Walter E. Williams

The slavery reparations shakedown lobby is gearing up for attacks on American industry. They've failed in the courts and Congress, so they're going after weak-kneed CEOs. At the NAACP's recent annual convention, Dennis C. Hayes, its interim president, said, "Absolutely, we will be pursuing reparations from companies that have historical ties to slavery and engaging all parties to come to the table." According to Mr. Hayes, "Many of the problems we have now including poverty, disparities in health care and incarceration can be directly tied to slavery."

 Part of the reparations lobby's agenda is to pressure cities to enact laws requiring companies that wish to do business with the city to complete studies to see whether they had ties to slavery. They've been successful in getting such legislation enacted in Philadelphia and Chicago. CEOs at J.P. Morgan Chase Bank and Wachovia Corp. have apologized for their predecessors' ties to slavery and agreed to be shaken down for several million dollars to fund scholarships and black history programs.

 Mr. Hayes' reparations vision strains credulity and is counter-productive to boot. Most black Americans are neither poor nor in prison. So if poverty and incarceration are directly tied to slavery, Mr. Hayes might explain how so many blacks somehow escaped this "legacy of slavery." For those blacks in poverty or incarcerated, what's Mr. Hayes' message to them? Is it to wait for CEOs to fork over some reparations change and apologize for slavery? If that's the message, then those blacks who are poor are going to remain so, and those who are lawless will continue to experience high incarceration rates.

 I think a better message for avoiding long-term poverty and high incarceration rates is: Graduate from high school. Get married before you have children and stay married. Work at any kind of job, even one that starts out paying the minimum wage. Finally, do not engage in criminal behavior.

Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
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