Reparations and the Stateless Society

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At my workplace, I was having a conversation with a co-worker, a black man. We were discussing various things and the issue of reparations for slavery came up. He said:

"You know, I think it's high time that Western governments coughed up and acknowledged the brutality of slavery."

"Well yeah, slavery was terrible. But reparations? That sounds foolish to me."

"Oh no? Well my ancestors were dehumanised, tortured and degraded just so some white men could get rich! I want justice for that!"

"Granted, the slaves weren't treated humanely. Still, the slaves are dead. The slave owners and slave traders are dead. Can't we just acknowledge slavery as an evil institution and move on?"

"I just feel that reparations for slavery would aid in healing wounds within black communities. We are suffering as a consequence of slavery."

"OK, yes the legacy of slavery still is with us. Nevertheless, isn't the issue of reparations an impractical one? I mean, who actually receives reparations? Does this include non-blacks that were descended from slaves? There must be a number of Americans who otherwise are white or Hispanic, but may have a black slave ancestor. Also, the trans-Atlantic slave trade is not the only gross moral atrocity in history. Should the German government pay reparations to Jews because of the Holocaust? Should the Russian government pay reparations to the descendants of those harmed by Stalin's policies? Should the Mongolian government pay reparations to the descendants of those harmed by Genghis Khan and his armies? Where do you draw the line?!"

A number of black people in the world probably would concur with my co-worker. As a black person though (which you may have gathered from my article "Black Market Anarchism"), I don't endorse the concept of reparations, largely because I feel it's unjust for whites today to pay a penalty for actions they didn't perform. Many white people in the world today wouldn't condone (and would actively condemn) the practice of slavery.

Since we live under the state today, then the issue of reparations would still continue to be a pressing one. However, to what extent would the subject of reparations be prevalent within a market anarchist society?

The working of the market

During the 18th Century, Lloyd's of London, the noted British insurer, provided insurance to slave ships that operated out of London , Bristol and Liverpool . These British cities were, in the day, the primary centres of the British slave trading industry. In March 2004, a group of US citizens attempted to sue Lloyd's for their historical role in the slave trade. Now, what can be made of this? The primary option that presents itself is boycott. Black people could refrain from purchasing goods and services from companies that were involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. They could also persuade others in society to partake in the boycott. If enough people were recruited, then such companies would suffer a tremendous loss of sales, which would threaten the wellbeing and even existence of their concern. Naturally, the businesses would have to re-examine and alter their policies if they wished to remain financially viable. Companies may voluntarily seek to offer reparations as a result.

Governmental force

By lobbying the state to offer reparations, black people are only seeking to widen the scope of governmental force. As market anarchists, we would all recognise that government equates with coercion; we don't really need to be told that. Dr. Robert Beckford, a black British academic, suggested in 2005 that the British government owed '7.5 trillion in unpaid wages to the progeny of slaves. Clearly, such a figure would bankrupt the British government. In 2006/07, British governmental expenditure is projected to total '552 billion. In 2005, the Gross Domestic Product of the United Kingdom (according to the World Bank) was $2.192 trillion. Dr. Beckford's figure is over three times larger than the entire British economy!

Imagine if the British government did pay up. Well, how would they have obtained the money to present reparations to the scion of slaves? Of course it would have been by taxation. Why should stolen funds be used in the present to appease people upset by past injustices?

Does the African Diaspora have it better than their African cousins do?

People of humanity would be swift to acknowledge the horrors of the slave trade. Millions of Africans were brutalised, dehumanised and degraded for the financial benefit of Europeans. Nevertheless, I fail to see why immoral actions, which occurred in the past, should be permitted to affect us in the present or future. Are black people suffering due to the legacy of slavery? Perhaps. In the USA , certainly, blacks are in general economically worse off than the white majority. Nonetheless, black Americans are probably the wealthiest black people in the world! Evidently, the average income of an African-American must be many times higher than that of a black person residing in Africa . In the grand scheme of things, as far as black people in the world go, African-Americans have it quite sweet economically notwithstanding being the distant offspring of African slaves.

Market anarchy and race relations

We all know that government is force. Government, by its nature, also pits rival groups of people against each other. Since the state is eager to listen to the interests of pressure groups, it often seeks to donate stolen tax money to fund differing causes in society. One major reason why there are schisms between different groups in society (be it gays vs. conservative Christians, blacks vs. whites, etc.) is due to the manner in which governments tax and spend.

Of course, there is no government within a market anarchist community. As a consequence of this, distinct groups in society wouldn't have to be at constant loggerheads. Since full freedom of association would exist within the market anarchy, people wouldn't be compelled to associate with groups of people they disapproved of, or even despised. Leftists could congregate in California or other liberal states. 'Rednecks' could amass in the South. Liberty-minded people could gather in New Hampshire (as part of the Free State Project).

Conclusion

The actions of a free market could easily provide solutions to the issue of reparations, no matter how misguided the ideal may seem to some. A market anarchist society could also minimise the effects that social tensions have in American and other Western societies. As a result, people would be freer to exercise their rights to self-ownership in peace, without governmental or other coercion.

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Columns on STR: 26

 
Christopher Awuku lives in the UK and works in the voluntary/community sector.  He runs a market anarchist blog at http://chrislib.blogspot.com