In the United States, calls for reparations are, once again, heating up. A Duke University professor recently called for $14 trillion in reparations for the descendants of American slavery (roughly $350,000 per recipient).
The professor, William Darity, isn’t the only one calling for reparations. The mayor of Boston, Michelle Wu, has established a task force that will explore compensation for black citizens. In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams has signaled his support for the idea. Detroit’s Reparations Task Force is currently exploring forms of compensation for the city’s black residents. Similar events are taking place in St. Louis. In early May, California’s reparations task force approved recommendations that could see some black residents receive $1.2 million each as compensation for slavery and racial discrimination.
Reparations are a terrible idea.
Calls for race-based compensation appeal to emotion, not logic. First, how do we define slavery? Contrary to popular belief, African Americans weren’t the only victims of slavery. As Stephan Talty, an author who has researched slavery in great detail, has noted, white people were also the victims of slavery.
In a piece for Salon, a hyper-progressive online magazine, Talty discussed the fact that, contrary to popular belief, white slavery did occur prior to the occurrence of the Civil War. Talty referenced the work of Joel Augustus Rogers, a historian who meticulously documented the many ways in which whites were kidnapped and sold into slavery. These kidnappings occurred from the early 1700s right up until 1861, the year the Civil War started. Some of the victims were orphans or unwanted babies, while others were impoverished immigrants. White slavery occurred in America. This is an inconvenient truth that receives little or no attention, probably because it contradicts the “white privilege” narrative that continues to do the rounds.
Even if we were to agree on a definition of slavery, how are we supposed to verify those that claim to be victims? Then, of course, there’s the matter of financing reparations. Where will the money come from?
For comment on the matter, I reached out to David W. Rasmussen, the director of the Policy Sciences Center at Florida State University. Rasmussen recently published a paper discussing reparations for black citizens, and why such a system of redress for past injustices deserves criticism.
Rasmussen told me that although it’s easy to make the case that black citizens are owed reparations—the right to own slaves is embedded in the Constitution, after all—this doesn’t mean that the case being made has any real substance. The idea of reparations, noted Rasmussen, fails for many reasons.
First off, reparations are expensive, with “reasonable” estimates ranging from about $500 billion to $2.7 trillion. The highest estimate of damages is $7 quadrillion, he said, “a figure that emerges because damages are compounded at an annual interest rate of 6 percent.” For the mathematically challenged, a quadrillion is 1,000 trillion.
Moreover, black reparations would benefit about 12 percent of the population.
In other words, said Rasmussen, “We are asking 88 percent of the population to pay as much as $500 billion (probably over a period of years) to bear the cost.”
All Americans, including those who are currently struggling to put food on the table, would bear this cost (40 million Americans, more than 25 percent of the population, currently live in poverty). Only 30 percent of Americans are in favor of some form of reparations. “Many of these,” according to Rasmussen, “may find a $500 billion price tag a hard sell.” Indeed.
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