Joel Mundt picks up his second Comment of the Day opining on the ever-green and always perplexing ethics controversy of slavery reparations, which was again broached in the recent Democratic candidates debate in New Hampshire. The topic has had a resurgence in recent years due to the advocacy of the current rock star of race-baiting , Ta Nihisi Coates, who regards the mass white to black wealth transfer as a the only way to solve America’s persistent economic gap among the races.
It has also had a long record of debate on Ethics Alarms, notably in the commentary on this 2019 post, where I admitted that I had momentarily lost my mind in this one from 2016, in which I made…
“….no sense whatsoever. While again rejecting the concept of reparations (“the hell with that. [The idea is] to punish [whites] for the sins of slavery committed by their ancestors by arranging a massive transfer of wealth based on principles of tort law and damages. This has always been a pipe dream of civil rights extremists, couched in the language of revenge, as if the nation and the nation’s white citizens have made no efforts, sacrificed nothing, expended no resources or wealth, to try to undo the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. Reparations are not going to happen, as the concept itself is unjust….”), I proposed a solution….that was indistinguishable from reparations…”
I concluded that mea culpa post by writing,
I’m better now. I am also, unfortunately, also back at Square One, my “Do something!” phase regarding race in America having accomplished nothing, as “Do something!’ arguments always do, and I still see no solution on the horizon.
I still don’t. Joel’s perspective can’t address that.
Here is Joel Mundt’s Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Observations On The ABC Pre-New Hampshire Primary Democratic Candidates Debate:
The issue of reparations has tied numerous candidates up in knots. Now it’s Steyer’s turn, though I think he’s a knot-head regardless. I firmly believe that reparations have already been paid. If the practice of slavery had been cut off solely by Presidential decree or Executive Order, or because the South simply decided to halt it, one could make an argument, however painful and convoluted, that financial reparations had a place at the table of discussion.
But I believe that slavery was ended with bloodshed. Those who supported slavery and secession from the Union paid dearly for it. Hundreds of thousands of Confederate soldiers died for their cause, cities were razed and burned, and their newly-formed government was terminated. And the North paid, too, with the lives of hundreds of thousands of young men who fought to save the Union and ultimately, to end slavery.
And now, 160 years later, people like Steyer (and Buttigieg, and others) say that’s not enough. They are, in effect, telling those soldiers, “Thanks for the sacrifice, but this is more about money than you getting eviscerated by cannon shot and having your body eaten by gangrene.” I’m not sure spitting on their graves is worse.
But it does get worse.
I’m sure there’s some grand plan to (eventually) make all (white only?) citizens pay something into the pot…? Uh, wait a minute…I live in a state that didn’t support slavery, didn’t allow it, and fought against it. I don’t support slavery and I don’t own slaves…never have. I’m not paying a dime. You want money, Mr. Fund Manager? You go find the descendants of slave owners in Confederate states (none of whom currently own a single slave) and take the money from them. Good luck with that…
And it gets worse…
If, like me, you believe the penalty of slavery was paid during a violent Civil War, then what are financial reparations…really? In my view, it’s nothing more than a tax. So one could make a legitimate argument that “reparations” are another way the African-American community is being preyed upon and manipulated, not to actually fix something, but for the sole purpose of dipping into the pockets of Americans. I think that’s incredibly disrespectful.
My apologies for what feels like a rant, and chew carefully before swallowing…
14 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Observations On The ABC Pre-New Hampshire Primary Democratic Candidates Debate””
The justification for reparations does not end with the end of slavery, brought about by a horrendous civil war and the changes to the Constitution.
Instead, the justification includes the long and continuing period of discrimination, especially government sanctioned such as Jim Crow laws, but also the unofficial discrimination which was allowed to continue. This part of reparations justification can be seen as one with the concept of equal outcomes for all. Those held back by discrimination surely were disadvantaged over those many years since the Civil War, the argument goes, so they should be compensated.
Affirmative action programs were instituted as one way of compensating, and in their original form, before they became quota systems, were not especially troubling. But, like all attempts by government to provide equal outcomes, affirmative action became an insult to those it is supposed to help. Expanding a hiring selection pool to consider minorities who otherwise might have been overlooked is reasonable; mandating that specified percentages of minorities be hired may seem fair, but it casts a pall on all minorities who are hired. And, quota systems, being discriminatory, work harm on those who are not selected.
Likewise with reparations. It may seem fair to provide compensation to those adversely affected by many decades of discrimination. And, it may seem fair enough to use tax dollars; after all, there are many uses of tax dollars that not everyone supports. But, as is often the case, the devil is in the details. In particular here, who should receive reparation payments? Start with a simple answer, all blacks. Well, then, what about a black who benefited from affirmative action, perhaps given favorable treatment in school, maybe got one of the scholarships designated for blacks only, got another affirmative action boost in hiring, received preferential treatment in government contracts, and so on? Is this black person to receive the same reparation payment as the black who truly was oppressed throughout his lifetime and received none of those benefits? And, this is the easy part — there are other ethnic groups to consider, genders, dollar amounts, degrees of discrimination, and more.
Those supporting reparations can make it sound like it is the fair thing to do, but they cannot show any way of making it truly fair or reasonable once they get into the details.
Affirmative action programs were instituted as one way of compensating, and in their original form, before they became quota systems, were not especially troubling. But, like all attempts by government to provide equal outcomes, affirmative action became an insult to those it is supposed to help.
Here is one thing.
I can understand affirmative action for American descendants of slavery (because the United States had actually supported slavery) and for Native Americans (due to the various treaty violations)
But why were Hispanics, the descendants of conquistadors, given affirmative action benefits?
JFK’s executive order in 1961 required government contractors to ensure applicants and employees were treated equally without regard to race, creed, color or national origin. It was intended to ensure equal opportunity to all in the workforce. Since then, the concept has evolved to include gender, and to compensate for past and present discrimination, and, more recently, to ensure public institutions are more representative of the populations they serve. In 1978, the Supreme Court ruled against numerical quotas, but said targets and timetables for achieving better representation were acceptable.
Hispanics are one of the ethnic groups that have been discriminated against, so they are included in affirmative action programs. But, your question highlights the essential unfairness of current affirmative action programs. In deciding who was oppressed and who has been an oppressor, just how far back in history do we want to go? And, how far do we want to go with compensation for past discrimination? There is an obvious ethical issue in favoring any group because to do so disadvantages others.
My Mother’s maternal grandparents emigrated from Sweden and my Father’s paternal grandparents from Germany; all legally.
Do I qualify for a discount…
Fairness is impossible to achieve. Reparations, affirmative action quotas all require that those who had no hand in creating the problem are handed the bill.
I should add that the benefits would accrue to those never experiencing legalized discrimination while being paid for by innocent bystanders.
We should consider reparations as soon as the government can set up a functional computer program that can fairly sort all the variables to accurately determine who should give, who should get, and how much…Oh, and then an enrollment system that works.
Thank you for the honor, Jack…and thank you for providing a place where I take in far more than I hand out. You and your readers are incredibly good thinkers, and I try to be a sponge and soak in as much as possible.
I really appreciated all the reader thoughts to my comments yesterday and those here in this thread. They are very helpful.
One factor is that many of them grow up in toxic families in toxic neighborhoods.
Perhaps something like the Residential School system used by Canada can not only take the kids away from the ghetto, but take the ghetto out of the kids.
I’ve wondered myself how effective it would be just to set up state-sponsored schools for kids whose parents are just so woefully inadequate that they’re better off without them. Some of that inferiority complex would, by necessity, need to be addressed to have any kind of impact.
If you have not seen last night’s Saturday Night Live sketch on the pre-NH Democrat Debate, your life is woefully incomplete. It’s like they resurrected the SNL Golden Days of the 70s and 80s.
May its spirit continue!
Didn’t watch the actual debate, but man this was funny!
This is just a scam, plain and simple. It’s not going to go anywhere and any Democratic candidate that supports this should be hounded out of town. My ancestors are from Iowa and supported the Union. My parents told me as a kid that part of the Battle of Gettysburg was fought on my great grandparents farm. So am I eligible for reparations for the damage the Confederates did there? Or does my white privilege cancel it out?
I like the perspective of the price already having been paid with sacrifice. That’s an important angle to consider when weighing the emotional factors involved.
In order to make the implementation of any assistance both simpler and more effective, how does a universal basic income sound? There is no ambiguity about who gets it. It changes the shape of the economy without regard for group identification or past events. Such a measure is insufficient, but likely necessary, in order to sustain the cultural healing that we need to finally move beyond past and present human ruthlessness. The rest of the work must be done by education and the initiative of those who form connections.