Reparation abomination would prove to be unaffordable and unfair
Wholesale redistribution of wealth has always been the central goal of the egalitarian left, and the moral panic over race in the aftermath of George Floyd’s 2020 death provided a wedge to open the door at last: racial reparations.
But it is likely a wedge that will split apart the Democratic Party.
California’s state government set up a task force to study reparations, and its first report called for a long menu of remedial measures to help blacks.
While the group was notably silent on a dollar amount, advocates in public hearings demanded direct payments to all California blacks ranging from $350,000 to $800,000, which would cost the state between $784 billion and $1.8 trillion.
Not to be outdone, San Francisco’s own African American Reparations Advisory Committee was less bashful about an explicit cash demand, issuing a report calling for a one-time, lump-sum payment of $5 million for each black person. San Francisco has about 45,000 blacks, making the cost to the city $223 billion. Every non-black person in San Francisco would be on the hook for $263,000 each to pay this transfer. (How fast would San Francisco empty out if this proposal were actually implemented?)
Extrapolate this amount to the nation as a whole, and the cost would easily rival the national debt, which is currently at $31 trillion.
San Francisco treats
But even this extravagant amount was only a down payment. The report also called for total debt forgiveness, exemptions from business taxes, refinanced mortgages, subsidized housing and a long array of new government programs targeted to blacks only.
One notable feature of all these proposals is that the qualification that a reparations recipient must be a descendent from slaves has been dropped. Now skin color alone qualifies for payment, meaning Barack Obama would be eligible if he lived in San Francisco.
Perhaps this is necessary for California, which never even had slavery. There is a deafening silence from Democratic politicians over these reparation proposals (especially from Gov. Gavin Newsom) and for good reason.
The reparations program would be unaffordable, unfair and inflame rather than calm race relations. Would second-generation immigrants from Africa qualify? Would second-generation immigrants from anywhere else have to pay?
If Stephen Curry, the basketball star with the Golden State Warriors who makes $48 million, has property within San Francisco, does he qualify?
Racial reparations already exist in the form of affirmative action, minority small-business loans and other programs. Do they not mitigate payment? If reparations are paid, do those end?
The questions are endless. The working premise that blacks are the only racial or ethnic minority that has faced racism and invidious discrimination is not likely to go down well with Hispanics and Asians, who will be required to pay for reparations along with white Americans.
And other ethnicities?
These absurd proposals are going nowhere and can be seen as opening negotiations for some kind of racial advantage. But this is an ongoing hazard for Democrats. The old egalitarian redistributionism was based on a Marx-inflected concept of class conflict, and as such redistributions were race-neutral and inclusive.
Today’s woke creed has replaced class conflict with race conflict, and pitting racial groups against each other for state-delivered spoils is a certain recipe for rising civil animosity that might not stay civil. (Some witnesses before the state task force on reparations threatened riots if cash payments are not made.)
We’ve heard the leaked audios of Hispanic Democrats in Los Angeles disparaging black Democrats. Expect more of this as Democrats continue their deadly embrace of the politics of race conflict. It will be an interesting spectacle to watch Newsom attempt to run for president someday on a platform of reparations.
Steven F. Hayward is a resident scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley.