Hello again, reparations

Ten years ago I wrote this piece for City Journal pronouncing slavery reparations dead as a national cause. Now, as Astead W. Herndon reports in the New York Times, presidential candidates are getting behind the word: Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) affirmed her support, and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) “also said she supported reparations for black Americans impacted by slavery — a policy that experts say could cost several trillion dollars, and one that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and many top Democrats have not supported.” Did I speak too soon?

One complication is that while candidates have begun using the word, it’s often to describe policies that wouldn’t fit the definition accepted up to now. For example, as I noted in the City Journal piece, beginning in the 1960s many programs were enacted aiding poor persons of all races, often conceptualized and argued for as an alternative to more explicit race-based reparations. Some of the candidates who now describe themselves as being for reparations are vague about whether they intend to go beyond support for new programs that are formally race-neutral. [Jeff Stein, Washington Post]


  • The idea that you can compensate for historic injustices is pernicious and impossible. No one is still alive who owned slaves nor are any former slaves alive today. How many generations does this go? Who owes? Do you have to prove a family owned slaves to tax them? What if 1 of my 16 greatgreatgrandparents owned slaves, do I owe 1/16 reparations? Do people who immigrated after the civil war owe?
    Since 1 person died in the war for every 6 slaves freed, can we count that? What about the land given to former slaves? How about affirmative action?
    It is insane.

  • I’m Jewish, therefore I’m entitled to reparations from Egypt.


  • It ought to be a dead issue. That doesn’t prevent candidates in a primary from using it to try to whip up support from certain segments of the population.

    Pretty much every group has both enslaved and been enslaved at one time or another. The only thing that stands out for the U.S. is that the U.S. was one of the last major countries to engage in the practice.

    It is important to keep in mind that the modern call for ‘reparations’ is not about righting some historic wrong. It is about materialism, envy, and vengeance. If reparations ever gets enacted, I can all but guarantee violence won’t be far behind.

  • There are so many practical problems that I don’t see this ever happening.

    1. What about Black Americans like Obama who have no slave ancestry? They get nothing?
    2. What about people who are biracial? Do they get half?
    3. What about people from northern states who lost family members in the Civil War, what do they get?
    4. If we did this, shouldn’t that mean that the slate is now clean and so affirmative action policies, minority scholarships, etc are now obsolete?

    The truth is, the nation already paid a horrendous cost in the form of the bloodiest war in our nation’s history. I think that settled it.

  • It’s completely insane. Aside from the legal and philosophical arguments, there are impossible problems of accounting almost too numerous even to catalog.

  • Walter, I thought you’d have figured out by now that the opportunity to buy votes never goes out of style.

  • How about all former slaves be compensated by their former owners? No inheiritance, no passing the buck to “future” generations. Only those who actually suffered paid by those who actually oppressed…
    And northerners fought on the side of the confederacy just like southerners fought on the side of the union. At least in some cases. That is part of the origin of the brother against brother designation of the civil war… Not to mention some northerners paid some immigrants to go take their place fighting in the union army… So it’s simpler to have actual slave owners compensate actual slaves.

  • Question: Has any state or local government ever had a case brought for reparations by someone “legally” victimized by a Jim Crow law? Eg. Someone jailed for drinking from the wrong fountain, which was illegal at the time, but later that law was changed or repealed.. When a law, itself, is determined to be unjust and subsequently repealed, what is then the legal status of someone victimized by that law? Would such a person (or their descendants) have a case for reparation or some kind of compensation? In the legal word, how does this work?

  • Ezekiel 18:20: A child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent, nor a parent suffer for the iniquity of a child; the righteousness of the righteous shall be his own, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be his own.