Reparations means making amends for the past by payment of cash or other means. There are plenty of people who believe that African-Americans deserve a cash payment for the grievous sins of slavery. I’m not one of them.
For one thing, we don’t have enough money to pay for three centuries of unpaid labor. Let’s see now, one year at $15 per hour present cost comes to $31,200 gross. So three centuries is $9,360,000 per person. There are 40,000,000+ African-Americans, so the total cost will be—ka-ching—$374,400,000,000,000. I think that’s $374.4 trillion dollars. Let’s see, the gross domestic product of the US is $17 trillion. Hm.
What I actually believe is that the United States should make every effort to assure that black Americans are provided with the opportunity for the equality they deserve. Right now we do not come close, even though the cost is a tiny fraction of the true debt. But there’s actually a simple way to do it: provide first class education and neighborhoods for everybody.
As I see it, education and housing are the places we have the greatest distance to go. I would propose an extended program that would guarantee the best of schools in all grades for every student. Who can argue against that? If all schools are made primo, the problem is solved. But of course that’s not so easy.
Providing good teachers has been an ongoing problem since the dawn of time. In the US what prevents this is historically unsatisfactory pay, failure of the public to appreciate the value of education, and inadequate respect for the teaching profession. If you want good teachers, they must be paid like other professionals, and they must be respected by all. As is, many bright college students who consider teaching look at the level of compensation and look elsewhere for a career. Further, the kind of respect that, for example, South Korean teachers have, is the polar opposite of the “glorified baby sitters” claimed by Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. Such attitudes guarantee that only the least satisfactory students will become Wisconsin teachers in the future.
Until that day when all teachers are paid enough that administrators can demand their best performance, something must be done about unsatisfactory teachers. Fortunately, several school districts show us how with programs that are fair and functional. In essence, weaker teachers are given assistance to improve their teaching. If they are unable or unwilling to do so over a period of a year or two, they are fired. It’s fair, it works, and all the remaining teachers perform satisfactorily.
The other half of the equation is housing. Solving the nationwide bad neighborhood problem is an enormous difficulty that is also related to crime. While it is reasonable to expect much lower crime when students see opportunity in their futures, present crime comes from people who did not have such opportunity. Even here, adult criminals who get educational opportunities and learn to expect future opportunity step away from crime. It is worth noting that in the several instances where wealthy individuals guaranteed the college education of every student in a grade school class, graduation rates were virtually 100%, and college graduation rates were high. People who see a bright future rarely risk it by boosting cars or peddling drugs.
Paying for such expensive programs is best done via federal funds, where it is easier to guarantee equality. Poor districts in the backwater South, for example, are too poor to raise enough money for adequate programs, but the federal government can do it, and should. This would help to improve the South in several ways, and build a stronger America.
Schools should not be funded with property taxes, because districts with greater property wealth would have good schools, and poor districts would not. That’s what’s wrong with Detroit now.
Conservatives do not want a program that provides equality for every student in the country because, first, they believe reducing the cost of government improves things, and second, they believe that the poor do not deserve equal treatment because it is their own fault they are poor. Both beliefs are ridiculous on their face.
It really is true that the young are our future. Cheating the young with poor education and failing neighborhoods obviously cheats our own future. A low national educational level means we are falling behind everywhere, and justice is denied.
So, what I believe is that reparations for the centuries of slavery are justified, but cash reparations would not help. What is needed are reparations in the form of good education and an ongoing program of housing and infrastructure improvement for everyone, coupled with better plans for reducing property crime by improving opportunity. Given the great benefit that would result, the cost is actually cheap.
Is that reparations, or simple democratic justice?