Resolved: The United States Federal Government ought to pay reparations to African Americans (Con)

The problem with job training as a reparation
The theoretical case for reparations is strong. It is irrefutable that African Americans were harmed terribly by slavery, that those harms continue to the present era, and that at least certain African Americans deserve some type of compensation for these wrongs.
That said, there are many practical questions that confound the reparations debate and determining what the reparation may be, who should be eligible for the reparation, and practical issues related to paying out the reparation are not simple.
Con teams will lose if they try to focus the debate on more theoretical questions related to whether or not African Americans should receive reparations. As stated, the theoretical case for those is strong. Con teams need to focus on the practical objections.
And while many of the arguments favor the Pro, Con teams should take advantage of the fact that most members of the public (above 90%) oppose reparations. Since Public Forum judges are drawn from membership in the general public, Con teams will be able to play into this general sentiment. And the general sentiment should offset the theoretical advantage the Pro has.
In this essay I will both discuss some answers to the theoretical claims in favor of reparations and then conclude with a thorough discussion of the practical problems associated with reparations.
Rebutting the Justification for Reparations
There are some basic arguments that challenge the need for reparations in the first place. Most of these objections center on refuting the need for reparations based on the claim that those reparations are being provided for slavery. As stated in the Introductory and Pro essays, the resolution doesn’t specify that the Pro advocate reparations for slavery, so if they advocate reparations for something else many of these arguments will not apply, but since I think most Pro teams will advocate reparations for slavery, these should work.
There are no black slaves living today. This argument is straight-forward: Since no Black slaves are alive today, it is impossible to give them reparations and they were the ones harmed by slavery, not their ancestors.
Contemporary problems faced by African Americans are not the fault of slavery. This argument claims that, “The problems of poor African Americans are caused by social ills within the inner city, such as the breakdown of families, high crime rates, and dependence on welfare”
The federal government shouldn’t pay reparations. The argument is that the federal government should not pay reparations because the federal government is not responsible for slavery.
Allen C. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College, and the author of “Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President.”, July 16, 2009, Should Blacks Get Reparations? Christian Science Monitor, DOA: 6-27-15

  1. Who was legally responsible for slavery? Not the federal government. Slavery was always a matter of individual state enactments, which is what made Lincoln’s initial attempts to free the slaves so difficult. When it was written in 1787, the Constitution only obliquely recognized the existence of legalized slavery in the states, and only mentioned it directly when it provided for the termination of the transatlantic slave trade in 1808. Congress twice passed laws regulating the capture of fugitive slaves. But there was no federal slave code and no federal statute legalizing slavery. Nor was slavery confined only to the 11 Southern states of the old Confederacy. It was legal in New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey as late as the 1820s. If reparations are what’s in view after an apology, the real target has to be the states; and if reparations are demanded from Alabama, it will want to know why it’s more guilty than other states.

Civil war solves. The US fought the civil war at tremendous cost to free the slaves. This civil war constitutes are reparation for slavery.

Allen C. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College, and the author of “Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President.”, July 16, 2009, Should Blacks Get Reparations? Christian Science Monitor, DOA: 6-27-15
What about the Civil War? Slavery did not end by evaporation. It took a catastrophic civil war, which cost 620,000 dead – equivalent to nearly 7 million today; it cost $190 billion (in today’s dollars) to wage and multiplied the national debt by 400 percent; and it inflicted a casualty rate of 27 percent on Southern white males between the ages of 17 and 45, the very people most likely to own slaves. At that time, there was no shortage of racists in the North who insisted that the Civil War was being waged only to preserve the Union, not to abolish slavery. But Lincoln knew otherwise, and he charged both North and South with knowing it, too. Slavery “constituted a peculiar and powerful interest” in the South, Lincoln said in 1865, and “all knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war.” The war, Lincoln said, was God’s instrument for the ultimate reparation – every drop of blood drawn with the lash had been paid for with blood drawn by the sword. The blood-price of the Civil War may not automatically silence the case for reparations on its own. But the case for reparations cannot ignore it, either.

This lead to a world-wide revolution against slavery.

Communities Digital News, June 9, 2014 “The Case for and Against Slave Reparations,” DOA: 6-27-15
Those who speak of reparations rarely examine the long and complex history of slavery and where America’s role in that history really can be found. Historically, people became slaves in a variety of ways. Many gave up their freedom because of economic necessity. In ancient Babylon, Egypt and Rome, and among Africans and Aztecs, a man who could not pay his debts sold himself into slavery to his creditor. In Ancient Greece and China, poor families who could not feed all of their children often sold some of them as slaves. Slavery might also be declared the punishment for certain crimes, such as treason or wife abduction, as in medieval Europe.When the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia in 1787, not a single nation had made slavery illegal. Denmark became the first nation to abolish the slave trade in 1792. What is historically unique is not that slavery was the accepted way of the world in 1787, but that so many of the leading men of the American colonies wanted to eliminate it, and pressed vigorously to do so. Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton were ardent abolitionists. John Jay, who would become the first Chief Justice was president of the New York Anti-Slavery Society. Rufus King and Gouvernor Morris were in the forefront of the opposition to slavery and the slave trade. One of the great debates of the Constitutional Convention related to the African slave trade, and George Mason of Virginia made an eloquent plea for making it illegal. While many have criticized the Framers for their decision not to eliminate the slave trade immediately to ensure that Southern states would join the union, others understood that they had set in motion an opposition to slavery that would bear fruit in the future.

The above arguments are specific to answering the slavery rationale for reparations. There are some additional arguments that apply to any justification for reparations.
Status quo solves. This argument claims that governments have already spent billions, if not trillions, on social programs such as welfare, health care, employment development, and education that have benefitted African Americans.
And on top of that, it can’t be proven that contemporary problems are due to slavery.

Communities Digital News, June 9, 2014 “The Case for and Against Slave Reparations,” DOA: 6-27-15
Slavery, many argue, has little to do with the problems facing black Americans in the 21st century. In his book “The Black Family From Slavery To 1920,” Herbert Gutman shows that more black children lived in two-parent families during slavery, Reconstruction and Jim Crow than at the present time. Walter Williams, the respected black economist, writes that, “Harlem was much safer during the Forties and Fifties than now. Those who argue that today’s pathology is a result of slavery, racism and poverty owe us some answers; namely, why were black families more stable and black neighborhoods safer and more economically viable when racism was rampant and blacks had fewer opportunities for higher education, good jobs and housing? Could it be that the effects of discrimination skipped several generations?

Practical Problems with Reparations
There are many practical problems with providing reparations, particularly with providing reparations for slavery.
Administration. “Who would receive reparations? Descendants of slaves? All blacks? Would well-off African Americans receive payments? If a fund were set up, who would administer it? Would those unhappy with the plan call for even more reparations or file lawsuits?” (CFR-USA).

Communities Digital News, June 9, 2014 “The Case for and Against Slave Reparations,” DOA: 6-27-15
Those who now advocate reparations to contemporary black Americans for the slavery which existed one 150 years ago, overlook many important facts. First, reparations usually are paid to direct victims. The U.S. Government apologized and paid compensation to Japanese-Americans interned during World War II, and Holocaust survivors received payments from Germany. Beyond this, not all blacks were slaves and an estimated 3,000 blacks were slaveholders. Many immigrants not only came to the U.S. long after slavery ended, but many of them were also confronted with discrimination. Should they pay reparations, too? Or should they receive them? And given the changing demographic makeup of our society, on what basis can we say that recent immigrants from Asia, Africa and Latin America bear any responsibility for slavery which existed in previous centuries?

No group to settle with. There is no group or institution that represents slave descendants, so there is no way to make a “deal” on slavery reparations – amount, who/what those reparations are paid to, etc.

Noah Millman, American Conservative, May 29, 2014, “Taking Reparations Seriously,” DOA: 6-26-15
Finally, and from my perspective most-tellingly, the case for reparations presupposes an organized community of descendants of former slaves who can argue the case, and, most important, accept the settlement. Consider, again, the negotiation over reparations in the aftermath of the Holocaust. There was a Jewish State, and a variety of diaspora Jewish organizations, including organizations explicitly structured to speak for the survivors and for the families of victims. There is no comparable representation for the descendants of former slaves. If the social purpose of reparations is to effect reconciliation, each “side” must be in a position to accept the settlement. It’s not obvious that this is the case with respect to the descendants of American slaves. And it’s not obvious that black Americans would want to divide themselves between beneficiaries of such a settlement and those who have no proper claim.

Disadvantages to Reparations
There are also some disadvantages to providing reparations. These disadvantages apply to providing a reparation for any reason.
Spending. Reparations would be very expensive, driving up the deficit and potentially triggering trade-offs in other forms of welfare spending. Some estimates place the cost at $40 trillion.

Wikipedia, Reparations for Slavery Debate in the United States, DOA: 6-26-15
Various estimates have been given if such payments were to be made. Harper’s Magazine has created an estimate that the total of reparations due is over 100 trillion dollars, based on 222,505,049 hours of forced labor between 1619 and 1865, with a compounded interest of 6%.[9] Should all or part of this amount be paid to the descendants of slaves in the United States, the current U.S. government would only pay a fraction of that cost, over 40 trillion dollars, since it has been in existence only since 1789.

Self-success. This is the basic conservative “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” argument says people should focus on improving themselves rather than relying on financial hand outs.
Focus. This isn’t an argument I have seen evidence on (yet), but I think a strong argument can be made that it would make more sense to address current racism, including racism that can be traced back to slavery, in ways other than reparations.
Objectivism. This argument is drawn from basic Ayn Rand ethics (extreme Libertarianism) that argues that the role of the government is only to provide security and not to provide social support/programs.
Reparations would threaten property rights because they involve a massive and unjust taking of property.

Noah Millman, American Conservative, May 29, 2014, “Taking Reparations Seriously,” DOA: 6-26-15
First of all, as noted, the number could be very, very large. As such, it could represent a substantial change to the distribution of property generally. Such changes are never looked upon with equanimity by people who actually own property. Nor should they be – once you start questioning the existing distribution of property in a fundamental way, it’s never clear where it will end. In a deep sense, property rights as such depend upon a willful ignorance about the sordid way in which property is often acquired in the first place. That’s an ugly truth – but it’s still a truth.

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Relations. Reparations could alienate whites, threatening race relations.

Noah Millman is a senior editor at The American Conservative magazine, New York Times, “Reparations Could Widen, Rather than Heal, Racial Rifts,” June 8, 2014, New York Times, DOA: 6-26-15
Reparations for slavery are often analogized to reparations for the Holocaust – and prima facie the comparison is quite strong. But Holocaust reparations were negotiated between two distinct political communities, West Germany and the State of Israel. Reparations for slavery would, by contrast, be paid by the United States government to the individual descendants of former slaves. The formal distinction between citizens that reparations would require would inevitably clash with the ultimate political goal of the movement: political reconciliation based on a shared understanding of history.