Reparations for the unpaid labor of blacks held in slavery in America are speculative at best and cannot be fairly distributed or imposed.
[Note: The picture to the left, which shows Democrat Robert Byrd in a KKK outfit. is a Photoshop, but I use it because, to use the phrase coined by the New York Times, it is “fake but accurate. “]
2020 Democrat presidential candidates immersed in race-obsessed identity politics (as a substitute for the class-based politics of pure Marxism) are pushing for the Holy Grail of victimhood: Reparations for slavery. They are undeterred by the fact that reparations are wholly impractical, utterly immoral, and counterproductive in that they do not address the problems plaguing the lower socio-economic half of the black community.
This will be the third of several posts dealing with the issue of reparations:
Part III – Practical Impediments to Reparations
Part IV – Need for Reparations?
Part V – Marxism versus Melting Pots
Part III – Practical Impediments to Reparations
The New York Times, in a recent article, observed that “2020 Democrats Embrace Race-Conscious Policies, Including Reparations.” Leaving aside the legal, historical, ethical, and equitable considerations of slandering all white Americans with the “original sin” of slavery and establishing at law that black Americans in the present day are permanent victims of evil whites, there are a host of practical problems with the concept of reparations for slavery (only) in America (and only as to American slaves). Those practical problems include calculating the amount of reparations, identifying who should be eligible for the reparations and in what degree, and determining who should be liable for funding the reparations. Do note that none of the race hustlers mentioned in the Times article linked above address any of these questions.
So, first off, let’s define “reparations.” According to Prof. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., perhaps our nation’s most well-known victim studies professor, writing in the NYT in 2010, reparations are “the idea that the descendants of American slaves should receive compensation for their ancestors’ unpaid labor and bondage.” But that is certainly not all. As Gates states, there is more to this than just compensation in monetary terms. The push for reparations primarily has a moral purpose:
There are many thorny issues to resolve before we can arrive at a judicious (if symbolic) gesture to match such a sustained, heinous crime. Perhaps the most vexing is how to parcel out blame to those directly involved in the capture and sale of human beings for immense economic gain. [Emphasis added]
So the moral dimension is that all American whites and those slavers in Africa are to be tarred with the sin of slavery, though not a one alive today has ever committed slavery. And every black alive today is to be given unearned status as a victim, though not a one of them has ever been a slave. Again, you will never find the people who push for reparations mentioning either the Christian abolition movement or our Civil War. It is as if they never happened. But let’s leave the moral question aside. For the purpose of this post, let’s assume, arguendo, that all reparations for slavery should be paid.
Newsweek published an article in 2015 , using research from Prof. Thomas Craemer, that attempted to value reparations for American slavery:
Craemer . . . has come up with what he says is the most economically sound estimate to date of what reparations could cost: between $5.9 trillion and $14.2 trillion.
Craemer came up with those figures by tabulating how many hours all slaves—men, women and children—worked in the United States from when the country was officially established in 1776 until 1865, when slavery was officially abolished. He multiplied the amount of time they worked by average wage prices at the time, and then a compounding interest rate of 3 percent per year (more than making up for inflation). There is a range because the amount of time worked isn’t a hard figure.
Previous estimates of reparations have ranged from around $36 billion to $10 trillion (in 2009 dollars), Craemer says. Those calculations mostly looked at wealth created by slaves as opposed to services provided, resulting in underestimates. Craemer believes that “the economic assumptions underlying [his method] are more sound” than those used in previous papers.
So, in other words, any attempt at putting a number to reparations — a spread of $36 billion to almost a year’s worth of the Gross Domestic Product of the U.S. at $14.2 trillion — is going to be an incredibly speculative guess from the outset.
Determining Reparations: Offsets by the costs of life
The numbers that the race hustlers typically throw around do not include any offsets. The initial round of offsets would include the costs of living during the slave’s lifetime. Owning a slave meant that the owner was responsible for day-to-day feeding, clothing, housing, and medical care for the slave throughout his lifetime, during the slave’s productive and non-productive years.
Those costs could be significant, and indeed, by the late 1700’s, prohibitory. George Washington’s life is instructive.
Washington found slavery economically inefficient. In the last decades of his life, the profits from his farmland did not cover the cost of feeding and clothing the estate’s enslaved people. By the 1770s, Washington began to realize that slavery was not an efficient labor system for Mount Vernon. After switching his plantation’s focus from tobacco to less labor-intensive grains, Washington had far more enslaved workers than he needed. He was losing money. By 1799, he lamented, “I have more working Negros by a full moiety [half], than can be employed to any advantage in the farming System.”
If you wonder why Washington did not simply sell his slaves at that point, it was because he refused to break up enslaved families. In the end, when he died, Washington did not merely free all of the 123 slaves that he owned outright, but also provided a trust to educate the slaves and to house and care for those of his slaves that were too old or infirm to make a living in free society.
Determining Reparations: Offsets by the economic and human costs of the Civil War
Slaves in America are unique in world history. They are the only group of people for whom a nation engaged in a Civil War to determine their fate as free men or slaves. That was the costliest and most brutal war in American history. If the question is how much economic benefit the nation received from the institution of slavery, then would it not be only fair to deduct the economic costs to the nation from ending the institution of slavery? And if we are going to put an economic value on enslaved blacks during their lifetime, should we not offset that against the economic value of the hundreds of thousands of non-black, non-Confederate lives snuffed out during a Civil War to free the slaves? “Based on 1860 census figures, 8 percent of all white men aged 13 to 43 died in the war, including 6 percent in the North . . .” The race hustlers never mention those issues.
I don’t think anyone has ever attempted to valuate the long-term economic costs of both the Civil War itself and the non-black lives lost during the war. We can get a sense of the scope, though, because we have a lot of numbers available. Thus, we know the numbers for the war itself (numbers below not inflated to current value).
In dollars and cents, the U.S. government estimated Jan. 1863 that the war was costing $2.5 million daily. A final official estimate in 1879 totaled $6,190,000,000. The Confederacy spent perhaps $2,099,808,707. By 1906 another $3.3 billion already had been spent by the U.S. government on Northerners’ pensions and other veterans’ benefits for former Federal soldiers. Southern states and private philanthropy provided benefits to the Confederate veterans. The amount spent on benefits eventually well exceeded the war’s original cost.
Inflation affected both Northern and Southern assets but hit those of the Confederacy harder. Northern currency fluctuated in value, and at its lowest point $2.59 in Federal paper money equaled $1 in gold. The Confederate currency so declined in purchasing power that eventually $60-$70 equaled a gold dollar.
The physical devastation, almost all of it in the South, was enormous: burned or plundered homes, pillaged countryside, untold losses in crops and farm animals, ruined buildings and bridges, devastated college campuses, and neglected roads all left the South in ruin
We also know what happened to the South’s wealth:
The wealth amassed in slaves and slavery for the Confederacy’s 3.5 million blacks effectively ended when Union armies arrived; they were nearly all freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. Slaves in the border states and those located in some former Confederate territory occupied before the Emancipation Proclamation were freed by state action or (on December 6, 1865) by the Thirteenth Amendment.
The war destroyed much of the wealth that had existed in the South. All accumulated investment Confederate bonds was forfeit; most banks and railroads were bankrupt. Income per person in the South dropped to less than 40 percent of that of the North, a condition that lasted until well into the 20th century.
When it comes to the human costs, approximately 828,000+ people associated with the Union Army or civilians in Union states lost their lives or were seriously wounded during the conflict. (Indeed, one in thirteen of the survivors were amputees). Moreover, of those Union soldiers who survived the war, our nation had to pay pension costs well into the 20th century, with these costs actually exceeding the cost of the war itself.
All of the above led Prof. Thomas Sowell, America’s greatest living economist, to eyeball the numbers and then write:
Sometimes it is claimed that slavery made a great contribution to the development of the American economy, from which other Americans benefitted, so that reparations would be like back pay. Although slaveowners benefitted from slavery, it is by no means obvious that there were net benefits to the economy as a whole, especially when you subtract the staggering costs of the Civil War.
So if in fact, the value of freedom provided to blacks by the Civil War exceeds the cost of reparations . . . can we get a check from Rev. Al and the Congressional Black Caucus?
To whom should reparations be paid?
As of 2016, there were 40 million people in America who self-identified as black (including, apparently, Talculm X and Rachel Dolezal). This raises an interesting question: Are all people who merely self-identify as black entitled to reparations, regardless whether they can trace their origins in America back to a slave — or can even trace their origins back to Africa? (Or at least, back to black Africa from the 17th to the beginning of the 19th centuries, for modern anthropology tells us that all of us trace our origins back to Africa.)
Of the 40 million self-identified black people living in the U.S. in 2016, 4.2 million were first generation immigrants to America and clearly had no history of slavery in the American colonies or states. Barack Obama was himself the son of a black man from Kenya. Many more of the 40 million have ancestors who came to the U.S. after slavery ended in 1865. So, are these people entitled to reparations regardless?
If a person’s DNA is not full African, is that person limited to only a portion of reparations in equal proportion? Or does the one-drop rule now apply?
For people who can trace their her origins back to the 18th century, what about if their black ancestors were free people, not slaves? By 1810, at least 13% of Africans in just in the upper South were free people. Many more were likely free in the north.
Or how about this scenario: What if a person’s ancestor was black but owned black slaves? After all, “in 1830 there were 3,775 free black people who owned 12,740 black slaves” in America. And does it matter that it was a black slave owner in mid-17th century Virginia, Anthony Johnson, who, in a law suit against his black servant John Casor, established the concept of chattel slavery for life in America?
Lastly, what percentage of reparations should be charged against the Africans and Arab Muslims who captured slaves in Africa and sold them into American slavery?
Who should pay reparations?
The simple fact is that, even at the height of slavery in 1860, only 8% of Americans (white and black) owned slaves overall. Even in the Southern states, that number never rose above 33%. Moreover, probably half of all Americans (“swag” — scientific wild ass guess) are descended from people who were not even in the U.S. before 1865. So why should Ms. BWR be responsible for paying reparations to blacks today for slavery during the period 1776 to 1865 when her family did not even come to this country until 1954? That would amount to requiring people to fund reparations to blacks simply because of their white skin color. And that would be, dare I say it, racist beyond measure.
If we are to look to history for the wrong, let us look to history for the culprits as well. As Deroy Murdock writes in the National Review today, slavery and its associated ills are identifiable with a particular group — Democrats:
. . . As Black History Month draws to a close, it is vital to remember that slavery spread agony across the South under the watchful eyes of Democrats, such as President Andrew Jackson, from the party’s 1828 launch. It was not until 1860’s election of Republican Abraham Lincoln that the final, decisive push toward abolition began. The GOP-led Union Army crushed the Democrat-led Confederacy in 1865. That’s when Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation came into full force, as Republicans freed the slaves.
The Republicans’ Radical Reconstruction empowered newly liberated blacks. Overriding the presidential vetoes of Democrat Andrew Johnson, congressional Republicans pressured southern states to ratify the 14th Amendment, guaranteeing blacks equal protection under law. . . .
After detailing the many sins of Democrats as regards blacks, Murdock concludes:
. . . if Democrats want reparations to atone for their nearly 200 years of anti-black sins, they should finance them. From Barbra Streisand to George Clooney to Tom Steyer to George Soros, the Democratic 1 percenters should shove their billions into a huge pile and then show us the money.
I could live with that.