Bayou Calvinist

A Somewhat Eclectic Discussion by a Law Student Concerning All of Today's Major Topics, as well as, a Few Not So Major Topics

Friday, June 10, 2005

A Case for Reparations for Slavery?

Eugene Volokh has posted over at Volokh Conspiracy [link on left] an interesting article by Jeff Jacoby concerning reparations for slavery and a critique of Jacoby's argument by Eric Muller.

A common argument against such reparations is that nobody responsible for slavery is still alive; and no one who suffered under slavery is either.

Chad Bryan in his article entitled Precedent for Reparations in a 2003 issue of the Alabama Law Review (see: 54 Ala.L.Rev. 599), refutes this argument as follows:

"[It] is entirely accurate [to] claim that "only a tiny minority of Americans ever owned slaves" and also in that "the two great waves of American immigration occurred after 1880 and then after 1960." It is perfectly understandable that his underlying question would follow: "Why should their descendants [those who did not own slaves] owe a debt?" What is not so understandable is how [one] fails to see the answer.On the surface, every American taxpayer should be aware that much (or at least some) of his tax money goes to fund programs that will never benefit him individually. Yet those taxes are paid from understanding of a concept of "public good." This concept alone should be enough to refute those who share [the above] position."

While I agree with Bryan's general point, I feel that this does not answer the problem as a whole. While certain taxes go to pay for projects or causes that not all taxpayers agree to, a reparations regime is based on past guilt. It just seems to me that the guilt (which is surely great in this case) is perhaps too far attenuated in time and the individuals asked to bare the punishment. It is certainly a topic open to theoretical disagreement but I also imagine that when the question is put in a template of practicality, the amount of disagreement will also shrink.


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