We previously addressed The dead-end Case for Reparations, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ backwards looking road to nowhere:

Coates never gives the answer as to who gets what and how.

And that’s ultimately the problem with reparations arguments that are not based upon the people causing the harm paying the people directly harmed by specific conduct soon after the conduct is remedied.

As Coates explained his views to Melissa-Harris Perry this morning, it became clear that there is no sense at all of holding the guilty accountable in the sense we normally do, or compensating actual victims.

There is a complete disconnect between cause and effect — anyone with a particular skin color is presumed to be a victim of policies even from generations earlier. It’s a simplistic and non-evidentiary approach which generalizes anecdotes and ignores the myriad of factors that influence success or failure in life.

Rather, this is a societal redistribution, in which the not actually guilty pay, and the not actually injured get compensated, via the power of government to redistribute wealth.

It’s just redistribution with a different justification.

That Coates’ so easily acceded to Harris-Perry’s suggestion that women fit Coates’ reparations narrative too, reflects the impossibility of the reparations agenda. The same answer would apply to numerous other groups as well.

And so the true reparations absurdity is revealed.

A vast majority of the country is owed reparations, but also has to pay reparations. It’s just a shuffling of money.

The only way to do this is, as Ezra Klein suggests, just have the Treasury print more money and give it to people.

Sounds like the Democratic Party Platform.

Jamelle Bouie at Slate reflects this redistributionist attitute, common among supporters of Coates’ article.  Use the government to take and to give on a massive scale. Also known as Tax and Spend:

Instead of cash, the federal government would implement an agenda to tackle racial inequality at its roots. This agenda would focus on major areas of concern: housing, criminal justice, education, and income inequality. As for the policies themselves, they don’t require a ton of imagination. To break the ghettos and reduce the hyper-segregation of black life, the federal government would aggressively enforce the Fair Housing Act, with attacks on housing and lending discrimination, and punishment for communities that exclude low-income residents with exclusionary zoning.

What’s more, it would provide vouchers for those who want to move, subsidized mortgages for those who want to own, and huge investments in transportation infrastructure, to break urban and rural isolation and connect low-income blacks to jobs in wealthier, whiter areas….

Haven’t we been doing most of that for the past 50+ years. How’s it working out?

It think the redistribution agenda explains a lot of why the reactions to Coates’ article are so over the top from liberal writers and pundits.


Reparations to African-Americans has been a topic of discussion for decades, and using analysis similar to that of Coates, but the reaction to Coates’ article is that he has come upon something new.

So why this reaction now?

Redistribution is the theme of 2014 and 2016 for Democrats.  Even if Thomas Pikegty’s writings are on shaky grounds now, the war on the wealth and income gap will survive into the election season.  But it’s a hard argument to make simply based on wealth and income redistribution as such.

Reparations, or at least a discussion of reparations, fits the narrative.

Whatever we have, was gained unfairly.  Whoever doesn’t have, was cheated.

The entire system is rigged.

You didn’t build that on your own.

Even though the discussion will go absolutely nowhere, it’s a discussion Democrats are happy to have.

Update: Prof. Stephen Bainbridge wrote in 2009, when the issue of slavery was raised (as it has been periodically):

As a matter of compensatory justice, however, reparations for slavery differ significantly from the Holocaust or Japanese internment. In the latter cases, there were living victims whose injuries could be redressed. In the case of African-American slavery, there are no living victims or even immediate descendants.

Courts have routinely held that descendants of slaves have suffered no legally cognizable injury for which they have standing to sue. In his decision in the African-American Slave Descendants Litigation case, for example, federal district court judge Charles Norgle rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that they suffered continuing harms, in form of racial profiling, racial slurs, and shorter life expectancy, as result of the enslavement of their ancestors.

Slavery was a great injustice. Yet, there is no moral case for reparations. None of the principal legitimate purposes of punishment — deterrence, compensation, or retributive justice — would be served by requiring corporations to pay such reparations.

Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.