The Only Logical “Slavery Reparations”
The Bible’s Old Testament, which has informed western morality for countless centuries, endorsed slavery, institutionalizing it with Moses’ laws. Meanwhile Jesus, in Matthew, only mentioned what would “justly” happen to disobedient slaves (they would be subjected to severe punishment by their masters). Jesus never stated slavery was immoral and should be abolished (while insisting that divorce should be abolished!). That explains the contradiction of our Declaration of Independence stating that “all men are created equal, with the unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, while even George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had slaves of their own throughout their lifetime, and that slavery persisted until the Civil War. In fact, Americans and the British colonists were all Christians who believed the Bible was God’s word. If slavery was OK for Moses and Jesus, then it must be OK for them. The irony has been that America’s slaves all became Christians, believers in the Bible, even though their unjust and tragic condition was the result of the Bible and Christianity. Had Jesus stated that slavery was immoral and should be abolished, there probably would never have been slavery in the United States. Following the Bible is not always ethical by modern standards. The Bible in fact commands the violation of countless human rights listed in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. One example is the idea of generational guilt, of punishing up to ten generations of descendants for the sins of their ancestors.
The concept of generational guilt promoted by the Bible is essentially being resurrected by those demanding “slavery reparations” for the descendants of American slaves, payable by American taxpayers. Apart from the immorality, unfairness, and divisiveness of advocating generational guilt, only a microscopic percentage of Americans today are actual descendants of slave owners. The great majority of today’s Americans are first, second, third, fourth, and fifth generation Americans, descendants of people from abroad who had nothing to do with the United States or its slavery, and therefore cannot be held accountable for the actions of others. Nevertheless, as a society it behooves us to acknowledge tragic, gravely immoral errors of the past and to solemnly commemorate the end of slavery every year with a national holiday. That should be accompanied by a mandatory high school course on the history of human rights violations worldwide along with the study of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which would help undermine and eradicate racist attitudes wherever they are present. Effective measures to eliminate racism require understanding its roots, which are educational deficiency, superficial thinking, unquestioning acceptance of primitive traditions and tribalism, even neuroses and full-blown mental illness.
It also behooves us to acknowledge the tremendous social, political, and economic difficulties endured by the descendants of slaves for over a century after the Civil War, and to remove the remnants of racial discrimination once and for all. We must also acknowledge that the social and economic difficulties of the descendants of slaves have persisted to a significant degree due to the nation not providing them with a truly excellent public education. In fact, each generation’s educational achievement in large part depends on the level of educational achievement of preceding generations. By far the most effective way to remedy the current social and economic difficulties of poor descendants of slaves, and of the poor of all races, is to provide their youth with truly excellent public schools, ensuring that there are no more dropouts, and that all get a tuition-free public college education. Educational parity at a high level is essential, not just for eliminating poverty but also for eliminating racism. Regarding the adult poor, we need to provide socially productive public sector jobs for those not finding employment in the private sector. We must have a policy of zero unemployment for all, regardless of race.
Importantly, public assistance given to poor African-Americans must not be considered as “reparations” due to past slavery. Rather, it must be understood as part of general anti-poverty measures for the good of the entire nation, and not the burden of one racial sector of the population in favor of another racial sector. It must be remembered by those calling for “slavery reparations” that 350 thousand white Americans sacrificed themselves to end slavery by fighting and dying in the Civil War, admirably and courageously repudiating the Bible’s flawed ethics. It must also be understood that, contrary to the claims of “reparations” proponents, the enormous economic progress since the end of slavery was not due to the fruits of past slavery. Nor was that economic progress financed by the wealth of former slave owners, many of whom were not even Americans, but British. It was brought about by the work and investment of descendants of people having nothing to with slave owners. And that enormous economic progress has benefited Americans regardless of race or national origin.
The poor of today, regardless of race, are poor because, apart from flawed economic policy (the failure to always nip recessions in the bud, preventing long recessions and high unemployment, through timely QE-financed tax rebates), our society has not made it a priority over the past 50 years to ensure that all our youth are very well educated, whether or not their parents are doing their job in properly bringing up their children. That requires every single public school to be truly excellent with an enlightened curriculum, and to follow the formula of all successful private schools: firm discipline and lots of homework! It also requires individual assistance for those having academic difficulty, the only way to prevent them from falling behind. While it should have been the priority of the United States to eliminate poverty a long time ago (Lyndon Johnson proclaimed the “War on Poverty” in 1965, but practically nothing has been done since then to engage in it), poverty remains an enormous problem today. The elimination of poverty is in the economic and social interest of the entire nation, it is absolutely essential and a moral imperative. Political conservatives who are against government spending for social causes must be made to understand that eliminating poverty is not “socialism”, it is “enlightened capitalism”, paying very high dividends indefinitely. (Also, that financing social programs through QE -not yet fully understood by most economists- avoids the need to raise taxes, making them financially painless for current and future generations.)
It should finally be acknowledged that the problems of addiction and all forms of violence (gun violence, mass shootings, domestic violence, police brutality) are due to neuroses. So, mental health should be promoted in our public schools. The high school curriculum should include four years of psychology accompanied by “group therapy” and “good parenting” classes, with individual attention paid to those students in need. Preventive mental health is essential. Gun control is a superficial, demagogic, ineffective solution. There are many ways to kill apart from guns, and in any case black markets always exist for everything illegal (v. illegal drugs available everywhere, and the history of Prohibition). Since all mass shooters are mentally disturbed and poorly educated, laws will not prevent them from harming others. They will find a way. The high school curriculum should also include four years of economics and investment, with individual, class, and school competitions in money management, because we need economically and financially literate citizens. We also need a 4-year civics course identifying all the mistakes of economic, social, and foreign policy over the past 100 years, explaining what would have been the correct policies. That way we’d finally have some “truly qualified” presidents, senators, and representatives! That way we’d have a much better informed citizenry, which would demand “truly qualified” political candidates and decisively reject those who are not. With a truly well educated and mentally well-adjusted citizenry and “truly qualified” politicians, we would finally end racism, poverty, and all forms of violence, and finally have enlightened economic and foreign policies. When will that be understood and acted on?
© Edward Sonnino 2019
August 5, 2019