December 14, 2022

A Closer Look at Equity in Reparations

“The more fairness you want, the more power you need. Thus, all dreams of fairness become dreams of tyranny in the end.” —Andrew Klavan

By Mark W. Fowler

A national discussion has evolved on the question of what is owed to African Americans arising from the harm of the institution of slavery. The discussion has expanded lately to include injury related to Jim Crow laws and perceived ongoing racism. Perhaps the expansion of the discussion relates to the moral difficulty of taxing individuals who never owned slaves and paying individuals who never were slaves. Led by Governor Gavin Newsom, whose presidential aspirations are no secret, California has now gone on record supporting reparations including the formation of a commission to study and make recommendations on the matter.

In Hillsborough, North Carolina, Gary Rasor was assaulted by a man stealing three power washers. Rasor was knocked to the ground, sustained a heart attack, and died from his injuries. The tape appears to show the assailant is African American. Greg Gutfeld raises the question of reparations to crime victims.

To the extent that that the purpose of reparations is to promote equity and fairness, Rasor’s death raises some troubling questions. Let us make assumptions that seem probable. In the California prison system we will find John. John is in prison for a first-degree murder charge; the facts are clear, indisputable, and uncontested. John committed the murder. John is African American. There is direct measurable economic loss to the victim’s family from this murder. However, the statute of limitations has run, and even if it had not, John has no assets to pay a judgment. Assume John can establish his ancestors were slaves and for that reason he is entitled to reparations estimated now at $233,000.

Question 1. Would equity be served if we now allow the deceased victim’s family to sue John for damages whether or not the statute of limitations has run? If the primary purpose of the statute of limitations is to discourage stale claims, is that interest outweighed where the essential facts are not disputed and have been adjudicated in criminal court? Does it matter if the victim is white or African American?   Let us take up the question of Mario. Mario’s family has been successful both during and since slavery. His great-great grandfather escaped slavery, fought for the Union, and after the war became a prosperous businessman. Mario’s father and grandfather were attorneys and land holders. Mario went to college on a scholarship, played football professionally, and had become a successful investor. His net worth is over $20 million.

Question 2: In what sense is equity served by taxing the average Californian whose net worth is one-twentieth that of Mario’s to compensate Mario or his family’s “loss”?

Consider Charles. Dropping out of school in the eighth grade to avoid bullying, he has had a variety of low-level jobs. He rents his modest home. He has a 10-year-old car that runs reliably. He has a color television, air-conditioning, and a dishwasher. He has less than $1,000 in the bank and $4,000 in cash. While he doesn’t have much in the say of material goods, he does have children — eight of them. He sees them sporadically and has provided essentially nothing for their support. All of them have received SNAP benefits and subsidized healthcare that was paid for by California taxpayers.

Question 3. How is equity best served in this case? Should Charles pay the child support and medical expenses, or should the taxpayers bear both that expense and the expense of his reparations?

Finally, William is one-eighth African American. His great-grandmother was a slave. Genetically, William can prove his African American heritage, but his physical appearance is not definitive, and he has never considered himself as African American.

Question 4. In what sense is equity served if William is denied reparations solely based on his appearance?

The estimated cost of reparations is over $500 billion. California’s debt and unfunded liabilities are over $700 billion. Where will reparations money come from?

And how much will politicians figure native Americans are owed?

Mark Fowler is a board-certified physician and former attorney. He can be reached at [email protected]

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