Reparations for Slavery? If Anything, Blacks Should Pay Whites

Just since the mid-term elections, reparations for slavery has moved from the fringes to the mainstream. Democrat presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Julian Castro have endorsed the idea. Marginal candidate Marianne Williamson wants outright cash payments for blacks, but others are leaving the concept vague. “I’m not sure anyone’s very clear [about what it means],” said Senator Bernie Sanders recently.

There is a precedent for reparations. In 1988, Ronald Reagan signed a bill to pay Japanese-Americans who were in relocation camps during the Second World War. Of course, their situation was different: They were actual survivors—and presumably actual victims—whereas all former slaves are long dead. And depending on how beneficiaries are defined, some blacks who immigrated well after the Civil War might be eligible, including Barack Obama and reparations advocate Kamala Harris.

Who would pay the bill? Many whites immigrated after the end of slavery, and even most whites whose families were here during the Civil War hardly benefited from it. Descendants of Union soldiers could say that their debt was settled at Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Cold Harbor.

One of the arguments for reparations is that American economic development required black slavery. “Not only have the people responsible for building this country not benefited from their own labor, but they have been oppressed because of it,” writes Michael Harriot in The Root. “And still, America hasn’t paid its bill.”

This is a silly argument. At the time of the Civil War, the South was much poorer than the North and accounted for only one-tenth of the nation’s industrial production. Moreover, on a per capita basis, the presence of blacks made the United States no wealthier than other white nations, especially given its abundant natural resources and immense size. The idea that slavery—or the mere presence of blacks—made the country rich is a delusional assertion by blacks who want to inflate their own importance.

Many historians have argued that slavery was inefficient and that slaves were dull, unproductive workers. As one contemporary put it, “It takes two slaves to watch one slave do nothing.” Anne Norton of Princeton notes that many abolitionists rubbed their hands at the prospect of hiring freed slaves whom they expected to hire for as little as they paid Irish laborers: “Estimates of the increased hours which freed slaves would be obliged to work—and the consequent rise in national productivity—abounded in antislavery works.” [Anne Norton, Alternative Americas, University of Chicago Press, 1986, p. 236.] Even the best known analysis of slavery that argues the system actually was productive concluded that because of cradle-to-grave support for slaves, “slave owners expropriated far less than generally presumed, and over the course of a lifetime a slave field hand received approximately ninety percent of the income produced.” It is true that a number of Southern planters grew rich, but there is no reason to think they could not have become rich on hired, free labor.

Any wealth the South gained from slavery (including the value of the slaves themselves) was destroyed during the war, and the South didn’t recover to antebellum levels until the 20th century.

Of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln said:

[I]f God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’

The war came close to doing just that. A recent study found the Civil War death toll was underestimated; the true figure is somewhere between 650,000 to 850,000 men, almost all white. A huge amount of wealth, property, industrial capacity and human capital was destroyed. What little industrial capacity and rolling stock the South did possess was wiped out, and entire cities were burned to the ground.

The idea that blacks somehow “built” America leads to the obvious question: Are whites better off because there have been blacks in America? Whatever they may say out loud, judging by where they choose to live and send their children to school, most whites certainly don’t think they benefit from the presence of blacks today. Nor are they wrong.

Since the end of segregation and restrictive covenants, cities such as Selma, Alabama, and Gary, Indiana, have been ruined. Because of black migration and black crime, millions of whites have become, as Jared Taylor put it in 2001, “refugees in their own country.” The ruins of North Philadelphia and Detroit are a silent testimonial to the vast amount of capital squandered. To gaze upon the once beautiful brownstones and townhouses in Baltimore is to see what was lost.

Dilapidated row-homes in Baltimore

It’s very hard to calculate group costs and group contributions to the national economy, but using figures from the 2014 federal budget, Ryan Faulk calculated that whites generate an annual $2,795 per person surplus for the government while blacks run an annual deficit of $10,016 per capita. In 1993 in Forbes, Peter Brimelow estimated the cost of affirmative action alone as 4 percent of GNP. That cost would presumably be far higher today, because there are far more people eligible for racial preferences. Quantifying such costs would be a very valuable service.

Paul Kersey has noted that blacks with a mule cart protested the launch of Apollo 11, demanding more welfare instead of space exploration. It’s depressing to imagine what whites could have accomplished if they were not hobbled by diversity.

As for blacks, the general theory of white exploitation holds that the racist ideology created to justify slavery endured long after abolition. Therefore, American institutions are shaped by “white privilege” and all whites—even descendants of the lowliest who never owned slaves or who immigrated later—benefit from racism. This is also why all blacks, including those who came last year, still suffer incalculable damage from racism. Thus, all whites are indebted to all blacks.

Thus was born one of the central lies of American race relations: that whites benefit from the presence of “black bodies.” Of course, it is whites who create the successful societies from which blacks demand concessions. Many American blacks may hate whites, but insist on access to white schools, neighborhoods, and countries. From Malcolm X to Keith Ellison, “black nationalists” start their careers with cries for independence and self-determination and end with calls for more handouts. Murray Rothbard observed in 1993 that black nationalism is a “phony nationalism” and a “drive for an aggravated form of coerced parasitism over the white population.”

David Horowitiz correctly noted in a 2001 article that “reparations have already been paid . . . in the form of welfare payments and racial preferences.” “If trillion dollar restitutions and a wholesale rewriting of American law (in order to accommodate racial preferences) for African-Americans is not enough to achieve a ‘healing,’ what will be?” he asked.

Of course, “healing” isn’t the point. Blacks will never be satisfied no matter how badly whites are bled. During the controversy over David Horowitz’s reparations article, the late Charles Krauthammer proposed a “Grand Compromise,” with a direct payment of tens of thousands to blacks in exchange for ending affirmative action. Most reparations schemes proposed today create an ever-more-elaborate and permanent racial preference schemes.

This is yet another example of egalitarianism’s mission creep. Because Americans cannot discuss racial reality, policymakers at least must pretend to be surprised that desegregation and race preferences have not brought equality. Even the most expansive reparations regime would fail, just as it has in South Africa, but it would make it much harder for whites to create the wealth non-whites demand.

So who depends on whom? The answer is obvious. The long-term effect of slavery was to saddle white America with the permanent albatross of diversity. Non-whites have benefited enormously from access to white communities and a once-white country, which is why they continue to flood into a nation supposedly defined by “white privilege.” They depend on us; we don’t depend on them. If anyone deserves reparations, we do.

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