Other than Elizabeth Warren, who would be eligible for reparations?

“2020 Democrats Embrace Race-Conscious Policies, Including Reparations” (nytimes):

Last week, on the popular radio show “The Breakfast Club,” Senator Kamala Harris of California agreed with a host’s suggestion that government reparations for black Americans were necessary to address the legacies of slavery and discrimination.

Ms. Warren also said she supported reparations for black Americans impacted by slavery — a policy that experts say could cost several trillion dollars,

The U.S. has no authoritative genealogy service. If the government is handing out $trillions and eligibility is based on being a descendant of a slave, how will people be sorted into “gets paid” and “does not get paid” buckets?

America’s greatest intellectuals don’t seem to have come up with any practical ideas in this area. See “The Case for Reparations” (Atlantic) by Ta-Nehisi Coates, for example. There is nothing about what to do when Elizabeth Warren shows up with a family legend about an enslaved black ancestor and asks for her check.

More than 40 years ago, the Malone brothers availed themselves of jobs reserved for Americans identifying as “black”. See “Boston Case Raises Questions on Misuse of Affirmative Action” (nytimes):

Philip and Paul Malone are fair-haired, fair-complexioned identical twins who worked for the Boston Fire Department for 10 years. Last month both were dismissed when a state agency ruled that they had lied on their job applications: They had contended they were black.

In 1975, the Malone twins, now 33 years old, took the Civil Service test for firefighters and failed. But in 1976, according to their lawyer, Nicholas Foundas, their mother found a sepia-tinted photograph of their great-grandmother, who, she told them, was black. In 1977, they reapplied to take the test, contending they were black.

Philip Malone scored 69 percent and Paul Malone 57 percent, below the 82 percent standard minimum for white applicants, according to the Massachusetts Department of Personnel Administration, which monitors Civil Service tests and hiring.

The twins won appointments in 1978. They were questioned about their race last February, when their names appeared on a list of black firefighters applying for promotion, said Capt. Matthew J. Corbett, a spokesman for the Fire Department. ‘They’re Devastated’

The system under which the Malone brothers prospered for 10 years was a lot simpler than what Kamala Harris and other politicians are proposing. The Boston Fire Department was allocating jobs based on skin color, which can be observed and measured today, not ancestry, for which there is no official source.

Readers: How would it work? If people are lining up for their $trillions and all say that they are descended from slaves, who will decide whether to write a check or not?

Also, how do we decide who pays the reparations? It can’t come out of general tax revenues, can it? Why should an asylum-seeker who arrived via caravan in 2018 have to pay reparations for something that happened 200+ years prior to the caravan’s arrival? How about Native Americans? Should Sachem Elizabeth Warren have to pay for what white people did to black people?


  • “Cure for Racial Dishonesty” by Walter E. Williams: “We can learn from South Africa. During its apartheid era, it, too, had a racial spoils system. The government combated racial fakery by enacting the Population Registration Act of 1950, which racially classified the country’s entire population.”

21 thoughts on “Other than Elizabeth Warren, who would be eligible for reparations?

  1. There’s another reference I think you’ll want to read. You might try to find a library copy or maybe someone you know has a Harper’s Magazine subscription. There are a lot of academics who do, and their media kit indicates that 46% of their subscriber base has a postgraduate degree.


    There’s a very interesting article about reparations that appeared in the November, 2000 issue. As I recall, it hit the newsstands, mailboxes, etc., just in time for the 2000 Bush-vs-Gore “hanging chad” election. It can still be found at Harper’s but the article is only available as a PDF or on microfiche (!) and unless you’re a subscriber you can’t download the PDF.


    I had a subscription to Harper’s at the time and remember the article. It was a little bit informal but very interesting because it took the form of a round table discussion between lawyers and academics brainstorming about legal theories, strategies and tactics by which by which a reparations case could be made – and won. I’m kind of surprised it isn’t being made available on the Harper’s website as a freebie right now, because reparations is going to be an Official Theme of the 2020 elections. The article has lot of appeal (no pun intended) to anyone looking at it from a legal point of view. It’s a kind of a “fly on the wall” treatment.

  2. The problem of lying about race must be a very small one if you have to go back 40 years to find an example.

    • Where can I get my check? 100G will do no questions asked, and I promise not to mention the slave wages I was handed over the years.
      If we only go back only 2 million years, our ancestors were all of native-African origin,
      and hence eligible for reparations: all we have to do is self-identify as African Americans, if only for a very specific purpose. I claim to have come here against my will; in fact, the doctor had to pull me real hard and I was crying.
      To paraphrase Oprah, You get a check! and you get a check! everyone gets a check!

  3. Also, IIRC the article spoke to the “How Would it Work?” part. I’m trying to find it somewhere else on the web, the Wayback Machine is negative, but that volume of Harper’s is available at some libraries.

    The participants in the forum were Willie E. Gray, Jack Hitt [editor, Harper’s Magazine], Alexander J. Pires Jr., Richard F. Scruggs (colorful history!), Dennis C. Sweet III.”


  4. There is no reason this program should have a net negative cost.

    More than half of Americans receive more money in government transfer payments than they pay in federal taxes, according to the CBO: https://mises.org/wire/more-half-america-gets-more-welfare-it-pays-taxes

    If the issue is that people were brought to America against their will, we could simply issue them a check for $100,000 contingent on relocation to another country for a minimum of, say, 10 years.

  5. If the issue is that people were brought to America against their will, we could simply issue them a check for $100,000 contingent on relocation to another country for a minimum of, say, 10 years.

    It’s not that simple. There was also centuries of uncompensated labor to begin with.

  6. Also, how do we decide who pays the reparations? It can’t come out of general tax revenues, can it? Why should an asylum-seeker who arrived via caravan in 2018 have to pay reparations for something that happened 200+ years prior to the caravan’s arrival?

    If it’s something paid by the federal government, it would just be funded the way other federal expenditures are funded.

    • My point was that an increasing percentage of tax revenues are collected from people who have no connection to America’s slave-exploiting history.

      The highest-income Americans pay the most in taxes.


      shows that the top 5 groups of earners (and therefore taxpayers) are Indian American, Taiwanese American, Chinese American, Korean American, and Singaporean American.

      Why should someone who emigrated from India or Taiwan in 2019 and who lives in California (slavery was never legal in California) pay reparations? For what sin are they atoning?

    • My point was that an increasing percentage of tax revenues are collected from people who have no connection to America’s slave-exploiting history.

      For what sin are they atoning?

      You appear to want to establish a new moral precept regarding atonement for sins. No one alive benefited from slavery. The idea that people should be held responsible for the sins of their ancestors is not recognized by any of the major religions as far as I know. Personally, I think that we’re each responsible only for own behavior.

      There have been many other federal expenditures that fall into this category. There are funds and goods and services provided to Indian tribes that are based on treaties signed 100 or 200 years ago. Reagan compensated Japanese-American internees 40 years after the fact. The aggression against Iraq that started in 2003 may have cost a total of a trillion dollars. It was largely funded by 30-year debt, so many people living outside of the country are not yet born will end up paying for it.

  7. Here’s problem with this system. 3% of the population owned 97% of all slaves. My ancestors owned no slaves because they were too poor. At some point, I expect some of my ancestors arrived as indentured servants, not quite slaves, but almost so. So, if we are going forward with reparations, the descendants of Thomas Jefferson and other slave owners can pay them. While we’re at it, where’s my share of the software I created at a number of companies? The companies have made millions of not billions off their use. But, I’m still working, inventing, and selling until I can scrabble enough together to retire, not in fine style, but at least with my debts paid. And still getting paid to work, not sit around and look stupid.

  8. Phil, Do you think those reparations should be gross or net? I mean 360,000 Union soldiers died to free those slaves so shouldn’t the slave descendants have to pay over some of that reparation money to the families of the soldiers who gave their lives? And southerners have been way over represented among soldiers who gave their lives defending America in overseas wars & blacks were probably underrepresented (because they were discriminated against) so should some of that reparation money have to be paid over to those southern soldiers’ families?

    • Excellent point, Jack. I am not sure that the Union soldiers’ families should be paid by descendants of slaves, though. The Union was not fighting to end slavery, but rather to preserve its political dominance over a larger geographical area than wanted to be governed from Washington, D.C.

      But, on the other hand, by today’s standards the pension for a Civil War veteran was grossly inadequately. So the descendants of Civil War veterans and casualties should be paid reparations by descendants of Americans who benefited from keeping the southern states as involuntary members of the U.S.

    • Slavery expansion and preservation was a sole reason for Southern states secession from the Union. So it was the single reason for Civil War. Technical reason was confederates firing at Fort Sumter

    • Anon-
      The South’s reason for secession doesn’t have any causal relationship with the North’s reason to refuse secession (and thus begin war):

      South’s Logic: If A (slavery threatened) -> then B (secede)
      North’s Logic: If B (secession attempted) -> then C (war)

      Metaphor: If a person offers to buy your house to rent it out and you refuse their offer that doesn’t mean you’re “against landlords” – your motivation is entirely unrelated to theirs.

    • WhatAmIEvenDoingHere,
      Your diagram showed that slavery was sufficient but not necessary cause for civil war. I do not argue with that. But Civil War was technically started not by Union, but by Confederate attack on Federal held Fort Sumter in South Caroline, which prompted US sea born relieve party. Timeline:
      1. Lincoln elected – November 1960, due to South refusing to support candidate that puts any limits on inter – state slavery (westerner Douglas, who won/tied Lincoln debate but came out against slavery in new territories), which gave Lincoln plurality (not majority) of vote.
      2. Southern States seceded – around December of 1860.
      3. Confederation created – February of 1861
      4. Lincoln assumes office – March 1861
      5. Confederate attack on Fort Sumter – April of 1861

      So you North Logic did not really happen. There was significant delay before military action started, attempts on compromise, and military action was started by Confederates.

    • Anon-
      True, I am not a history buff and I was oblivious to the events at Fort Sumter. Fortunately, my error is irrelevant to my core point that being against a party’s actions doesn’t make you against that party’s reasons in regards to your original post in response to philg.

      We all want to hate on the prewar South for slavery, but we don’t get to put the North on a pedestal – you don’t get praise for doing the bare minimum. In this case, that would be the North not having slaves and not forcing the South to stop until the South did something that the North cared more about.

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