Completing the Redistributionist Trilogy

There is a third popular argument for redistribution that falls somewhere in between the argument from justice and the pragmatic argument. Fittingly, it’s a hybrid of the two. Despite constant attempt to re-brand it, it is the argument from reparations.

Any one who has come across them understands that arguments from reparations are riddled with potential pitfalls ranging from problems with predicting alternate realities, to measuring effects, to estimating the decay of effects over time, to it being unclear whether wealth today was actually derived from crimes passed, or whether there are undesirable social consequences for groups paying or receiving reparations etc. etc. etc. My concern may actually lend some precision to a reparationist case, but cost it considerably in terms of scale. Those who can reasonably be held accountable for crimes whose effects span generations are few in number and small in wealth compared to the demands of those who feel they are its victims.

Basically, any individualist account of slavery or similar atrocities can hold accountable only those people who directly devised or carried out criminal orders. That means the small group of powerful men who devised slave expeditions and those who came to own slaves as well as those who were directly involved in the handling of slaves in between. If it sounds like a substantial part of the population from whom white Americans, consider that this excludes everyone involved in building the ships, guns, nets, clothes, and food for the slave expeditions themselves and everyone involved with every other industry in the western world who wasn’t a slave owner, wrangler, or conspirator.

I suggest that, while many of these other people profited from the slave-trade and other atrocities through exchange with those responsible, burdening them responsibility for any wrong-doing in the entire structure of production leading back to them would be supererogatory and, as a consequence, wildly inefficient (i.e. causing people to surrender huge amounts of utility to transactions costs).

So, even if we can clean up everything else about reparationist arguments, the money just isn’t there, unless you want to convict the blameless for not plunging us into a dark age by tracing every possible moral consequence of their micro-decisions.

    • davidthomas38
    • July 23rd, 2013

    Reblogged this on David Thomas 38's Blog.

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