Reparations Going Mainstream Democrat, But They Still Won’t Work
Reparations for black Americans for their experience of slavery used to be a fringe issue for the left. Most Americans thought it unfair to penalize people for the sins of their great-great-grandfathers. Few thought the idea practical or affordable.
Then Ta-Nahesi Coates argued for them in a major article in the June 2014 issue of The Atlantic. Suddenly the issue went mainstream for liberals. But not too mainstream. It still wasn’t practical or affordable. Suddenly liberals had to manage to look sympathetic to the idea without actually endorsing it.
Sevearal major Democratic presidential candidates found a way to do that. They don’t necessarily endorse the traditional form of reparations. They do want to create programs that would effectively advantage blacks over whites in government aid. It’s a new form of reparations.
Senators Kamala Harris of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts are three. When asked on the show The Breakfast Club, “So you are for some type of reparations?” Harris responded, “Yes I am, yes I am.” Booker spokesman Michael Tyler said about Booker’s baby-bond program, “It’s certainly accurate to see to see the baby bonds legislation as a form of reparations through that lens.” Warren told The New York Times last month that she supports reparations.
The politicians’ proposed plans would transfer wealth to whites too. But here’s the important thing: their plans would give whites significantly less money, and blacks significantly more money, given existing wealth disparities between black and white families.
For example, Booker’s “baby-bond” program. It would give every child born in the U.S. a set amount of money every year. The amount would be tied to the family’s income. It would be paid into a bank account. The children couldn’t spend the money until they turned 18, and then only on certain things such as buying a home or school tuition. The program would give the average black child about $29,000. It would give the average white child $16,000, or only 55% of what the black child gets.
While the mainstream Democratic candidates are proposing nuanced forms of reparations, some lesser known candidates want straight transfers of wealth to blacks. Marianne Williamson, a self-help guru and author connected to Oprah would give $100 billion to blacks.
It’s true that blacks are disproportionately poor compared to whites. Their crime rates are higher. But is this the result of years recovering from slavery? Or from the Democrats’ more recent failed policies that encourage black moms to be single, leaving young men growing up without fathers? Why should everyone else pay for their failed policies?
Reparations have been tried elsewhere without success. The country of Zimbabwe tried to implement a form of reparations, which backfired. The government took money from white farmers without compensation and gave it to politically connected blacks. It resulted in hyperinflation and food shortages. It left the black population worse off. The new government has reversed the policy.
Study after study have shown that the vast majority of people don’t like handouts. They want to make a living and provide for themselves. It gives them a sense of pride and dignity. If people are handed free stuff, they are less likely to value it and treat it responsibly.
As the Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution, it forbids racial handouts to rectify mistreatment of a group that occurred in the past. Someone who grew up in the modern era is so removed from slavery, it is difficult to point to the specific harm they suffered as a result. Until the composition of the Supreme Court changes, it’s not likely to uphold reparations.
Who qualifies as black? Someone who is half black? One quarter black? One eighth black? One sixteenth black? What if a black person, like Sen. Harris, is descended from slave owners, not slaves? What about whites whose ancestors were never slave owners?
A reparations program would be difficult to implement honestly. Many people don’t know whether their ancestors were slaves or slave owners. The mainstream Democrats’ programs would take money from all taxpayers, not just whites. Why should other groups that have been aggrieved — such as Japanese-Americans who were interned during WWII— be punished?
If black Americans are entitled to reparations, what about other racial and ethnic groups that have faced mistreatment in the past? Sen. Warren is also calling for reparations for Native Americans.
There is only so much money to go around. The black website Ebony admits, “Reparations owed to African-Americans in terms of dollars are insurmountable and nearly impossible for America to afford.”
Instead, an author there suggests, “A realistic expectation is not to offer monetary compensation but to educate the youth and future generations of all American citizens in a way that would reverse the effects of slavery on everyone and change every citizen’s perception of African-Americans.”
Rasmussen Reports found last year that 70 percent of those polled oppose reparations. While it’s right to feel outraged at the history of slavery in our country, reparations are not the right solution. There are too many reasons why they won’t work.
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