Beyond Reparations

There is no proposal so foolish that it has no advocates, or sometimes even its fanatics. If hope springs eternal in the human breast, delusion springs eternal from the human head.

Recently I was scrolling through The Guardian looking for easy targets—The Guardian is an inexhaustible source of these, which are, of course, any journalist’s best friends—when I came across an article by Dedrick Asante-Muhammad. I don’t know whether this was the name he had at birth, but whether it was given or assumed, it seems perfect for a monomaniac, a fanatic, or a mere political entrepreneur.

The idea propounded in the article was that every black person in the United States with an identifiable slave ancestor should be given, as of right, $20,000 a year for 20 years. Those younger than 25 should have it put in trust for them till they reach that age. Thus—only thus?—will the difference in wealth between blacks and whites in America be annihilated. What’s Race Got ... Elder, Larry Best Price: $46.85 (as of 03:50 EDT - Details)

Needless to say, the average reader of The Guardian, ever on the lookout for yet another reason to feel good about himself and morally superior to the rest of benighted mankind (or should I say humankind?), will not dismiss this idea with the snort of derision that it deserves, but roll it round in his mind as an oenophile rolls a mouthful of wine round in his mouth. For such a person, the prospect of economic confiscation—of others, of course—acts as the presence of blood in the sea is said to act upon sharks.

The objections to the proposal are so many and so obvious that it is difficult to know where to begin. When American blacks go to Africa, not a few of them are inclined to thank their lucky stars that their ancestors were taken into slavery. No one, I presume, would suggest that they had incurred a financial debt to the descendants of those who took their ancestors into slavery, and to those who created and maintained the demand for slaves.

Large gifts of money do not always benefit those who receive them. This is true of groups as it is of individuals. I think it distinctly possible that if I had received a large sum at the age of 25 (or at any rate a sum that seemed to me at that age to be very large), I might have used it so unwisely that I would never have recovered from it. Naturally, individuals vary and some would benefit. But in general, good fortune is a more difficult test of character than bad, in part because bad fortune is apt to reduce the scope of choice—and choice is often disastrous for those of bad, juvenile, or even merely weak character.

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