Thomas Sowell's syndicated columns appear in
newspapers across the country and are published on the website of the Jewish World Review.
The column below is currently at this
URL. Please read this column but don't stop there. If you want a
true understanding of slavery and specifically, African slavery, you must
dig deeper. Try Hugh Thomas' THE SLAVE TRADE which is listed on the
reparations movement is simple demagoguery, its sole aim is cheap
publicity and political leverage. It's part of the effort to assign
ALL the guilt for a worldwide tragedy on Southern
More about Thomas Sowell.
Reparations for Slavery? [July 17,
THE FIRST THING to understand about the issue of reparations for
slavery is that no money is going to be paid. The very people
who are demanding reparations know it is not going to happen.
Why then are they demanding something that they know they are not going
to get? Because the demagogues themselves will benefit, even if nobody
else does. Stirring up historic grievances pays off in publicity and
Some are saying that Congress should at least issue an official apology
for slavery. But slavery is not something you apologize for, any more than
you apologize for murder. You apologize for accidentally stepping on
someone's toes or for playing your TV too loud at night. But, if you have
ever enslaved anybody, an apology is not going to cut it. And if you never
enslaved anybody, then what are you apologizing for?
The very idea of apologizing for what somebody else did is meaningless,
however fashionable it has become. A scholar once said that the great
economist David Ricardo "was above the unctuous phrases that cost so
little and yield such ample returns." Apparently many others are not.
The only thing that would give the idea of reparations for slavery even
the appearance of rationality is an assumption of collective guilt, passed
down from generation to generation. But, if we start operating on the
principle that people alive today are responsible for what their ancestors
did in centuries past, we will be adopting a principle that can tear any
society apart, especially a multi-ethnic society like the United States.
Even if we were willing to go down that dangerous road, the facts of
history do not square with the demand for reparations. Millions of
immigrants arrived in this country from Europe, Asia and Latin America
after slavery was over. Are their descendants guilty too and expected to
pay out hard cash to redeem themselves?
Even during the era of slavery, most white people owned no slaves. Are
their descendants supposed to pay for the descendants of those who did?
What about the effect of all this on today's black population? Is
anyone made better off by being supplied with resentments and distractions
from the task of developing the capabilities that pay off in a booming
economy and a high-tech world?
Whites may experience a passing
annoyance over the reparations issue, but blacks -- especially young
blacks -- can sustain more lasting damage from misallocating their time,
attention and efforts.
Does anyone seriously suggest that blacks in America today would be
better off if they were in Africa? If not, then what is the compensation
Sometimes it is claimed that slavery made a great contribution to the
development of the American economy, from which other Americans
benefitted, so that reparations would be like back pay. Although
slaveowners benefitted from slavery, it is by no means obvious that there
were net benefits to the economy as a whole, especially when you subtract
the staggering costs of the Civil War.
Should the immoral gains of dead people be repaid by living people who
are no better off than if slavery had never existed? The poorest region of
the United States has long been the region in which slavery was
The same is true of Brazil -- and was true of 18th century Europe. The
worldwide track record of slavery as an economic system is bad.
Slaveowners benefitted, but that is not saying that the economy as a whole
benefitted. The last desperate argument for reparations is that blacks
have lower incomes and occupations than whites today because of the legacy
of slavery. Do the people who say this seriously believe that black and
white incomes and occupations would be the same if Africans had immigrated
voluntarily to this country?
Scholars who have spent years studying racial and ethnic groups in
countries around the world have yet to come up with a single country where
all the different groups have the same incomes and occupations. Why would
people from Africa be the lone exception on this planet? Groups everywhere
differ too much in too many ways to have the same outcomes.
Slavery itself was not unique to Africans. The very word "slave"
derives from the name of a European people -- the Slavs, who were enslaved
for centuries before the first African was brought to the Western
Hemisphere. The tragic fact is that slavery existed all over the world,
for thousands of years.
Unfortunately, irresponsible demagogues have also
existed for thousands of years.
The links below will lead the reader to a reasonably
comprehensive understanding of the Confederate
What does the
Confederate flag represent?