Are Reparations the Answer?


CoatesIn the newest issue of The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates makes an impassioned case for the need for reparations in response to the horrific treatment suffered by African-Americans throughout much of American history. His piece is valuable in making the scope of that suffering vivid, but it finds itself on far weaker grounds when it comes to the question of reparations as a viable remedy. 

In the first place, he misunderstands the historical economics at work. As I note in my new piece for Defining Ideas at the Hoover Institution:

He is right that slave owners before the Civil War and the champions of Jim Crow afterwards exploited the black persons who lived under these regimes. Coates observes: “In 1860, slaves as an asset were worth more than all of America’s manufacturing, all of the railroads, all the productive capacity of the United States put together.” The tempting conclusion is that African Americans today should recoup the wealth that has, Coates argues, worked its way down to the current generation of Americans.

Sadly, however, Coates fails to note that those resources were largely consumed by the miscreants who extracted them from the backs of slaves. At most a small sliver of wealth was passed down by inheritance for a generation or two. But none of it was shared gratuitously with the rest of the nation. Both slavery and Jim Crow hurt the rest of the population by preventing them from doing business with black workers who held productive jobs. As a general matter, virtually all the wealth that exists in the United States today has been created by the ingenuity of a dizzying array of inventors, entrepreneurs, immigrants, and countless others. No fund of wealth survives the demise of slavery and Jim Crow.

Then there is the question of how to best address inequities that exist in the present day. As I note:

Rather than speaking of reparations, we should consider the many constructive steps that could, and should, be taken right now as part of our ongoing social commitments to black Americans. It is striking that Coates makes no mention of the charter school movement, which is working overtime to give less fortunate children of all races opportunities that would be otherwise denied to them. Nor does he ask how to remove the barriers to entry that progressive legislation has placed in the path of minority workers, including such statutes as the antidiscrimination laws and minimum wage laws that Coates presumably supports. These laws make it more difficult for African Americans to get jobs in today’s labor market. Deregulation, by contrast, knocks down barriers to entry instead of erecting them in the name of greater racial or economic justice. Coates should embrace the libertarian principles that explain the injustices of racism to forge a new set of forward-looking policies.

Instead of considering these prescriptions, Coates doubles-down on policies with a track-record of failure: What we need, he says, is “a program of job training and public works that takes racial justice as its mission but includes the poor of all races.” This misguided solution, which resonates with the Obama administration, ignores the economic decline of African Americans and other disadvantaged persons since the president took office. That situation can only be reversed if writers like Coates grasp the intimate connection between the wrongs that they skillfully expose and the remedies that they inartfully promote.

Coates is right to point out the inhumanity that prevailed for too long in the treatment of African-Americans (though, as I note in the piece, he can be imprecise in his descriptions of it). But reparations are not the answer.

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  1. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart

    My forbears fought for the North during the Civil War, one died in a Confederate prison. Where does my family pick up our check? Oh yeah, forgot, White Privilege.

    • #1
  2. user_48342 Member

    I love this.  Yes, let’s buy off the black elite! Make rich black people feel good about themselves, while paying off poor blacks in an attempt to legitimize the barriers they face.  Yes, let’s pull a Lyndon Johnson and perpetuate racial inequality with money!

    I cannot stand this sort of thing.

    • #2
  3. Kermadec Inactive

    If the right were into using Alinskyite tactics, then they would keep hammering every candidate from the left side of the aisle on where they stand on reparations, and keep pushing Coates’ arguments in their face.
    It’s the logical and lunatic next step in their failed equality-of-outcome push and they should be made to publically walk it.

    • #3
  4. flownover Inactive

    Lewis Hines photos show us another exploited category of peoples in the American genesis to an enlightened society. The poor have been doled out reparations for years, in an effort to enhance their lives . Was this a reflex of the capitalists from guilt of their gain ? No. It was the efforts of government social architects attempting to raise people out of their poverty . In many cases the poverty was caused by the earlier government programs that ghettoized many descendents of former slaves . 

    Can we count all the welfare payments as reparations in kind ? Is that fair ? I understand that approx 400,000 people were brought to our shores as slaves in bondage.  
    Obviously Coates’ argument is a metaphorical bridge to the next argument prior to an election and a general accusation of racism to those who take issue with such a gargantuan premise in a country riven by a  construct of sensitivity carefully constructed by the media since the election of the first non white president. A little too obvious, but that doesn’t seem to matter as along as it smells like gas, it will be thrown onto the fire.

    • #4
  5. The Mugwump Inactive
    The Mugwump

    Reparations won’t repair anything.

    • #5
  6. Eeyore Member

    America has been paying significant reparations to blacks for a long time. One major reverse discrimination lawsuits (can’t remember which one) involved a school which claimed that race was “just one of many factors” used in admissions, even though 100% of black applicants were accepted as opposed to 5% of whites.

    The Center for Equal Opportunity published a statistical analysis showing odds of some law school admissions were as high as   730-to-1 blacks over whites:

    “Multiple logistic regression analysis shows significant racial preference in law school
    admission at the University of Virginia. Table 11 displays the odds ratios for 1998 and 1999.
    Table 11
    University of Virginia School of Law, Odds Ratios
                                       1998                 1999
    Black to White            646.80             730.80
    Hispanic to White           0.95                 1.09
    Asian to White               2.07                 1.86
    The odds ratios present substantial evidence of UVA awarding preferences to black
    over white applicants, controlling for other factors. Odds ratios favoring black over white
    applicants are extraordinarily high. Controlling for all other factors, the odds ratio of a black
    applicant being admitted over a white applicant was about 650 to 1 in 1998 and 730 to 1 in 1999.”

    • #6
  7. Eeyore Member

    Two personal anecdotes:
    – A large organization has an office with 2 shifts. All work is completed each day, nothing goes forward. The closer told me that a Supervisor said “You’re using too much overtime. It’s not in the budget.” “But if So-and-So just did her work, no overtime would be required. But all she does is talk on the phone to her friends for hours at a time.” “I know, but there’s nothing I can do. Personnel said to me that even though it’s not written anywhere, because there will be discrimination lawsuits, which will always be successful, there can be no negative Performance Review of any black employee.” “What can I do?” “Get all the work done, but with no overtime.”

    – Another large organization manager indicated that, although blacks can be fired for violation of company policies, they can’t be fired or negatively reviewed for simply doing inadequate or sub-par work in any area which is not time-sensitive.

    These sorts of things, which occur nationwide, must cost many billions of dollars every year, and which are – in reality – reparations, and have been going on for many decades.

    • #7
  8. user_3130 Member

    I would suggest that reparations be made by those who sold Africans into slavery to those who were made slaves.  This will not, of course, satisfy anyone because those who sold Africans into slavery were, in the main, Africans.  Those Africans are no longer available to make restitution to those sold into slavery, who are themselves no longer available to receive reparations.  This doesn’t satisfy those seeking reparations because reparations are not what they want.  What they want is a handout for themselves.  This is my opinion.

    • #8
  9. Member

    Reparations for what?  I never owned a slave nor lived in the Jim Crow South.  My parents immigrated to the US in 1965, after the Civil Rights laws were passed.  It would be a grave injustice to tax living people for historical mistakes of which no one is alive.  This is more B.S. to energize the black vote.  I can’t believe The Atlantic publishes this crap in this day and age.

    • #9
  10. Bulldawg Inactive

    Forbes has an article here discussing the same thing.  The takeaway:

    Even if slavery reparations are righteously due they would amount to around and about the current cost of food stamps. Which is, as I say, around and about nothing given the size of the entire economy. And, I would also wager, not an amount that anyone at all thinks is going to fix the problems that beset parts of American society today.

    • #10
  11. Skyler Coolidge

    It was the US government that freed the slaves.  That’s enough.  It’s inconceivable that this is still even being discussed.  

    • #11
  12. Mario the Gator Inactive
    Mario the Gator

    My Grandparents and Great-Grandparents are from Spain.  My parents did not come to the United States until the 1960’s.  I don’t owe any of these leeches a single dime.  The United States Government fought a bloody Civil War to free them and has spent billions upon billions of dollars on welfare of which a disproportionate amount goes to the Black community.  How much more do they want?  How absurd.

    • #12
  13. Instugator Thatcher

    Gee, I thought Pigford WAS reparations.

    • #13
  14. user_653084 Inactive

    I think reparations are a horrible idea, but whenever I come across someone advocating them I have two questions:

    1) How much do they think the reparations should be?

    2) Would they be willing to give up all claims about historical racial injustice if said reparations were paid?

    • #14
  15. JM Hanes Inactive
    JM Hanes

    When it comes to intellectual disconnects in the case for reparations, it’s amazing to me that one of its most egregious consequences goes almost unmentioned, even by those making the counter argument.  As a simple regulatory matter, identifying qualified recipients would necessarily require returning to some variant of the infamously racist “one drop of blood” standard.  

    Proponents exhibit no inclination to limit beneficiaries to actual descendants of slaves, of course,  but that would require an even more complex, if less reprehensible, identification scheme. Documentary evidence would be exceedingly hard to come by or assess, and the population of dubious Elizabeth Warrens would explode.

    • #15
  16. user_48342 Member

    I suppose 600,000 dead white people should be “reparations” enough, but no.   No, it’s not.

    • #16
  17. user_48342 Member

    By the way, you can make the case that segregation required reparations, reparations that have (as others have pointed out) been paid.  But the idea that America should pay reparations for slavery when more white people died ending it than both World Wars combined is ludicrous.

    • #17
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