EDITORIAL: Reparations is not the way to lend a helping hand

By – – Monday, March 11, 2019


“Reparations” is the general bad idea that descendants of slaves should in some way be compensated financially, even at this late date. This idea was once restricted to the fringes of American politics. Mainstream Democrats, like Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, didn’t want to have anything to do with it.

That was before the Democrats embraced everything (except tolerance for other ideas) open borders, government takeover of health care, free college, “the Green New Deal” and its celebration of whatever wacky idea Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wakes up with on a foggy morning. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, a leading presidential candidate at least in her own mind, thinks reparations might be cool, and so do Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Julian Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio.

Nobody knows how reparations would work. It’s a variation on the “40 acres and a mule” promised to freed slaves at the end of the Civil War. David Brooks, a columnist for The New York Times and a commentator for National Public Radio, likes the idea of reparations, at least as “direct action, a common gesture of respect.” Kamala Harris supports “some type” of reparations. Elizabeth Warren won’t go that far, but wants a “conversation” on the subject, which wouldn’t cost anything. Ta-Nehisi Coates, who revived the reparations craze a few years ago with a widely celebrated article in Atlantic magazine called “The Case for Reparations,” has never described how reparations would work, probably because he doesn’t have a clue, either.

Who, exactly, would qualify for the cash? Barack Obama, for example, wouldn’t because he is descended from Kenyan ancestors who were never American slaves. Michelle probably would qualify, since she was born here, and the Obama girls would, too. Kamala Harris, who is half Indian and half Jamaican, wouldn’t get even a mule. Oprah probably would, but she’s a billionaire already and a mule isn’t really worth a billionaire’s trouble.

What about white folks in the woodpile? Some advocates would extend reparations even to other minorities. “If reparations are owed to the descendants of all members of minority groups that experienced protracted discrimination,” observes George Will, a columnist for The Washington Post, “the Irish can apply, citing the widespread practice of employers posting admonitions that ‘Irish need not apply.’ Italians, too: An 1895 advertisement seeking labor to build a New York reservoir said whites would be paid $1.30 to $1.50 per day, ‘colored’ workers $1.25 to $1.40 and Italians $1.15 to $1.25. Asians on the West Coast were subject to severe discrimination and violence. Jews were restricted from acquiring the momentum that elite universities impart on the path to wealth.”

Suppose that reparations are limited only to the descendants of slaves. How would the money be distributed? Would LeBron James and other baseball, football and basketball superstars qualify for reparations? How about Michael Jackson’s children? What about the millions of Americans who are of mixed race? We’re all (or nearly all of us) a nation of ethnic mutts. Would the government have to establish an Ethnic Commission to determine the racial percentages of every applicant to determine individual payouts? Financial fairness would require it?

Who would supply the money? Would the tens of millions of Americans whose descendants arrived long after slavery was eliminated be taxed to pay for reparations? That doesn’t seem fair. Would other “disadvantaged” groups, like Latinos, have to pay reparations?

Moral implications of reparations are cloudy at best. A reparations scheme would punish some people and reward others for acts of years ago by people nobody alive today ever knew. This would require not only punishing sons for sins of their fathers, but of aunts, uncles and cousins, too. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, of all people, is one of the more clear-eyed leftists on this subject (up until now). He proposes enormously expensive transfer-of-wealth programs, but would at least apply them to all Americans, regardless of race. Many of these programs would be destructive, and have the consequence of bankrupting the country. But they wouldn’t contribute to the racial Balkanism that the Democratic Party seems hell-bent on imposing on everyone. Nobody deserves that.

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