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Modern Reparations are Logically and Fundamentally Flawed

Bryce Dunio ’22, Opinion Columnist

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The Democratic party’s apparent ideological split between Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ far-left wing and Nancy Pelosi’s more moderate wing has resulted in a wide array of candidates fighting for the 2020 nomination. In an effort to separate themselves from one another, several candidates have begun adopting unique policies for building unparalleled platforms. While many major candidates have endorsed the policy of universal healthcare with their own twist, others – like Senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren – have endorsed more controversial policies. 

Both Senators have recently voiced their support of reparations for African Americans with enslaved ancestry. Their endorsement seems to be an attempt to attract what is sometimes called the ‘woke left,’ a large group of left-wing identitarians who, among other racist positions, believe the color of one’s skin dictates the value of one’s political views. The Senators are also appealing to the majority of African Americans. In a 2015 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation CNN, it was reported that “as a way to make up for the harm caused by slavery, just over half of Black Americans (52 percent) say the government should make cash payments – known as reparations – to descendants of slaves.” Such a policy would have made sense in the latter half of the 1800s when African Americans were freed from the atrocious exploitation of enslavement; however, reparations in 2019 America have several flaws both logically and fundamentally.

The logical flaws that come to mind deal with the distribution of wealth in such a program. How much funding is enough for past crimes? Would any amount of money truly be enough to pay off the crimes in America’s past? But, saying we were to craft such a policy, how would we decide who gets what? One may initially think that reparations would simply be a sum of money paid to an individual with enslaved ancestors, but this thought is flawed in more ways than one.

If an individual’s paternal side was once enslaved but their mother’s side was not, do they receive half the funds an individual who had both sides once enslaved would receive? The response to this question would heavily dictate such a policy, as it makes the number of enslaved ancestors a deciding factor. If answered yes, an individual whose great grandfather’s side was enslaved would logically then only receive an eighth of those funds saying they went through extensive testing and lineage tracing. If answered no, an individual whose great grandfather’s side was enslaved would receive the same funds as an individual whose entire family lineage can be traced back to enslavement – a stark inequality.

However, this question presents more logical flaws. If an individual, regardless of how many enslaved ancestors they have, is extremely wealthy today, do they still receive the same amount of funds as an impoverished individual with an equal number of enslaved ancestors? If answered yes, one must defend giving tax payer dollars freely to a wealthy individual in the 1%. If answered no, one must then make present day wealth an additional factor in the funding process. This in particular is why wealth plays such an important role in the policy-making process. Reparations were stated by the aforementioned poll to be compensation “to descendants of slaves.” If we are now to exclude a wealthy individual whose great grandfather’s family was enslaved, does that not go against this core idea of making up for the past? And if we include this individual, is it not true that they, a millionaire, would not need tax payer dollars that could otherwise go to another government program or, better yet, stay in the pockets of American citizens?

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that congress successfully found the answers to these questions, as outlandish as that sounds. If reparations are intended to make up for the past, are we seriously to believe handing individuals some cash today somehow makes up in any capacity for the atrocities committed over a century and a half ago? What worthwhile outcome do we actually expect from such a naïve policy? 

When it comes to the dark spots in America’s history, we cannot place a monetary value on such things; rather, the true value comes from understanding why we call slavery a dark spot in the first place and ensuring that those atrocities may never be forgotten nor repeated. Throwing money at a problem and expecting to solve it in any capacity is the motif of governmental failure. Instead of endorsing the identitarian policy of reparations, or frankly any other toxic identitarian policy for that matter, we need to move past the past and look to the future. 

We must stop dividing ourselves by race and start uniting ourselves as Americans. It is sadly inevitable that there will always be some number of racists in any society so long as we are human. America is not perfect, and, in the realm of reality, no nation can be. But for Lady Liberty’s torch to continue burning bright as the North Star of the free world, we must always try.

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1 Comment

One Response to “Modern Reparations are Logically and Fundamentally Flawed”

  1. Ian White on April 4th, 2019 9:35 pm

    Just a thought here. Maybe the problem isn’t that individual people are racist, but instead that the particular intersection of America’s history and present day institutions results in unequal opportunities, and thus outcomes, for white Americans and everyone else. This can be seen in a variety of studies showing gaps in wealth, homeownership, access to fair loans, health outcomes, maternal mortality, income, nonlethal police practices, etc. If these well-documented gaps did not exist, then nobody would be talking about reparations. It would be as ridiculous as asking for a law to protect the freedom of speech of white men, and white men only. However, given that anti-black racism has power in this country, and that it hampers the freedom and well-being of millions of people everyday, it’s probably time to talk about ways of undoing the harm that it does. If Ta-Nehisi Coates, David Brooks, and the United Nations Working Group of Experts can agree on a policy, there’s probably a reason for it, and it’s probably something worth looking at.

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Modern Reparations are Logically and Fundamentally Flawed