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Monday, February 02, 2004

Feel This Post

I'm not really sure why, but reparations for slavery have come back into vogue as something to bash, since a recent lawsuit against a number of formerly slave-using companies was dismissed. The main problem people seem to have with this sort of "payoff" program is this "sins of their fathers argument." For anyone who is unaware, this takes the form of "people who haven't owned slaves are not morally or financially culpable for the effects of slavery." Honestly? I don't even understand how this begins to be acceptable.

Imagine, if you will, there's a company. We'll call them Ndow chemicals. This company is knowingly dumping waste into a river which then contaminates a local water supply.This makes many people sick, and a couple generations later, the children of the people who had previously lived in that town initiate a lawsuit against Ndow, becuase they have medical bills inherited from their parents as a direct result of actions taken by this group. Now, it's unlikely Ndow has the same stockholders. In fact, if you wait 40 years, it's highly unlikely they'll have the same employees, either. Yet this is still a situation where the employees, who weren't even blood related, still ought to be the ones to bear the cost of making sure that these other individuals, whose parents were sick or died, are compensated. This seems like a clear, unambiguous case.

Or, in a less real-world, slightly more contrived example which might be clearer, let's say a guy named Ted murders your parents and steals their house. He then gives his son the house, and you are brought up by a foster home. Is it really that outrageous to say that he should have to give the damn house back, becuase otherwise he'd be "suffering for the sins of his ancestors"? There are slight differences, insofar as there was an illegal action, but that doesn't really seem to be what's at issue here. The fact is that certain people are worse off becuase of the unethical, and in many cases illegal, actions of a set of individuals. Trying to erase that should be a key goal in any sort of just society.

The other main objection people seem to have is that just giving money isn't going to actually erase inequality. This is a lesser form of the normal "laws of X type have been implimented poorly in the past, therefore laws of X type are categorically bad" argument. Our system simply doesn't allow for other methods of compensation. If you initiate suit against, say, ConAgra, becuase their subsidiaries were largely slave owners, you can't get them to do very much beyond give money to help improve communities. Just becuase the current form the suits have taken isn't the best, that doesn't make reparations as an institution bad.

I'm not necessary for or against them, I'm just saying, the attacks which have been mounted are pretty damn weak.

cranked out at 1:47 PM | |

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