This is posted at PEA Soup (a site dedicated to philosophy, ethics, and academia). I will just present the argument here but if read the rest of the comments on the site, it’s interesting what the replies have been towards this argument.
David Boonin, a professor at the University of Colorado, presents an argument in favor of reparations. Now this argument has been around for a while, but this is the first time I’ve seen it presented in a deductive fashion. Here’s the argument:
(1) The United States federal government (hereafter, the govt) performed unjust, harmful actions pertaining to slavery.
E.g., not only failing to stop slavery but legally protecting and enforcing slave ownership.
(2) These past actions are a cause of certain harms suffered by many present-day black Americans.
E.g., blacks have much lower socioeconomic status, higher rates of incarceration, illegitimacy, and a host of social problems. It’s plausible to think that this is at least partly a consequence of slavery, and of the govt’s unjust slavery-related acts.
(3) If someone performs an unjust action that causes harm to someone else, then the perpetrator normally has an obligation (prima facie) to compensate the victim.
(4) The principle in (3) also applies to organizations such as governments.
E.g., suppose a company illegally buried some toxic waste in a populated area 40 years ago, and the waste is now causing current residents to suffer from cancer. Then the company would owe compensation to the current residents, even if the leadership of the company has changed during the last 40 years. A similar point applies to governments. (This case also illustrates that the victims of the unjust action need not have existed at the time of the action.)
(5) So it looks like the govt owes compensation to present-day black Americans, for its earlier slavery-related actions.
This is just a simple argument, but for the full reading of the argument, you can check out Boonin’s website on the book.
What do you think?
I’m still unsure when it comes to the reparations aspect, but I’ll explain it when the comments come in.
Also, I’m sure that people are going to be against it, but I’d like to see which part you find suspect. In other words, which premise do you question?