How much have white Americans benefited from slavery and its legacy?

by on May 25, 2014 at 7:27 am in Economics, History, Uncategorized | Permalink

Many people are talking about the Ta-Nehisi Coates essay on reparations.  Ezra Klein has a summary of the argument, which runs as follows:

What Coates shows is that white America has, for hundreds of years, used deadly force, racist laws, biased courts and housing segregation to wrest the power of compound interest for itself. The word he keeps coming back to is “plunder.” White America built its wealth by stealing the work of African-Americans and then, when that became illegal, it added to its wealth by plundering from the work and young assets of African-Americans. And then, crucially, it let compound interest work its magic.

I would suggest that most living white Americans would be wealthier had this nation not enslaved African-Americans and thus most whites have lost from slavery too, albeit much much less than blacks have lost.  For instance it is generally recognized that freer and fairer polities tend to be wealthier for most of their citizens.  (We may disagree about what “fair” means for many issues, but slavery and its legacy are obviously unfair.)

More specifically, many American whites benefited from hiring African-American labor at discrimination-laden discounted market prices, but many others lost out because it was more costly to trade with African-Americans.  That meant fewer good customers, fewer eligible employees, fewer possible business partners, fewer innovators, and so on, all because of slavery and subsequent discrimination.  The wealth-destroying effects are surely much larger here, even counting whites alone.  And the longer the time horizon, the more likely the dynamic benefits from trade will outweigh the short-run benefits from discriminating against some class of others.

Empirically, I do not think whites in slavery-heavy regions have had especially impressive per capita incomes.  And a lot of the economic catch-up of the American South came only when the region abandoned Jim Crow.

We also can look at how many white Americans have had ancestors who, at least for a while, had zero or near-zero net wealth.  The returns from slavery may have been compounding for some heirs of Mississippi plantation owners, but not for most of us.  My father, when he was thirty, had just gone bankrupt from an unsuccessful attempt to manage a New Jersey pet store.  In what sense was he, or later I, reaping compound returns from a legacy of slavery?  We go back to the point that overall he probably would have had a better chance in the wealthier and fairer non-discriminating society, even if you can pinpoint some mechanisms through which he might have benefited, such as facing less competition from potential African-American pet store entrepreneurs.

The economic incidence of slavery is a tricky matter (most of what Squarely Rooted argues here is wrong).  A lot of whites in the slave trade bought slaves at the going market price and earned the going market rate of return.  Of course these same whites were reluctant to free the slaves they had bought and that meant terrible lives for the victims.  But the gains of those whites are not mirror images of the losses of the slaves.  Thus in some regards slavery was a massive collective action problem with a relatively small number of beneficiaries.  Those benefiting would include individuals who first saw the gains from seizing slaves from Africa, and individuals who were good at spotting undervalued slaves and buying them up and exploiting them.  That’s a fair number of people but it is far from comprising the overwhelming majority of society in 1840, much less 1940 or 2014, once we consider possible wealth transmission to their heirs.

There is still a moral case for reparations even if most American whites have lost from slavery rather than benefited.  (Although I doubt if the America public would see the matter that way, which is one reason why the reparations movement probably isn’t going anywhere.)  Nonetheless on the economics of the issue I would suggest a very different analysis than what I am seeing from many of the commentators.  And this analysis makes slavery out to be all the more destructive, and reparations to be all the more unlikely.

Addendum: It is amazing how many of you cannot read and digest a simple sentence such as “There is still a moral case for reparations even if most American whites have lost from slavery rather than benefited.”  Which by the way is far to the “left” of where the current debate stands in American politics and indeed in most other parts of the world.

Pensans May 25, 2014 at 7:38 am

Who pays reparations for the whites who died to free them!

Handle May 25, 2014 at 8:38 am

I’m first in my family to be born in the the US, but I’d still be willing to pay massive reparations to everyone and their mother if it actually functioned as a permanent collective settlement and full accord and satisfaction of all possible racial claims to our heirs and assigns, forever; along with a constitutional amendment directing the complete dismantling of all ethnicity-conscious policies and the establishment of a genuinely racially-indifferent government.

Now that would be a utility improving Pareto-efficient bargain. Where’s the economic analysis of / argument for that? But it seems no one wants to forgo the interminable option to make future racial claims for even more redistribution, making the promise of settlement illusory, because what is the standard for determining when the moral debt has been adequately satisfied, and how do you make everyone agree to it?

If the deal is, “Pay now and probably we’ll just ask you to pay more later,” that that sounds a lot like an extortionate protection racket and not like a trade or satisfaction of a debt. It’s rational to reject that deal.

Ashok Rao May 25, 2014 at 9:13 am

Specifically the reason I wouldn’t support something like what you mention. http://ashokarao.com/2014/05/24/the-method-of-reparations/

Handle May 25, 2014 at 11:24 am

Sure, but that’s a bit of cutting off your nose to spite your face. I find the idea of racial reparations distasteful in the extreme, but I’m willing to acquiesce to it in exchange for some consideration. If you won’t offer me the thing I value because you find it distasteful, you won’t get the minimum requisite support for reparations or any other racially-conscious policy either. An ok-deal is worse than an ideal-deal, but it’s better than no-deal. Unless it’s not really about making any deals.

You also say, “Part of reconstructing a culture patterned by recidivism is creating a tight labor market.”

Right. But low-skill immigration that is disproportionately in the economic tier that African American males tend to occupy has progressively loosened their labor market. Yet reducing the supply of new entrants is never offered as the logical corollary to stimulating the demand for that tier’s labor.

Immigrants are like the Central Bank for the Market Monetarists; they move last, so the fiscal multiplier is zero. If the government causes inflation above the Fed’s target, the Fed will just tighten. And if you solely act on the demand side, then whatever you do to tighten the labor market for black male labor and push up participation and wages will just attract more competition from the marginal immigration, loosening the market again, and neutralizing the impact. So you have to act on the supply side too, or it’s all for nothing.

Z May 25, 2014 at 9:14 am

I’ve made the same argument: http://thezman.com/wordpress/?p=1636

There’s a limit as to what can be paid, but any negotiated number would fall far short of it. My idea would be roughly half a trillion a year, but the savings would more than cover it. Measuring the massive inefficiencies brought on my the welfare state is tough, but a ball park figure is good enough to justify reparations.

My one non-negotiable demand is it closes the book on the subject. That, I suspect, is something blacks will never agree to, no matter the amount of payments. Cowards like Coates would have to find a new way to make a living as he could no long play his current role to the SWPL crowd.

Scott Zimmerle May 25, 2014 at 10:56 am

> Measuring the massive inefficiencies brought on my the welfare state is tough, but a ball park figure is good enough to justify
> reparations.

Your assumption being that no whites use the welfare state?

Z May 25, 2014 at 11:05 am

Uptalk is repugnant and you should stop doing it. Ending your statements with a question mark is perhaps fashionable for 12-year old girls, but not for a man of any age.

That said, no such assumption was implied. What is fact is blacks are wildly over represented on the welfare rolls and the crime blotter. The latter is unfixable, but the former will have to be eliminated for reparations to work.

Scott Zimmerle May 25, 2014 at 12:50 pm

Uptalk is repugnant and you should stop doing it. Ending your statements with a question mark is perhaps fashionable for 12-year old girls, but not for a man of any age. That said, no such assumption was implied. What is fact is blacks are wildly over represented on the welfare rolls and the crime blotter. The latter is unfixable, but the former will have to be eliminated for reparations to work.

Translation: I am angry that a non-racist has invaded my safe zone. Go away.

Brenton May 25, 2014 at 3:36 pm

Scott, you’re not going to win any arguments by communicating in such an immature manner.

Jan May 25, 2014 at 8:01 pm

Z, white non-hispanics are 42% of the poor, but take in 69% of the benefits. But then again, I wouldn’t expect you to acknowledge that.

http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/13/who-benefits-from-the-safety-net/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

Z May 25, 2014 at 8:21 pm

@Jan, I know math is hard for you, so I suggest you leave it to people who know what they are doing. Repeating cant from the hive just reinforces the fact you don’t even bother to think for yourself.

Blacks make up 13% of the population and 40% of the welfare rolls. That’s what we call being over represented.

Jan May 26, 2014 at 8:28 am

It is because they are poorer. Do you think welfare is designed to target difference races in proportion to their share of the national population? Or do you maybe think it is supposed to target the people who are poorest, regardless of race? Think really, really hard.

If you’re so set on fixing welfare, maybe you could where people who are not poor are receiving free stuff. Do you understand that?

Sunilski May 27, 2014 at 4:45 pm

Ok, but you have to absolutely guarantee that no one will ever discriminate on the basis of race. On penalty of death.

Morgan Warstler May 25, 2014 at 11:04 am

The solution is to give black business owners exclusive access to cheap labor….

https://medium.com/@morganwarstler/7cde116f4eb1

Over night, using GI/CYB in this way, predominantly black neighborhoods will fixed up and overrun with value shoppers. Black owned service businesses will travel out into white areas and crush their white competition, and market advantage will survive until highly black concentration poor neighborhoods disappear.

This will not cost the taxpayers anything. And overall our taxes will decrease.

Z May 25, 2014 at 11:29 am

I’m not a fan. Look. Reparations serve two roles. One is they make blacks whole. While it is impossible to calculate the cost to each living decedent of slaves, we can agree on liquidating damages. Magic Johnson getting a check from me is ridiculous, but no one said the result needed to be perfect. Second and most important, it ends white guilt. The cold civil war between whites for the last fifty years has to come to an end. A big public ceremony along with an easy to observe payment to black America ends the civil war.

Complexity is the enemy of both goals.

Morgan Warstler May 25, 2014 at 12:09 pm

1. It is not complex. It is Uber for Welfare. Did you actually read GICYB plan? It is just software, none of it is complicated. it deeply reduces the number of people involved in welfare administration. it shrinks govt.

2. Like a fuel cell, it runs until he fuel is spent. As long as there are Chicago neighborhoods full of poor blacks on welfare, there will be an advantage given to black business owners over all other business owners. Equilibrium will be found, the price level will shift down, forcing whites to be poorer, and black to be richer.

3. This makes it even fairer than Indian Casinos.

4. It doesn’t cost a dime in new taxes. It generally punishes whites in the cities with highly segregated populations, the cities that are well integrated there will be far less advantage granted to black business owners.

Z May 25, 2014 at 12:44 pm

I understand all that, but you’re missing my point. Most people will never understand it or even feel it. Getting a bill from the black guy down the street leaves a mark. That’s the point of reparations. Blacks have to believe whites are shouldering a burden to pay them. Whites have to think black are getting a tangible benefit.

This is not a math problem. It is a moral problem. You don’t solve moral problems with software.

Morgan Warstler May 25, 2014 at 2:13 pm

You are wrong.

The ACTUAL point is guaranteeing that black business owners make it into the upper and upper-middle classes and STAY THERE.

Only a fuel cell model works, so as long as there are ghettos, black business owners have cheap labor to exploit and steal business other businesses. This will ding McDonalds and Walton family, shareholders in Fortune 1000, bc 500K black business will literally crush their copettion until ghettos are fixed up and black workers are earning the same wage as white.

As whites in Northbrook, IL see their jobs disappearing, bc black owned companies are coming in and deeply undercutting their prices, they’ll FEEL the moral weight of justice on their shoulders.

Morgan Warstler May 25, 2014 at 2:17 pm

The awesome sauce is that this system will shrink the govt. and reduce the tax burden, as many public sector jobs are privatized.

The point is that government gets replaced by software. We don’t have any govt. buildings or public employees, or lines to stand in, are traffic to sit in…. and since future govt. expenses fall, the pensions of current public sector employees are safer.

Anthony May 26, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Morgan – if this is your “welfare by eBay” proposal, I’m all for it, but it’s orthogonal to the issue of slavery reparations. Christan charity requires that we do something to help the poor because this is a Christian nation, and your proposal sounds like it would work better than what we’ve got now. But the case for slavery reparations is a matter of retributive justice for past wrongs.

It would be ridiculous for Jay-Z or Oprah or Magic Johnson to benefit directly from a welfare program, but the logic of reparations would say they should get their check just as much as a single mother in East Oakland.

Chip May 25, 2014 at 8:24 pm

If it’s post slavery discrimination that’s the issue, and we are looking for an institution that represents us (govt) to make reparations, does it follow that the Democrat Party should make payments for their racist policies?

The fact that most blacks are now Democrats is as irrelevant as the fact that most modern Americans never benefitted from racism.

Right?

Sunilski May 27, 2014 at 4:46 pm

Wrong. Stupid argument.

bry4321 May 27, 2014 at 11:30 am

interesting question. about 1 union soldier died for every 7 slave who were freed. about 2.1 union soldiers fought to free about 4 million slaves. (I realize I am vastly oversimplifying.) So it seems like the question asked by Pensans is, should the descendants of slaves pay reparations to those who risked their lives freeing them?

Jack May 28, 2014 at 11:21 pm

Here, here.

One thing is entirely certain: neither Blacks nor Arabs ended the slave trade.

Crowley May 29, 2014 at 10:10 am

There were white slaves as well from Ireland.
But let’s turn our attention to those enslaved in ghettos through progressive social engineering. We need to making freeing them a priority.

theCoach May 25, 2014 at 7:46 am

Wrong analysis. It is not slavery vs. not slavery, but the relative disadvantage under the actual policies that existed.

“albeit much much less than blacks have lost”

gives away the argument. I would agree that it is very unlikely.

marc May 25, 2014 at 8:42 am

he missed the point , doesn’t seem to have read or understood the piece.

cmc May 25, 2014 at 3:16 pm

Pretty shocking whiff by TC here. It’s evident he hasn’t read the TNC piece.

The Anti-Gnostic May 25, 2014 at 7:47 am

Next time, we pick our own cotton.

Rz0 May 25, 2014 at 7:48 am

You are likely to learn the first rule of punditry: Never argue with Te-Nehisi Coates. He argues closely, eloquently, brilliantly and relentlessly.

Ed May 25, 2014 at 8:01 am

I hope this is sarcasm.

A May 25, 2014 at 9:11 am

+1

Zephyrus May 25, 2014 at 10:07 am

TNC is simply one of the best bloggers writing on anything today. He writes with a persistent humility and eloquence that are matched by few.

TMC May 25, 2014 at 10:32 am

And he’ll be the first to tell you.

Zephyrus May 25, 2014 at 11:49 am

I get the idea of this: say a throwaway line that attacks TNC as a way to undermine him, engaging in reputational positioning, hopefully dissuading others from reading him because his politics and background make you uncomfortable. Well done.

So, I’ll just point it out for what it is, and the fact that no one who actually has read him would claim he’s proud, self-centered, or an idiot.

TMC May 25, 2014 at 3:18 pm

I do read TNC, though not regularly.Not particularly uncomfortable with what he says, but he does overstate his case most of the time. I think if he didn’t stay in his echo chamber, hid halo would lose its glow.

Careless May 25, 2014 at 4:03 pm

indeed. But whether or not it is, it got me to laugh

Z May 25, 2014 at 9:17 am

If you read his piece, you’ll see it is not an argument. It is an extended tantrum. There’s few people who would not concede up front that blacks were treated poorly for a long time. Modern blacks may be living better than any blacks on earth, but their ancestors had a rough go of it and that has cast a long shadow. Coates spent thousands of word telling us what we already know. What the coward refused to do is address the actually deal he would propose.

That says he wants the issue, not the a resolution.

tt May 25, 2014 at 9:49 am

describes The Atlantic:
“wants the issue, not the a resolution.”
btw how about reparations for Native Americans and Palestinians ?

Z May 25, 2014 at 10:16 am

Casinos are reparations for Indians. I’d also suggest that being out-competed by another group does not warrant reparations. The Palestinians are not my problem.

errorr May 26, 2014 at 3:13 am

Casinos are pretty bad reparations and still limited by a lot of different factors so that a very small population benefited.

The remnants of the Sioux that were shoved into the crappiest part of the Dakotas are the poorest people in America. They could use reparations for how they were treated and marginalized.

derek May 25, 2014 at 10:23 am

Israel is reparations for the treatment of Jews during WW2.

Doug May 25, 2014 at 1:45 pm

So, Liberia makes us even then, right?

mulp May 25, 2014 at 12:44 pm

“Modern blacks may be living better than any blacks on earth,… ”

That is exactly why reparation is required by you:

noun
1. the making of amends for wrong or injury done:
“reparation for an injustice.”

What is just in saying that US blacks are better off than any other blacks in the world? Why aren’t blacks in the US treated exactly like whites and all shades in between?

That you rationalize the inequality you clearly see is the injustice that needs repair:

3. restoration to good condition
4. repair

I guess the real problem is that in a political climate that demands that everything be done by the market and with money, its impossible to address problems of justice and injustice.

Z May 25, 2014 at 4:46 pm

Obviously you have some sort of reading disability. All over this thread and on my blog I have come down in favor of reparations. What you and every other lefty scold wants is the issue. You don’t want to repair anything. Instead, you want to pick at the scab in perpetuity.

chip May 25, 2014 at 10:31 pm

“Why aren’t blacks in the US treated exactly like whites and all shades in between?”

The Great Society, affirmative action, disparate use of welfare and abandonment of risk controls for home loans.

These are examples where they were treated differently, and benefited.

Can this be offset, along with the disproportionate cost of criminal behaviour?

What if an all-black city council eviscerates a city’s finances and depresses home values for non-blacks, forcing them to move?

Are all blacks responsible for this council’s actions, and all non-blacks who suffered to benefit from reparations?

There isn’t a person on the planet who hasn’t suffered injustice from another person. Are all these injustices to be ascribed a value for compensation?

Maybe with bitcoin we can. A thousandth of a cent for being cut off on the interstate, and hundredth when a teacher in a bad mood marks a student compared with when he marks in a good mood.

Sunilski May 27, 2014 at 4:50 pm

If an all black city council did that it would be bad governance. Not enslavement and the use of coercive measures to rob a people of what little they had. The fact that you can’t see that points to your innate racist tendencies.

FredR May 25, 2014 at 11:01 am

LOL

dearieme May 25, 2014 at 7:49 am

The whole business is fraught with danger: somebody is going to come along and suggest that the reparations take the form of one-way air tickets back to West Africa.

There is wisdom in letting sleeping dogs lie.

8 May 25, 2014 at 8:27 am

Call it reparations, but really it is a severance package.

mulp May 25, 2014 at 12:48 pm

In other words you refuse to correct an injustice of unequal treatment that continues to the present….

dearieme May 25, 2014 at 7:55 pm

It’s a very elegant argument that all whites are guilty by reason of their being white, and all blacks are deserving by reason of being black.
Elegantly racist.

Cliff May 25, 2014 at 9:43 pm

The present unequal treatment being preferential admission into the best universities, favored status for government contracts, etc.?

Johnnyz May 25, 2014 at 7:51 am

Chattel slavery is long gone, but involuntary servitude in the form of tax slavery still exists. Taxation is theft.
When I pointed this out on Krugman’s blog, he went ballistic, claiming my post to be “hate speech.”
It’s good to be dissed by the most thuggish economist alive.

Michael Foody May 25, 2014 at 8:16 am

Not hate speech, but a child’s philosophy. Private property is itself a social construct (as is collective ownership or state ownership). Ultimately private property is only as real as the collective belief that maintains it or the violence that serves that belief. What mechanism makes something belong to someone? Libertarian philosophers have answers for this but none are particularly persuasive. They claim land is originally allocated by ‘discovery’ or ‘improvement’ and indeed these might be good rules for men to use in specific situations, but most land was initially allocated by a musical chairs game of infinite violence.

Brent May 25, 2014 at 8:27 am

I am sorry to inform you that you just made the “might equals right” argument. For example, I own myself, just as slaves owned themselves (and had their lives stolen from them), regardless of what your “collection of beliefs” thinks about the matter.

Michael Foody May 25, 2014 at 10:29 am

Why do you ‘own yourself’ instead of just thinking of yourself as existing outside of the ownership construct entirely? It doesn’t apply to everything. Saying slaves had their lives stolen from has a certain poetic truth but it’s not how I would describe the enterprise formally. Slaves still lived lives, but they were usually awful lives. I can find the institution that does that monstrous because of the suffering it caused and because I think the ability of humans to make certain choices and exercise certain freedoms is important. Parsing the enormous human tragedy of chattel slavery as ‘oh no property rights aren’t being enforced’ strikes me as strange.

Inside of formal system of laws it’s easy to tell who steals. Outside of formal system of laws we cannot do this so easily.

J May 25, 2014 at 11:18 am

+1

I hate to break it to you, but the universe does not care who gets to have this or that piece of land. (I also happen to believe there are no objective normative/moral truths, but that’s another matter). Property is a great, but human, institution.

I sometimes wonder if part of the reason for European countries’ more socialistic tendencies is because the “musical chairs game of infinite violence” is so much more obvious over there, given the world wars and thousands of years of history, whereas in the US there was more of an immaculate initial distribution of land, with just about all private land today in principle traceable back to the first European settler family to occupy it (of course, Native Americans did not enter into that calculus).

Explodicle May 25, 2014 at 11:01 pm

“A child’s philosophy”? You can troll more effectively when you don’t start with name-calling.

Boonton May 25, 2014 at 9:39 am

If your can earn $100 a day you are free to do so. If taxes are $25 you are free to decide for yourself whether or not you want to work a day for $75.

That seems very different from a slave who isn’t free to choose not to work.

Datcv May 25, 2014 at 10:02 am

I guess I am only 3/4ths of a person.

Never mind how much compound interest I have lost over the years from having some percent of my income stolen from me.

Boonton May 25, 2014 at 10:34 am

Nothing was stolen from you. You knew taxes were 25% *before* you took the job. So you agreed to work for $75 and were free to say no.

Mark Thorson May 25, 2014 at 10:46 am

You’re free to starve and be homeless, too.

Boonton May 25, 2014 at 12:32 pm

Why would you starve by working some amount of time in exchange for $75 rather than $100? And what business does a libertarian have talking about starving and being homeless. Sounds like someone has a subliminal entitlement mentality!

Cliff May 25, 2014 at 9:45 pm

What business does a libertarian have talking about a guaranteed minimum income, then?

anon May 25, 2014 at 11:23 pm

Hey, just so you know: next time you get held up, the masked mugger is me. Since you know I’ll do this, you should probably avoid walking around in public – just drive. Otherwise you agree to be mugged.

Boonton May 26, 2014 at 12:26 am

So it’s wrong for me to mug you because it’s against the law, but if they pass a law that says there’s a tax to pay to stop muggers….that is theft?

Or is your argument that the laws don’t actually matter, ultimately you are a law unto yourself since your libertarian theology provides the index to all that is right and wrong?

Wow May 26, 2014 at 1:21 am

Are you for real? A belief that mugging is wrong isn’t theology.

Ron H. May 26, 2014 at 6:43 pm

Boonton

So it’s wrong for me to mug you because it’s against the law, but if they pass a law that says there’s a tax to pay to stop muggers….that is theft?

You are clearly missing something here. It is wrong to mug someone because it’s a violation of their rights, whether or not it is against the law. Codifying that wrong act into law is a recognition that mugging is wrong, and provides a basis from which people in a society can act jointly to prevent mugging or take corrective action to remedy the injustice of mugging.

What, exactly, is the difference between getting mugged by a criminal on the street and being mugged by an agent of the government who demands protection money to keep you safe from muggers?

Or is your argument that the laws don’t actually matter, ultimately you are a law unto yourself since your libertarian theology provides the index to all that is right and wrong?

You do not appear to understand libertarianism.

GiT May 27, 2014 at 12:08 am

Well, Ron, you don’t seem to understand ownership. Clearly a more basic form of ignorance.

Ron H. May 27, 2014 at 4:24 am

Git

Well, Ron, you don’t seem to understand ownership. Clearly a more basic form of ignorance.

It’s not clear how you got that impression from my response to boonton, so if you think you have something to contribute to our understanding of ownership let’s hear it.

Brandon May 27, 2014 at 9:02 am

Didn’t think I’d see unintentional endorsement of the idea of wage-slavery at MR.

Boonton May 25, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Country A: Has no taxes but wages average about $75 a day

Country B: Wages average about $100 a day but taxes are about 25%.

What exactly is being ‘stolen’ from you in B that isn’t in A? In both cases you went to work knowing how the system worked, if you didn’t like it you should have stayed home and watched TV.

Cliff May 25, 2014 at 9:46 pm

Pretty obvious answer: the taxes. It’s not a convincing argument to say that slavery is free choice because they could always have killed themselves and thereby opted out.

Boonton May 26, 2014 at 12:14 am

But you don’t have to kill yourself, you could just stay home and watch TV. Lots of people say no to job offers. If you called up, say, Beyonce and asked her to perform at your niece’s birthday party for $500 her agent would tell you no. She has that right, the slave had no legal right to say no.

And if she took your gig knowing the pay is only $500 when she could easily command $500,000 she can’t complain after the fact that $499,500 was ‘stolen’ from her just as the slave’s freedom was stolen from him.

Ron H. May 26, 2014 at 3:03 am

What exactly is being stolen…

I can”t believe anyone would actually pose that question. Your property is being stolen, Boonton.

Company A pays $75/day and you are have a safe and uneventful trip home from work each day.

Company B pays $100/day, and I mug you on your way home every day and demand $25 in protection money to ensure you get home safely. What are you complaining about? You take home the same amount in either case, and you went to work knowing how the system worked.

Z May 25, 2014 at 10:23 am

It certainly is a different arrangement. The thing is, slavery in reality was nothing like what we now imagine. Slaves were highly valuable property. Slaves who killed an overseer, for example, were not hung for the crime. Overseers were a dime a dozen. The good ones got along well with their charges, which is the source of most of the European genes in African-American populations. The bad overseers came to a bad end, thus doing the slave owner a favor.

Coates was wise to avoid the slavery discussion. He’s bright enough to know he is not bright enough to tackle it in a productive way. Focusing on housing policy offers enough sob stories to distract everyone from his empirical deficiencies and his cowardice. His audience now has a reason to feel bad and feel good about it.

Boonton May 25, 2014 at 12:33 pm

I really, really doubt killing an overseer was lightly overlooked.

Z May 25, 2014 at 12:48 pm

Which why I did not say that. Buy and read the book Renegade History of America. It is an easy read and is fun debunking of a lot of popular myths about the past, like slavery. You could also read and listen to the slave narratives from the New Deal era.

But, most people prefer the fictional accounts for obvious reasons.

Boonton May 25, 2014 at 1:05 pm

I fully understand you if you’re trying to say that slavery was not the mindless sadism depicted in, say, Djingo Unchained. I grant you that, it was nevertheless a brutal way of life If it wasn’t there would be no need to address ‘runaway slaves’ and we would have plenty of cases of freed blacks offering to sell themselves into slavery.

Z May 25, 2014 at 2:55 pm

Boonton: Certainly slavery was no walk in the park, but we do ourselves an injustice by not appreciating people in their time. If you read accounts by former slaves, you find a lot of fondness for the old ways. Freedom was actually pretty awful for the first decades after the Civil War. Life expectancy, for example dropped after slavery.

That’s the thing about history, it is inconvenient, which is why we work so hard to forget it.

Boonton May 26, 2014 at 12:16 am

As I recall Russia went through a pretty dark period right after they ditched communism but before they got whatever you want to call what they have no. Society’s infrastructure was set up premised on slavery, abolish that and you’ll have a brutal transition. That’s not an argument for slavery’s merits anymore than the crises that Russia faced after the fall of the USSR is an argument for communism.

easy May 25, 2014 at 5:05 pm

I think you’re conflating two very different things, quality of life and freedom. There may be an argument to be made that quality of life was better as a slave than as an impoverished free man. However, given the choice, I find it hard to believe slaves would not have jumped at the possibility of freedom.

John Smith May 27, 2014 at 2:23 pm
Sunilski May 27, 2014 at 4:52 pm

This is a lie from a slavery apologist.

cthulhu May 25, 2014 at 3:27 pm

The “taxes are theft” meme is not useful in this or any other argument. Taxes are the price we pay for government; government is the mechanism by which we secure the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (see the Declaration of Independence). The idea goes back further than that, especially when focused on security; see “Leviathan” – empowering the government to be the arbiter of justice and security and giving up our rights to do that individually, is the cornerstone of creating a system capable of guaranteeing the rights spoken of in the Declaration of Independence. At the risk of invoking the no true Scotsman fallacy, I’ll say that IMHO nobody who espouses the “taxes are theft” line can be considered to be anything other than a spoiled child, and is definitely not a serious libertarian.

The amount and kind and distribution of taxes…that’s a totally different subject, and very closely related to what are the proper functions of government and what should be the restraints on government. These are topics on which libertarians have significant disagreements with the mainstream political parties. But libertarians are not anarchists; a true libertarian (there, I said it :-/) acknowledges an important role for government, and since government derives its rights from the consent of the governed (there’s that Declaration of Independence again!), its functions must be supported financially by its citizens, hence taxes of some form.

Whatever May 25, 2014 at 8:39 pm

Unfortunately the kind of taxes you are talking about don’t represent more than maybe 25% of total tax revenue.

Maybe for the “taxes are theft” meme to not be considered childish, all that it takes is to qualify taxes with “redistributive”?

Ron H. May 25, 2014 at 10:51 pm

cthulhu

But libertarians are not anarchists; a true libertarian (there, I said it :-/) acknowledges an important role for government, and since government derives its rights from the consent of the governed (there’s that Declaration of Independence again!), its functions must be supported financially by its citizens, hence taxes of some form.

Good to know you are able to so determine for other people whether or not they are libertarians. Perhaps you could define the word for us so we could all be in agreement as to who is and isn’t a libertarian.

The problem with your argument shows itself in that last sentence of your comment. That word “consent” is what trips you up. First of all, governments don’t have “rights”, they have powers which are derived from the “consent of the governed”. They are powers normally reserved to sovereign individuals that those individuals grant to their agent, the state, by mutual agreement and consent to help secure their inalienable rights. Note that the power to violate the rights of others by stealing from them isn’t one of those granted powers.

The reason governments are “instituted among men” is to secure the their inalienable rights of life, liberty, and property. You paraphrase liberally from the Declaration of Independence perhaps without perhaps understanding that the words of the Declaration have very specific meanings. Perhaps you should refresh your understanding by rereading it from “We hold these truths to be self evident…” up to the point where Jefferson starts listing the “long train of abuses and usurpations” of which he is accusing King George.

Jefferson also wrote the following:

“To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

That’s possibly a reference to taxes. You might consider that and other Jefferson writings if you are going to use him for support.

errorr May 26, 2014 at 3:22 am

Um, that is about separation of church and state and not taxes per set but the funding of the Anglican church before the revolution.

Perhaps you should read the same things Jefferson did like Locke. Or the other political philosophers like Hume who really examined the nature of the state, property, and justice.

Ron H. May 26, 2014 at 2:28 pm

errorr

Um, that is about separation of church and state and not taxes per set but the funding of the Anglican church before the revolution.

That’s understood, but the principle of forcing people to pay for something they don’t want is the same, and the quote serves to indicate Jefferson’s views on the subject.

Perhaps you should read the same things Jefferson did like Locke. Or the other political philosophers like Hume who really examined the nature of the state, property, and justice.

I have.

Within the limits of a blog comment, and having no interest in providing cthulhu with an extensive education, I chose to confine my response to the source of the reference provided, whose philosophy cthulhu doesn’t appear to understand.

GiT May 27, 2014 at 12:16 am

There is no right to property separate from a social convention regarding what constitutes the grounds of ownership. One cannot speak of a right to property separate from the power to designate and arbitrate the principles of property ownership. A “right to property” absent an appeal to public authority is nothing other than self-aggrandizement and is a violation of the rights of others to political participation in structuring the rules by which they will be bound.

Ron H. May 27, 2014 at 4:06 am

Git

There is no right to property separate from a social convention regarding what constitutes the grounds of ownership.

In other words, others can decide for you what your rights are – including your right to self ownership? If we don’t each have a natural right to self ownership and self determination, then others can own us or we can own others. Is that your claim? I thought slavery was no linger acceptable.

A “right to property” absent an appeal to public authority is nothing other than self-aggrandizement and is a violation of the rights of others to political participation in structuring the rules by which they will be bound.

Nonsense. Any person can decide for themselves, and any group of people can decide among themselves what political structure they wish to live in and by what rules they will be bound. They just cant make those choices for others who don’t wish to be members of the club.

Who do you believe is better qualified to determine who should own your property than you, who produced it? Who, exactly, is “public authority”?

GiT May 27, 2014 at 2:26 pm

The alleged “right to self ownership” (a misleading and question begging way of talking about things, since it presumes a specification of the concept in need of elaboration: ownership) doesn’t solve any of the problems.

The “if we don’t each have a natural right to self ownership and self determination, then others can own us or we can own others” line is a straight up bit of unsound nonsense. Not having “self ownership” does not entail that one can own us or own others. Putting some words in the form of a syllogism doesn’t mean you have an effective bit of implication in your hands.

One doesn’t need “self-ownership” to assert a prohibition on slavery. And in fact “self-ownership,” if we are to take the whole inapt analogy to “ownership” seriously, presumes a right to be enslaved, because property can typically be alienated in perpetuity. If you own yourself you can sell yourself, only to be sold again at the whim of the rightful owner, like any other commodity.

If so called “self-ownership” is inalienable, then it isn’t aptly called ownership, insofar as pretty much everything else people own can also be alienated. “Ownership-without-alienability” is not really anything like what we tend to understand as ownership. If you want a language to aptly describe what’s going on, self identity, autonomy, and self-possession are all probably better.

“They just cant make those choices for others who don’t wish to be members of the club.”:

You can’t avoid making choices for others who have not consented to be members of your club. It’s impossible to negotiate an act of appropriation with all those affected by the act. Asserting claims on the limits of the actions of others in the world which give you a “right” to enforce those claims presumes the ability to make choices for others because of that impossibility. At best one can negotiate enforcement against all those affected by your claims post-hoc – which is the “right” to political participation I assert. You may find that your claims to ownership of things won’t be enforced by anyone at all, regardless of whatever protestations you make about labor mixing or how you saw something first.

Ron H. May 27, 2014 at 6:29 pm

Git

The alleged “right to self ownership” (a misleading and question begging way of talking about things, since it presumes a specification of the concept in need of elaboration: ownership) doesn’t solve any of the problems.

Not at all. The concept of ownership is well understood, easily observable, self consistent, and needs no elaboration – your confusion about it notwithstanding.

“We hold these truths to be self evident”. They need no explanation or proof, and stand alone as true. Certain rights are part of our nature as human beings. Perhaps you are confusing rights with privileges. Ownership, of course, means “exclusive use of” in this context. Perhaps you prefer the term “right of self determination”.

It is easy to observe behavior in humans, and for that matter in must living creatures, that is best explained by the existence of certain natural rights. One major difference is that we humans are self aware, and can contemplate the meaning abstract notions like rights.

To suggest that we only have privileges granted by someone else is ludicrous. Where does their authority to grant privileges come from?

The fact that rights can be denied and violated by others doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

One doesn’t need “self-ownership” to assert a prohibition on slavery.

One doesn’t need “self ownership to assert anything. Assertions are cheap. The concept of self-ownership is probably the easiest and most consistent explanation of why slavery isn’t a legitimate interpersonal relationship. You can’t own another person.

And in fact “self-ownership,” if we are to take the whole inapt analogy to “ownership” seriously, presumes a right to be enslaved, because property can typically be alienated in perpetuity. If you own yourself you can sell yourself, only to be sold again at the whim of the rightful owner, like any other commodity.

No you can’t alienate your right of self-ownership, because you can’t give up your will. A slave must be restrained either physically, by threats, or by some other means to keep them from *exercising* their will, which might include escaping. Their will – self ownership – isn’t taken from them, only their ability or inclination to exercise it.

If so called “self-ownership” is inalienable, then it isn’t aptly called ownership, insofar as pretty much everything else people own can also be alienated. “Ownership-without-alienability” is not really anything like what we tend to understand as ownership. If you want a language to aptly describe what’s going on, self identity, autonomy, and self-possession are all probably better.

So you are only objecting to the use of a word, and not the concept? Fine. If the word “ownership” is so troublesome for you we can use another term such as one of those you offered, or “self determination”, “exclusive control of”, or “individual sovereignty”. Pick one you like, so long as you acknowledge it to be in-alienable, as are our rights to life, liberty, and property. I like “self determination” because it can include all of the others.

You can’t avoid making choices for others who have not consented to be members of your club.

And that’s where we will probably stick forever. You can avoid making choices for others by simply not doing it. Otherwise, you are claiming that your views and principles are more important than the views of others, and that you have a right to impose your views on others. A tyrannical notion that I reject.

It’s impossible to negotiate an act of appropriation with all those affected by the act.

Then you should question whether the act itself is legitimate. Forcing peaceful people to act against their will is tyranny. Perhaps you believe you can make better decisions for other people than they can make for themselves, and if so, I laugh in your face. If you understand that rights are negative, you will have an easier time understanding them. You have all the rights you would have if you lived alone on a desert island. Complete self determination. You have no positive right to anything. IF you wish to live in a peaceful society with other people, you need only agree to respect those same rights of others.

Asserting claims on the limits of the actions of others in the world which give you a “right” to enforce those claims presumes the ability to make choices for others because of that impossibility.

If you mean you have a right to defend yourself against violations of your rights by others, then you are correct. Not sure what other claims against others you think you have a right to.

At best one can negotiate enforcement against all those affected by your claims post-hoc – which is the “right” to political participation I assert.

There is no “right to political participation”, which is an artificial construct. You could call it a privilege granted by the state. Who can decide for everyone? Your views on this seem to have no consistency, and no answers to simple questions like that. Perhaps you believe there is a group consciousness superior to the sum of all individual consciousnesses, but that is another sticking point beyond which we probably can’t proceed. Maybe you call it “society”, but society is just a way of describing all of the interactions between individuals and groups of individuals.

You may find that your claims to ownership of things won’t be enforced by anyone at all, regardless of whatever protestations you make about labor mixing or how you saw something first.

That’s correct. That’s why we naturally defend ourselves against aggression by others, and join with others for our mutual defense against aggression by others. You seem to believe that a right doesn’t exist if it can be infringed.

Anyone who believes in an individual right to their own property understands that it is to their advantage to help others defend against aggression rather than joining an aggressor in plunder.

GiT May 27, 2014 at 7:52 pm

“Not at all. The concept of ownership is well understood, easily observable, self consistent, and needs no elaboration – your confusion about it notwithstanding.”

The concept of ownership needs elaboration; it may be well understood by some people, but it is not well understood automatically, its “ease of observability” is irrelevant (gravity is “easily observable,” that doesn’t mean you understand it, or that your ability to observe it is not predicated on a relatively sophisticated understanding of things); and I don’t know what you intend to mean by “self-consistent.”‘

“We hold these truths to be self evident.”

You can hold whatever you want to be “self evident.” That doesn’t mean it actually is self evident, and typically when people say things are “self evident” they’re burying a trove of assumptions.

“Certain rights are part of our nature as human beings”

Now comes the scholastic gobbledegook. What is this, the 16th century? Where are my rights? Are they in my pineal gland, like my soul and connection to God? Maybe they’re in my pancreas along with the 4 humours. And what’s our “nature” as human beings? Are we bringing back the genetic fallacy?

“Ownership, of course, means “exclusive use of” in this context.”

“Of course” ownership means whatever element of the concept cluster “ownership” you think is relevant at the time, but not any of the elements of the concept cluster that are entirely inapposite if not in contradiction to your intended meaning. “Of course” nothing. If you want to say that individuals have a right to the exclusive use of their bodies, then say so. Thinking that “self-ownership” strictly conveys that is tendentious.

But what kind of exclusivity, anyway? Is it unique? I can rent a car, can I rent my self-determination? If not, why not? I can do that with most other things I own. And why assume exclusivity, anyways? Some forms of property entail easements. Do others have easements against my body? Certainly they do in particular circumstances. If someone needs to barrel into me to escape a car, don’t they have an easement right against my “exclusive” possession of the right of self-determination?

That one avoids the question of direct harms. Once you get into harm, self ownership as a normative concept goes out the window. The standard views of retributive and recompensatory justice presume the right to deny people their “right” of self determination.. Someone decides you’ve wronged them and bye bye goes your supposed “right” of self-ownership. Pretty fleeting, this natural right of man.

“To suggest that we only have privileges granted by someone else is ludicrous. Where does their authority to grant privileges come from?”

Where does the authority to proclaim ownership come from? We only have privileges negotiated with others. Rights and privileges are a set of conventions. They are artificial in nature. If you want to say that rights are strictly natural, and anything like a right that is artificial is a privilege, then “rights” exist as a nonsense concept, liked square-circles.

“It is easy to observe behavior in humans, and for that matter in must living creatures, that is best explained by the existence of certain natural rights. ”

What makes you think that the “existence” of “certain natural rights” explains anything. People’s beliefs that they are entitled to certain things explains things, and we can try and infer what is prudentially binding for a living creature on the basis of behavior, but that doesn’t get you “natural rights.”

“One doesn’t need “self ownership to assert anything. Assertions are cheap. The concept of self-ownership is probably the easiest and most consistent explanation of why slavery isn’t a legitimate interpersonal relationship. You can’t own another person.”

If assertions are cheap you should stop just asserting things and give me something of more worth. Stating “you can’t own another person” is an assertion, not “the easiest and most consistent explanation of why slavery isn’t … legitimate.”

“No you can’t alienate your right of self-ownership, because you can’t give up your will.”

This is confused thinking. You can’t physically give up your will (yet. Who knows what the appropriate electrodes wired to your brain would allow. I think there was a Mexican sci-fi dystopia movie about this.) But you can quite easily alienate your right to self-determination. You simply say, “I revoke my right to exercise my will and give it to you.” Then, regardless of what you actually will, the legal relationship established is clear. This is little different from not having ownership rights over anything else you have the capacity to possess. The only difference is that (as of now) one can’t literally take your will in their hands and move it around as they wish. But in each case, you can be completely in possession of something, and yet not at liberty to do what you wish with it.

The physical inalienability of the will is no barrier to its legal or moral alienability, as evidenced by observation of living creatures. A “natural right” to slavery fits pretty well with the natural record of human history, which has had no problem alienating wills, of animals and men.

“So you are only objecting to the use of a word, and not the concept? Fine. If the word “ownership” is so troublesome for you we can use another term such as one of those you offered, or “self determination”, “exclusive control of”, or “individual sovereignty”. Pick one you like, so long as you acknowledge it to be in-alienable, as are our rights to life, liberty, and property. I like “self determination” because it can include all of the others.”

What word we choose doesn’t tell us whether or not what we’re talking about is inalienable anymore than nature does. If I acknowledge that our will is inalienable, I don’t do so because it’s “naturally” so, I do so because it ought to be so. The inalienability of the will as a physical matter is a trivial empirical question. Either you can possess someone’s will or you can’t. But the assumed physical impossibility of the possession of another’s will is no barrier to the moral right to do so nonetheless. If we were a race of poltergeists that could possess each other’s minds and bodies, that would not get us an answer about what was or was not morally permissible.

But the fact of the matter is that I don’t think the concept of an inalienable will makes sense, morally. “Alienable only if you agree to it” is not the same as “inalienable,” and even a purely contractarian account of obligation must admit the ability to alienate one’s will morally and legally – that’s what happens when you take up an obligation.

“And that’s where we will probably stick forever. You can avoid making choices for others by simply not doing it. Otherwise, you are claiming that your views and principles are more important than the views of others, and that you have a right to impose your views on others. A tyrannical notion that I reject.”

Well, good to see that you reject the notion of ownership, which involves claiming that your own views and principles are more important than the views of others, and presumes the right to impose views on others, typically by physical force.

Publicity precedes privatization. Any demarcation into private spheres occurs only out of that public condition of existence. When in the purely public, non-privatized condition, all we have is a set of competing claims and desires. There can be no arbitration of those desires absent a public authority. That authority ought, on principle, be democratic and participatory.

Democracy is what’s fundamental, not hoary old notions of “natural” rights and liberties to ownership, which are nothing other than the assertion of the right to make claims and use violence to defend them prior to any consultation with those who share access to that upon which you make your claims.

“Then you should question whether the act itself is legitimate. Forcing peaceful people to act against their will is tyranny”

Yes, one should question whether ownership claims, for example, are legitimate. That’s the point.

“Perhaps you believe you can make better decisions for other people than they can make for themselves, and if so, I laugh in your face. ”

No, I believe I cannot make decisions about what goes on in the world without affecting the claims, aspirations, desires, possessions, possibilities, &etc of others. I believe that such decisions must be made with others. If you think you can make such decisions by yourself and then expect everyone else to accept that you did so with right and principle on your side, I laugh in your face.

“If you mean you have a right to defend yourself against violations of your rights by others, then you are correct. Not sure what other claims against others you think you have a right to.”

I mean that the assertion of the right to defend oneself against alleged violations of your rights by others is tyranny absent the collective determination of whether or not the right you are claiming to defend exists. See, for example, the idiot who killed a man because he thought he was trespassing, when the man was merely examining his own new shed on his own new property.

The claim against others that ‘I think I have a right to’ is participation in the division of the world we occupy together in common.

“There is no “right to political participation”, which is an artificial construct”

You have it precisely backwards if we’re going on about supposed natural rights. Political conflict is fundamental. Privatization and ownership are an artificial construct. And they are highly useful artificial constructs, like most artificial constructs are. I don’t fetishize the word natural, so I don’t really have a problem with artificial constructs.

When you make a claim of ownership you are participating politically. There’s your natural law. It’s not by necessity the law of tooth and claw, but it is a simple fact that all life has organized the world it occupies in common politically, whether that’s the politics of physical violence or normative conventions.

Ron H. May 28, 2014 at 5:05 am

The concept of ownership needs elaboration; it may be well understood by some people, but it is not well understood automatically, its “ease of observability” is irrelevant (gravity is “easily observable,” that doesn’t mean you understand it, or that your ability to observe it is not predicated on a relatively sophisticated understanding of things); and I don’t know what you intend to mean by “self-consistent.”‘

The concept of ownership is well understood and obvious to anyone who is willing to observe common actions of people and animals when they act to improve their satisfaction level, which is, by the way, the reason for any and all action. Gravity is well understood through observation to cause objects to fall from “up” to “down”. While there is more to know, that’s all that’s really necessary to allow people to live with gravity and apply it to their own ends.. Ownership is similar. My ownership of something doesn’t require your approval (unless you contest my ownership) nor the consent of the collective.

Let me try a very simple example. A lion is hungry, and acts to improve his comfort level to not-hungry. To do so he will produce a meal to eat by mixing his labor with something he found in nature, something not possessed or claimed by any other creature (except, of course, itself).

He chases down a wildebeest, kills it and begins eating it. He owns that meal. It is his possession. He will act to defend his property against aggression by others, just as he will act to protect his life and his liberty against aggression by others. He doesn’t ponder his rights, he just does these things instinctively because it’s part of his nature as a lion. He doesn’t require approval of the pride, or some larger group of lions to own his meal. That doesn’t mean it won’t be taken away from him, it just means he will resist any attempt. at taking.

Let’s try another:

While walking in the wilderness, (unowned, not publicly owned) I find a smooth, straight stick in the creek bed that appears to be unowned and unclaimed by anyone else. I pick it up and carry it with me. that’s my stick. I own it. It’s my property. I don’t need anyone else to define it as my property, and I will defend it against theft. I don’t need approval of the tribe, or anyone else. It’s just understood by me and everyone else who sees me with it that it’s mine. No elaboration is necessary to define my ownership.

Later, I fashion it into a spear to help me produce dinners. That’s my spear, and the dinners I produce with it are mine unless I’ve agreed to hunt with others and share the common production, in which case I have a contract which I am obligated to honor.

This is really simple, basic stuff. It’s not clear why you struggle so much with it.

You can hold whatever you want to be “self evident.” That doesn’t mean it actually is self evident, and typically when people say things are “self evident” they’re burying a trove of assumptions.

What is self evident is what I say is self evident – what is self evident to me. You understanding isn’t necessary. Gee, I guess that’s it. We’re stuck. As I feared, we seem to be attempting to argue fundemental principles, which can’t be done.

Now comes the scholastic gobbledegook. What is this, the 16th century? Where are my rights? Are they in my pineal gland, like my soul and connection to God? Maybe they’re in my pancreas along with the 4 humours.

Ha ha. You’re such a jokester. Your attempt at obfuscation won’t work. Your rights have as much physical reality as your consciousness.

And what’s our “nature” as human beings? Are we bringing back the genetic fallacy?

It’s not clear why the word nature is causing you to be confused. Surely you understand that some things are natural developments of a long evolution. A bird’s ability to fly is a part of their nature as a bird. It is in the nature of trees to grow toward the sunlight in order to collect as much as possible. It’s in the nature of humans to walk upright and to develop language. Surely you don’t dispute that. And it’s in their nature to have certain natural mechanisms for individual survival that contribute to survival of the species. We instinctively defend our lives, our liberty, and our property. As thinking beings, we contemplate these abstractions, and many of us have come to call them “rights, and posit that all human beings have them, and that they should be acknowledged and respected. Others, like you, seem to believe that everything they are and everything they are allowed to do must be decided by others, Perhaps by majority vote. That must be truly sad existence.

Of course” ownership means whatever element of the concept cluster “ownership” you think is relevant at the time, but not any of the elements of the concept cluster that are entirely inapposite if not in contradiction to your intended meaning. “Of course” nothing.

Just because some words cause you a problem is no excuse to engage in mental gymnastics and go off into flights of logical fancy. Perhaps if you backed out of your own head and instead tried to understand what is being written, you could stay on topic and not waste so much space and so many words in a limited format like a blog comment.

If you want to say that individuals have a right to the exclusive use of their bodies, then say so. Thinking that “self-ownership” strictly conveys that is tendentious“.

Yes, that’s what I did say. You must have missed it while looking for fancy words to use like “tendentious”. You risk being called a pompous ass for using such language in blog comments, and it doesn’t add any weight to your otherwise thin arguments. Actually, “self-ownership” seems to be a perfectly good term to use for “exclusive use of their bodies”. Until now, no one has failed to understand my meaning when I’ve used it. I’ve offered you the opportunity to use any other word you choose to convey the same meaning as “self ownership”., so you have no excuse to veer off into a discussion of word meanings instead of sticking to the discussion at hand.

But what kind of exclusivity, anyway? Is it unique? blah blah blah…

Exclusive has a very exact meaning. No need to discuss it here. Look it up if you must.

Some forms of property entail easements. Do others have easements against my body? Certainly they do in particular circumstances. If someone needs to barrel into me to escape a car, don’t they have an easement right against my “exclusive” possession of the right of self-determination?

More mental gymnastics! No, no one has an easement right against your “exclusive” possession of the right of self-determination. That’s why if someone barrels into you they immediately apologize for doing so, ask for your forgiveness and offer to make amends., perhaps by offering to helping you up off the sidewalk and to collect your scattered belongings. They realize they have violated your rights and are sorry for doing so.

If they thought they had an easement right they wouldn’t acknowledge any wrongdoing and would simply go on their way, leaving you lying on the sidewalk. The need of others to avoid a car is their responsibility and not yours. your rights don’t change based on other people’s needs. You might feel a moral obligation to help someone out of the way of a car, but you don’t owe them anything you don’t choose to owe them.

You appear to be grasping for straws here.

That one avoids the question of direct harms. Once you get into harm, self ownership as a normative concept goes out the window. The standard views of retributive and recompensatory justice presume the right to deny people their “right” of self determination.. Someone decides you’ve wronged them and bye bye goes your supposed “right” of self-ownership. Pretty fleeting, this natural right of man.

You might want to educate yourself on this subject before continuing to discuss it, as it’s clear you don’t understand it.

If a person believes in natural rights and wishes to live peaceably in a society with others, it’s necessary that they recognize the same rights of self determination for others that they claim for themselves. Self determination doesn’t include a right to do anything and everything you can think of without any consequences. If you do not respect the rights of others, and instead violate those rights, you can’t live in a peaceful society with them. You will be excluded by force, or forced to set right the wrong you have caused. If you don’t care about living peacefully in a society with others then just do whatever you want until you are stopped by people defending themselves.

Where does the authority to proclaim ownership come from?

It is part of our nature as human beings. We authorize ourselves as sovereign individuals.

We only have privileges negotiated with others. Rights and privileges are a set of conventions. They are artificial in nature.

That’s complete nonsense. I’ve explained it to you. I have all the rights I would have on a desert island without anyone else’s permission or agreement. Those are the natural rights we all have as human beings. If all rights and privileges needed to be negotiated there would be millions of them, and every person would have different ones.based on their different interactions with others. Since there are only a few simple rules that almost all people acknowledge and recognize without negotiating, that must not be the case.

If you want to say that rights are strictly natural, and anything like a right that is artificial is a privilege, then “rights” exist as a nonsense concept, liked square-circles.

You are still missing the point. Natural rights are those we have without any permission from others. Privileges are those things we are allowed to do by others, that must be negotiated. I have no right to come into your house, but you may grant me the privilege. I have no right to use your lawnmower, but you may grant me the privilege. We can negotiate an exchange of property rights by agreeing on a mutual exchange of some apples I own for a temporary right to the use of your power saw. We may negotiate an agreement whereby you transfer some of your property rights in your house, to me for a specific period of time, in exchange for monetary consideration. We know this as “renting”. This is really simple stuff.

What makes you think that the “existence” of “certain natural rights” explains anything. People’s beliefs that they are entitled to certain things explains things, and we can try and infer what is prudentially binding for a living creature on the basis of behavior, but that doesn’t get you “natural rights.”

A play on words. Nice going. People don’t need to believe they have natural rights to act as if they do. What makes you believe that natural rights don’t exist, and that all rights must be negotiated?

Stating “you can’t own another person” is an assertion, not “the easiest and most consistent explanation of why slavery isn’t … legitimate.”

Obviously for you it’s a problem. For those who believe in natural rights it is pretty clear.

This is confused thinking. You can’t physically give up your will.

Good. That’s a start.

:” (yet. Who knows what the appropriate electrodes wired to your brain would allow. I think there was a Mexican sci-fi dystopia movie about this.)

Irrelevant nonsense.

But you can quite easily alienate your right to self-determination. You simply say, “I revoke my right to exercise my will and give it to you.” hen, regardless of what you actually will, the legal relationship established is clear.

No it isn’t. There is no way you can decide in the present that you will never change your mind in the future. The legal relationship is irrelevant, unless you believe it can be legal for one person to own another. I know it has been in the past and that just demonstrates the illegitimacy of statutory law.

This is little different from not having ownership rights over anything else you have the capacity to possess.

No it isn’t. Other things I possess don’t change their minds about agreements I’ve made for them at some later date.

There is more drivel that I have either already responded to or chose not to waste my time on.

GiT May 28, 2014 at 2:44 pm

“Gravity is well understood through observation to cause objects to fall from “up” to “down””

False. People observed things falling from up to down for thousands of years without understanding gravity.

“My ownership of something doesn’t require your approval (unless you contest my ownership) nor the consent of the collective.”

Yes, precisely. Once ownership is contested its legitimacy is an unknown. Hence the consent of some collective is required. There is no method of resolving the legitimacy of an ownership claim and arbitrating contestation over ownership absent some form of adjudicative sovereignty.

“Let me try a very simple example. A lion is hungry, and acts to improve his comfort level to not-hungry. To do so he will produce a meal to eat by mixing his labor with something he found in nature, something not possessed or claimed by any other creature (except, of course, itself).”

The lion did not “produce” the meat. The meat it consumes was produced, and possessed, by something else. You do understand where meat comes from, right? You couldn’t have concocted a more stupid example.

“He owns that meal. It is his possession”

Ownership and possession are not the same thing. He possesses the meal. He does not own it.

“He will act to defend his property against aggression by others”

It’s not his property, it’s his possession. Property presumes normative legitimacy.

“he just does these things instinctively because it’s part of his nature as a lion. He doesn’t require approval of the pride, or some larger group of lions to own his meal.”

You are not describing property and ownership here, you’re just describing violent conflict over resources. Normative obligations and rights don’t enter the picture at any point. You’ve taken the law of tooth and claw and called it “property” because you’re occupying the position of the lion. This is nothing other than a post-hoc rationalization of violence.

“I find a smooth, straight stick in the creek bed that appears to be unowned and unclaimed by anyone else. I pick it up and carry it with me. that’s my stick. I own it. It’s my property”

Bullshit. That stone was mine, I saw it first and left it there because I wanted it to be there. I have the right to kill you for moving it. How it appeared to you is irrelevant, because what matters are the abstract relationships of normative obligations which adhere to those objects, and I assert that those justify me killing you for violating my property rights but not you killing me, because you have no property right.

“What is self evident is what I say is self evident – what is self evident to me”

Claims of “self evidence” are typically addressed to a community and meant to suggest that what ever is expressed is mutually evident. Pardon me for not anticipating your idiosyncratic usage. The phrase derives from the natural law tradition which asserted that certain principles were accessible to all men more or less a priori bevause of the universal nature of human reason. Basic stuff.

“Your rights have as much physical reality as your consciousness.”

No, they don’t. The substrate of my consciousness appears to be my brain and body. The subsrate of my rights are intersubjectively held norms and conventions. Their ontological bases are different.

“It’s not clear why the word nature is causing you to be confused”

So it is back to the genetic fallacy. Something evolves to do x therefore it ought to do x. I’m “confused” by your use of the word nature because it’s slipshod, fallacious reasoning. What birds and men are capable of doing or do do only delimits the space of possibility of what it is that they ought to do, if it even does that. You can’t derive what they ought to do from what they have evolved to do or what you observe them doing.

“We instinctively defend our lives, our liberty, and our property”

We instinctively defend our desires. Whether we do so legitimately or commodiously is up for debate, and whether our defense of our desires defends our “liberty” or our “property” depends upon the outcome of such debate, unless you are to reduce liberty to the pure freedom to do whatever one is capable of attempting and property to nothing other than what one is capable of defending the possession of. Of course, that empties the word liberty and property of all moral content and makes talk of rights completely superfluous, but hey, whatever.

“Others, like you, seem to believe that everything they are and everything they are allowed to do must be decided by others”

What people are allowed to do is decided by others no matter what. That’s what the enforcement of a property claim is – someone violently telling someone else what they are or are not allowed to do. My belief is that its best if we form our society around the collective determination of what is or is not allowed. You just sidestep the question of adjudication every chance you get and pretend it isn’t an issue.

This isn’t sad, it’s just tragic. We live in a world in which desires are in competition and must be negotiated. It would be nice if we could just carry on as if no one else existed, but solipsism happens to be false.

…and you descend into bare assertion. The fact of the matter is you have no way of getting to what people find it prudential to do and what their rights are. You just question beg your way through and make silly claims about what’s natural.

GiT May 28, 2014 at 8:38 pm

But onwards one goes regardless:

“They realize they have violated your rights and are sorry for doing so.”

You’ve simply assumed your conclusion. If I dive out of the way of a car, and doing so necessitates barrelling into someone, no rights have necessarily been violated. The mere offering of contrition does not prove the existence of a right. The person who has had their physical space impugned doesn’t have any “natural” claim against me. You can’t infer that the basis of any observed contrition is the existence of a right.

“It is part of our nature as human beings. We authorize ourselves as sovereign individuals”

So your “natural rights” are just unbridled narcissism and self regard. Good to know. What’s part of our “nature” as human beings is debatable. A common notion is that part of our nature as human beings is politics and social organization. Little fellow named Aristotle came up with that one.

“Exclusive has a very exact meaning.”

A very exact meaning which is not often coherently used, insofar as both intellectual and property rights, which are exemplary forms of exclusive rights, are not in fact absolutely exclusive and allow for all sorts of infringements.

“Obviously for you it’s a problem. For those who believe in natural rights it is pretty clear.”

Certain things are pretty clear to people who believe in Raelians or thetans. I don’t particularly care. Prove that the basis of what is clear to you makes sense first, and isn’t based in some nonsense ontology analogous to crystalline spheres or animist fantasies.

“I have all the rights I would have on a desert island without anyone else’s permission or agreement. Those are the natural rights we all have as human beings”

And here we come to the root of the problem. You derive your “natural” rights from a completely ridiculous, artificial, ahistorical, and irrelevant Robinson Crusoe fantasy. What’s actually “natural” is political community, not individuals stranded alone on desert islands.

pete-rock May 25, 2014 at 7:54 am

The way I interpret Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article, he develops a case for reparations based on racist housing policies and practices of the last 100 years, with a particular focus on the post World War II era — not for slavery or for Jim Crow. I think he concedes that the Civil War freed the slaves, and the Civil Rights Movement eliminated race-based legal injustices, but brings them up really to make two points — 1) racism is foundational in America; and 2) it morphs into something else when earlier practices are challenged.

Coates is trying to ask the question of how much white America benefitted from the spread of suburbanization and Sun Belt growth, at the expense of blacks who were excluded from the legitimate housing market.

Ed May 25, 2014 at 8:15 am

The problem with even this is that even with the practices he cites Blacks still were able to buy into White neighborhoods. I’m reading a biography about Stokely Carmichael, his Caribbean parents bought a home in a White area of the Bronx in the early 50s, the first Blacks to do so. Black folks have been buying into White neighborhoods forever especially in the North. However what goes unsaid in these historical retellings is that Whites weren’t hostile to Blacks moving into White neighborhoods simply because they were Black but often times the arrival of the Black middle class meant the Black poor were not far behind. The Black poor brought chopped up homes, services for the poor, brothels and a whole host of unsavory factors.

Whites feared their neighborhoods turning into slums and it seems they had good reasons for that fear.

History is complicated and not as neat as folks like Ta-Nehesi would like.

http://digitalcommons.law.umaryland.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2498&context=mlr&sei-redir=1&referer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2Furl%3Fsa%3Dt%26rct%3Dj%26q%3D1910%20baltimore%20population%20by%20race%26source%3Dweb%26cd%3D1%26cad%3Drja%26ved%3D0CCQQFjAA%26url%3Dhttp%3A%2F%2Fdigitalcommons.law.umaryland.edu%2Fcgi%2Fviewcontent.cgi%3Farticle%3D2498%26context%3Dmlr%26ei%3DTMsLU_6PKJCMyAHUi4GYBA%26usg%3DAFQjCNGhSqDtg_dbMfVWKrmUGb4yl1725w%26sig2%3D2EaiyEFvAmxPW6JYtbWp8Q%26bvm%3Dbv

Jan May 25, 2014 at 8:22 am

Oh, I guess there weren’t systemic discriminatory policies.

pete-rock May 25, 2014 at 8:35 am

C’mon, Ed. More often than not, white neighborhoods became black neighborhoods once the first black person moved in. Not because black poor simply followed the black middle class, but because redlining restricted lending for everyone once blacks came in. Honestly, moving out was a rational response by whites to hold on to as much equity as they could given the housing policy. And this makes no mention of the violent response to blacks moving into white neighborhoods in many Northern cities.

Ed May 25, 2014 at 8:50 am

The black middle class bring in the black poor it happens today via Section 8. You can even see this in the data that Coates cite about Blacks making $100K living in neighborhoods that are equivalent to $30K White neighborhoods.

It’s a long running phenomenon that White people 50 years ago would have known about and reacted to.

pete-rock May 25, 2014 at 9:16 am

The black middle class “brings in” the black poor, as on coattails? I think not. White flight creates a vacuum that allows the black poor to move in. And Coates points out that the neighborhood difference between blacks and whites is due to restricted housing choices, not “black poor following black middle class”.

While I do agree that whites 50 years ago understood this phenomenon and moved out as a result, the characterization presented here is such as vast misreading.

Paulter May 25, 2014 at 10:37 am

But this isn’t due to redlining; as you point out, it still happens, and it happened at the turn of the century before redlining existed, at a time when houses were much more likely to be direct purchase. You can certainly blame racism, but in a complicated way, not a simplistic “redlining made the ghetto” way.

The Other Jim May 25, 2014 at 10:12 am

>I think he concedes that the Civil War freed the slaves

That’s mighty…. umm, big, of him.

Did he mention how much this cost? Reparations are probably in order.

So Much For Subtlety May 25, 2014 at 4:41 pm

Coates is trying to ask the question of how much white America benefitted from the spread of suburbanization and Sun Belt growth, at the expense of blacks who were excluded from the legitimate housing market.

Sorry but how did Whites benefit from this? Whites had highly valuable properties. They owned houses in places like Detroit. Those houses are now worth nothing. Someone took a bath on that. Who? Well, Whites who sold late, ie the non-racist ones, and Blacks who bought early. The fact is the movement of Blacks from the South involved a massive and sustained destruction of value – which in 1940 was mostly in the hands of Whites.

Whites then moved to suburbia. They took a patch of farmland and they built communities. Working, functioning, valuable communities. And Middle Class Blacks followed them there too. Now many of those suburbs are also worthless. Take Clayton county in Atlanta where the change was especially quick:

In 1980, Clayton county’s population was 150,357 — 91% white and 9% minority,[8] while in 2006 the population was approximately 271,240 — 20% white and 80% minority.

In 1980 Clayton county had one of the best education systems in the South. In 2008 it became the first education board to lose its accreditation since 1969. The buildings were the same, the resources not much different, the teachers presumably hadn’t changed much. What had?

Again you have another massive loss of property value – punishing slow Whites and fast Blacks. Who should be paying compensation to whom?

As a reason for Clayton county’s problems I do like this:

n March 20, 2007, the county appointed its first black police chief, Jeffrey E. Turner, who promised to help alleviate crime in the county. The Clayton County Commission voted in December 2009 to oust Turner for various offenses including insubordination, an unorganized evidence room, failure to properly handle sexual harassment complaints against officers, several high-speed chases that resulted in civilian deaths, and 138 unaccounted-for firearms. Though residents rallied in his support, the Commission voted to reassign Turner as the department head for the Academy.

Yeah. Just the man to teach new police officers.

Ed May 26, 2014 at 10:08 am

You’ve pointed out one stark difference in how Blacks and Whites view wealth creation. Blacks legitimately believe that it’s the government or some other variation of “the man”, “the system” that determines which communities, schools etc are successful. They simply can not comprehend that it is individuals working together that yields wealth and prosperity.

This is why the reparations argument is a non-starter, there is simply no indication that absent discriminatory housing practice that Blacks would be materially better off today. Living in segregated communities do not have to yield high crime and poor schools.

GiT May 27, 2014 at 12:22 am

“Blacks legitimately believe that it’s the government or some other variation of “the man”, “the system” that determines which communities, schools etc are successful. ”

What oblivious, stupid racism. It’s as is Booker T. Washington, Black Nationalism, Malcolm X, (some of) du Bois, and a whole bunch of other black thought did not exist.

shrikanthk May 25, 2014 at 7:55 am

Wasn’t there a guy named Robert Fogel who got a Nobel a couple of decades back while arguing that slavery was very profitable and efficient even at the time of its abolition? And hence the drive to ban slavery was essentially a moral cause and not an economic one?

TMC May 25, 2014 at 9:46 am

For the slave owner, not for society.

shrikanthk May 25, 2014 at 10:51 am

How can we be sure the gains did not accrue to society?

Do we know what was the income forgone by the slaves in West africa? And whether that income was greater or lesser than whatever compensation (be it explicit or implicit) they received for their labours in US?

In the long run we know the slaves benefited to a great extent. African Americans are many many times richer than their cousins in West Africa. Yes, their freedom was greatly curtailed during the period of slavery. But there were other concomitant benefits. They gained a religion in the new world (Christianity) – which they largely did not possess in west africa.

fwiw May 25, 2014 at 12:09 pm

I’ve probably read 40 stupid posts since scrolling down this board, but ‘they gained Christianity?’ is your argument? The religion that for a while killed people who did not subscribe to it (one of many, granted)? The religion that it is literally free to join? The religion that you could pick up from Africa if you wanted to, as many Africans have? That takes the stupid cake.

That’s not even mentioning your argument that the blacks who ended up here are richer than the place they were kidnapped from. As if taking away the financial and human capital of a group of people would have no lasting effects on an economy (which, incidentally, is more or less *exactly* what Tyler’s post is about). It’s like the stupid icing on the stupid cake.

So Much For Subtlety May 25, 2014 at 4:47 pm

Whatever else slavery did, it did not take away the financial capital of Africa. Those slaves were not kidnapped, by and large, they were bought. Their price presumably reflected the higher value slave owners in the Americas could get from them. Thus Africans were willing to sell.

Slavery brought money to Africa.

As for human capital, the question is still open whether those slaves were surplus to the African economy or not. Africans and Arab slave markets had remarkably little interest in adult males. Unlike the American trade. And many Africans were very casual in sacrificing their slaves for one or other reason. So don’t assume that the adult males wouldn’t have been killed.

fwiw May 25, 2014 at 7:17 pm

@So Much,

I’m not being demeaning, but I literally can’t understand your comment. Are you saying that males were surplus to the African economy? Or that these families were? What is your point about being casual in killing their slaves?

Regardless, for your argument to hold, you’d have to tell me that that no female or child slaves were sent over to America. You’d also have to tell me that there was a widespread blanket killing of adult male Africans after capture. I don’t believe either. Here, have some wikipedia quotes:

“Slavery came in different disguises in different societies: there were court slaves, slaves incorporated into princely armies, domestic and household slaves, slaves working on the land, in industry, as couriers and intermediaries, even as traders” [Army slaves likely weren’t just females. Regardless, these people were not ‘economic surplus’]

A scathing reminder of this practice is documented in the Slave Trade Debates of England in the early 19th century: “All the old writers… concur in stating not only that wars are entered into for the sole purpose of making slaves, but that they are fomented by Europeans, with a view to that object.” [That’ll mess up your economy for a while, probably]

The eastern regions of the Central African Republic have never recovered demographically from the impact of 19th-century raids from the Sudan and still have a population density of less than 1 person/km². [Case in point.]

(The financial capital statement was more a reference to the subsequent colonization of Africa. You may argue that the financial capital brought in in exchange for the slaves was worth the economic cost of being in a war-like state for centuries, but I’d have to see some actual evidence because I won’t buy that on your word.)

So Much for Subtlety May 25, 2014 at 8:16 pm

fwiw May 25, 2014 at 7:17 pm

I’m not being demeaning, but I literally can’t understand your comment. Are you saying that males were surplus to the African economy? Or that these families were? What is your point about being casual in killing their slaves?

We don’t know if they were surplus or not. It is a common assumption that they were and so removing them had a serious effect on the rest of the African population but that is largely unknowable.

The point about the sacrifice of slaves is that they were so cheap that people could go around killing them for religious reasons at the drop of a hat. One of the few African documents we have on the trade is the journal of Antera Duke. It is surprising how casually he has people sacrificed. If they were expensive or needed, that would be unlikely.

Regardless, for your argument to hold, you’d have to tell me that that no female or child slaves were sent over to America. You’d also have to tell me that there was a widespread blanket killing of adult male Africans after capture. I don’t believe either.

No female or child slaves is too much. But not many is reasonable. I think the general assumption is that two thirds of slaves sent to the Americas were male. See Patrick Manning’s Slavery and African Life. Africans and Muslims had a strong preference for young females. And this is reflected in prices. Westerners paid more for adult males. Arabs more for young females.

Obviously there was widespread killing of adults males at capture. They are the ones that tend to fight back.

[Army slaves likely weren’t just females. Regardless, these people were not ‘economic surplus’]

A lot of that applies to the rest of the world, not so much to Africa.

A scathing reminder of this practice is documented in the Slave Trade Debates of England in the early 19th century

It seems likely that this happened, but this is not an impartial debate is it? These are people committed to a cause. Is there evidence of Europeans deliberately encouraging war? I am sure that Africans can respond to economic incentives just like anyone else.

The eastern regions of the Central African Republic have never recovered demographically from the impact of 19th-century raids from the Sudan and still have a population density of less than 1 person/km². [Case in point.]

Hardly. It is a desert. Did it ever have a population density over 1 person per square kilometer. Have you seen the east of the Central African Republic?

(The financial capital statement was more a reference to the subsequent colonization of Africa. You may argue that the financial capital brought in in exchange for the slaves was worth the economic cost of being in a war-like state for centuries, but I’d have to see some actual evidence because I won’t buy that on your word.)

Don’t buy it on my word. But those slaves were paid for. As for the colonial period, given it saw the only sustained growth in living standards in Africa in all of recorded history, colonialism did not deprive Africa of capital either. Although freeing the slaves, when the Europeans actually did as opposed to pretend they did, probably did.

Careless May 26, 2014 at 1:04 pm

The eastern regions of the Central African Republic have never recovered demographically from the impact of 19th-century raids from the Sudan and still have a population density of less than 1 person/km². [Case in point.]

You’re right, there are some really stupid posts in this thread.

At six children per generation, in 250 years/10 generations you could have sixty million descendants from two people. At eight per generation, a billion. At just four per generation, over a million, which is substantially more people than live in the region you’re talking about.

It does not take very long for a population to recover from the removal of a bunch of people, as long as they’re not breeding Japanese-style

Chip May 25, 2014 at 7:59 am

There probably isn’t a person alive today who didn’t have ancestor who was a slave. The practise was universal. A million Europeans were kidnapped from coastal towns and taken to North Africa as slaves. Russian serfs were being bought and sold with the land well after blacks were freed.

And perverse as it sounds, is there any doubt that while the slaves did suffer, their descendants in America have benefitted enormously compared with people in Africa whose ancestors weren’t enslaved.

This call for reparations is madness, and will lead to awful lines of argument.

For example, if we are to collectively assign a cost and benefit to a block of white descendants and black descendants, should we also start counting the net cost and benefits of generations of welfare payments and crime for each group.

As I said, it’s madness and only a complete fool would want to go down this road.

Michael Foody May 25, 2014 at 8:18 am

Yeah Europeans were really nice to Africans in Africa the whole time.

Ed May 25, 2014 at 8:28 am

Well Ghana had higher living standards at independence than South Korea. Black Zimbabweans were the most educated Blacks in Africa when Mugabe came to power. Belgium brutalized the Africans in the Congo with vicious brutality. Colonialism varied from place to place

pete-rock May 25, 2014 at 8:22 am

Again, leave slavery and Jim Crow aside. Let’s call it resolved and forgiven, even if it’s not. Let’s focus solely on the discriminatory housing practices of the last 80 years. Do restrictive covenants, redlining, blockbusting techniques, federally authorized urban renewal amount to the plunder of African-Americans, for the benefit of whites? That narrows the issue considerably, because a large number of the perpetrators and targets are still living.

Ed May 25, 2014 at 8:29 am

Blockbusting was a realtor scheme that sought to scare Whites into selling and buying. So who pays in this case the National Realtor Association?

sansfoy May 25, 2014 at 9:15 am

Now there’s a reparations scheme I could get behind. The entire real estate agent model is parasitic and totally unnecessary given modern technology, except that it has wedged itself into a niche in the marketplace.

Benny Lava May 25, 2014 at 9:37 am

Seconded.

tt May 25, 2014 at 9:54 am

thirded

Karen May 26, 2014 at 12:35 am

I’m not a real estate agent but I would not try to sell a house without one. Tried it once and saw the problem. All you get are lookers who waste your time. Serious buyers go to the real estate agencies. Also I would not ever again allow strangers to come to my home without a real estate agent. Seems like a very dangerous proposition.

Datcv May 25, 2014 at 10:07 am

The American left probably owes something in reparations for all of the communities they destroyed with their HUD projects.

Ed May 25, 2014 at 8:01 am

My question is how do we account for the descendents of slaves that did well despite enslavement and Jim Crow? The bullied Miami Dolphin player, Jonathan Martin, attended Stanford and comes from a family that is 3 generations deep at Harvard. In addition other members were prominent lawyers, doctors and have been solidly upper middle class since the 19th century. There were 3500 Black doctors in 1900 and by 1960 there were 3900 doctors. Was this minimal increase due to racism or had a ceiling been reached in terms of Black doctors as a percentage of the overall Black population?

Who is to say that even without slavery & Jim Crow that Africans in the USA would have done well?

Squarely Rooted May 25, 2014 at 8:04 am

“But the gains of those whites are not mirror images of the losses of the slaves.”

Very true! But that was neither germane to what I was attempting to quantify, nor is it necessarily germane in general. When we have a conversation/dialogue/debate about compensating persons who were wronged, a necessary element of that conversation is to understand the degree of the wrong suffered. That is independent from the gains of those who committed the wrong. When making Madoff’s victim’s whole, we care little for how much Madoff actually benefited from his Ponzi scheme; when making reparations to Israel, it mattered little that Germany, like most of Europe, was vastly worse without its Jews; and were the US to make reparations for the long cycle of ills systematically visited upon its black population, whether or how much whites benefited from that is a question of tangential intellectual interest (though certainly not no interest at all).

If you think most of what I argued is wrong, I’m glad to engage further; in discussing the post, Ezra Klein quite nicely summarizedmy intent much more concisely and clearly than I myself did:

“The intent here isn’t to find a point estimate for reparations. There are some thefts that, under any standard accounting, took more than can ever be repaid. But this calculation — reductive as it is — helps give us a way to think about the enormity of the crime.”

http://www.vox.com/2014/5/24/5747704/how-do-you-estimate-the-theft-from-slavery

Dismalist May 25, 2014 at 8:11 am

IIRC, Time on the Cross claimed that cotton growing was a perfectly competitive industry. Hence, slavery led to output prices lower than otherwise. The beneficiaries of slavery were therefore the consumers of cotton, who mostly lived in Europe.

Scott H. May 25, 2014 at 8:22 am

Well, if that is the case then I guess our reparations will need to go to the Chinese.

JKB May 25, 2014 at 8:31 am

Don’t leave out the textile mill owners in New England.

James Cox May 25, 2014 at 8:22 am

Most of your commenters so far, Tyler, give me no reason to believe they actually read the article.

Aidan May 25, 2014 at 9:27 am

Neither did Tyler, judging by this post.

prognostication May 25, 2014 at 11:13 am

Yep. And a lot of these comments are embarrassing regardless of whether or not they have read it.

Rich Berger May 25, 2014 at 8:25 am

Nicely put, Tyler, and I might add that many of our ancestors were in other countries at the time slavery was abolished. Of course, you may be vilified for raising these very reasonable objections which seem to be overlooked every time reparations are resurrected.

I think a better case could be made that Mr. Coates should be paying reparations for profiting from resentment. Human nature being what it is, being able to blame others for your plight is not a good motivation for advancement.

celestus May 25, 2014 at 8:27 am

I have seen very little mention of Native Americans through the article and the subsequent discussion for some reason.

chuck martel May 25, 2014 at 8:48 am

No, you haven’t. Evidently, it is more horrendous to enslave someone than it is to kill them. As it says on New Hampshire license plates, “Live Free or Die”. There was never a policy in the the history of colonial America or the US of exterminating blacks. They were regarded as valuable property. This was not the case with native Americans, who were the objects of an official government program of extermination and terror. http://nailheadtom.blogspot.com/2013/07/orders-of-george-washington-to-general.html This policy lasted into the twentieth century and its effects remain today. But there is no talk of reparations for the natives because that would mean acknowledgment of the theft of their property and their right to what amounts to the entire land surface of the country and the minerals below and airspace above.

The daily, incessant media chant over the plight of black Americans, some of whom are richer than the Caesars, one of whom is the president of the country, is a curious phenomenon of the political process where an easily identified group is used for various purposes unrelated to their own particular interests, varied as they might be. Hundreds of years from now this will be viewed as one of the more shameful episodes of many in the history of the US.

Edward Burke May 25, 2014 at 8:55 am

Coates (with or without his editors) was not keen at all to tell the entire story, quite obviously. Amazing to see a half-serious recitation taken so seriously.

JKB May 25, 2014 at 8:29 am

Well, any attempt to adjudicate this claim would certainly lead to some interesting discovery.

For instance, the housing policies leading to suburbanization in NY were instituted by FDR.

And how do we quantify and assess reparations for the actions of the Democratic Party’s paramilitary arm, the KKK, who were instrumental in enforcing Jim Crow and keeping Democrats in governmental power?
“KKK “dens” (i.e., terrorist cells) sprang up spontaneously, as did similar organizations such as the Knights of the White Camellia, the Pale Faces, and the White Brotherhood. “Klu Klux” became a generic label for paramilitary organizations whose goal was to expel Republican from office and to replace them with Democrats who would institute white-supremacist policies. The KKK was, in effect, the military arm of the Democratic Party, just as the Irish Republican Army would be the military arm of Sinn Fein.” Invisible Armies, Max Boot, (2013), p 219

Quite obviously unions benefited from being given their monopoly as well as laws mandating union wages on federal projects. Unionization had a purpose to stop cheaper African-American labor from getting jobs.

If we go back to slave ownership, what is to be done about blacks that owned slaves? Do we filter out their descendants?

Or the fact that black slaves were prized over Irish slaves and were therefore better treated?

All in all, it appears that most pushing the reparations would not like to see an objective evaluation of the matter but it seems hard to avoid given there would surely be legal challenges to claims.

Willitts May 25, 2014 at 4:29 pm

Affordable Housing, CRA, affirmative action, public housing, welfare, EITC, racial gerrymandering, etc.

Any debt America had was paid off long ago.

Jan May 25, 2014 at 8:30 am

For instance it is generally recognized that freer and fairer polities tend to be wealthier for most of their citizens. I’m not sure economics is in a place as a science for us to say with any precision how the non-slave counterfactual would have turned out. South African economic growth was some of the fastest in the world in the 60s, shortly after apartheid was implemented.

Also, from all the commentary related to Piketty, it’s clear that investment in capital is pretty obviously a big deal for growth and–we never ever want to discourage it because it is so important. So if it is useful for a country to have businesses that invest in “capital” (slaves, in this case) and deploy those resources, how can we possibly say that slavery not contribute immensely to growth in the South and the country overall?

bill May 25, 2014 at 8:48 am

Jan,
Slavery contributed to the growth of the american south until the civil war and then all that growth disappeared/was destroyed. It’s a pretty interesting point that America would probably be wealthier today if slavery had not existed. Think I agree with it.

Jan May 26, 2014 at 8:30 am

Whether some of that wealth was destroyed is beside the point. Was slavery still foundational to the country’s development? Did the slaves the destroy that wealth?

Paul May 28, 2014 at 12:26 am

I am being lazy at the moment, but I bet that if you (or anyone) constructed a UN Human Development index specific to Canadian whites and U.S whites, the Canadian whites would have a higher index. I don’t know if you know any U.S or Canadian whites, but my experience is that they are indistinguishable from each other, and really the only way to tell them apart is to ask what country they come from unless they have an accent which distinctly marks them as being from a particular part of the U.S. Anyway, the point of my argument is to show that the very fact that slavery and racism are foundational to the U.S.’s path through history could very well account for the relatively poor outcomes for U.S. whites compared to an otherwise similar group of whites in Canada.

A European analogy might be contemporary Russia or Ukraine. The despotism of the Soviets certainly allowed for the rulers of the empire to control and direct vast amounts of wealth appropriated (expropriated?) from the populace and to use that wealth to build up heavy industry, but that despotism and investment ultimately hasn’t lead either country to anything more than quite poor. Slavery and racism in the U.S. are similar.

S May 25, 2014 at 8:45 am

In another generation or so, someone will be arguing that white people need to pay up for banks lending too much money to black people, and for too many white people moving in to black neighborhoods.

Redlining, predatory lending, white flight, gentrification….is there actually an equilibrium where we dont have to pay up?

mm May 25, 2014 at 4:34 pm

that is a feature not a bug-the whole point is to empower the gov’t & gin up grievances. A massive amount of loot to be divided up by the feds-after they take their vigorish & the politicians enrich their supporters & dependents

Chip May 25, 2014 at 8:45 am

My kids are mixed race students in a mostly ethnic Chinese school in Singapore.

On one hand we could look at this as a wonderful opportunity to learn advanced math and science in a very demanding environment.

Or we could complain to the teachers that we suffer from unfair disadvantages in terms of language and culture.

Of these, what would best help our kids be successful in the future?

What does Coates expect he’s accomplishing with his constant whine of victimhood?

Twenty years from now, what sympathy does he expect from an engineer born poor in India or a programmer whose parents lived on $100 a month in chengdu.

EFM May 27, 2014 at 10:39 am

I think this is exactly the right line of reasoning. The arguments both for and against reparations are strong and I imagine nobody would agree on a single method for adjudicating the economics. But empirically, blacks in the United States are obviously worse off than whites: lower incomes, more crime, more HIV, the list goes on.

The question is not whether reparations are justified in a moral or economic sense. As with Chip’s kids in Singapore, the question is what would best help African Americans succeed in the future. Maybe that’s a one-time wealth transfer and maybe not, but that’s the question that should consume our analytical energy.

Woody May 25, 2014 at 9:01 am

One problem here is that there are two general arguments for reparations. The first applies when one party has taken something of value from another. So if John takes Sam’s car, John has to pay Sam for the value of the car.

The second applies if one party has damaged another, even if there was no financial gain. If John attacks Sam and leaves Sam crippled and unable to work, John has to compensate Sam for Sam’s lost earnings (even though John had not benefited).

I think that both the Ta-Nehisi Coates essay and Ezra Klein’s post mix these up. Doing so increases the rhetorical force of the argument, but at the expense of clarifying exactly what reparations are being demanded.

I agree with Tyler that its difficult to see how the white population overall gained financially form, especially, all that happened after 1863. To take the housing example, of course loan sharks etc gained from segregated housing, but they were a very small proportion. The people who gained from segregation were white racists, who didn’t have to look at black neighbors. But that wasn’t a financial gain. It wasn’t (and isn’t) even the case that land was so scarce in the USA that denying blacks suburban housing meant that whites could enjoy it.

But that still leaves the argument that the black population was deliberately damaged, and damaged by government policies (at all levels) which were supported for decades by the white population. In that circumstance, it is not necessary to show that the white population made an absolute financial gain, just that it was complicit in damaging the black population.

David May 25, 2014 at 10:03 am

+1

That is the key point, regardless of the economics.

The country injured African-Americans, so the country should make it right.

andrew' May 25, 2014 at 11:53 am

The country?

David May 25, 2014 at 3:45 pm

The USA.

Willitts May 25, 2014 at 4:31 pm

I was born in Canada. Both my parents were born in Poland. They came to America long after slavery ended.

When you are shaking people down, please keep your hands off my wallet.

Brandon May 27, 2014 at 9:08 am

Willits, you might want to bother reading the article, which focuses on something other than Jim Crow or slavery.

Careless May 27, 2014 at 8:52 pm

Brandon, you might want to try reading the post you’re responding to, which is about slavery

Flounder May 25, 2014 at 9:11 am

While you were inventing slavery straw men the rest of us read an essay about how racism meant the housing market was slanted

Sko May 25, 2014 at 9:11 am

It doesn’t seem as if the author of this piece or many of the commenters ever read Coate’s very long and detailed article, which only refers to slavery in the very first part of the article and then goes on to show the systemic discrimination that has continued to modern day times.
Yet, everyone here wants to talk about slavery.

Benny Lava May 25, 2014 at 9:42 am

Well that isn’t surprising it was a long article. And Tyler doesn’t read long things he just skims and jumps over parts that he thinks are unimportant. So he probably didn’t read all that stuff. No shame in not reading until the end.

F. Lynx Pardinus May 25, 2014 at 1:24 pm

I’m going to try this excuse at work next time I’m supposed to read a white paper.

Karen May 26, 2014 at 12:45 am

The comments are probably more interesting than the original Coates article. I say probably because I’m not going to read the Coates article. Just using the word “reparations” strikes me as hostile and trouble-making and passive aggressive.

GiT May 27, 2014 at 12:33 am

“Just using the word “reparations” strikes me as hostile and trouble-making and passive aggressive.”

Well you’re a piece of work.

Ron H. May 27, 2014 at 4:31 am

Karen

I say probably because I’m not going to read the Coates article.

That’s too bad. Whether or not you agree that anyone owes or is owed reparations for past injustices, the Coates article is well written, and worth reading if you have the time..

Rshmatz May 25, 2014 at 9:33 am

Should we not discount for how much they have profited for not being stuck in Africa?

Boonton May 25, 2014 at 9:46 am

No we shouldn’t because it’s irrelevant.

Willitts May 25, 2014 at 10:05 am

In a legal sense, yes it’s irrelevant. Any consequential benefit received as a result of harm is irrelevant.

It is worthwhile to question for history whether there are benefits from tyrannical rule, e.g. the Roman Empire, British Empire, Allied occupation of Germany, and America.

I’m much inclined to say we would have been better off without tyranny, but great public goods were built with the crack of a whip. It makes me wonder if any monumental feat can be obtained, say, from a libertarian society of voluntary transactions. The answer is probably no. Libertarians would not have been to the moon by now, and perhaps not ever. And is that such a bad thing?

F. Lynx Pardinus May 25, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Harry Lime: “Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

TMC May 25, 2014 at 10:00 am

They would not have been stuck in Africa. Slaves were sold to the traders after warring tribes fought. The losers were sold as slaves where, before the slave trade, they were executed.

Boonton May 25, 2014 at 10:14 am

If you can show that Africa today is very rich because they took the money they received from selling losing tribes into slavery then I’d say that would be an argument for demanding reparations from Africa. But Africa is the world’s poorest continent.

If European slavery never happened it’s impossible to say what would have happened. Perhaps slavery would have stopped in Africa on its own accord. Or perhaps not. Perhaps Africa today would have been much richer, with so many of its people *not* ‘harvested’ from it. Or perhaps not. (though it’s hard to see how Africa today would have ended up poorer).

TMC May 25, 2014 at 11:03 am

They were richer than they were before the trade. Those ‘harvested’ people would have been slaughtered by the winning tribe anyway. Seems you are making the unconventional argument Africa is under populated.

Not to be dismissive of the topic, but Coates would have either never existed, or been living on $3 a day had it not been for slavery. Today’s African Americans owe a debt to their ancestors, on that can obviously not be repaid. Much like everyone else.

Boonton May 25, 2014 at 12:30 pm

We have no idea who would or wouldn’t have existed or what their condition would be if history had turned out different. Reparations should not and cannot be about trying to restore some alternative possible history that did not happen.

TMC May 25, 2014 at 3:30 pm

That kind of shoots the whole idea of reparations apart then.

Boonton May 26, 2014 at 12:09 am

Not really, just a straw man version of it.

andrew' May 25, 2014 at 10:01 am

In a way, yes, even if not directly. In a free market consumers benefit even if they don’t capture profits. I wonder how free a market we would have with group identity class action suits. Assets benefit the holders and consumers not… “whites.”

I wonder what, other than slavery and overt racism makes blacks special wrt to economic repression compared to anyone else excluded from the elite.

It would be very hard to show directly how any of my net worth is a result of it. I sure don’t feel advantaged. It seems you have to swallow Piketty whole along with a side of unbelievable accounting precision to also accept that racial economic legacies last multiple generations.

Boonton May 25, 2014 at 10:16 am

Which is why I would brand it simply as welfare/redistribution instead of as race based reparations. That eliminates the issue of trying to figure out if Bill Cosby’s grandkids are or are not worse off because of racism/slavery than a white single mom in West Virginia.

TMC May 25, 2014 at 11:08 am

We’ve been doing that for the last 50 yrs, at a cost exceeding what reparations are being calculated at.

All we have done in further destroy the American black family in a way slavery could not.
We probably owe them reparations for the damage done by the ‘new society’, at least the victims are still alive.

Boonton May 25, 2014 at 12:28 pm

WE have? Where? Are you going to now tell us about the wonderful welfare benefits the US has to offer?

TMC May 25, 2014 at 3:31 pm

Yes, and the perverse incentives of it. 3 out of 4 black kids are born out of wedlock.

Boonton May 26, 2014 at 12:07 am

Exactly what welfare benefits do you get for being a black out of wedlock kid that you would be denied if you were a white out of wedlock kid?

Boonton May 25, 2014 at 9:45 am

Sounds like simple redistribution works here. Generally just tax anyone whose better off than average and provide benefits to those who are worse off than average.

If blacks are on average harmed today because of the pasts racism, this policy would help them more than average thereby achieving reparations. Likewise if whites or some groups of whites (say poor whites in the south) were also hurt by slavery (say being unable to compete with plantation families) they too would be helped by such a policy.

On the other hand, in the unlikely case that everyone was hurt by slavery to the exact same degree then such a policy would on average be as likely to help or harm any random person.

andrew' May 25, 2014 at 9:50 am

Yeah. Who doesn’t get paid? That’s the question.

Boonton May 25, 2014 at 9:53 am

Whoever is better off doesn’t get paid. We can discuss how that would work. Perhaps a progressive income tax isn’t the perfect way to do it. OK then consider a wealth tax.

andrew' May 25, 2014 at 10:06 am

That is your way. I refer to the squeaky wheel policy. I’m not sure your way is close to right even if I think it might be better. I’ve seen all kinds of people destroy wealth so I don’t buy the foundational Marxism.

Boonton May 25, 2014 at 10:10 am

Redistribution is not Marxism. Marxism did not care about welfare policies. Marxism was premised on keeping private individuals from owning capital (aka ‘means of production’). Welfare policies essentially say own as much capital as you please, get as rich as you can. You will just have to pay a bit into the pot for those who don’t.

Boonton May 25, 2014 at 10:19 am

I’m also not sure why you would call it the ‘squeaky wheel policy’. Look at the progressive tax code. More income, more taxes…less income less taxes. Pretty simple. OK maybe those who enacted it weren’t thinking about reparations, but it does work that way.

andrew' May 25, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Again, you are mixing up when I refer to your prescription (wealth=advantage) versus black reparations (lack of wealth=racism=disadvantage). I use “Marxism” as shorthand for the assumption
That wealth=profit making by rents.

Boonton May 25, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Marxism is shorthand for wealth coming from making profit from rents? That means every financial adviser who tells her clients to save as much money as they can is applying Marxism! Isn’t it easier to just use terms by their standard English definitions rather than trying to create secret meanings for commonly used words?

Brian Donohue May 25, 2014 at 3:58 pm

Yeah, we do that now. Problem solved then.

andrew' May 25, 2014 at 9:46 am

As if the government helped the rest of us on net.

How were cotton plantations converted to auto plants exactly?

You can hand wave about compound interest but on the surface the assets didn’t win the civil war for the South. It seems the north had higher productivity because of technogical progress, but that seems at best neutral wrt slavery. Odds are a mule and forty then would still be a mule and forty denominated in today’s mule and fortys.

Boonton May 25, 2014 at 9:51 am

You assume the south was able to capture all the benefits of slavery. In reality I suspect a lot of the benefits went to England in the form of cheap cotton to sell to their textile industry as well as north which benefited from lower prices. It wasn’t like the only resentment the South had against the North was because of their anti-slavery leanings.

When war came the South discovered that, ironically, the North was able to tap quite a few of those ‘benefits of slavery’ against them.

Willitts May 25, 2014 at 9:58 am

If there was trade between the South and England, then by definition both sides benefited.

Boonton May 25, 2014 at 10:06 am

Of course both sides benefited, but the point is the south did not reap all of slavery’s benefits. Hence when war came they found some of the ‘benefits’ of slavery being used against them.

Tyler Cowen May 25, 2014 at 9:50 am

Coates is an entry point for the question under consideration, but this post is most of all addressing a question rather than responding to him or to all of his points. Read the title of the post. This criticism is a red herring.

david May 25, 2014 at 9:52 am

Which comment was this intended to be a reply to?

Careless May 26, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Probably all the “Tyler didn’t read TNC’s post” comments

Boonton May 25, 2014 at 10:05 am

I think you’re saying slavery and racism was a net loss for all. In other words, if someone only cared about the status of whites, then slavery and racism made whites worse off than they otherwise would have been. Evidence? Well it’s not like the income and wealth of whites went down after Jim Crow was dismantled. Jim Crow wasn’t helping whites on a whole but harming them.

But I think you missed an important point, even if everyone was harmed to some degree by slavery/racism, it doesn’t follow that the harm was equally distributed. It seems pretty implausible to me to believe that whites as a whole were not less harmed by slavery/racism than blacks.

Z May 25, 2014 at 11:20 am

If a policy harms group A by 20% and group B by 10%, that’s a disparate impact, even if group A is twice as successful and group B. While I’m perfectly willing to concede that blacks suffered more than whites by enough to warrant reparations, I could easily make a counter argument starting with the obvious fact that half of white America was leveled by the other half in the Civil War. That cost white people in the South for five generations.

Boonton May 25, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Which is an argument for income redistribution. To the degree anyone benefited from slavery/racism, redistribution via a social safety net would help even that playing field.

Z May 25, 2014 at 12:49 pm

Except it hasn’t. We have tested that theory and it has failed.

Boonton May 25, 2014 at 1:32 pm

On the contrary, it seems to work more or less everywhere. Contrary to popular belief, the US does not have much of a welfare system targetted at the poor. Now it does have an extensive one targetted at the elderly and poverty rates among the elderly have never been lower.

Z May 25, 2014 at 2:57 pm

I have a ceramic gnome in my garden. it must be working because the gnomes have left my garden alone.

Boonton May 26, 2014 at 12:06 am

Ohh before when you thought the safety net was centered on providing for the poor you declared it a failure. Now that I mention the US safety net is mostly targeted toward the old you decide we just don’t know.

Perhaps your lawn gnomes could provide more helpful and coherent conversation here.

Edward Burke May 25, 2014 at 10:32 am

With due respect, Tyler: why is Coates’s essay not being construed broadly (or is it being construed broadly) as a red herring?

ConnGator May 25, 2014 at 10:43 am

He is saying talking about post-slavery treatment of blacks is a red herring. The “entry point” is the article, the title is “How much have white Americans benefited from slavery and its legacy?”

So to avoid being off topic, he wants us to to limit the discussion to the CBA of slavery for whites and blacks.

Not that hard to understand.

Paul May 28, 2014 at 12:41 am

I know that this is a blog, and hence probably isn’t written all that carefully, but isn’t it quite reasonable and logical conclude that “the post slavery treatment of blacks” is a direct legacy of slavery?

One could take the view, which I believe that T.N. Coates has, that the historical record indicates that enslavement of Africans in the U.S colonies predates belief in the racial superiority of whites. Indeed I think that historians are pretty confident that the belief in the racial superiority of whites was rather a deliberate ideological construction used to justify the permanent enslavement of blacks and occurred only after it was slavery was a well established practice throughout the colonies. And given that white supremacy was a result a slavery, not its cause, it would stand to reason that anything in which white supremacy has impacted policy “post-slavery” is in some strong sense caused by slavery and clearly part of its legacy.

FLiszt May 28, 2014 at 11:51 pm

It might be logical, and it might be reasonable to make such an argument, but it’s by no means a dispositive argument.

The presumption that all groups earn equal benefits from participation in a society rather requires that they all participate equally, and for that to happen, we have to further assume that they’re all equipped to do so. There are group characteristics, as broadly applied, in which European-descended people differ from African-descended people. This isn’t about “better”, it’s about “different”.

I realize it’s considered crime-speak to point it out, and I apologize in advance for any feelings that this hurts, but problems such as that under discussion here cannot rationally be solved while pretending we can ignore the group (please focus on group, not individual) differences.

Sadly, we’re not all, as groups, good at the same things, and it shows in group results.

Willitts May 25, 2014 at 9:57 am

Yet another absolutely ridiculous notion from leftists that JUST WON’T DIE. It won’t die because we don’t pelt them with rocks and garbage every time they say it. Instead, we have discussions about it. We create university departments that write papers on it.

If reparations ever made any sense, it would have been timely immediately after the 13th and 14th Amendments. The beneficiaries of slavery would have been punished and the victims of slavery could have been compensated. Congress didn’t enact reparations.This issue is as dead as Abel’s descendants reparations from Cain’s descendants.

I’m a Polish Jew. Too bad I can’t collect my reparations.

Boonton May 25, 2014 at 10:25 am

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reparations_Agreement_between_Israel_and_West_Germany

As a Jew, you have citizenship rights in Israel. On Israel’s founding, West Germany’s reparation payments constituted over 80% of the country’s income. If tomorrow you moved to Israel, you’d benefit from the accumulated infrastructure capital provided at that critical point.

Of course you can say that was right after WWII, but in 2009 Israel’s foreign minister asked for a billion in additional payments. While agreement wasn’t reached, if it had been who would have paid that? German taxpayers who were almost all born well after the Holocaust.

Willitts May 25, 2014 at 4:38 pm

What about all the other countries that persecuted Jews…or Poles?

The reparations from Germany were timely imposed as I indicated US slave reparations were not. It’s a dead issue.

Boonton May 26, 2014 at 12:04 am

The request in 2009 came 64 years after WWII ended. Jim Crow’s end is not as old.

Larry Siegel May 26, 2014 at 2:04 am

The Israeli request is also ridiculous and embarrassing, and should be ignored by Germany. I don’t know what happened with it, but Israeli officials should know better than to beat this 70-year old dead horse. (I’m a Jew and a Zionist.)

Willitts May 25, 2014 at 9:59 am

What percentage of Southerners even owned slaves?

mm May 25, 2014 at 4:37 pm

less than 25% of southern whites owned slaves and only about 3% had more than a handful. A bigger problem is what to do about blacks who owned slaves in the South? Furthermore, shouldn’t we make Africa pay reperations as well- the whites didn’t go into the jungle & capture those poor souls- other blacks did & sold them to the slavers. How do we get them to pay their fair share.

Willitts May 25, 2014 at 8:42 pm

Good points. Of course, some people who didn’t own slaves derived some first or second order benefits. More specifically, is the entire population of the South (and the North) liable for this debt?

Section 4 of the Fourteenth Amendment specifically repudiated debts owed by the Confederacy. There is, of course, a distinction between debt and liability, but it appears Congress was in no mood to pay for anything except its own war debt.

Precinct Captain May 26, 2014 at 11:31 pm

It depends on when you look what % owned slaves and even where. By the time of secession, slavery was less prevalent in the Upper South than it previously had been, but still pervasive across the Lower South. In the LS, nearly 40% of families owned slaves by the the time of the Civil War, but that was less than 25% in the Upper South (page 255 of McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom). Overall in the South it was about a third at wartime. http://www.civil-war.net/pages/1860_census.html

mm May 27, 2014 at 9:08 pm

of course the US congress repudiated the CSA’s debt-do you think the US gov’t would agree to pay for the South’s rebellion? That would be crazy- paying Southern plantation owners for rebelling or paying foreign holders of the South’s debt-ie encouraging foriegners to lend money to rebels.

GiT May 27, 2014 at 12:44 am

More than 25% of white families in the Confederate states owned slaves. “Whites” generally is an entirely inapt unit of analysis.

mm May 27, 2014 at 9:11 pm

actually the number I have seen is 25% or less- and most only had 1 or 2. The large plantation owners where only about 3% of whites. “Whites” is not an inapt unit of analysis when you propose to pay “blacks” reparations.

wws May 29, 2014 at 10:34 am

Whatever the numbers were in the past, it’s a meaningless number in today’s world. For example, today I live in Texas, which is part of the “the South”. And yet one of my direct ancestors spent a year in a Confederate POW camp, then escaped and was with Sherman in Georgia, and another died at Fredericksburg, fighting for the Union. Do I get reparations for the economic loss to our family caused by his early death, or the other’s incarceration???

That’d be ridiculous, because the past is the past, and what happened, has happened. But I do say, for anyone who wants to go there, that my families “reparations” have certainly been paid in full, and the geographical location where we choose to live today has no bearing at all on anything.

RM May 25, 2014 at 10:04 am

Tyler Cowen. QED.

freethinker May 25, 2014 at 10:16 am

Was it Thomas Sowell or Dinesh Dezousa who argued that thanks to slavery, the descendants are American citizens, the greatest blessing any African can dream of? If so, why talk of reparations?

Aidan May 25, 2014 at 10:24 am

Because thankfully no one considers Dinesh D’Souza the final word on any subject.

Z May 25, 2014 at 11:57 am

It was Tom Sowell so you’ll need to come up with some way to disparage him.

Aidan May 25, 2014 at 1:56 pm

Switch out the names and the same thing applies. There you go.

Boonton May 26, 2014 at 7:39 am

If you come to a turn and have to choose left or right…to the right is a mugger who will kill you, to the left is me. If you choose left is it ok for me to club you over the head and take your money? After all, otherwise you’d be dead. If after being mugged, you get the idea to open a school for self defense classes and as a result you become a millionaire, can I raise this as a defense to a criminal court?

What would have happened absent slavery has no bearing on slavery or its moral consequences.

Careless May 26, 2014 at 1:26 pm

I’d say it has something significant to do with what we owe people who were not slaves and were born generations after the end of slavery. Similarly, if his great great great grandchildren are better off because he went left and you mugged him, well, that sucks for him, but I don’t see why it means your descendants owe his descendants anything

Aidan May 25, 2014 at 10:22 am

I’d like to congratulate Tyler and his commentators on reading an article detailing hundreds of years of horrific economic and physical exploitation of blacks and figuring out that the *real* story is the damage slavery and discrimination did to white people due to reduced trade opportunities.

By the way, if keeping a large black underclass extremely poor without access to wealth building opportunities is so bad for whites, wouldn’t reparations be good for them? Imagine how much money will be spent on white owned businesses and how many new trade opportunities will exist for white people!

dissapointed May 25, 2014 at 11:57 am

Yes, I feel like this comment thread really makes clear who the consumers of MR are. I don’t want to impugn Tyler, but it is clear that his style of thinking gives comfort to many a people who want some intellectual cover for their own racial grievances.

The lack of good faith shown toward TNC’s article is dumbfounding, as is nearly every commenter’s determination to focus solely on slavery (dayenu!) and ignore the 150 years of discrimination following: expropriation of farming land during Reconstruction, a century of disenfranchisement, exclusion of blacks from juries, the exclusion of blacks from early welfare programs, segregated and inferior public schools, redlining, sentencing disparities for crack vs. powder cocaine, differences in arrest rates for marijuana possession, and so on. TNC’s point is that African-Americans’ attempts to build assets are disrupted at a faster rate and by a larger magnitude than are attempts by most white Americans — into the present. The question for white Americans therefore is not, “How much did I benefit from slavery?” but, “Have white Americans and their ancestors had their attempts to improve their situation disrupted at a greater or lesser rate than black Americans and their ancestors?” It’s as simple as that.

I think Tyler deserves a higher-quality following than this comment section suggests that he has.

dissapointed May 25, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Just to underline the extent to which black Americans still suffer today — and the extent to which white Americans can recover from missteps in a way that black Americans cannot — consider this audit study by Devah Pager:

https://www.princeton.edu/~pager/pager_ajs.pdf

Look at the bar chart on p. 958. White Americans *with* criminal records get callbacks for job interviews at rates equivalent to black Americans *without* criminal records. This is just one simple example of the kind of disadvantage that has dogged black Americans for generations, preventing the same accumulation of resources for investment in future generations as white Americans can routinely muster.

Z May 25, 2014 at 12:19 pm

How about you address the majority of the posts here that concede all of this? How much? What’s the size of the check that must be written for you to STFU? A refusal to put a number on it is the problem and it is *your* problem.

Boonton May 25, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Strictly speaking that would be a legacy of current racism, not past racism. The ‘callbacks’ happen because of the perceptions of present employers, not because white Americans with criminal backgrounds enjoy some type of capital they inherited from the past. That perception could change tomorrow and spin around on a dime just as most Americans in, say, 1965, would have probably have said it would have taken a century or more to ever see an African-American president.

Topic for another thread but ‘cultural capital’ seems very elusive. Capital means the ‘means’ to make other products. A hammer, say, is capital because it can be used to build some consumption good, or some other piece of capital. Cultural capital would be aspects of culture that generate more culture.

Say in 1880 whites who instituted Jim Crow got a hold of a time machine and had a brief glimpse of the next 140 years. What could they have done, even with such perfect foreknowledge, to prevent the huge cultural shift that would happen? What exactly can parents do to ensure that their children and grandchildren and great grandchildren don’t reject their values?

I think most cultural institutions have not cracked that code, which is why many things that seemed like they were here to stay forever (discos!) now are clearly fads.

triclops May 25, 2014 at 12:15 pm

Concern troll is concerned. What are the welfare state and affirmative action, if not such an attempt at reparations?
If be all for reparations if they were school vouchers, less regulatory burden for opening small businesses, with a low overhead, non redundant, simple social safety net.
But instead, all the ideas I hear are economically retarded.

Cliff May 25, 2014 at 10:26 pm

I wonder how the fortunes of black americans vs. white have changed over the last 40-50 years compared to the 100 years before that. I can’t claim to be an expert, but I would think the legal situation for blacks over the last 50 years has improved very dramatically, so if those legal impediments were “the problem” we should see quite a narrowing of the gap over that time period. Is that the case?

trollwatch May 25, 2014 at 10:43 pm

Racists, sexists, and loons of various types have long since colonized the comments section of this blog. Don’t know how it happened exactly. 4 or 5 years ago it was people who actually understood economics.

Careless May 26, 2014 at 1:28 pm

In a post about “slavery and its legacy” he complains that people are talking about slavery and its legacy instead of other things, and then says Tyler deserves better readers.

Well, I can think of one who could use some improvement

Z May 25, 2014 at 11:58 am

Thanks for being a stereotype. Like everyone else in your cult, you talk like MLK and live like the KKK.

triclops May 25, 2014 at 12:07 pm

Please let us know what the correct thinking takeaway from the article should have been. TC has a habit of taking unconventional angles on topics, and it would save us all time if you could help us find the proper thoughts to possess on this matter.
And then take your 6 grade version of Keynesianism elsewhere.

Paul May 28, 2014 at 1:13 am

I know that the comment “wouldn’t reparations be good for them? Imagine how much money will be spent on white owned businesses and how many new trade opportunities will exist for white people!” is meant sarcastically, but that does seem to follow from Tyler Cowen’s argument. Indeed, I think that it is even considered to be a common consequent of really basic economic thinking; indeed I think I even recall reading it in an econ 101 textbook. Cowen is responding to the claim, made by Ezra Klein that “White America built its wealth by stealing the work of African-Americans,” and is putting forth the argument that “white Americans would be wealthier had this nation not enslaved African-Americans.” If what Klein says is true, that policies promoting white supremacy really do benefit whites, then that seems to me to justify the racism of whites and the politics of racial resentment often used in the U.S. After all, people pursuing there own interest is only human, and to condemn that is to simply be a misanthrope. I mean, Achilles and the Greeks of the Trojan War were essentially immortalized for killing others and taking their wealth, so I don’t think that arguments against pursuing self-interest are going to be all that compelling to a whole lot of people.

However, under Cowen’s view, slavery and white supremacy were not simply a matter of simple self-interest. In the example of redlining, the Federal government’s policy of ghettoizing African Americans didn’t really benefit whites as a whole; whites wanted segregation more for non-economic reasons than for reasons of “plunder.” Hence Cowen’s view leads us into “What’s the matter with Kansas?” territory, that is to say, trying to answer the question of why whites value something, such as segregation, that isn’t really in their long-term financial interests.

This is an important enough issue to really reach the best our understanding will allow. However, I think that Cowen’s argument is pointing out that most white folks knee-jerk reaction to reparations, which could be characterized by the statement “I didn’t benefit from slavery” doesn’t actually stand up to scrutiny, because the moral case for reparations is simply too strong. Granted, Cowen is exceedingly subtle in his criticism of the “American public,” so I may be making a novel argument and not summarizing Cowen. However, Cowen is a fan of Leo Strauss, and this seems like a subject that would be especially amenable to esoteric writing given the risks that public intellectuals take in discussing it.

You wish May 25, 2014 at 10:24 am

I bet most burglars, thieves and murderers would do better if they did manage to stay away from criminal activity. But it doesn’t change the fact that their victims paid terrible price for crimes those criminals had committed and deserve compensation.

Don’t you think professor Cowen?

The Other Jim May 25, 2014 at 10:25 am

>The Tuskegee Institute has recorded 3,446 blacks and 1,297 whites being lynched between 1882 and 1968

Is anyone else shocked to learn that 28% of lynching victims were white?

More importantly, how much did these 1297 whites benefit from slavery, and how much should we charge their families for reparations?

CM May 27, 2014 at 3:25 pm

Just so its clear . . . the whites who were lynched were largely immigrants, especially jews, and whites who were seen to consort with African-Americans. They were killed by the same white mobs that killed so many African-Americans. The number of whites lynched by African-Americans between 1882 and 1968 is zero or virtually zero.

Careless May 27, 2014 at 9:02 pm

Given the results of a quick Google on the subject, I really doubt there were all that many Jews lynched. Sources suggest between two and four.

Careless May 27, 2014 at 9:03 pm

Not that I have much faith in these specific sources, but it’s one of those topics that would have extensive coverage if it was really a trend

S.C. Schwarz May 25, 2014 at 10:31 am

Once you open the door to collecting reparations from people who had nothing to do with slavery, and paying to people who were never slaves, the door could never be closed again.

For example, I happen to be a Jew. Germany did pay reparations to people who suffered in the Holocaust, but I didn’t get anything. Who knows how I might have benefited if my grandparents, aunts and uncles hadn’t been murdered? And what about the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492? And what about the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD? And on and on…

On the other hand, as an American I clearly owe reparations to the Native Americans that are still left, and so do the African-Americans and every other immigrant that benefits mightily from living in the US. Considering that the native Americans would have had the whole country if we hadn’t come those reparations would be massive. Five years of our total GDP?

But wait, that’s just the beginning. What about all the indigent populations that suffered under colonialism? What about what Attila the Hun did to Europe? What about the depredations of the Roman Empire?

There is no end if we go down this road.

Boonton May 25, 2014 at 10:36 am

For example, I happen to be a Jew. Germany did pay reparations to people who suffered in the Holocaust, but I didn’t get anything

Not strictly true, Germany paid reparations to Israel in the early 50’s in its critical founding period. As a Jew you’re entitled to citizenship in Israel so if you ever took Israel up on that offer you would indeed ‘get something’ from those reparations even though you yourself were never in the Holocaust.

TMC May 25, 2014 at 3:39 pm

Sounds like you advocate another Liberia.

Willitts May 25, 2014 at 9:11 pm

An entitlement for something I never wanted and will not use is not remuneration. Canada will accept me back as easily as Israel, a country I’ve never set foot upon.

So are all the families of innocent civilians we ever killed in war entitled to get citizenship in a free state of Puerto Rico? Is that adequate recompense for the death of one’s family?

Reparations are absurd, and your explanation doesn’t make it less so.

Let’s stop bickering about who enslaved who.

Boonton May 26, 2014 at 12:02 am

If it’s absurd then do you think Israel should return the money to German taxpayers with accrued interest?

Sir Barken Hyena May 25, 2014 at 10:39 am

Modern Black Americans have benefited from slavery along with the whites, are they going to be made to pay reparations to themselves?

“There is still the moral case…” no there isn’t, there is nothing. It’s an argument that intends to work beat beating us over the head.

Daniel M Hausman May 25, 2014 at 10:51 am

Reparations have nothing to do with whether “whites” benefited from slavery or from the more recent injustices of Jim Crow, just as reparations for Japanese American who were interned had nothing to do with whether anyone benefited from the internment. Nor do reparations have anything to do with the injustices perpetrated by individuals in the past or with whether current individuals are descendants of evil doers. The case for reparations rests on the actions of local, state, and Federal government in committing and tolerating injustices.
Because almost everyone misunderstands reparations and treats them as an occasion for assigning guilt to individuals via bloodlines (a thoroughly absurd and reprehensible idea), I think that, however justifiable, the discussion of reparations is divisive and harmful. The case for addressing our appalling racial disparities does not rest on any claims about reparations.

Ed May 25, 2014 at 11:49 am

There were legal remedies available to Blacks who were injured at the time that were available to them. Guess what? They used them, guess what some challenges were successful. Municipal segregation laws were invalidated in the 1910s, racial covenants in deeds done away with in 1940s. Contract selling was legal. The FHA technically didn’t have explicit policies against lending to Blacks and Blacks received loans. The discriminatory actions were committed by real estate agents, banks and generally other private entities. What folks are complaining about is disparate impact which was not illegal then.

GiT May 27, 2014 at 12:50 am

Slavery also wasn’t illegal for certain definitions of “then.” Hardly relevant.

Michael G. Heller May 27, 2014 at 1:29 am

In Australia it is called the ‘black armband’ view of history. Very divisive and harmful. As if there weren’t more important things to think about. Reparations, inequality, what next in the struggle of ostriches to avoid thinking realistically about the future?

FredR May 25, 2014 at 11:06 am

I think Amy Wax’s “Race, Wrong, and Remedies” was a pretty good response to Coates’s article, even though it was written 6 years earlier: http://www.amazon.com/Race-Wrongs-Remedies-Politics-Economics/dp/0742562867

gypsydoctor May 25, 2014 at 11:12 am

Brings to mind the old line: “Our slaves are too valuable to do such a dangerous job–let the Irishman or Chinese do it.”

rick May 25, 2014 at 11:20 am

I would say whites have not benefitted from this arrangement. If you look at the black crime rate, it is well above that of any other race. They commit more rapes, murders, assaults, and pretty much every other crime. Individual blacks, as opposed to inidividuals of any other race, have committed these types of crimes which have destroyed lives, families, and businesses. They have literally destroyed cities (detroit). Take into account all this destruction when determining an amount for reparations.

It is logical to fear a group of young black men walking towards you at night. In Minneapolis where I live there was a epidemic of young black men assaulting people late at night for no reason. I have seen similar occurrences in other cities. You dont see this with other races.

fwiw May 25, 2014 at 12:33 pm
Cliff May 25, 2014 at 10:29 pm

I wouldn’t call one (terrible) case 15 years ago an epidemic

collin May 25, 2014 at 11:41 am

Even if long term economics, slavery did not improve the average white person in the United States today, the slaveowners certainly did benefit from the institution and felt it was important enough to declare their own nation to protect it. And then Jim Crow laws were declared for another 100 years. It certainly benefitted somebody.

I am not moved by TNC arguments as most of the historical realities happened decades ago. Your argument sounds like the conservative programs are simply soaking the poor.

ohwilleke May 27, 2014 at 2:28 am

“The returns from slavery may have been compounding for some heirs of Mississippi plantation owners, but not for most of us.”

The plantation owners did benefit until the Civil War. But, the Civil War and the Reconstruction that followed had the effect of forfeiting the wealth of the vast majority of those plantation owners, the vast majority of free whites who were not plantation owners, and the regional economy of the South. About 18% of Southern white men age 13 to 43 died in the Civil War or its aftermath. In the South, per capita income dropped from equal or more than that of the North to 40% less than the North. Almost all 8,800 miles of railroad in the South were destroyed as were essentially all of its factories and all of its cotton production (70% of U.S. exports) for more than half a decade (blockades intercepted more than 95% of attempted exports). Almost all of the property damaged or destroyed in the Civil War was in Southern states or border states where the war was fought. Freed slaves in the immediate aftermath of emancipation gained a great deal of mobility, but mostly from one plantation to another. Plantation owners were mostly forced to borrow from carpetbagger representatives of Northern banks to continue their operations, and most defaulted and lost their plantations within a couple of decades. The Northern Banks expatriated the profits from the loans for Northern industrialization and sold the plantations to other Southern whites who often repeated the cycle, until enough Southern whites who ended up owning those properties learned that debt financed plantation style farming was a losing game. The economic setbacks of the Civil War and Reconstruction in the South are only beginning to fade in relevance 150 years later. Rather than becoming prominent economic and political leaders in the national economy, the Southern aristocracy that existed in 1860 mostly faded into irrelevance.

In contrast, British slaveholders, collectively cashed out of the system with emancipation payments from the government (eminent domain style) which has allowed the descendants of many of the 46,000 people who received that compensation to hold onto wealth and prominence into the highest circles of the U.K.’s economic and political circles today ((e.g. George Orwell and Britain’s current prime minister) at the expense of non-slave holding Britons of the early 1800s.

Jim Crow laws were motivated more by the fear of the destitute white Southerners after the Civil War and the sometimes nutty political theater of Reconstruction that there would be violent retribution or decay in their own well being to that of the newly freed slaves due to social intermingling that would cost them their cultural identity which they felt was profitable, while economic profit was a distant laggard in motive.

The Great Migration to Northern industrial cities by blacks in turn benefited Northern factory owners, but gains from this migrated labor didn’t last more than a quarter century or so, after which domestic industry stagnated in favor of off shored production. It is fair to say that on the whole the descendants of the participants in the Great Migration are not so much exploited in the sense that Big Business in the North profits from their under-priced labor and consumption, as it is to say that they disproportionately aren’t participants in the Big Business profit making within the national economy. Industry simply moved out of their neighborhoods and washed their hands of responsibility for the Rust Belt cities that they left behind.

ohwilleke May 27, 2014 at 2:38 am

Some of the other big winners in the post-war South were “General Store” owners whose local retail monopolies extracted a great deal of wealth from the rural families, black and white, who survived the war (mostly merchantile Southerners who had done less well before the war due to plantation owner political dominance), and the railroad companies (now Northern ones, of course), that rebuilt the destroyed Southern railway system that served the stores and made it possible for what crops were harvested to make it to ports for export.

Another way that the affluent classes lost in the Civil War was from the dishonor of vast quantities of Confederate Bonds.

Steve Y. May 25, 2014 at 11:44 am

I am a Chinese-American whose great-grandparents came to Hawaii voluntarily to work in the sugar cane and pineapple plantations. I agree that they were much better situated than African slaves though they too worked for rich white landowners. I have a check made out to Oprah Winfrey. Someone tell me the amount and I’ll mail it in.

Robert Franklin May 25, 2014 at 11:48 am

I agree. People free from government regulation behave irrationally and to the detriment of society as a whole.

Ed May 25, 2014 at 11:54 am

I have an idea for reparations that would help repay African-Americans for housing discrimination. How about getting Northeast municipalities to revamp their zoning to allow multifamily units in prime residential areas? The Clintons’ town in Westchester county would finally build appropriate Section 8 housing to house poor Blacks in town as they agreed with HUD to do.

I think that would address two issues. Blacks get cheap housing near jobs and White liberals get to bask in the glories of racial and economic diversity. Good or bad idea?

triclops May 25, 2014 at 11:56 am

Nice one.

triclops May 25, 2014 at 11:54 am

If freeing women from unpaid domestic labor to join the workforce was a huge net positive for the country, why would one argue that doing the same with Black slaves is somehow the complete opposite?

Willitts May 25, 2014 at 11:27 pm

I, for one, believe the slaves and freed men have contributed greatly to America, but it is not a given that any group of people are net contributors to society once they are unleashed.

For example, if we emptied the federal penitentiaries, I don’t think it would have a net positive result.

derek May 25, 2014 at 11:57 am

Frankly, I stop reading any fool who says ‘white america’ or ‘black america’. Ta-Nehisi Coates is probably better off than the majority of whites.

There were slaves who by definition were treated unjustly and deserve correction. There were individuals and families who had property stolen, people who were unfairly taken advantage of. Individuals committed crimes. Politicians garnered support and money from individuals.

So the whites who voted Republican in the deep south when the Democrat KKK and various nefarious groups did their evil deeds are responsible?

This broad stroke stuff might feel good. It allows the useless and counterproductive moral preening of guilt, or the useless and really destructive collective victimhood. And guarantees that tomorrow the same will exist.

The question then becomes far more difficult and challenging. What do you do when you have a dysfunctional place like Detroit, or a crime ridden inner city, or in Canada Natives on reserves where drug abuse, child neglect or abuse and other signs of societal collapse are endemic? The Atlantic describes the separation of slave families, and indeed it was a crime. Over the last handful of decades the proportion of children growing up without their father in some communities has doubled. What government or societal impetus has imposed that?

I can guarantee one thing. If reparations are imposed in some way, there will be more segregation and more racism and more societal divisions in the US.

JB May 27, 2014 at 4:43 pm

Why do we fund schools through local taxes? Why not have a statewide, or countrywide method of funding schools? Well, part of the answer is because white southerners didn’t want to have to fund black kids’ educations. Wealthy Northerners are no different and are loathe to open up their schools, or share their tax dollars with their black counterparts — who tend to be poorer for reasons we all know.

There are ghettos in America because we chose to create them. They are also relatively easy to dismantle (a start would be by making sure that low income housing is spread everywhere, including in the wealthiest of areas)…

As far as saying that Coates is better off than most whites is hardly the point. The real test is whether he’s as well off as his white peers. Whether he can afford to live in the same areas as whites making his income do. Because if he’s not (and since he grew up in inner-city baltimore, I am betting he’s not) it probably has a lot to do with inter-generational wealth, or a lack of it. And that lack of inter-generational wealth has everything to do with the racist housing covenants and FHA loan practices that were prevalent into the 1970s…

Massimo May 25, 2014 at 12:13 pm

The guilt of slavery isn’t targeted at the descendents or the worst cases of slavery nor the beneficiaries of slavery, but the groups that have money and power today that are worth taking.

Many poor people in Yemen or West Africa have ancestors that committed tons of slavery and civil rights abuses, but generally their larger racial groups don’t have a lot of money that is easy to take. White people have money and land worth taking and guilt is a means to that end.

Zimbabwe recently mass exiled whites and Uguanda mass exiled Indians based purely on race. Are there to be reparations against them? Obviously, that wouldn’t fit in with the agenda of the likes of Ta Nehisi Coates.

Boonton May 25, 2014 at 1:29 pm

I strongly suspect Coates would not object to reparations by Zimbabwe to whites and Uganda to Indians based on their abuse of those peoples.

The guilt of slavery isn’t targeted at the descendents or the worst cases of slavery nor the beneficiaries of slavery, but the groups that have money and power today that are worth taking.

This makes the argument for reparations. They are not simplistic silliness like “every white guy has to give a black guy $1,000″. It’s quite possible some beneficiaries of slavery today are black and some of its victims are white. Which is why reparations IMO should consist of a welfare state with social safety net which is there for anyone of any race or color without regard for what their descendents histories.

MG May 25, 2014 at 3:10 pm

The welfare state has been a major causal factor in the destruction of the black family, high black unemployment, lack of black capital accumulation… But more of the same will help blacks?

Willitts May 25, 2014 at 11:30 pm

The subtle racism of low expectations.

The welfare state is a fait accompli, so we can stop all this reparations nonsense here and now. If there are lingering effects, I wonder what the exit conditions are, or are they perpetual?

Carol May 27, 2014 at 4:34 pm

Much as I feel terrible for white Zimbabewans (and I know many), the predicament that they find themselves in is mostly one of their own doing.
Zimbabwe was a colony where European settlers thought it would be a good idea to snatch land from local people. Then independence from Britain came and the white minority thought it could create a two tiered state that had apartheid for black African and a democracy for white people. The day of reckoning came, and because the country doesn’t have strong institutions, the newly empowered black minority stole back what was originally stolen from them. They also forbade dual citizenship which meant that the white minority would have had to renounce to their European passports and lose British diplomatic protection. Only a fool would do that, so many chose to forfeit their Zimbabwean passports. Without those passports, they were no longer citizens and weren’t afforded the same protections under the law.

Exiling whites in Zim had little to with being white and everything to do with ending an occupation. Because that’s basically what it was. It’s hard to offer reparations to people who chose to move to a place, steal the land and maintain the local people in servitude. What exactly are you giving compensation for? Stolen goods?

Philo May 25, 2014 at 12:30 pm

“It is amazing how many of you cannot read and digest a simple sentence . . . .” No, Tyler, you are too experienced a blogger to be amazed at this!

freethinker May 25, 2014 at 12:53 pm

I think all this talk about how much the whites benefited from slavery will only serve to reinforce the “victim” mentality among the African Americans instead of encouraging them to work hard to get an education which can enable them to compete for good jobs. It is more appealing to to be told “your ancestors were slaves and so the whites should compensate you ” than to be told ” past is past and it is a waste of time brooding over something which happened centuries ago. Better focus on your studies”

Willitts May 25, 2014 at 9:03 pm

Ahem, you are correct, but are you aware that encouraging people to work hard to get an esucsrion which can enable them to compete for good jobs is considered, by them, to be racist?

That’s right – meritocracy is a social construct of privileged white men, and true merit is never adequately gauged. Or so they say.

freethinker May 26, 2014 at 7:07 am

I wonder what the guys who argue that merit is a social construct will say if they have to undergo a surgery: will they then insist that the surgeon’s competence is a “social construct” by the whites?

stan May 25, 2014 at 1:03 pm

There is no moral case for reparations. None. Not even a smidgeon.

Unless you want to seek reparations from the descendants of African tribes which got the benefit of going to war with other African tribes and selling their prisoners rather than killing them, don’t even start down this bizarre rabbit hole.

The losers in African tribal warfare faced a variety of options: 1. death, 2. sale into slavery to an Arab state, 3. sale into slavery into South or Central America, or sale into slavery in North America.

The descendants of those who were sold into North America are far better off today than those whose ancestors were in one of the other 3 categories. What measure of damages should apply? Does anyone really want to argue that an American today is entitled to compensation because their ancestors were sold instead of killed? Or sold into America rather than some other part of the world?

The argument for reparations is worse than stupid.

Boonton May 25, 2014 at 1:16 pm

This is a pretty shoddy moral case. Suppose you are walking down a street after taking out $100 from the ATM. You can go left or right. I happen to be to the left. I know to the right is a mugger who will kill you and steal your $100. I, on the other hand, clock you over the head and steal your $100.

According to your moral theory, you have zero claim on me. Clearly you’d be much worse off if you had gone the other way and gotten killed. So you should thank me for mugging you! Now give me my $100!

derek May 25, 2014 at 1:43 pm

There is no redress for victims. The theft was a crime against the state, and the victim is involved only as a witness.

stan May 27, 2014 at 2:13 pm

You are claiming that people who never did anything wrong are obligated to pay large sums to people who have never been wronged and you say I have a shoddy moral case? Whoa.

I simply argue that the standard measure of damages demonstrates that the descendants have no claim. Are they worse off than had their ancestors been killed or sold elsewhere? What part of that represents shoddy morality? Your example has no relevance to anything. The ‘muggers’ in this reparations case are all long dead. None of those living had anything to do with the mugging. That’s the whole point.

JB May 27, 2014 at 4:22 pm

1. There are lots of people still left in Africa, and the Arab slave trade had waned by the time the European trade had its big moment, so to speak. Also, tribal warfare didn’t kill as many people as one might think (since gunpowder hadn’t made it over to Africa by then)… Colonization and its fallout have killed far more people than warring kingdoms/chiefdoms ever could have.

2. The African slave catchers who sold people to the new world were colonized less than 30 years after we abolished slavery in the US, and quite a bit of the trade was done under duress with threats of colonization if the trading didn’t take place. Arguably, all of the money they made worked its way back into US hands (we lent Europe A LOT of money). So, if you want to go that far back, we’re STILL on the hook.

3. That we compare Arab slave trading to the European brand of slave trading is reprehensible. But to say that they were worse than America is a JOKE. Arab traders enslaved as many African in 13 centuries as we did in 3.

4. The compensation isn’t just for slavery. Its for systematically creating a permanent class of untouchables and then using that category to have state sanctioned theft happen into the 1970s…

5. No one over 30 in the US has clean hands in this mess. The only way you can claim to is by saying you have never ridden Amtrak in the Midwest, have no relatives who bought a house with an FHA loan before 1968, and no spouse whose family did. You’d have to no relatives who claimed survivors’ benefits, or unemployment benefits before that date. You’d have to have no relatives who went to college on the GI bill before that date too. And I am JUST GETTING STARTED.

Please don’t fight this battle. You can not win it. The moral debt is there. The matter of reparations is more a matter of acknowledging state sanctioned theft that happened for generations, and that has never been acknowledged. Wealth is passed down from generation to generation. Unearned benefits are too. At this point, most black people have given up asking for a level playing field. But don’t insult everyone’s intelligence by acting like this mess caused by people who died 300 years ago died with those people. We are all a part of the same shitty legacy. A honest conversation about that would be a welcome change.

agm May 27, 2014 at 6:55 pm

As someone with relatively recent ancestry south of the border, there is no criterion that you could come up with that results in me or my relatives owing reparations.

But this isn’t relevant, because the moral case for reparations does not depend on ancestry. As a country, we have not taken care of our own, and in fact have attempted to actively and systematically harm a large fraction of our population. The moral case for reparations lies in making that right, as much as possible, not in assigning a money value in harm or benefit.

Ron H. May 27, 2014 at 7:34 pm

JB

Your self flagellation is almost painful to watch. It seems that you haven’t received your official pardon from Dr.,Williams.

If that isn’t enough to relieve you of your terrible burden, please consider reading Shelby Steele’s “White Guilt” You shouldn’t continue carrying that tremendous weight around on your shoulders.

Ron H. May 27, 2014 at 7:38 pm

And the REAL link to Dr. Williams’s pardon.

Chet Manly May 25, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Needs more approving nods to Roissy.

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