30 September 2014

Reparations for Slavery?


Having addressed Atlantic editor Ta-Nehisi Coates' wish for reparations for red-lining, we now turn to another of his claims: That descendents of U.S. slaves deserve cash payouts for their forebears' suffering.

There is the question of both a) the legitimacy and b) the practicality of such a scheme. We shall only discuss the former, because if it is truly worthwhile, the latter can always be worked out.


Poring through Coates' 17-page article, we have guessed that he objects to U.S. chattel slavery on the following grounds:  1) Its very existence was unconscionable, 2) It was unusually inhumane, 3) It destroyed the Afro family, and 4) It helped create the large black-white wealth gap we see today.

We shall address his points one by one.




I. The very existence of U.S. slavery was unconscionable


One main thrust of Coates' argument for slavery reparations is that the institution itself was somehow anomalous--'cruel and unusual,' to use our founders' words.  Cruel it may have been in the hands of cruel masters, but unusual it assuredly was not.  Looking back, it's harder to find societies that don't practice slavery than those that do.  As soon as we rose above subsistence level, it seems we start coercing each other into labor.



23 August 2014

Reparations for Red-lining?





'Ingenious and powerful,' 'important and compelling', 'stunningly ambitious;' it has 'broken traffic records and vanished from newsstands,' 'setting ablaze' social media.  What is it?

It is 'The Case for Reparations,' Atlantic's June 2014 cover story by editor Ta-Nehisi Coates.



The idea has been tossed around since Emancipation, falling out of fashion as of late. Coates brings it roaring back in this long-form piece, calling on Euro-Americans to 1) publicly express their guilt about past oppression, and 2) pay reparation money to their Afro countrymen.  Does his argument hold water?

The 17-page article covers much ground, but it seems Coates seeks redress for three major wrongs:

  • Slavery
  • Land theft
  • Red-lining

They are three quite different topics, and should be treated as such.  We shall begin by addressing the most recent: so-called 'redlining.'

Coates tells the story of Clyde Ross, son of Mississipi sharecroppers who came to Chicago in the Great Migration:
'Three months after Clyde Ross moved into his house, the boiler blew out. This would normally be a homeowner’s responsibility, but in fact, Ross was not really a homeowner. His payments were made to the seller, not the bank. And Ross had not signed a normal mortgage. He’d bought “on contract”: a predatory agreement that combined all the responsibilities of homeownership with all the disadvantages of renting—while offering the benefits of neither. 
Ross had bought his house for $27,500. The seller, not the previous homeowner but a new kind of middleman, had bought it for only $12,000 six months before selling it to Ross. In a contract sale, the seller kept the deed until the contract was paid in full—and, unlike with a normal mortgage, Ross would acquire no equity in the meantime.'

Why was Ross obliged to buy a house 'on contract'? Because he could secure no regular mortgage financing. Chances are, in large part because he was Afro-American.



30 July 2014

Racism: The New Witchcraft?



The late Larry Auster wrote,
As we all know by now, racism, like witchcraft, is a difficult accusation to defend oneself against. The reason is that the word no longer has a defined meaning. I was first struck by this phenomenon several years ago when New York City’s closing of a hospital in Harlem, as part of an economy move, was ferociously denounced as “racist” by black leaders. 
This was a new and startling use of a highly charged word that I had associated mainly with race hatred. “Racism” now apparently meant anything that, in the view of black people, hurt their interests or offended them or, indeed, anything they did not approve of. In recent years, this limitless definition has come to include the entire structure of our predominantly white society, as well as all white people.


Steve Browne at Taki Mag is even  blunter:


It has to be evident to all thinking people by now that racism is the new witchcraft. Once you’re branded with the Scarlet “R,” some people do not regard it as immoral to assault you…or worse.  Calling someone a racist is sufficient to brand them as outside the pale of civilized company. In academia, the accusation is a career-wrecker. Socially it is enough to get you dropped from the A-list of the best parties.

The comparison is bold--witches were pursued in large numbers in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, losing their assets, families, very often their lives. Are there any real parallels? Or are Messieurs Auster and Browne just blowing smoke?




06 July 2014

Breaking Up is Hard to Do




Political maps have changed much since one hundred years ago. Or two hundred, or five hundred.

Some changes have crept in; others have exploded. It can be interesting to look at old maps and think, how will ours look to our descendents?




Imperialism was the trend for much of the modern era. Most peoples were swept up into the folds of empires-- European, Turk, Chinese.



But West European colonialism dissolved in the 1960s, Soviet imperialism in the 1990s. Since then the trend has gone the other way:  States are fracturing ever more.


1960 to 1990: A multiplication of states


The one exception is the quasi-super-state known as the European Union, which has been hoovering up members as fast as it can.





The recent eurozone crisis has led to calls for 'a United States of Europe.'  Only a true federal authority in Brussels, with control over member states' moves, can lead to a happy European future:

European Commission vice-president Viviane Reding has predicted that the eurozone will become a federal state, while urging the UK not to leave the Union. ... “In my personal view, the eurozone should become the United States of Europe."
... Reding noted that euro countries have made an “extraordinary” leap in terms of integration due to the economic crisis. Citing the commission’s new powers to scrutinise national budgets and plans to create a banking union, she said: “a few years ago no one could have imagined member states being prepared to cede this amount of sovereignty.”

Indeed.

The United States itself, a grand experiment in federalism, has seen its central government intrude ever more deeply on states' rights over the last century.  Is this a happy thing?  At the same time, the massive post-1965 immigration experiment has flip-flopped U.S. demography.



These trends have created deep American fault lines.  Europe is in fact trying to emulate the U.S. at the very moment when the latter seems to be fracturing.  In both cases, then, we have a tension between creeping federal authority on one hand, and a desire by regions to throw off that authority on the other.

What does the future hold for these two super-states?

We at Those Who Can See feel it is naively optimistic to imagine in 100 years the maps of our descendents will look the same as ours.  Where are these two chunks of the Europsphere headed?

10 June 2014

Victimization Whack-a-Mole



In the 1982 comedy 'Tootsie,' actor Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) is desperate for work.  A casting director tells him what's wrong:


The reading was fine. You're the wrong height.
I can be taller.
No. We're looking for somebody shorter.
Look. I don't have to be this tall. See, I'm wearing lifts. I can be shorter.
I know, but we're looking for somebody different.
I can be different.
We're looking for somebody else.


Some people, in a word, cannot be satisfied. Trying to please them is like playing whack-a-mole: their dissatisfaction has no remedy. You're sure you've bopped it on the head, but there it pops up again, and then over there, and over there... is there any way to nab it once and for all?

In our blank-slatist world, where all groups are presumed equal, puzzling 'performance gaps' leave some feeling outraged. Rather than shake their fist at Mother Nature (the real source of disparities), they continue to demand action that they are sure will Close the Gap.  When it doesn't, the target changes. Then changes again. And again, and again...  The endless merry-go-round of recriminations and demands is a clue that what they seek cannot be found. Has all logic gone down the mole hole?  Pick up your mallet and follow us...






I. Education



1) 'Black kids must be with white kids'...

School segregation (de jure in the South, de facto in the North) was long seen as a handicap to black student success.  When de-segregation didn't magically bring the races together, a more muscular solution was called for:


28 May 2014

Foreign Policy and the Less Able

 


We have asked if Sub-Saharan Africa can really be considered 'post-colonial,' and concluded that it cannot. When the More Able butt up against the Less Able, the power dynamic can be so uneven that normal relations are impossible.  Westerners (and, increasingly, Easterners) just can't seem to keep their fingers out of all those little pies, commercial or humanitarian.   But the doctrine of international relations today says that all peoples sit at the same table, negotiating as equals.

If it were proved tomorrow, beyond a shadow of doubt, that Sub-Saharans as a group were far less able than Westerners,... what would be the right policy response?  We at Those Who Can See argue that such a policy framework is not hard to imagine-- as it is largely the one being used now.


World Trade Organization:  Do we all belong at the Grown-ups' table?


1) Trade policy

We don't force children to play by the same rules as adults. In the context of the WTO, if a More Able people were faced with a profoundly Less Able one, what could be considered a 'fair' trade position to take? It may look something like this:
The first Lomé Convention (Lomé I), which came into force in April 1976, was designed to provide a new framework of cooperation between the then European Community (EC) and developing ACP [African, Caribbean, Pacific] countries, in particular former British, Dutch, Belgian and French colonies.
It had two main aspects. It provided for most ACP agricultural and mineral exports to enter the EC free of duty. Preferential access based on a quota system was agreed for products, such as sugar and beef, in competition with EC agriculture. Secondly, the EC committed ECU 3 billion for aid and investment in the ACP countries.



Why are these countries singled out for special treatment?  After all, the list of places colonized by Europe is much longer:

15 May 2014

The New Face of Colonialism


'Take up the White Man's burden--
The savage wars of peace--
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.'



The colonial era, we are told, is over. The imperialists have retreated to their shores and the third world now happily governs itself.

For much of the planet, this is true. India and China, two great colonial occupations of the 19th century, have wrested control of their economy and food security. It is largely sub-Saharan Africa, home to 1/6 of humanity, which remains the red-headed stepchild of international relations.

These rich lands were coveted by industrialists, and its people's uplift coveted by do-gooders. The footprint left by the former? Ports, canals, roads, railways, and a functioning government (their own). By the latter? Churches, missions, schools, hospitals.

What both camps agreed upon, though, was that the colonized were not able to provide these things for themselves.

Upon which they still agree today.

While many believe we live in a 'post-colonial' world, we here at Those Who Can See argue that we do not.  'We're all equal,' sing both the right and the left. But their actions do not match their words.  We believe the colonial project is, on the contrary, roaring along as full-steam as it ever did. What is the evidence?