While I oppose widespread reparations for slavery, I have heard two different arguments for forms of reparations that are, at least, intriguing. One variation comes from Jonathan Rauch who has argued that blacks deserve reparations—but not for slavery. The actual victims of Jim Crow would be given reparations. Rauch writes that a black person who was forced to attend an all-black school during Jim Crow could make the case that government policy had harmed his chances in life.
That has the potential to get messy, as people then must go through the steps of documenting which schools they attended 5 or 6 decades ago and how they were harmed. Plus, the actual perps—as Bartlett might point out, Democratic officials—are either too old or feeble to be punished today.
A second idea that gets around that problem was championed by Alan Keyes a few years ago when he was running against Barack Obama for the senate. Keyes recommended that black Americans should be allowed to live tax-free for a generation or two “in order to encourage business ownership, create jobs and support the development of strong economic foundations for working families.” I see a few problems with that, too. One, President Bush’s latest budget proposal is more than $3 trillion. To support it, the government will need more, not fewer, taxpayers. Secondly, black Americans — who are more likely to be supportive of tax-and-spend Democrats — would have even less of a reason to oppose proposals for increased government spending if they aren’t paying taxes.
I’ve been saying for years that I cash any and all checks with my name on them, but that I could never bring myself to go down to a Federal Reparations Office to pick up a slavery reparations check. But being able to live tax-free, as suggested by Keyes? If you want to call it reparations, that’s fine with me. Instead of getting a gift as a result of what happened to my ancestors, I could at least argue that the government was just letting me keep more of the money I had earned with my own labor.
By proposing reparations, Bartlett is harking back to a proud time in Republican history and a shameful time for the Democratic Party. After all, it was Republicans who, in 1867, put forth legislation putting aside forty acres of land for black Americans–legislation that was opposed by the Democratic Party. More than 140 years and several generations later, it may be that the Republican Party missed its chance to give reparations to blacks.
Casey Lartigue is a former policy analyst with Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom