White Guilt and Reparations: A True Story
Co-blogger Bryan Caplan’s post this morning on collective guilt and the subsequent discussion in the comment section reminded me of something that happened my first day of a microeconomics class in 2001. At the end of the opening class, a number of people came up to ask questions. One was a young black woman who said, “Professor, what do you think of reparations for slavery?”
I answered, “I promise I’ll answer but first I want to know what you think.”
She said, “I favor them.”
“And those reparations would be paid for by white people?”
“Yes,” she answered.
I turned to a white guy who was waiting to ask a question, and I took a risk.
“Where are your grandparents from?” I asked.
“The Netherlands,” he answered.
I then turned back to the woman who had asked and said, “I’m ready to answer you. His grandparents came to this country well after slavery had ended. I think it’s wrong for the government to tax people who didn’t even inherit wealth from slavery to give to the great, great grandchildren of former slaves.”
Note: Of course it’s possible that his grandparents inherited wealth from their predecessors having had slaves in the Netherlands. I don’t know the history of slavery in the Netherlands. But the odds that they gained big time and came to the United States as wealthy people were probably pretty low.