In Racism harms everyone, the New Jersey Star-Ledger Editorial Board’s Tom Moran interviewed with Heather McGhee, the author of a new book on race in America, “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.”
One question stuck out:
Q. How do you expect that to play out?
A. Reparations shouldn’t be seen through a zero sum lens. It’s not taking money from white people. The government did the enslaving, the excluding, the racist policies. We all pay into government today. This should be seen as seed capital for the America we deserve, where the past does not haunt our children today.'
It’s true that the government spearheaded slavery, Jim Crow laws, and segregation. But actual victims proven by evidence, not mere skin color or genetic lineage, should be the standard. Just as a person wrongfully incarcerated for a crime he didn't commit (or his family) can sue for damages from the government, so reparations must be tied to direct harm. If our own government did the injustice, it should pay--meaning the taxpayers foot the bill.
McGhee is wrong on many counts, but she implies a valid argument for how reparations could play out. The debate would have to be over who gets the reparations. For example, should private businesses, regardless of owners' skin color, be able to collect for loss of business due to segregation laws (See Sowell)? Reparations should not become a grab bag of handouts, nor focussed only on blacks. McGhee should agree, since her whole premise is that we all suffer from racism and segregation. She brings up New Deal housing racism that excluded blacks. True enough. But weren't home builders victims, in the form of lost sales to black families? Weren’t whites who lost access to community pools victims? Weren’t whites who lost housing options in integrated neighborhoods victims. If we're all victims, shouldn’t reparations go to all victims?
Of course, justice demands that reparations go to still-living victims. Why should people generations removed from the injustice be able to cash in on the dead victims’ suffering?
Another complication arises with time. McGhee flippantly asserts, “We all pay into government today.” Yes. But it was yesterday’s government that committed the crimes. I did not pay into the governments that legally enforced slavery, or segregated America ( I was only 15 when the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed.) When both the victims of government-enforced racist policies and the people responsible for that government are long dead, who can justly and logically be entitled to reparations, or be stuck with the bill?
And what about the political villains? The Democratic Party is the party of slavery, racism, lynching, and Jim Crow. Being the prime political mover of all of the very government that McGhee acknowledges did the enslaving, the excluding, the racist policies, should the Democratic Party be liable for the damages. But then the same question arises: Why should Democrats who weren’t around during the era of a pro-slavery Democratic Party be liable? Maybe they shouldn’t be. But in another sense they should be, because being a Democrat is a choice. To be a Democrat today, don’t you accept moral responsibility for the entire history of your party, especially since in some respects the party really hasn’t changed its stripes?
Aside from these arguments, McGhee urges us to see reparations as “seed capital for America. That sounds a lot like industrial central planning and another attempt to sneak in socialism through the back door.
You can go on and on dealing with complications and contradictions once you drift away from normal rules of evidence and proof and individual responsibility. Yes, the government did it. But no, that fact does not justify an open-ended, never ending flow of reparations to non-victim descendents.
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein