On January 1, 1863, in celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation, Ralph Waldo Emerson read a poem to a Boston audience. In that poem, Emerson considered the then-current idea that slave-owners should be compensated for having their slaves taken away from them. To this ethically bankrupt notion, he replied:
Pay ransom to the owner,
And fill the bag to the brim.
Who is the owner? The slave is owner,
And ever was. Pay him.
This seems to me to be a good concise summary of the case for reparations.
And no wonder many present-day political leaders reject the notion of reparations to the descendants of slavery. If we compensate the descendants of slaves for their stolen labor, by a logical progression we might then have to compensate the offshore workers for the full value of their labor. Or compensate the underpaid warehouse workers and retail employees in this country for the full value of their labor. There’s even an implication that today’s billionaires did not in fact earn their fabulous wealth through their own efforts. In other words, the assummptions underlying reparations contradict the assumptions of economic libertarianism.