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Some people have been calling for white people to pay black people reparations for slavery. But if that were to happen where would Obama fit in as a half breed? Would he receive reparations, pay reparations, or would it come out equal?

I say Obama would have to pay. On his mother’s white side he is likely descendant of white slave owners. But on his black side his father comes from Kenya and he is not the descendant of American slaves. In fact it is more likely he is the descendant of blacks in Africa who sold other blacks to the whites for slavery.

So in Obama’s case it looks like he would owe reparations.

In contrast, although I am a white person, my ancestors immigrated from eastern Europe in the 1870s which was after slavery was abolished. Therefore I’m not descended from slave owners.

However being of Jewish decent, I’m still waiting for reparations from the Egyptians for slavery.

This whole reparations thing gets more complicated if you get past the idea that all white people owe all black people a check. Perhaps it’s time to forget this color thing and decide we are all part of the human race?




  1. bobbo says:

    #94==James–its not the most important point, but it should be an easy one to come to agreement on. We still aren’t connecting.

    For the fourth time now you have said A is B, then later you discuss this issue as if A was not B. Now, you are chastising me for asking you to confirm that A is B WHILE you continue to actually discuss that A is not B.

    Now that the math is out of the way:

    Did Blacks benefit disproportionately from the Johnson era welfare programs or not? You say yes (para 2), then you discuss it by going opposite (para 5): “I didn’t think that anyone would believe that a program could constitute reparations if it helps the victims less than other people.”

    So, I’m confused. How did welfare help blacks disproportionately yet still they were helped less?

  2. James says:

    I’m confused. How did welfare help blacks disproportionately yet still they were helped less?

    I must not be writing very clearly today, bobbo.

    When I say that the Great Society programs “help the victims less than other people,” I’m speaking in absolute terms, not relative. I’m not contradicting myself, because I agree blacks benefited disproportionately; I’m saying that by benefiting whites more than blacks in absolute terms, that’s an issue.

    So, for instance, let’s say a program gives $10,000 to five victims of a particular wrongdoing, and $10,000,000 to a thousand non-victims. It’s benefiting non-victims more in absolute terms and victims more in relative terms (i.e., disproportionately).

    Now, your question is, does that program amount to “reparations” for the victims?

    I think it might, if the amount given to victims came anywhere close to repairing their loss, if it were intended to repair their loss (whether or not it was called “reparations”), and if the program gave to non-victims for some other reason.

    However, the Great Society programs don’t meet those criteria. Most importantly, I think, the non-victims (whites) received money because they met certain standards for being citizens deserving help. Either blacks were receiving money for the same reason as whites, and so this money wasn’t for the different purpose of repairing the past, or they were receiving it for that purpose, and being discriminated against by not simply receiving it for the reasons whites did.

    It’s as if we said that the U.S. would pay income tax refunds this year, to citizens owed refunds, by paying the same amount to all citizens, whether or not they were owed refunds. Those owed refunds get their money, but shouldn’t they be upset that they aren’t getting the same money as their fellow citizens? They get the same money, but theirs is to satisfy a separate debt the U.S. already owed them. That wouldn’t be right, would it?

    Now, we know the truth. The Great Society programs weren’t intended to repair past harms for blacks, and as a bonus, give similar money to whites (and not blacks) for another reason. Those programs were intended to aid those who are disadvantaged, for whatever reason, equally regardless of race, and without any intention whatsoever of undoing the damage caused by the sins of the past.

    My usual disclaimer: I don’t support reparations; I’m simply trying to respond to your questions aimed specifically at me.

  3. James says:

    I meant to say “ten thousand victims.” Bad math, sorry!

  4. James says:

    I meant to say “ten thousand non-victims,” not a thousand. Bad math, sorry!

  5. bobbo says:

    James–I think we are making progress. Slower than I would like, but at least a forward motion?

    I hope my epistemological pedantry does not put you wholly off–but we think/understand in words and when words are misapplied, the thinking goes wrong as well.

    I’m chomping at the bit to get to the heart of our issue, but building blocks first.

    You are misusing the concepts of disparate impact vis-a-vis absolute terms. Your example has compensation of $2000 to victims and $1000 to non victims. The victims have been disproportionately compensated/benefited. The concept of “absolute” is completely inapplicable to the relevant issue==making the victims whole. A better word/concept you are actually referring to is the “aggregate cost” of the two different groups. This aggregate cost/absolute cost is a measure affecting the payor of the benefit==not a measure of the worth/quality of the benefit/repair received by the two groups.

    So, can we now agree that the welfare program disproportionately benefited blacks or not-without confusing the meaning of this with reference to other irrelevant issues? Note those other issues do have relevancy to other issues, just not the issue of benefits to this class of people.

  6. James says:

    You are misusing the concepts of disparate impact vis-a-vis absolute terms.

    I don’t think so, but let’s see.

    The concept of “absolute” is completely inapplicable to the relevant issue==making the victims whole.

    That’s your opinion, bobbo.

    I tried to explain that if we consider the payments to be making the victims whole–and in the case of the Great Society programs, even that wasn’t true–then the victims have, once again, been wronged.

    For then non-victims are being given something that victims aren’t.

    Or, if you believe they’re all being given the same thing, then the money is what everyone is entitled to as a citizen, and not for repair at all.

    The only way out of this logic is if you believe that you can compensate someone for a wrong with money that they’re entitled to for another reason.

    It’s as if you said, okay, a minority group in our society has been wronged, and has less money today as a result of it. So we’re going to compensate them for it–but we’re then going to give extra money to everyone else. The minority was compensated, but then put behind again through a clearly discriminatory action.

    If you consider that to be, in some sense, reparations, then fine. It’s not my definition, and I don’t think it meets any dictionary definition I’ve ever seen. But that’s your prerogative.

    A better word/concept you are actually referring to is the “aggregate cost” of the two different groups.

    I said that the non-victims benefit more in absolute terms.

    This is a perfectly proper use of that concept, regardless of any other way that you’d like to describe the situation.

    can we now agree that the welfare program disproportionately benefited blacks or not-without confusing the meaning of this with reference to other irrelevant issues?

    I have said, repeatedly, that the programs at issue have disproportionately benefited blacks. That’s not in dispute. We’re arguing over whether or not these programs could possibly have constituted “reparations,” regardless of how they were labeled.

  7. bobbo says:

    Ok–I’ve flogged that horse enough and can live with the dissonance.

    Onward, HO!

    At #65–“So I guess it seems clear to me that our society as a whole is still benefiting from the effects of our slave-owning past./// I suffer from a lack of reading of the economic historians you refer to. There “must be” a few websites that reveal the gist of this? My “common sense” says a real benefit existed during the pre-industrial/agricultural/King Cotton stage of our nation and even that it provided a base of sorts for the follow non-cotton, non-slave industrialization==but each passing years does make the objective fact of this more attenuated? Could this added value still be objectively measured after the Great Depression that wiped out all sorts of value? WW1==WW2? I suppose, but very attenuated?

    I also think Gnu stated some of the issues very well (#67).

    At #78 and elswhere you say: “Well, I’m not arguing for reparations, much less for a federal approach to them.”

    At #87–“I don’t believe that any reparations are due, bobbo.”

    hahahahah–ok==I’m an idiot. What are we talking about then? There is currently an economic benefit being experienced by all Americans (black and white, Pilgrim Descendants or just arrived)actually all inhabitants of the USA, that is a direct result of slavery and its continuing Jim Crow and discriminatory activities across the USA.

    Ok. Now what? You can’t be that much an academic? ((That would be worse than ME—something I don’t wish to contemplate!!))

  8. James says:

    I suffer from a lack of reading of the economic historians you refer to. There “must be” a few websites that reveal the gist of this?

    I’m sure there are, but I suspect that you could find them as easily as I could. I could, of course, point you to directly to scholarly sources, such as books, articles, or working papers, but I realize you’re looking for online secondary sources.

    … even that it provided a base of sorts for the follow non-cotton, non-slave industrialization==but each passing years does make the objective fact of this more attenuated?

    This is the trouble with common sense, bobbo. It’s a wonderful tool, but it’s easy to be lead astray in fields where the reality is complex and often counter-intuitive.

    So in this case, I’m sure that common sense suggests that the economic impact is attenuated with the passing years. However, the experts basically agree, with minor debate over the details, that the opposite is generally true: starting points in economics are often magnified over time, and this is nowhere more true than when it comes to the timing and sequencing of economic development.

    Now, you don’t have to believe that once the U.S. industrialized, its further economic successes were all built on that foundation. Or that without being able to industrialize at that time, and in that way, the nation wouldn’t have been likely to industrialize for a very long time, and with only modest results when it did happen. I’m just saying that’s what the experts have concluded. I can provide you with sources (books and scholarly articles, not web sites) if you’re interested.

    Could this added value still be objectively measured after the Great Depression that wiped out all sorts of value? WW1==WW2? I suppose, but very attenuated?

    I think I see what you’re saying, but that’s not how economic development works.

    The U.S. got through the Depression and both wars with its industrial base intact. Indeed, after each of those events, the U.S. emerged stronger, in relative terms, than ever before. Because of its industrial dominance before WWI, the Great Depression, and WWII, it was able to seize a greater share of the world economy, and enjoy a higher standard of living, than previously. Where did that industrial base come from? It was founded on slave-produced cotton and the cotton textile industry.

    I also think Gnu stated some of the issues very well (#67).

    So do I. In fact, my exact words in comment #68 were, “Beautifully said, Gnu!”

    hahahahah–ok==I’m an idiot. What are we talking about then?

    You state the issue well, bobbo. We’re talking about what benefits we enjoy, and where those benefits come from. And who suffers as a result of that legacy.

    Is that merely academic? I don’t think so, although I’m certainly an academic at heart and wouldn’t shy away from the label.

    I think it’s important that we understand who we are and where we come from. If, as Americans, we believe that the founding fathers and the documents they wrote, for instance, are a part of our heritage, then surely this is, too.

    Ok. Now what?

    Well, for me, “now what” is about educating Americans about our history and its legacy today, and helping to foster acknowledgment and discussion about that reality. I’m not calling for anything else, and I don’t believe there are any further decisions to be made, at least not right now.

    If you believe that these facts cry out for something else to be done, then please feel free to let us know what that would be. Surely you aren’t saying that if the economic historians are right, that you believe our nation should pay reparations? If not, then what conclusions do you believe flow from those facts, if you accept them? You’re expressing disbelief that I wouldn’t think reparations, or something similar, must follow from those facts, so you must believe in something here.

  9. bobbo says:

    James: “Is that merely academic? I don’t think so, although I’m certainly an academic at heart and wouldn’t shy away from the label.” /// If you aren’t recommending specific action as a result of facts you deemed determined, why yes indeed, you are being entirely academic. Not to be redundant, but on any issue that I “cared” about, I would not want to be seen as a feckless academic. I would engage in the acquisition of knowledge and argument, but take action as thereby warranted—if I cared.

    “I think it’s important that we understand who we are and where we come from.” /// Not if you don’t do anything with it. For myself, I think it is VERY BAD POLICY to let the dead hand of history grab us by the throat. Much better in very many areas of human enterprise to “forget about the past” and take advantage of the future. Lots of room for argument there and it should be read with lots of exceptions when the right topic comes up===just “in general” as a sloppy organizing principle. That is who I wish to be and where I wish to go.

    “If, as Americans, we believe that the founding fathers and the documents they wrote, for instance, are a part of our heritage, then surely this is, too.” /// From your perusal of that Confederate Flag posting, you might have noticed I really don’t respect the notion of “heritage.” Its backward looking. === I’m gratified to see how consistent I am across several related issues and my own life and my deepest held philosophical outlook. Is this “Heritage” you postulate an all or nothing monolithic beast==or can it be dissected cafeteria style? For myself–I reject all heritage. I CHOOSE the historical documents only as they currently exist under modern interpretation. If that is “heritage,” I’m fine with that but it is NOT the original thing itself. I accept no burden from the heritage of the burden of slavery other than to follow the golden rule==burden enough given the history of man?

    “If you believe that these facts cry out for something else to be done, then please feel free to let us know what that would be.” /// Yes the facts tell me something: we all are born with our own history. It makes the family of man different and the same at the same time. It calls for empathy and compassion within resources and interest as the opportunities arise.

  10. bobbo says:

    I just googled (“economic history” USA slavery) and got over a million hits.

    Seems to me you have little worry about being accused an academic==at least as far a the google is concerned.

    Some real interesting reads there right off the bat : “The real profit motive was not cotton but rather the buying, reproduction of, and selling of the slaves themselves.” and “The binding attraction of slavery was the power felt by the slave owners.”

    I’m sure much of what you say the economic historians have reached agreement on is fairly accessable ==maybe not your book sources, but others to the same conclusion?

    I suspect “statistical analysis”==we start to believe the conclusion of the conditional premise and forget the conditional premise. Stinking Thinking I call that. Still interesting ==but not really “proven.”

  11. James says:

    If you aren’t recommending specific action as a result of facts you deemed determined, why yes indeed, you are being entirely academic.

    Not at all, bobbo.

    First of all, I am recommending specific action. Just not reparations. I said so in the comment you’re quoting from.

    Secondly, however, it’s not “entirely academic” to mention facts that are important, relevant, and largely unknown to most Americans, even without choosing specific actions to recommend at the same time.

    It’s like saying “Iran has a covert nuclear program,” and giving details. It’s not “merely academic,” because that fact has relevance, even if you aren’t saying what, if anything, ought to be done.

    Not to be redundant, but on any issue that I “cared” about, I would not want to be seen as a feckless academic.

    There’s nothing “feckless” about being an academic, bobbo. And on any issue that I cared about, I’d first want to educate people about the nature and importance of the issue, and establish myself as credible on the topic, rather than first focusing on telling people what I thought they ought to do about it.

    Not if you don’t do anything with it.

    Really? You wouldn’t want to understand about, say, the positive aspects of our heritage as Americans, even if you felt nothing ought to be “done” about it?

    I think it is VERY BAD POLICY to let the dead hand of history grab us by the throat. Much better in very many areas of human enterprise to “forget about the past” ….

    You admit that you’d make many exceptions to this general rule, so what’s your point? Do you believe that in this area, learning and acknowledgment are VERY BAD POLICY? Do you think that we’re letting the dead hand of history grab us by the throat by acknowledging our own history? Doesn’t that, instead, free us to act or not act for the right reasons?

    you might have noticed I really don’t respect the notion of “heritage.”

    That’s terrific, bobbo. Then you can say, with perfect consistency, that you put no stock in American history, good or bad, as relevant to you. My argument would only apply to those who take pride or similar reaction to our nation’s heritage.

    Of course, that would still leave the issue of whether you ought to be aware of how your environment became what it is, but that too is debatable.

    I accept no burden from the heritage of the burden of slavery other than to follow the golden rule

    That’s great, bobbo. I simply hew to a different philosophy, one which says that if I’m the recipient of benefits for having been born into this society, I can’t simply take those benefits for granted without awareness of where they come from, and why I enjoy those benefits and others don’t.

    If you’re not concerned with that issue, that’s perfectly legitimate. My arguments would be addressed, then, to those who make inconsistent claims, like saying that their lives aren’t affected by the past, or that they earned everything they have without benefiting from privilege, or that those who have less are simply less deserving and not in any way less fortunate.

    Yes the facts tell me something: we all are born with our own history.

    Well, then you don’t believe that these facts cry out for anything to be done, so I’m not sure why you were criticizing me for not calling for something (more) to be done.

    In any event, our histories are all interrelated. You and I both realize that, we simply draw different conclusions from it.

    Seems to me you have little worry about being accused an academic

    That is what I said, bobbo. 😉

    Do you mean that I can’t be accused of being an academic, because I hadn’t researched what web sites discuss that issue? That has nothing to do with being an academic. An academic would try to be familiar with the scholarly literature (some of which is online and most of which isn’t), not with web sites which try to report on that literature.

    Some real interesting reads there right off the bat

    Neither of those quotations sounds plausible as a general description of the role of slavery in the economic development of the U.S. And the first quotation doesn’t come up in a Google search. If you want to provide cites or links to where you’re reading that, I’d be happy to comment on the context.

    I’m sure much of what you say the economic historians have reached agreement on is fairly accessable ==maybe not your book sources, but others to the same conclusion?

    I’m not sure what you’re asking, bobbo. Are you asking whether I know of economic historians whose published work on the economic development of the U.S. is available for free online?

    I suspect “statistical analysis”==we start to believe the conclusion of the conditional premise and forget the conditional premise. Stinking Thinking I call that. Still interesting ==but not really “proven.”

    I’m really not sure what you’re talking about here, bobbo. I didn’t mention statistical analysis, so when you put that term in quotes, where are you even getting it from? I’m not arguing from statistical analysis.

  12. bobbo says:

    #105==James==you’re whacking me pretty good here, and while I could, and will, quibble, I see the majority of our disagreement as the unstated assumptions of what “taking a position” would naturally mean to either of us. This became more clear to me as I read a bit more on your blog. Very well done over there.

    I think to be fair to your blog this conversation should really be taken there hopefully to be of some interest to those who find your resource? I’m a bit puzzled why your threads are so short? You certainly invite discussion and make it a pleasure to be wrong?

    If I have any further thoughts worth the blogging, I will go to your site. Until then, your statement above about learning about one’s heritage reminded me of a joke:

    The missionary met the tribal chief living in the jungle at one with nature and his nature gods. The missionary informed the chief about God and Jesus and the need for salvation thru acceptance. The chief thanked him for the information but asked him what happened to all the other people of the jungle who had not heard the word of god? The missionary said that in god’s mercy, he did not punish those that were ignorant of gods word.

    The chief became quite upset. You mean to tell me that before you came I was guaranteed entry to heaven but now because you have searched me out and preached to me that my soul now faces eternal damnation if I don’t conform? The missionary packed his bags and left as soon as he could.

    There might be several reasons why I prefer to look only to the future?

    I am “assuming” having only learned of “economic history” by this thread that most of its conclusions are reached thru statistical assumptions and analysis?–atleast one of the websites I visited was talking about statistical analysis.

    I will make a response on your website regarding the ambivalence you evidence about the reparations issue.

    Post again if you would prefer the discussion here rather than there?

  13. James says:

    I think to be fair to your blog this conversation should really be taken there hopefully to be of some interest to those who find your resource?

    I’d be quite fine with that, bobbo. I certainly didn’t wan to encourage a migration of our conversation from one blog to the other, but you’re welcome to comment there (and it might be more appropriate, I don’t know!).

    As you can see over there, I do try to respond to anyone who’s looking to engage in a conversation. So it’s really up to them whether they find it worthwhile to keep at it.

    There might be several reasons why I prefer to look only to the future?

    This strikes me as reasonable, bobbo, and a common response to this history. That is to say, a lot of people aren’t thrilled to learn that what they’d believed about the history of their country, and their society, wasn’t entirely what they’d thought it was.

    Now, you say that doesn’t matter much to you, and I certainly believe you. But for some people, it’s difficult, or even quite threatening, to have their assumptions challenged in areas involving patriotism or their self-identification as Americans.

    I am “assuming” having only learned of “economic history” by this thread that most of its conclusions are reached thru statistical assumptions and analysis?

    Not at all. There are many methods of analysis at work in economic history.

    Now, some economic historians do employ statistical analysis as part of their work. But frequently in an entirely non-controversial way, for instance, using descriptive statistics to lay the groundwork for analysis, rather than regression analysis to try to establish causal links.

    For instance, Douglass North uses statistics in part of his classic on this subject, The Economic Growth of the United States 1790-1860, but primarily to establish such basics as what the U.S. economy was producing or trading, and how those flows rose or fell at different times. Establishing most issues, such as what was causing what at various times, he left to other forms of analysis.

    I will make a response on your website regarding the ambivalence you evidence about the reparations issue.

    I look forward to it, bobbo. I’m posting this response here out of courtesy to anyone reading, but I welcome your comments on my own blog. Including your explanation of how you believe my position on reparations is ambivalent. 😉

  14. James says:

    Also, bobbo, feel free to let me know if there are any topics you’d be interested in seeing explored on my blog. This occurs to me mostly because you’ll have to pick a post to comment on over there, anyway, but also because I was already thinking about posting other examples of reparations in history, after you asked about that issue here earlier.


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