I was listening to NPR last night, and after a very interesting bit about the case of 272 slaves sold by Jesuit priests in Maryland, another bit came up where Na-Tehisi Coates was arguing that there ought to be reparations for slavery. In the radio bit, it was with regards to Harvard's endowment, but just for the sake of argument, let's indulge it nationwide.
And for the sake of argument, let's ignore the best arguments against it. Let's assume that calculating what a person is owed is not subject to complex genealogies and even DNA tests. Let's ignore the fact that most whites were not slaveowners, and many have ancestors who were still in Europe at the time of the Civil War and had no role in the practice whatsoever. Ignore the fact that when it's been tried before, monetary payments end up in the original hands within a few years--this occurred in Malaysia, for example. As Proverbs 20:21 notes, an inheritance quickly gained is not blessed in the end. Finally, let's ignore the fact that we probably all lost a LOT with, for example, Ben Carson's ancestors picking cotton instead of practicing medicine.
Rather, let's calculate a number. In 1860, there were about four million slaves with an average "price" of about $1000. For the country as a whole, GDP of $12 billion for about 30 million residents in 1860 indicates an average GDP/capita of about $400. Hence, the ~ 4 million slaves freed by 1865 would have had a "book value" of ~ $4 billion and (assuming an average age of 25 years) an overall productivity in their lives of about ~$10 billion.
Scaling the larger number for inflation, we get to something like $250 billion dollars in reparations that would be owed. Add for slaves who never tasted freedom, and you're talking twice that.
Now let's contemplate what we are trying to fix with reparations. I would presume that we'd be looking at economic deprivation and cultural impacts of slavery, no? Well, it strikes me that about 25% of the annual trillion dollars in welfare spending goes to blacks, or, about.....$250 billion annually.
So in a sense, our nation is making those reparations payments not just once, but rather annually, and we've been doing this pretty much every year since the Great Society started. And that brings to mind the question, again; "How's that working out for you?".
We might note, of course, that some kind of restitution might also be wise vis-à-vis the old Jim Crow laws and such, but again; "How's that working out for us?". I'd love to write a check for my family's share and say "I'm good", but it strikes me that in reality, I can do a lot better for my minority friends and neighbors without ever touching my checkbook.
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