More on reparations: unintended consequences

More on reparations: unintended consequences May 28, 2014

So a while back some psychologist or sociologist declared that his research definitively proved that conservatives are deficient in being too pessimistic and focused on Bad Things That Can Happen, and conservatives basically, owned this claim by saying that, parallel to this, liberals are too naive about unintended consequences and think if they just wave their magic wand of government policy, the world can be a better, nearly utopian place, ignoring costs, risks, and unintended consequences.

And the reparations debate is a case study in these reactions.

Advocates are pointing to H.R. 40, which aims to establish a commission to study reparations.  It would appropriate $8,000,000 to the task, with 3 commissioners appointed by the president, 3 by the House speaker, and 1 by the Senate president, all of whom are to be experts in the field of African-American studies.  They are to be paid according to the GS-18 level (which, incidentally, hasn’t existed since 1978, being replaced by executive pay levels, but in any event, pay exceeds the regular civil service levels and is probably in the neighborhood of $150 – $200k per year, proportion to the time spend on this project), and are also able to hire any staffers they choose at pay rates they desire irrespective of the Civil Service schedule.  They are instructed to produce a report in the following issues:

(A) Whether the Government of the United States should offer a formal apology on behalf of the people of the United States for the perpetration of gross human rights violations on African slaves and their descendants.
(B) Whether African-Americans still suffer from the lingering effects of the matters described in paragraphs (1), (2), (3), and (4). [that is, slavery and subsequent discrimination]
 (C) Whether, in consideration of the Commission’s findings, any form of compensation to the descendants of African slaves is warranted.
 (D) If the Commission finds that such compensation is warranted, what should be the amount of compensation, what form of compensation should be awarded, and who should be eligible for such compensation.

 And such advocates say, basically, this is a risk-free proposal because, other than spending $8 million, there’s no harm done.  Congress would have to enact any legislation in any event.

But at the same time, so far as I can tell, neither the Coates article nor other authors reveal their end game, but everyone’s guessing it involves a so-called “Marshall Plan” for the inner city — that is, a “Marshall Plan” as it exists in popular imagination, not in reality.  Can a “reparations committee” actually go about its work in a way that unites us rather than increasing division?  What can go wrong?  Let’s rephrase — is there a real chance that such a commission could produce a credible document with a real path forward?  Not so much.

(Incidentally, on of the arguments that reparations-advocates often make is that Americans now, and white Americans specifically, benefited from slavery and discrimination.  They invoke slave labor being used to build this-or-that, and the fact that cotton was supposedly a mainstay of the American economy and everyone owes a debt as a result.  That’s all nonsense — otherwise the South would have won the war, not the Industrial North; perhaps it may even be provable that slavery hobbled the economy in the South — but even if it weren’t, it’s beside the point.  The internment of Japanese-Americans did not benefit the U.S. economy in any way, but that didn’t make a difference in terms of the appropriateness of reparation payments.  And to say that white Americans now benefit from discrimination in the past against blacks is to say that the economy is zero-sum — and negates their parallel arguments that we all benefit from diversity.)

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