Walter E. Williams
Calls for slavery reparations have returned with the publication of Ta-Nehisi Coates' "The Case for Reparations" in The Atlantic magazine (May 21, 2014). In making his argument, Coates goes through the horrors of slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow and gross racial discrimination.

First off, let me say that I agree with reparations advocates that slavery was a horrible, despicable violation of basic human rights. The gross discrimination that followed emancipation made a mockery of the guarantees of the U.S. Constitution. I also agree that slave owners and slave traders should make reparations to those whom they enslaved. The problem, of course, is that slaves, slave owners and slave traders are all dead. Thus, punishing perpetrators and compensating victims is out of the hands of the living.

Punishing perpetrators and compensating victims is not what reparations advocates want. They want government to compensate today's blacks for the bondage suffered by our ancestors. But there's a problem. Government has no resources of its very own. The only way for government to give one American a dollar is to first -- through intimidation, threats and coercion -- confiscate that dollar from some other American. Therefore, if anybody cares, a moral question arises. What moral principle justifies punishing a white of today to compensate a black of today for what a white of yesterday did to a black of yesterday?

There's another moral or fairness issue. A large percentage, if not most, of today's Americans -- be they of European, Asian, African or Latin ancestry -- don't even go back three or four generations as American citizens. Their ancestors arrived on our shores long after slavery. What standard of justice justifies their being taxed to compensate blacks for slavery? For example, in 1956, thousands of Hungarians fled the brutality of the USSR to settle in the U.S. What do Hungarians owe blacks for slavery?

There's another thorny issue. During slavery, some free blacks purchased other blacks as a means to free family members. But other blacks owned slaves for the same reason whites owned slaves -- to work farms or plantations. Are descendants of these slaveholding blacks eligible for and deserving of reparations?

When African slavery began, there was no way Europeans could have enslaved millions of Africans. They had no immunity from diseases that flourished in tropical Africa. Capturing Africans to sell into slavery was done by Arabs and black Africans. Would reparations advocates demand that citizens of Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Kenya and several Muslim states tax themselves to make reparation payments to progeny of people whom their ancestors helped to enslave?


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.'
 
TOWNHALL DAILY: Be the first to read Walter Williams' column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com daily lineup delivered each morning to your inbox.