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The “Reparations” Scam

Edward Ring

Director, Water and Energy Policy

Edward Ring
January 5, 2023

The “Reparations” Scam

California is considering paying “reparations” to Black Californians who are directly descended from enslaved people, which may surprise most Californians. After all, slavery was never legal in the Golden State. 

Governor Newsom, heedless of the fiasco he’s inviting, formed a “Reparations Task Force,” no doubt with his future presidential aspirations in mind. The task force issued an interim report  in June, detailing California’s “history of slavery and racism and recommending ways the Legislature might begin a process of redress for Black Californians, including proposals to offer housing grants, free tuition and to raise the minimum wage.”

To understand how slavery is applicable to California, one must sift through the report’s 500 pages of convoluted logic common to the victim industry in America. According to the report:

“In 1883, the Supreme Court interpreted the 13th Amendment as empowering Congress ‘to pass all laws necessary and proper for abolishing all badges and incidents of slavery in the United States.’ However, throughout the rest of American history, instead of abolishing the ‘badges and incidents of slavery,’ the United States federal, state and local governments, including California, perpetuated and created new iterations of these ‘badges and incidents.’ The resulting harms have been innumerable and have snowballed over generations.

…Today, 160 years after the abolition of slavery, its badges and incidents remain embedded in the political, legal, health, financial, educational, cultural, environmental, social, and economic systems of the United States of America. Racist, false, and harmful stereotypes created to support slavery continue to physically and mentally harm African Americans today.”

In other words, the task force  is not recommending reparations for slavery, but rather for discrimination. 

And how do task force members recommend California pay for its mistakes? 

Preliminary findings of the task force are to make up for a “housing wealth gap” by granting $223,239 to every Black Californian who is descended from slaves, at a cost to California taxpayers of $501 billion. 

But this doesn’t take into account possible additional reparations for “unpaid prison labor and years of lost income [while in prison],“ or “disproportionate health outcomes,” including shorter life expectancies which the group’s economic consultants estimated to be worth $127,226 per year. And this is not a complete list of the “injustices” and “harms” the task force is considering. 

Practical suggestions from the task force  as to how reparations might be implemented will have to wait until at least June 2023. More “racial and financial data” needs to be gathered from the state’s Department of Justice to “make more accurate calculations.” But along with “a formal apology,” the task force has preliminarily recommended cash payments, free college tuition, and zero-interest housing loans.

The phony sanctimony attendant to the professional grifters peddling this nonsense is breathtaking. 

In predictably fawning coverage by the Los Angeles Times, the vice chair of the state “task force” charged with coming up with reparation ideas said “the process came down to three ‘A’s’ — admitting the problems of the past; atoning for them by identifying appropriate reparations; and acting on that information in a unified way to make sure state legislators, who would finalize a program, follow through and get the work done.”

Certainly, part one of these three “A’s” — admitting the problems of the past — is healthy enough. There has been racism and discrimination in America’s past, just as there has been racism and discrimination in the past of every nation. Any decent person with a sense of history should acknowledge the past and abhor racist or discriminatory behavior. It’s the “atone” and “act” parts of the three “A’s,” however, where problems surface. Big problems.

For starters, if California is offering reparations for racial discrimination, why not offer them to every group that ever suffered discrimination based on their race or ethnicity throughout California’s history? Why not Hispanics or Native Americans? What about the Chinese workers who built much of California’s early infrastructure, or the descendants of Japanese Americans living in California who had their assets confiscated and were relocated to internment camps during World War II?

One might argue Black citizens were victims of more discrimination than Native Americans, Hispanics, or Asians, but as any serious student of California history knows, that would not be an easy argument to make. There is no chance the task force’s reparations scheme can be carried out equitably, nor any possibility it will do anything but cause harm to race relations and the Black community.

The biggest problem with “reparations” for Black Californians is that we’ve already tried it, through the state’s welfare system that has caused significant damage to Black families. How does welfare help the Black community or the Black family, when, as conservative Larry Elder puts it, if “you have replaced the father with a welfare check”? 

Thanks to welfare and other entitlements that made a Black male breadwinner unnecessary, over 70 percent of Black babies are born to unwed mothers. Multiple generations of alienated Black men have grown up in homes without a strong male role model and have turned to gangs, drugs, and crime. Today, Black men are overrepresented in every category of crime in America, and welfare, i.e., reparations, are the reason why.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that proponents of reparations are in denial of this basic truth: When you take away the incentive for people to work and support their families, you foment chaos in families and  communities. 

Activists who demand reparations ignore these truths because they are part of what we may as well dub  the “antiracism industrial complex.” Like every parasitic coalition of special interests that benefit by exploiting the cause of those groups they’re supposedly trying to help, this is a profitable con.

Every sort of reparations that have been tried so far to atone for racism and discrimination, not just welfare, but affirmative action, have been counterproductive. The welfare state created by the Great Society programs of the 1960s contributed massively to government dependency and Black student underachievement. Affirmative action has undermined the immutable standards that are necessary for a society to thrive as a competitive meritocracy.

The consequences of affirmative action are as damaging to Black communities as welfare. The evolution of affirmative action into “equity” where proportional representation by race and ethnicity is demanded in everything — hiring, promotions, admissions, contracts, and even household wealth — is a mortal threat to the social and economic health of America. And both affirmative action and “equity” provide cover for the one place left in California where systemic racism still exists: the failing public schools in disadvantaged Black neighborhoods.

If the task force really wanted to do something to help the Black community, it should start with improving California’s K-12 public schools and addressing the failure of politicians beholden to the teachers’ unions to enact any real education reform. The task force recommendations include adopting a “K-12 Black Studies curriculum that introduces students to concepts of race and racial identity.” But nowhere to be found is any call to action for California’s schools to be held accountable for the fact that 84 percent of Black students did not meet grade-level math standards on the state’s student assessment tests this year. 

Unfortunately, you will never hear that hard and helpful truth expressed by anyone participating on the Reparations Task Force, or anyone else whose career may depend on denying it.


Edward Ring is a senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013. Ring is the author of Fixing California: Abundance, Pragmatism, Optimism (2021) and The Abundance Choice: Our Fight for More Water in California (2022).

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