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THE REPARATIONS SCAM



Published: Fri, August 23, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



THE REPARATIONS SCAM

Providence Journal: This drive for slavery reparations -- targeting companies that may be linked to firms existing as long as 200 years ago -- seems yet another plot devised by trial lawyers to keep the victim industry humming and themselves rich.

Of course, the idea of slavery reparations, long after all involved have died, is absurd. But that does not stop the concept from stirring destructive emotions, cracking the foundation of the far better idea that Americans should strive for the common good.

It would be nice if a magic wand could be waved that could make up for the harm done Americans by the viciousness of slavery and the racist laws that followed it. Unfortunately, money extracted from corporations or taxpayers could never square the ledger at this point.

The logic against reparations is hard to overcome:

UThey would take from those who did not commit the sin -- many of whose ancestors did not reach these shores until after slavery ended -- and give to those who were never slaves.

UIt is impossible to fairly decide who would benefit. Most blacks' blood lines are mixed, and they descend from both oppressed and oppressor. What about descendents of blacks who themselves owned slaves? (Some did.) How would the government determine the percentage of ancestry or skin tone that qualifies someone for reparations? The exercise quickly unravels into futility, reminiscent of the banality (and ugliness) of the race obsessions of Nazi Germany.

UWhy should those whose ancestors fought or died in the Civil War be punished for slavery, if they hated it and their sacrifice helped to eradicate it?

UHave all whites benefited from slavery and racial prejudice? The great writer and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave, argued that slavery was a system that poisoned everyone it touched. Clearly, the North outstripped the South economically because its economy was based on freedom and innovation, not slavery.

UReparations ignore the reality that, for all of America's sins against them, blacks enjoy greater prosperity, opportunity and freedom in America than anywhere else -- and certainly much greater than in Africa. Black Americans, who helped win freedom on the battlefield, have shared in freedom's benefits, despite oppression.

UIt is not clear how much of the reparations would even go to the people whose ancestors were slaves. Lawyers would want a huge chunk. And Jesse Jackson (who has increasingly and sadly become a self-enriching con man and extortionist) has called for reparations to be paid to nonprofit groups rather than individuals -- groups, presumably, like the one he runs and lives very well on.

America has made great strides against racism over the last 50 years. Its task now is to achieve more than symbolic ends. It must help root out persistent pockets of poverty, to extend opportunity, especially through better public schools and the revival of social structures that nurture the young: safe neighborhoods, stronger families, good role models, cooperation by adults.




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