Reparations Are a Statist Cudgel for Bludgeoning Property Owners

(Michael Rectenwald, Mises Institute) San Francisco’s panel on reparations has issued a recommendation that qualified black residents in that city receive $5 million in reparations for the financial effects of slavery and/or racial discrimination. There was never slavery in the city of San Francisco, but the panel nevertheless suggested that city inhabitants must atone for racial discrimination.

Such calls for reparations to black people are based on the notion of collective white guilt. But collective guilt is a false notion, and reparations based on it would violate the property rights of those whose ancestors gained nothing from slavery, even if such parties benefited from so-called discrimination.

Leftists and left-leaning liberals extol the merits of reparations. Like New York Times columnist David Brooks, they call for national reconciliation and atonement for racial injustice stemming from but not exclusive to slavery.

According to their line of reasoning, the national soul will never be set aright without a reckoning that includes reparations and other racial “equity” programs aimed at redressing the centuries-long, continuing “sin” (per Brooks) of American racial injustice. Every white person, the argument goes, has been the beneficiary of racism, which has its roots in slavery but also derives from historical and ongoing discrimination, “white privilege,” and the myriad, often inscrutable, advantages accruing to whiteness.

These leftists and left-leaning liberals ask, When will national reconciliation finally begin?

Conservatives, on the other hand, dismiss arguments for reparations, basing their dismissal either on time passed or on the argument that black people have already been more than compensated through welfare, affirmative action, and other social programs.

But importantly, they, too, address the question in terms of guilt and moral culpability. Even if my ancestors owned slaves, they argue, I am not guilty of their sins. I had nothing to do with slavery. These conservatives ask, When will the national guilt-tripping of white people finally end?

San Francisco’s payments for racial discrimination would be criminal. Such reparations would constitute an attack on white people, amounting to extorting tax money from them for debts that they do not owe, with the additional effects of exacerbating already fraught race relations in America and further destabilizing property rights.

This is apparently the intent of the American ruling, statist elite, who would punish all “whites” in order to deflect attention from and cover for their own multifarious crimes. But more importantly, reparations are primarily another stealthy means of expanding the role of the state and its oppression and robbery of unfavored property holders.