googling I saw a number that was even higher from the Economic Policy Institute. Seems high to me too, so?

    “I decline to deal with your comparison of black people in America with black people elsewhere. It’s not reasonable. If it were, you would propose that African Americans pay a special tax to compensate for the economic and health advantages they enjoy over Africans in Mali and in Zambia, for example.”

    No, I would not propose that. Because that would be absurd and it would dehumanize individuals into Marxist class objects. It is simply a very reasonable way to frame the real question, which is what has been the net effect of living black in the US (good or bad) vs any other place on earth? When you ask the question, you get a different answer than asking the question of “putting aside all thoughts about huge variances in culture, what is the cost to blacks of historic injustice by non blacks?”

    “…it seems to me that you want guaranteed results and a lasting solution to the point where no one whines ever again. Last point first: Someone will always whine. I think you know that.”

    Yes, the difference being that your proposal promotes whining and creates a windfall around it. Incentives matter. This will lead to resentment, animosity, and reward group thinking like nothing in our history. It isn’t a bad idea. It is a horrible idea, and the fact that it is untested doesn’t make it better.

    “we don’t need guarantees to do the morally right thing though we may hope it will help to some extent.”

    And here you are assuming it is the right thing. I believe it is immoral to do so for the previously listed reasons, and this is coming from someone whose family members will in many cases get checks!

    “Why do I suspect that you believe the US, the polity, does not owe anything…?”

    Because I said so repeatedly. We do not owe anything to each other, and giving credibility to this framework is the path to folly.

    “…the behavior of those I have cheated does not exonerate me from responsibility for cheating them. How hard is it to accept this?”

    You are missing the point by a mile. I am not saying that black culture excuses our debts. I am saying until or unless it changes that there will be no parity between them and all the other cultural heritage averages (Indian, French, Russian, etc). The reparations discussion fo era over the real issue. But much more important is that in an individual (as opposed to Marxist nation) cheating is something that applies to individuals, not racial membership.

    Reparations is not a good idea. Your moral take on it seems off, and the likely ramifications would be counterproductive. If you really wish to convince me it is a good idea, I would like to see where it has been successfully tested.

    • Thank you but we seem to be on parallel tracks. You seem to assume (beginning of the response) that you and I both want to solve America’s racial problem as it applies to blacks. Your use of the superfluous word “parity” expresses the project in your mind. I never said I wanted to solve the overall problem of racial disparity in fortune or claimed my narrow proposal would do much about it. My small reparations (or “repair”) proposal was described in the context of my speculation that white guilt made many white people absurdly receptive to BLM’s and others’ ridiculous lies. Your last paras: I did not claim or imply that cheating applies to “racial membership” but to a polity. That simple. The successful testing requirement in your last sentence is a bit harsh, demanding, isn’t it? We (plural)shouldn’t try to solve a problem in any novel way ever? (You are giving shiny new clothes to the word “conservative” ! ) At the bottom of our differences, I think, is your belief that nothing is owed by present-day Americans and my strong suspicion that something is, I mean, by conservative values.

    • I read this again. You seem to be largely addressing someone else. I said nothing about parity. I don’t care what black and other activists want to claim. Or rather, I care if it stands up to some degree of examination . The parity claim does not for a variety or reasons. I don’t know why you would seem to take it seriously.

Please keep it civil

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