Steve Hilton, whose intellect I have come to admire over the past year, probably startled his audience recently when he presented his case for “asset reparations” — things like home loans and loans to start businesses — for descendants of African-American slaves.
Hilton said that even though no African-American today has experienced slavery, and very few African-Americans now living were around when Jim Crow laws were still commonplace, he can understand how wrongs that were committed generations ago can shape people’s belief systems today. I definitely concur with him on that point.
Hilton then went on to say that wealth inequality between whites and blacks of today is a result of past discrimination, which is why African-Americans should be compensated for their lack of wealth. The logic in his position is that racial policies have made it more difficult for African-Americans to borrow money, which in turn has them much poorer, on average, than their white counterparts. Which is where asset reparations come in.
The remedy, so goes the argument, is to take specific action to close the wealth inequality gap that has occurred through years of racial discrimination. On the surface, it all sounds logical and reasonable, but, as always, the devil is in the details.
First of all, I have never believed that wealth inequality, of and by itself, is a bad thing. Rather, it’s a natural consequence of freedom. Put two people together on a deserted island in the South Pacific, and in a short period of time one will end up being much better off than the other — guaranteed. It’s called life. (A great film of yesteryear that graphically demonstrates this phenomenon is the 1953 William Holden classic, Stalag 17.)
But there are also many practical problems with asset reparations.
- What criteria would be used to determine who is legitimately “black.” What if a person is only one-half black, like our esteemed former president? Or one-quarter black? Or one-tenth black? This isn’t a moral problem; it’s a practical problem. People would be at each other’s throats arguing about who deserves how much, and of what, based on their percentages of blackness.
Identity politics is already one of the biggest problems the United States has — perhaps the biggest — because of the shameful tactics of race-baiting liberals. And common sense dictates that you don’t solve an identity problem by injecting even more identity into it, which is precisely what asset reparations would do.
- Aside from the immorality of violating people’s human and property rights, history teaches us that it’s always a mistake to allow government to judge who should be the beneficiary of other people’s money or government-created privileges. Politicians already make too many decisions for us, particularly when it comes to how much of our own money we should be allowed to keep.
- Is there anyone who by now does not realize that government solutions almost always create more and bigger problems? The Great Society, which has cost nearly $25 trillion to date, has consisted of government programs launched by Lyndon Johnson, mostly in the 1964-1965 era, the stated purpose of which was to eliminate poverty and racial injustice.
A noble idea? Maybe. But had these programs been successful, we would not still be talking about how to eliminate poverty and racial injustice. Of course, the Radical Left’s answer to this is that even though the Great Society did not work as well as they predicted it would, the solution is for government to redistribute even more wealth according to what politicians and bureaucrats think is fair.
- Asset reparations is just another form of affirmative action, and affirmative action has always engendered resentment and hate. It’s the equivalent of writing a wrong with another wrong, and last I heard two wrongs do not make a right.
- As to forcing lenders to make loans to people who would not ordinarily qualify for those loans, it sounds eerily like a rerun of the Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac disasters that nearly collapsed the entire U.S. financial system.
All this reminds me of the words of the great Frederick Douglass, one of America’s earliest black heroes, former slave, and an advisor to President Lincoln, who said: “Everybody has asked the question … ‘What shall we do with the Negro?’ I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! … All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone!”
Bottom line, the best way to help blacks is for government to get out of their lives. The first step toward a better life is to teach people how to get to a point where they can be independent. Liberals, of course, do not want African-Americans to be independent, because they are far too valuable to them as political pawns and as a source for soothing their white-guilt psychoses.
Justice Clarence Thomas tells a great story about his childhood that explains in visual terms why racial reparations are counterproductive. He said that when he was a young boy, he often played marbles with friends. During one particular game, two of the boys got in an argument over the rules, which in turn resulted in a brawl that scattered all the marbles in every direction.
Thomas says that after order was finally restored, “We didn’t take the time to try to sort out which marbles belonged to which players. We just wanted to play, so we accepted everyone’s current marble count and continued on with the game.”
The moral is that no matter how much you may agree with Steve Hilton that racial discrimination policies of the past have indirectly hurt many people living today, trying to figure out who is entitled to how much would only succeed in slowing down the considerable progress African-Americans have been making for many decades. If institutionalized black suppression still existed in America, millions of African-Americans would not have been able to lift themselves out of poverty and into good-paying jobs and professions over the past fifty years.
Of course, some degree of racism will always be with us, because it’s a phenomenon that is endemic to the human condition. But in 21st century America, institutionalized, or structural, racism does not exist, notwithstanding the claims of those who desperately want to keep identity politics alive. As the great Shelby Steele, a black activist himself during his college days, puts it, grievance protests of today focus primarily on what he refers to as “microaggressions.” In other words, the big issues are behind us.
Clearly, the best path forward for everyone, especially African-Americans, is to keep moving ahead by emphasizing behavior, character, and accomplishment, not reparations for the sins of those who are no longer with us.