Several years ago I proposed a plan for reparations for the descendants of those enslaved in pre-Civil War America. Conservative Republicans hated it out of disdain for reparations. Progressive Democrats hated it out of their antipathy for tax cuts.
Reviled by all the politicos who heard it, my plan might have been on to something. Now reparations are again in the air. So here goes nothing.
My grandparents immigrated here from Europe well after slavery was abolished in America. There's no taint on my personal bloodline. That's true for over 40% of Americans. And there is great legitimacy to the fact that the United States of America paid a huge price in blood and treasure in eradicating slavery: the Civil War.
That said, there is an authentic grievance attributable to America, if not Americans. Our charter document, the Constitution, protected the institution of slavery from 1789 through 1808, a political tradeoff to constitute the union. And the republic's original sin.
Then the Constitution permitted slavery until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, in 1865. Another 57 years.
This, not race or racism, founds a legitimate claim for reparations. There's a ratification of reparations in Scripture, which documents how my own enslaved ancestors took wealth from our former masters on our way out of Egypt; a form of reparations.
Good conservatives whose politics are informed by Judeo-Christianity would do well to consider Exodus 12:36. "The LORD caused the Egyptians to look favorably on the Israelites, and they gave the Israelites whatever they asked for. So they stripped the Egyptians of their wealth!"
That said, hello self-styled Social Justice Warriors! Stripping innocent Americans of our wealth is neither politically viable nor consistent with liberty and justice for all. Two wrongs do not make a right.
Thus we are impaled on the horns of a dilemma. Niels Bohr once said, "How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress." Encountering, not ignoring, the imperative of reparations creates an opportunity.
Enslavement was an odious crime. That crime lingered in constitutional America for almost four score years. High time to redress it. That said, plundering the privileged is not the solution. The solution is to privilege the plundered. But how?
Exempt those descended from slaves, in the proportion to their lineage, from federal income, gift and estate taxation for 20 years, about the span that the Constitution protected slavery. Not, of course, exempt from payroll taxes, the funding mechanism for Social Security and Medicare, sustaining the system of old age and survivors' annuity and health insurance for the aged. Properly understood, that's social insurance, not general revenues to Uncle Sam. Hands off!
After 20 years of tax freedom, provide a 50% exemption for the next 57 years, the span during which the Constitution tolerated slavery. Thus lightening the burden on the descendants of slaves will give those whose lineage was prejudiced a substantial privilege while mitigating the moral hazards of handouts. Such an advantage will help legitimately neutralize the handicap caused by slavery.
For those of mixed slave-and-free ancestry, such as the descendants of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, it is straightforward to calculate the portion of the tax exemption to which they would be entitled, with a fair-minded honor code for those whose ancestry is poorly documented.
Voilà: a system for reparations that will never fly.
Conservative Republicans never met a tax cut they didn't like. That said, they hate the idea of reparations, which advantages an important segment of the Democratic base. This is politically stupid, reminiscent of the commander of the Japanese Submarine Force who declared "The floggings will continue until the morale improves." Politically, recalcitrance toward doing justice is no way to grow the dwindling Republican base yet will draw, at best, blank stares from the Pachyderms.
Progressive Democrats are eager to do right by their People of Color constituents. Yikes! This modest proposal is not based on race but on ancestral servitude. And the Donks never met a tax that they did not twitch to raise while seeking for new, even more pernicious taxes, such as on wealth. It was different in the '80s, but that was then. America, politically speaking, was another country. Where have you gone, Charlie Rangel, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you!
And yet. As Walter Heller told the Congress on May 7, 1985, we should "Rise above principle and do what's right." May 7th should be celebrated annually as national "Do What's Right Day." Let it begin in 2021 with a 20-year exemption from, followed by a 57-year 50% cut, in the federal income, gift and estate tax rates for descendants of those held, under the Constitution, in slavery. Reparations by privileging the plundered rather than plundering the privileged.
Ralph Benko, co-author of "The Capitalist Manifesto" and chairman and co-founder of "The Capitalist League," is the founder of The Prosperity Caucus and is an original Kemp-era member of the Supply Side revolution that propelled the Dow from 814 to its current heights and world GDP from $11T to $88T. He served as a deputy general counsel in the Reagan White House, has worked closely with the Congress and two cabinet agencies, and has published over a million words on politics and policy in the mainstream media, as a distinguished professional blogger, and as the author of the internationally award-winning cult classic book "The Websters' Dictionary: How to Use the Web to Transform the World." He has served as senior adviser, economics, to APIA as an advocate of the gold standard, senior counselor to the Chamber of Digital Commerce and serves as co-founder of and senior counselor to Frax.finance, a stablecoin venture. Read Ralph Benko's reports — More Here.