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June 06, 2014

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Indeed...

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/06/the-radical-practicality-of-reparations/372114/

The Japanese-American struggle for reparations is significant and important, not just for our present discussion, but because it serves as useful corrective for hagiographers of war. And it is not an obscure episode. Indeed, Japanese-American reparations were in the news this week, with the death of activist Yuri Kochiyama, one of the principal advocates of the cause. David treats Japanese-American reparations as an open question or a thought experiment. But it isn't. It's American history—and people charged with analyzing America should know it.

People who take up reparations arguments should especially know it because it presents us with some provocative questions. The collective ills of housing segregation—block-busting, redlining, segregated public-housing, the G.I. Bill, terrorism—continued long after Japanese-American internment. A serious interlocutor of reparations can not casually muster a melange of historical wrongs, but must directly explain why the Japanese-American case is compelling, but the more recent African-American case is not...

Her book looks interesting.
Thanks for the recommendation.

I'd like to see a principled argument as to why reparations to Japanese Americans for internment was fine, but reparations to African Americans for the offenses committed against them in TNC's article are not.

Ugh,

For the most part the argument is pretty straightforward. There is a direct government link to a specific action that harmed the Japanese-Americans in a specific and tangible and identifiable way.

Post Civil War their is not a specific tangible and identifiable action by the government that harmed Blacks. There was an evolving set of protections that were put in place to protect Blacks from racist policies by the various public and private institutions.

Pre Civil War, for better or worse the law placed the Black population in second class status. The Japanese-Americans were entitled to the full protection of the law and incarcerated anyway.

None of which is to pre-judge that reparations for Blacks is not discussable, you asked for a principled argument why they were different.

Post Civil War their is not a specific tangible and identifiable action by the government that harmed Blacks.

You're forgetting the War on Poverty, according to Brett.

More seriously: SERIOUSLY??

--TP

Reparations to Japanese Americans were paid to those personally incarcerated.

There were those who were not incarcerated: Those in Hawaii. Those not on the West Coast. Those, like my father-in-law, who were serving in the Army. They did not get preparations.**

So on that model, reparations for slavery would only be due as some fraction of whatever payment was determined to be due for those who had been enslaved.


**Those who were not born yet did not get reparations. Except that the heirs of individual survivors of the camps could divide the payment, as with any other part of an estate, if the survivor had died meanwhile.

Post Civil War their is not a specific tangible and identifiable action by the government that harmed Blacks.

This claim doesn't really hold up.

If we really need chapter and verse on counter-examples, I'll google around for cites, but suffice it to say, this claim does not hold up.

There are lots of reasons why reparations aren't the best idea. A lack of government policies and actions detrimental to blacks - and specifically blacks, not just to poor people generally - in the years following 1865 is not among them.

"So on that model, reparations for slavery would only be due as some fraction of whatever payment was determined to be due for those who had been enslaved."

TNC isn't talking about reparations for slavery--he's talking about reparations to people alive today for wrongs committed against them personally. See Nigel's quote in the first comment.

And like others, I'm not convinced reparations are the best way to handle this--though I am convinced they would be morally justified. But on a pragmatic political level, you can see from the previous thread what the problem would be. And that's from people who read the article and still couldn't see a case. Most Americans wouldn't read articles or papers and the level of stupidity of the general discussion would be beyond belief. Well, not really beyond belief--every major political issue of our time is discussed on an incredibly stupid level, so it'd be more of what we're all used to.

Russell, there is aa difference between policies detrimental to Bklacks and taking a specific, tangible and identifiable, use the words you want, like "the government rounded them all up and incarcerated them". It really is a difference in kind.

I'd like to see a principled argument as to why reparations to Japanese Americans for internment was fine, but reparations to African Americans for the offenses committed against them in TNC's article are not.

I would have no problem with reparations for those who were themselves enslaved. Or: reparations for those who have been discriminated against for reasons of race, to be paid by those doing the discrimination. As per russell's suggestion, in an earlier thread.

Other than that, we're going to have to talk. I would tend to want things that would lead to some kind of sustained advantage, such as: free college tuition, and the like.

the government rounded them all up and incarcerated them

To my knowledge, you are correct, the feds did not issue an edict that all blacks were to be rounded up and incarcerated.

If that, and only that, is the bar for actions which merit reparations, your case is sound. At least at the federal level.

reparations for those who have been discriminated against for reasons of race, to be paid by those doing the discrimination.

Yes, my long-standing position on this is that reparations, affirmative action, etc. - any form of after-the-fact remediation of past wrongs - is of less value than simply stomping on actual current-day discriminatory practices with a hob-nailed boot.

And, as we saw in the last thread on this topic, things like banks issuing crap mortgage products *specifically to black communities*, accompanied by internal communications referring to "mud people", doesn't seem to be quite enough to merit legal action in some folks' minds.

Because after all, it is so very difficult to identify racially based discrimination when it's staring you in the face.

My general thought is that black and brown people in this country are basically on their own, and should proceed on that assumption.

"Post Civil War their is not a specific tangible and identifiable action by the government that harmed Blacks."

Holy crap!

But I'll take the bait.

The grievances will be handled in courts at the state level, the level of government at which racism was institutionalized.

Reparations should be paid out from the State level as well.

Finally, the old Confederacy still lurking just underneath our ridiculous polity will be called to accounts and bankrupted.

I count twenty-some states (if we're being lenient) that will immediately enter receivership and whose existence can be abolished (we'll treat them like a bankrupt corporation -- liquidate everything) and the territory once again placed under Federal conservatorship and the land, structures, and remaining empty State government bank accounts distributed to the aggrieved and their ancestors in perpetuity.

If it is true (I reiterate: "Holy Crap!") that the Federal Government did no material harm to black citizens since the Civil War, I now fully understand why the Republican Party, conservatives, and Libertarians want to drown the Federal Government in the bathtub and return power to the States, the better to keep their favorite institutional, ah ... arrangements ... intact.

Sarcasm-detection software will notify y'all that in reality I pretty much agree with Slart's (and Russell's) measured responses, but that I demand reparations be paid by Dobie to Maynard and all other OBWI denizens for witnessing holy crapitude, though I see now the Dobe has qualified his ridiculous statement to note that the Federal Government did not ride directly with the KKK on their lynching parties, looking the other way for decades not being a crime in any states that I know of, yet.

It feels odd to say it, but I think Marty is right on this particular issue.

In the case of the Japanese internment and subsequent reparations, a specific wrong was committed by our government to a specific number of people (*) for a specific period of time, and therefore it was feasible (and honorable) to contemplate "reparations" to those people for that wrong.

(* In practical terms, it was extremely convenient that the specific number of people was quite small - but we were asked for a "principled" objection, so let us set that point aside.)

None of the above applies to the African-American case. Immense, horrendous wrongs - many of them far worse than internment - were committed to millions of people by scores of different agencies (governmental at every level; corporate, religious, individual) over the course of centuries, which is in fact TLC's point.

But such complex, multifarious evil simply does not lend itself to reparations such as those paid to the Japanese, which were intended as atonement for nameable acts committed upon nameable individuals.

Don't get me wrong. I am absolutely in favor of discussing - admitting - these wrongs and trying to come up with some kind of accountability for them. I would be in favor of some kind of compensation, if any feasible mechanism could be devised. If specific actions by specific agencies can be shown to have wronged specific individuals, then direct recompense may well be in order: the courts or legislatures may decide that they are. But that's not the kind of general "reparations" that TLC and others appear to be discussing.

(In the previous paragraph I may or may not still be in accord with Marty; you'd have to ask him.)

I've seen from the sidelines some of the ways in which they treat some of the many varieties of cancer. A treatment that works for one case may be ineffective, inappropriate, or even counter-productive for another. This is not to say that if we think Treatment A (which worked over there) wouldn't do for case X over here, we should dismiss X as inoperable and shouldn't try to do anything. On the contrary, we should try all the harder. But trying involves more than insisting that Treatment A has worked over there, so we must do it here.

Well put, dr ngo, except for this:

"But that's not the kind of general "reparations" that TLC and others appear to be discussing."

I really couldn't find where TNC was advocating for a general payout, which is what the word "reparations" brings to people's minds (including my own). But in what he says the closest thing that comes to "payment of damages" is along these lines:

"Identifying the victims of racist housing policy in this country is not hard. Again, we have the maps. We have the census. We could set up a claims system for black veterans who were frustrated in their attempt to use the G.I. Bill. We could then decide what remedy we might offer these people and their communities. And there is nothing "impractical" about this."

What he advocates is finding ways to compensate living persons for identifiable wrongs. And his most basic argument is this (in response to David Frum): "David thinks HR-40 commits us to a solution. He is correct. The solution is to study. I submit his own article as proof of why such study is so deeply needed."

dr ngo,

disagree. coates identified several instances of where such calculations can be made, and rather easily at that. the problem is we don't want to discuss it, and if we do not want to discuss it, then doing the calculations won't happen.

example: probability of being denied an interview because your name is tanisha. studies show this happens (probability is >0). a wage/salary analysis and a little discounted cash flow work, and voila...reparations, damages, whatever you want to call it.

we should consider treatment a and try to come up with some numbers....then we'll see.

and what the Count said.

Okay, I take it we're all agreed. We don't write a check for a few trillion dollars split among X million black Americans--we set up a study to see which specific people have been harmed by specific policies and by specific groups, and then figure out how compensation can be arranged.

Look, I'm sorry, but this is utter crap.

1876 Rutherford B Hayes becomes President in a deal that removes federal troops from the south, ending Reconstruction and all effective protection of basic civil rights for blacks in the South.

1896 Plessy v Ferguson establishes the legitimacy of racial segregation in a SCOTUS ruling.

Woodrow Wilson segregates the civil service and the federal government, shutting blacks out of higher-level and higher-paying positions.

Right off the top of my head.

None of this even touches on stuff that doesn't name blacks, but that was obviously intended to target blacks.

Social Security in 1935 excluded, specifically, domestic and agricultural workers. Why was that?

Bring up to today, with differential sentencing requirements for crack vs powder cocaine. What's that about?

I don't expect a call for reparations to go anywhere - Conyers has introduced his bill every year for the last 25 years, and it has never come to a vote.

Nor do I think it would be particularly useful to try to pay reparations, specifically because *the number of people involved and the scope of the harm done* absolutely beggars what was done to the Japanese during WWII. As bad as that was.

But this claim:

Post Civil War their is not a specific tangible and identifiable action by the government that harmed Blacks

is just beyond-the-pale nonsense.

It's just freaking wrong. False, incorrect, factually not supportable, ahistorical, wrong.

"Why was that?"

The same reason those people rarely get SS taken out today, the almost impossibility, certainly at the time to expect the people paying them to first, contribute, and second file. It's the minimum wage argument, how many people don't have a job as a domestic if the hirer has to file all that paperwork?

Just an example of how, laws ahistorically are considered racist.

What's your take on Plessy vs Ferguson?

I believe I phrased it as a slowly maturing of the protections. It was probably not clear at the time that the ruling would impede the progress of Blacks. I have never said that things didn't happen that were harmful to Blacks. I said there weren't specific actions by the government that were directly and measurably harmful, in kind with Japanese-American internment.

Marty: The same reason those people rarely get SS taken out today, the almost impossibility, certainly at the time to expect the people paying them to first, contribute, and second file.

My attempted translation: The reason SS originally excluded domestic and agricultural workers had nothing to do with racism; it only had to do with the expected difficulty of getting their bosses to comply with the SS requirements.

This is, to borrow Marty's felicitous phrase, ahistorical. The FDR coalition included a large number of proudly racist southern Democrats, without whom SS could not have been passed against Republican opposition. As Democrats, they were willing to do something for the working man. As racists, they'd have sooner let the working man rot than be seen doing anything for the "darkies". FDR settled for half a loaf to begin with.

Marty again: It's the minimum wage argument, how many people don't have a job as a domestic if the hirer has to file all that paperwork?

I won't even attempt to translate that one. It seems to be a cri de coeur against "paperwork" of some sort. The context appears to be domestic employment. I've never employed a maid or a nanny or a cook, so I wonder if Marty could tell me what "paperwork" I'd have to file (in addition to IRS Form 1040, Schedules A,B,C, and D, Forms SE and 8829, and their MA equivalents, that I usually file anyway) in order to "create a job" for a "domestic".

--TP

I believe I phrased it as a slowly maturing of the protections.

Briefly, the withdrawal of federal troops and the end of enforcement of the Force Acts at the end of Reconstruction, Plessy, and the Wilson segregation policies represented steps *BACKWARD* for blacks.

Not a slow maturation of the process, but the loss of hard-won gains.

All federal actions, all harmful to blacks.

I don't know how long you want to play this game, but I'm ready to go for days if you so wish. The weekend's coming up, I'm sure I can find a few hours to do some homework.

what "paperwork" I'd have to file (in addition to IRS Form 1040, Schedules A,B,C, and D, Forms SE and 8829, and their MA equivalents, that I usually file anyway) in order to "create a job" for a "domestic".

For the wonderful woman who cares for my children: obtain a federal employer ID number, obtain a state employer ID number (two, in fact, because she works in DC but lives in Maryland), annual filing of schedule H with the 1040, annual filing/mailing to the employee of the W-2, withholding of social security and medicare taxes with each paycheck, payment of such taxes with the schedule 1040, payment of, and filing forms for, state unemployment insurance (annually), withholding of federal and state income taxes (not required for a household employee, but can be done with agreement), payment of state income tax withheld on a quarterly basis and filing the appropriate form, filing the annual reconciliation form for state income taxes withheld, W-4 form upon hiring and any updates thereto, documentation that she is legally entitled to work in the U.S., obtaining a workers comp insurance policy (which almost no one will sell you for a single household employee).

We can go on forever. We don't agree, that these things are the same in kind as arresting every Japanese -American and locking them up. You can cite a million examples of big and little stuff. None will be the equivalent of arresting and imprisoning a whole generation.

I sm not even sure why you would deny that.

"I sm not even sure why you would deny that."

As a Japanese-American who has read everything he has been able to get his hands on, I think that this is an example of how binary thinking can get you in trouble. Thinking that something should be done (though I'm not sure what, and a lot depends on what we define as 'reparations') does not mean that someone is 'denying' the reality of the Japanese-American internment. We have seen in the previous thread the example of invoking Asian-Americans to justify the way African-Americans are treated in society. I realize that you want to win the argument, but reducing this to the notion that someone who is supporting 'reparations' (scare quotes to indicate that we can't even agree on what that word means) is 'denying' something else is problematic.

Except lj it was the original question I was answering. Is there a principled argument that says reparations is fine for Japanese-Americans and not for Blacks post slavery. I presented what I believe is just that, the events were not of a kind. One was an obvious case, one wasn't. All the discussion after that has been pretty interesting back and forth.

I am not trying to win the argument, I am, at the fringe, presenting an alternate view.

Yes, but (getting into the meta here as I proctor a test at my uni) you are not saying that you think it is different, you are accusing someone else of denying that there is a difference.

I'm not sure if this is how Ugh would put it, but it seems that we can acknowledge that the government can do something when it finds a great fault, so it seems (at least to me) that the government (which is, essentially, us) can do something in this case.

I don't want to claim you have these thoughts, but it comes across that when you [seem to?] say that there can be no connection drawn between JA internment and some sort of program/programs targeted at dealing with the effects of Jim Crow that seem to extend to the current day, you are suggesting what we used to say in pickup basketball as 'no harm, no foul'.

Again, not trying to claim that I know what you are thinking, but when Roberts says “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” he's explicitly saying that any attempt to address these things is wrong. That's where the problem lies.

Maybe racists should be made to fill out reams of paperwork regarding their behavior and the iron laws of incentives and disincentives will make them throw up their hands and give it up.

Clearly, slavery could have been stopped in its tracks if slave traders and plantation owners would have had to fill out forms in triplicate justifying their behavior.

I wonder if they had been forced to pay slaves a minimum pittance wage whether Fort Sumter could have been avoided.

"That's it", they would drawl. "It's just not worth having slaves if they have to be paid a minimum wage."

Or they might have done what Sam Walton (founder of Walmart) is said to have done when the feds finally decreed that even his workers would have to be paid the minimum wage - and this was retroactive to when the case (which had been appealed) was first filed.

He told his workers that he would write the required checks - but that anyone who cashed them was fired!

Ah, the free market at its finest.

As between Russell & Marty (and anyone else who may be involved): in a course I used to teach on "Comparative Approaches" one point I used to make early on is that (1) ANY two things (countries, cultures, societies, eras) can be compared, but (2) ANY comparison is going to be inexact. The trick is to find a balance, to look for comparisons that are going to be intellectually fruitful, but not expect them to correspond one-to-one across the board (or get frustrated when they don't).

Are reparations (paid) to Japanese-Americans interned in WW2 comparable to reparations (proposed) to blacks for the wrongs done to them? Yes AND No. Obviously.

Russell is playing the "yes" key hard, and Marty's answering "no," and they're both right. (And wrong.) There are important similarities AND important differences, and there's no intellectually correct way of saying which of these are of greater significance. It can be discussed, but it can't be logically demonstrated one way or the other. So play nice, children; I don't want to have to separate you again.

(FWIW, I think TNC may have erred tactically in discussing Germany's reparations to the Jews after WWII. It's an interesting case, but my mind - and I suspect that of many others - instantly starts throwing up ways in which this is NOT comparable to what [we think] he's contemplating in the USA, and it becomes a distraction. "Sure it 'worked' there, but the situation was SO different that . . ." OTOH TNC's a lot better at this whole punditry bit than I am, so maybe he knows what he's doing.)

(I eventually figured out, after watching enough Duke basketball, that if I disagreed with Coach K's strategy, I was probably the one who was wrong.)

What matters in the long run, I think - to the extent that anything on "ObWi" matters - is the conclusions drawn from the comparison (or not). If saying "Yes" leads us to believe that reparations for blacks are a relatively straightforward issue, as they were for the Japanese, we are likely to be sadly disabused. ("Straightforward" doesn't mean that they're not massively expensive and politically suicidal; it simply says the basic principles are clear.)

If saying "No" leads to the judgment that since reparations cannot work that way we should therefore do nothing at all, we are morally crippled.

My own position, FWIW, is to lean toward the "No" position intellectually, as previously expressed, but to lean even harder toward the "we've got to do something if we can ever figure out what" school as to consequences. Responses to my previous comment pointed out to me that I had forgotten/overlooked the extent to which TNC himself, though using the term "reparations" (which tends to imply some sort of general giveaway, making me and many others uneasy) also invokes the possibility of tying specific wrongs done by specific institutions/people to specific victims, and then specifying some kind of appropriate recompense: this I can clearly support.

You may now return to your regularly scheduled programming.

We can go on forever. We don't agree, that these things are the same in kind as arresting every Japanese -American and locking them up.

The question is not whether the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII is the same "in kind", or in any other way, to any of the many governmental actions that have been harmful to blacks.

The question is whether whatever difference there might be amounts to an argument against reparations for blacks.

I'm not seeing where you have made that argument.

And to clarify what I, personally, am on about - the "how bad / targeted / harmful / whatever does it have to be to merit reparations" is sort of moot, as far as I'm concerned, because they ain't gonna happen.

What I take exception to is this statement:

Post Civil War their is not a specific tangible and identifiable action by the government that harmed Blacks.

That statement is plainly false.

we've got to do something if we can ever figure out what

IMVHO it would be great if we would put serious teeth into laws that we already have against discrimination.

I find myself speaking for black folks here, which I'm not all that comfortable with, because I'm not black. That said, my overall impression is not that blacks are that hell bent on getting paid for all the stuff that used to happen. They are interested in having all of that crap stop, finally.

The emphasis on the history is more a matter of "how long?", or "when is this gonna end?".

Some folks will say that it's all done now, and any disadvantages blacks live with at this point are their own doing.

I think they would disagree with that.

The (non)parallel with the internment of Japanese Americans is this: for them, reparations were paid to those individuals known to have been harmed by a specific action. Whereas in the case African Americans we are not (as far as I can see) talking about reparations to specific individuals, but to a group. We are also not talking about determining what specific actions we are looking at in determining what harm (or how much) was done.

This is not to say that no action need be taken. Just that the difference in kind is sufficient to say that the Japanese Americans' reparations are not an argument for why we should act either. You could craft an proposal for reparations which did deal with particular actions and the verifiable harm that they did to specific individuals. But, so far as I can tell, that isn't the proposal that anyone is making. Yet.

What I would say in reply is that the things that make the Japanese internment different than any of the things we are talking about with reference to blacks - the fact that it was a specific group of Japanese American individuals, and not others, that the thing done to them was so concrete and specific, that the harm done - loss of homes and businesses, loss of physical freedom for a specific amount of time - is so amenable to quantifying - are what make it *practical* to craft a program of reparations for them.

All of those things also illustrate how *out of the norm* the Japanese internment was. Rounding up specific groups of people, taking them away from their homes and livelihoods, and imprisoning them en masse, is distinctly unusual, distinctly different from the normal way that our society relates to them (or anyone) as a group.

In contrast, I would say that the disadvantageous treatment of blacks is dead normal in American society.

I don't see how you can make reparations for that. It's too deeply woven into the culture to tease out all of the specific acts of discrimination in a way that would make them quantifiable, in any useful way.

The difference IMO is not in the moral force of the two arguments (i.e., reparations for WWII era Japanese Americans vs reparations for American blacks), but in the plain pragmatic feasibility of figuring out how to do it.

Which blacks? For what harms? Over what period of time? It's not calculable.

Long story short, I'm not an advocate of reparations. I'm an advocate of changing the way the society at large relates to black people, today, and going forward.

There are no reparations we can make that would be an adequate remedy for their experience.

In some ways, I think I'm simply echoing Marty's argument here, from a somewhat different angle. What I object to in his argument, first and foremost, is the claim that the government has done nothing tangible or specific to harm black people in the last 150 years.

IMO that claim has no leg to stand on.

Russell. Only a slightly different angle. But, barring some specific policy interpretations, I don't disagree with your perspective.

Thanks Marty.

"Whereas in the case African Americans we are not (as far as I can see) talking about reparations to specific individuals, but to a group. We are also not talking about determining what specific actions we are looking at in determining what harm (or how much) was done."

Who is this "we" you are talking about here? TNC clearly thinks there are specific individuals harmed by specific actions who can and should be compensated. And that if we ever were serious about investigating the issue, we might find there is quite a lot of very specific payment that could be made to specific individuals for specific acts of injustice.

I think Russell makes a good point--the injustice is so vast that it involves our entire society, and it's impossible to compensate for all of that. Of course, what that really means is two things (note that I don't mean Russell means this)--

1. If you commit a crime sufficiently large and vast, you don't have to make up for it. That's a given in American politics. It's why Nixon's crimes are seen mainly as Watergate, and not the indiscriminate bombing of villages in Cambodia, say. On a sufficiently large scale a crime becomes a mere policy. Or even just part of the culture. Which is what we're talking about with racism.

2. Because the crimes are so vast, it gives us an excuse to throw up our hands and pretend that there is no way we could identify specific victims of specific policies and actions and offer compensation. Which is convenient nonsense.

With regard to your first point, I think the question is not whether we ought to "make up for it". But rather whether reparations, that is to say payments to individuals, is an appropriate (not to mention feasible) approach to doing so.

As for your second, even if we accept that compensation to indivudlas is not a viable option, there is still the possibility of action. Or, more appropriately, a group of many and varied actions. Some of which will provide some measure of redress for past wrongs, and some (and to my mind the more important) of which will be directed at eliminating, or at least reducing, the continuance of wrongs.

I submit that this is not nonsense. Nor convenience. Indeed, I expect there would be rather more objection to the prevention steps than ever seen with regards to reparations payments. Can you doubt it?

P.S. By "we" I was, unconsciously perhaps, thinking of those of us discussing the matter here. Apologies for my lack of clarity.

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