It’s Not Reparations Being Demanded; It’s Something Quite Different

Democrats frequently talk about compensation for slavery and Jim Crow in the form of reparations for black Americans. Indeed, House member Cori Bush recently proposed $14 trillion as a good place to start.

Any reparations plan would be extraordinarily complex. First, if reparations are to be paid, to whom would they be paid? To every one of America’s 45 million blacks? Would that include the 4.5 million blacks who immigrated after Jim Crow was gone? Should the 33 million black Americans age 50 or below whose lives have all occurred since the Voting and Civil Rights Acts passed? How about black families whose ancestors lived in northern states where slavery was largely outlawed before America was a nation, and Jim Crow never existed? How about blacks from states like California and Idaho that had neither slavery nor Jim Crow? Or those of mixed origins with one black parent? Is one black grandparent sufficient, or would it have to be at least 2 of 4? Do black families who earn $200,000 a year still qualify for reparations? How about America’s 1.5 million black millionaires?

If reparations are indeed to be paid, the next question is, who would pay them? America has approximately 250 million white people. Would all of them have to pay? Would those include those whose ancestors arrived after the Civil and Voting Rights Acts passed or whose ancestors arrived after the Civil War, as many Italians and Irish did? What about the 155 million or so white Americans who are 50 or younger and were born after Jim Crow was history? How about those descended from one of the 360,000 white Northern soldiers who lost their lives fighting to end slavery? Or those who live in states that never had slavery or Jim Crow? Do the whites of Wyoming, where the black population is 0.9%, pay the same as Louisiana, where it’s 31%?

Image: African slavers taking their captive fellow Africans to the slave market (1874), from the Internet Book Archive. CC BY-SA 4.0.

Once we’ve nailed down who’s going to get reparations and who’s going to pay them, then we must figure out how much to pay. For the sake of argument, let’s take Cori Bush’s $14 trillion proposal. That works out to $311,000 for every black American. Again, for argument’s sake, let’s say that all 250 million of America’s whites would be responsible for funding that reparation. That would require that every single white person (including babies and retirees) write a check for about $56,000. That’s unlikely to be feasible given that the average median white household income in the US is $78,000.

So, if writing a check is out of the question, maybe whites need to set up a payment plan, sort of like a mortgage. Spreading the $56,000 out over 15 years at today’s 6.7% interest rate would make for a monthly payment of $494 per white person.

That doesn’t seem too unreasonable, but what about unemployed whites or those on government assistance? Do they pay? What about white kids too young to work? Do they pay, or do their obligations accrue until they turn 18 or get their first job?

Then, of course, who do they make those checks out to? Do the white people get to choose which black people they pay? Or do they make the payment to a pool to be distributed by some upstanding organization that represents black people like the NAACP or BLM or the National Action Network?

Are the payments tax deductible? Maybe we should let the IRS collect the money and have the government distribute it. Would the government need to set up a Department of Reparations to keep the money separate from the rest of the government’s funds? Or maybe the government can pay the whole sum upfront and bill the white people over time.

Would individual black people have a claim on individual white people’s property if the white people didn’t or couldn’t pay? Would jails become debtor’s prisons full of people who can’t pay?

Assuming all those details get figured out, are new black babies entitled to reparations? If yes, for how long? Will black babies born in 2075 still be eligible for payments, and will white ones still be obligated to pay? Is it in perpetuity, or will it only last 100 years?

If new black babies are not eligible, how would mom explain to Junior that he doesn’t get the $311,000 his brother did just because he was born 12 months later? If a black woman is pregnant when the agreement is made, does she collect for only herself or for her baby too?

At the end of the day, reparations are made for some wrong done decades or even centuries ago. But what if the result of that wrong left the wronged person’s descendants better off than if the wrong hadn’t occurred in the first place? Is it possible that reparations aren’t really due?

Approximately 400,000 blacks were brought to the United States as slaves. We assume that, had they not been sold into slavery, they would likely have stayed where they lived. (Incidentally, this is not a valid assumption, for the intra-African slave trade vastly exceeded the North American market. The same blacks, if they’d still been captured by fellow Africans, could alternatively have been sold as slaves to the Caribbean, Latin America, and the Middle East.) Nonetheless, one might ask, would the progeny of those slaves have been better off in those home countries than they are here due to their ancestors being sold into slavery?

First, let’s look at incomes. We’ll look at the per-person median income (PPMI) in the top 10 modern nations encompassing the places from which those blacks were taken. (See chart, below)

The average among those 10 nations is $950 per year. This compares to a median income for black Americans of $13,108 per person. ($19,306 average American X .67)

But of course, money isn’t everything, right? How about life expectancy? In those same 10 nations, the life expectancies average 61.6, compared to the United States, where the average life expectancy of black Americans is 75.1 years.



Life Expt.




Congo (DR):












Sierra Leone:


















Black Americans



So, black Americans have incomes that are 13 times higher than individuals living in the nations from which slaves were brought to America. They also have life expectancies that are 14 years, or 22%, longer. What’s more, Americans have freedoms found in none of those countries, along with levels of entertainment, transportation, food, shelter, leisure, medicines, job opportunities, and democracy that citizens of those nations can only dream about.

As such, it appears that black American descendants of slaves are far better off because their ancestors left Africa in bondage and landed in the United States. Indeed, had their ancestors been taken to Brazil, where the largest number of blacks landed, they might not have survived to procreate because death rates were staggeringly high, or to the Middle East where the men were castrated and babies born to black slaves were killed at birth, which explains the relative dearth of blacks in the Middle East despite importing more slaves than the Americas.

But the relevant progeny for this discussion were brought to the United States, and it appears that they are much better off than the descendants of those who were left behind. If that were not the case, one would expect that blacks unhappy with America would willingly emigrate to the nations from which their ancestors came. But that never quite happens, does it?

This begs the real question: Given that no one alive today was either a slave or owned slaves and most of the progeny of slaves are exponentially better off than they would have been had their ancestors not been taken to America in the first place, exactly why are reparations warranted?

In fact, they’re not, and that’s the point. It’s not reparations that are being demanded, it’s revenge, which is a completely different thing altogether.

Follow Vince on Twitter at ImperfectUSA.

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