27 January 2004

Sins of the (Great-Great-Grand)Father

The Perfesser noted today that

So who do we punish when we force the corporation to pay reparations [for long-past wrongs such as slavery]? Since the payment comes out of the corporation's treasury, it reduces the value of the residual claim on the corporation's assets and earnings. In other words, the shareholders pay. Not the directors and officers who actually committed the alleged wrongdoing (who in most of these cases are long dead anyway), but modern shareholders who did nothing wrong.

"The Immorality of Corporate Reparations" (27 Jan. 04). Two additional pieces of irony reinforce his conclusion, whether it's corporations or governments that are the payors.

  • My ancestors weren't even in this country until this century. Further, going back about 350 years in the gene pool, none of them had anything to do with slavery or the slave trade over in the Old World, either. Thus, if the value of my shares in, say, JP Morgan Chase (neither implying nor stating that I do or do not own such shares) is harmed by forcing the corporation to pay "reparations," I have been harmed twice: Once by the mere fact that I am a current shareholder whose "profit" from 150-year-old conduct is so attenuated by time that it cannot reasonably be attributed to me (as the Perfesser noted), and again because it was legally impossible for me or my ancestors to have any responsibility for slavery. (None of this nonsense about how the Old World bears responsibility for allowing slavery to continue, because that assumes that individual citizens in the Old World had any influence on policy — in other words, it assumes that the forms of government common now were in use at all then.)
  • Let's pretend for the moment that everything occurred last year, so that time is not an issue. Don't kid yourself about the potential consequences of reparations: successful blackmail would depress the market of all potentially targetted firms. If JP Morgan Chase pays, Citicorp stock will drop to discount possible extortion. So, if I very carefully made sure that my investments were in firms that did not have an obvious connection, the overall drop in market value (particularly if, say, I had invested in exchange-based futures or options) would "tax" me for the blackmail.

That my own "ethnicity" has a longer and greater historical claim on the "assets" of corporate and government wrongdoers reminds me of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, with every potential victim group racing to get a piece of an elusive (and quite probably illusory) fortune. That the fortune will eventually come out of the various contestants' own pockets seems to have escaped the rabble.

The "reparations for slavery" suits are really more about the failure of the Great Society programs — for Avogadro's Number of intextricably intertwined reasons — and the continued poverty-by-ethnicity in this country than anything else. They are not about economic justice, or anything else; even the accusation of "massive attorney's fees" as motivation is at best a tertiary consideration. The racism inherent in the claims themselves seems also to have escaped the proponents; but then, I took Dr. King at his word, and believe that the content of one's character (and not the color of one's skin, or for that matter the identity of one's ancestors' place of worship) is what matters.