Is there utility in viewing the government as a person?

It may seem a strange question to ask but, if one listens out for the linguistic clues, the inference can be drawn that some people do indeed imbue their national government with personality traits.

Specifically, discussing what the government “thinks”, “wants” or “owns” suggests some level of consciousness and self, over and above the visible collection of elected and unelected policy setters and administrators.

Clearly it can’t be true that a government has a single view on most matters; the many individuals involved will all have nuanced and differing perceptions of the solution to a particular issue or even the definition of the issue. Perhaps in cases of extreme threats to all, such as a war, there might be some level of consensus but, even then, opinions will differ on specific tactics and details.

The fact that a concept is not real does not necessarily mean that there isn’t utility in the universal acceptance of the “delusion”.

For example, we all accept the integrity of money, despite the fact that it’s just words and pictures written on paper. It’s more useful to us to believe that the $100 note in our pocket really is worth, say, about 13 hours work of an unskilled labourer (i.e. USA minimum wage) than to overly question the concept of paper money, or indeed, fungible transfer of labour to a stored value. Why is it useful? Well, if we all go along with the idea, the idea works!

A government clearly isn’t a single homogeneous living entity, but perhaps there’s some value to be had by treating it as such? This is the question we wish to address in this post.

What concepts might apply to our “new” person, Mr/Ms/Miss/Mrs/Xhe Government?

Here’s a list, by no means exhaustive, of concepts which might apply to the new higher form of life we’ve just created;

  • We could assign motive to its actions
  • We could assume no internal dichotomy in its statements and /or actions
  • We could presume every statement and action is internally logically consistent
  • We could assume every statement and action is part of a highly-considered plan

 

Stop laughing at the back…..

No, seriously, if we view our government as a single entity, we should have tangible evidence that the four statements are true, or at least generally true.

The fact that selecting any national or state government and a random issue would quickly show that our four “person concepts” apply so rarely as to be most likely random coincidence tells us that the idea of viewing our governments as having human aspects is daft and falls apart at first contact with reality.

So, back to our original question;

Is there utility in viewing the government as a person?

Like the idea of a fungible way of transferring labour called “money”, is there still a worthwhile reason for suspending reality and taking the concept of a single, thinking entity called “government”?

Try as we might, we can’t think of one. Feel free to offer suggestions in the comments.

This leads us to ask the obvious follow-up question;

Are there negative consequences in viewing the government as a person?

Taking our four concepts above, we can see plenty of problems;

  • We could assign motive to its actions

We’re going to be disappointed to learn that, even if an action had a motive behind it, the motive, or at least the individual who originally had the motive, is transient and highly temporary. It’ll be replaced by a different motive as soon as the individual concerned is replaced.

  • We could assume no internal dichotomy in its statements and /or actions

This runs the risk of misdirecting us when a range of government actions seem to be arbitrary and/or contradictory. “Why did the government give me a tax incentive to buy a diesel car five years ago and has now reversed the tax break in favour of unleaded petrol?”, for example. This could be quite expensive or worse on an individual basis.

  • We could presume every statement and action is internally logically consistent

Again, disappointment looms large for those of us who’ve fallen for the concept. It also risks us making regretful decisions based on what we might have thought of as an ethical position or moral compass. Joining the armed forces during a period of proclaimed non-intervention in foreign conflicts, for example.

  • We could assume every statement and action is part of a highly-considered plan

In a similar theme to the other points, we run the risk of taking personal actions (or not taking them, such as not saving for our retirement) based on an assumption that there is a credible and committed plan to provide for us.

Why on earth would you assume your government has any aspects of an individual person then?

Facetiously; because you’ve been poorly-educated and are unable to think for yourself?

More soberly, perhaps because the delusion is more attractive than believing the alternative? That is, the government is, at best, a collection of many thousands of individuals all with personal prejudices, agendas and varying levels of competence and incompetence.

Bill’s Opinion

The only utility in viewing one’s government as a person is mental comfort. It enables the believer to avoid confronting the possibility that practically nobody within the government has your best interests at heart and, even if they did, would be highly unlikely to have to competence or energy to do anything positive about it.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

Paris Accord good, Trump bad?

The coverage of President Trump’s refusal to re-commit the USA to the Kyoto Protocol is conspicuous in its dearth of analysis of the details of the agreement itself. 

Perhaps such analysis doesn’t fit the “narrative” we are being offered?

It is possible the media editors believe the public aren’t suitably skilled or qualified to comprehend the details. If so, perhaps they might remind themselves that one function of professional news journalism is to act as the intermediary between complex ideas and an uninformed audience.

As with all enquiries into objective truth, there is no substitute for doing your own research. Accepting the first position offered as authoritive without question is both dangerous and illogical.

Let’s see if we can fill the void;

What is the aim of the Paris Accord?

 

· To keep global temperatures “well below” 2.0C (3.6F) above pre-industrial times and “endeavour to limit” them even more, to 1.5C

· To limit the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally, beginning at some point between 2050 and 2100

 

How does the Paris Accord intend to achieve this?

 

Well, the 2nd bullet point above is the main method, which suggests it’s an action not an outcome. It also suggests that human emissions are the majority factor in the forecasted increases in temperature. We won’t investigate that assumption here today but let it go unchallenged for the sake of our “whither the Paris Accord?” subject.

 

Specifically, the Paris Accord sought a commitment from all signatory counties to reduce their emissions. In the case of the USA, this would require a reduction of around 27% from the 2005 level by 2025 (i.e. a quarter reduction in emissions in less than 8 years). The USA would also be required to transfer around $3bn per year to developing countries to aid their emissions reduction programmes.

 

These commitments would be non-binding and there would be no consequences for failing to achieve them.

 

How much would it have cost the USA?

 

$3bn in a straight transfer to developing countries and a (assuming a reduction of 25%), a further $4bn reduction in GDP.

 

What guarantee was there that other major polluters would have held to their commitments?

 

None. 

No, really; none.
 

Specifically, what is the track record of the next two biggest polluters, China and India (ignore the confusing “EU” line on this Pareto as the EU countries are also shown individually and there is little evidence that the EU regulations will be adhered to by many of the countries)?

 

Woeful. China can’t even bring herself to tell the truth about GDP.

 

Was it a good deal for the USA?

 

$7bn per year, almost half of which would have been redistributed via the UN to developing countries will little or no oversight or consequence to confirm that it arrived at the intended end point or outcome?

 

No, it’s an awful deal for the USA but, more importantly, anyone who truly wants to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases. It’s a great deal for anyone who wishes to redistribute global wealth, which is perhaps the more pertinent point.

 

Bill’s Opinion

 

Donald Trump was elected by the American people for the American people. The deal on the table didn’t have their best interests at heart, even considering the place in the world as so-called global citizens. In fact, a recycling of $3bn into the economies of the 3rd world via their, largely undemocratic and often highly corrupt, governments would likely result in very little difference to the developing world’s emissions either.

 

In addition, the effective hamstringing of one of the world’s most innovative countries is likely to reduce the rapid progression to more environmentally-friendly energy.

Is Universal Basic Income just Marxism by another name?

There is a steady stream of mentions in the media of a concept called Universal Basic Income and a general view that it is “a good thing”.

Definitions of what is actually involved in implementing a UBI or critical analysis of the concept rarely accompany these references to it.

We intend to undertake this missing analysis here.

Definitions;

UBI is variously described as;

  1. a non-means tested guaranteed “wage” to all citizens of a country to cover basic shelter and food needs, or
  2. as above but for all residents of a country, or
  3. as above but globally, i.e. every human

 

The last option falls apart quite quickly upon analysis, so let’s clear that up first;

Option 3. How would we fund and distribute a global UBI?

There would need to be a global collection method, an agreement between all major economies (as they would presumably be the main net contributors) on the level of income per capita and whether or not there would be sliding scale based on relative cost of living in each location.

Then we would need to solve the problem of distribution, taking particular care not to consolidate power or increase the opportunity for corruption which would prevent the funds reaching the intended recipients.

Put simply, there would need to be some level of world government to siphon off the money and redistribute back to every human alive. This sounds very familiar to the well-documented previously failed experiments in central planning and control. To paraphrase P. J. O’Rourke, “socialism works very well within the boundaries of my house; it’s just failed every time anyone has tried to scale it up beyond that”.

Option 3 is pure Marxism, in other words and should be called out as such at every opportunity.

Option 1 and 2. How would we fund and distribute a national UBI?

This is a more nuanced question. Tim Worstall suggests that a national UBI could have significant personal and national benefits, possibly resulting in a higher standard of living for all. Tim’s analysis relies on a major assumption to fund the UBI, however; it will need replace all other forms of government largesse to the population, so no welfare state, no medicare/medicaid, no state insurances, no tax breaks for business, etc.

Those familiar with the concept of the Overton Window will quickly realise that, although Tim’s analysis might work mathematically and perhaps have a good grounding in economic theory, the blending of what is essentially a proposal for a method of central redistribution to result in a “small government” would require the voting public to accept a range of political ideas with a level of nuance not previously documented. In effect, they are being asked to accept the concept of blending the collectivist preference for a benevolent state with the Libertarian preference for individual freedom and responsibility. It completely challenges the almost genetically-accepted idea that left and right are at opposite ends of a political spectrum.

This isn’t to denigrate the intelligence and subtlety of the average voter, but to simply recognise that they are unlikely to invest the time out from their day to day lives to fully engage with the idea of a UBI that replaces all current state-distributed safety nets. This is likely to be mainly a failing of the communication skills of political class, underpinned by a very solid undercurrent of distrust and loathing from the voting public.

If Tim Worstall’s version of UBI is so very unlikely, are there any other proposed method of implementing it?

The Socialist Party of Ireland suggests that a UBI is only practical if all major industry is taken into state control, which simply proves the axiom that, to a man with a hammer, the entire world looks like a nail.

Socialist Appeal (“the Marxist tendency of the movements of workers and youth in Britain“) are deeply sceptical of the concept unless it is is also accompanied by major tax increases. Obviously, this completely contradicts the economic analysis of Mr. Worstall and, again, refers us back to the hammer/nail analogy.

Bill’s Opinion

To answer the original question; “Is Universal Basic Income just Marxism by another name?“, the answer is clearly, “yes, if you ask a Marxist“. The answer will be different if you are discussing it with a proponent of smaller government.

Perhaps we’re asking the wrong question. How about the following;

Is a UBI likely to be ever successfully implemented in a democratic nation?

Not a chance; the definition of and implementation of a UBI has such a myriad of options that each will see in it only what their personal agenda desires. To reach a broad political consensus on what the best and most feasible solution is to implement would require more agreement across the political spectrum than has ever been witnessed before.

Anyone who presents it as an option should be challenged to show how the major political and economic ideologies can have their differences reconciled before being allowed to waste any more of our time suggesting the concept.

Stockholm Syndrome

There’s a general election being fought in the UK currently, polling day is June 8th. As seems to happen all too frequently in the West, campaigning was paused in the wake (both meanings of the homophone apply) of yet another act of extreme violence against innocents.

 

When normal politics was resumed, the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn gave a speech which linked domestic terrorism with the various overseas wars (either officially-declared and otherwise). The full transcript of the speech can be found here.

Corbyn uses couched language and stresses the point that, in linking the two, he isn’t excusing suicide bombers detonating themselves at concerts for teenage girls. He isn’t the first from the political left to have made this linkage though and it is one which we wish to explore in this post.

Hypothesis: Western military intervention overseas is directly or indirectly linked to the escalation of domestic Jihadist terrorism and, if halted, the terrorism would subside or even cease.

There are two propositions in this hypothesis. Firstly one of causation and secondly that the linkage between the cause and the consequence is extant and therefore the situation can be reversed.

We will examine these in reverse order because, if the second is found to be false, there’s little practical utility in determining the truth of the first.

What is the motivation behind “home-grown” suicide bombers?

To understand this would require a deep understanding of the motivation behind each and every suicide bomber to find a common theme, if one even exists. As Tolstoy wrote, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. Perhaps this is the case with those young men (and the suicide bomber demographic seems to consist of predominately very young men) and they arrive at violence from different starting points.

The only evidence we have to judge their motivation is the angry “suicide note” videos they occasionally leave behind, observations from acquaintances and the messages given from the religious instruction they received prior to their crimes.

These overwhelmingly point to two themes; a rejection of the values of the west (the culture in which they were either partially or fully raised) and an acceptance that holy war is their duty.

The first doesn’t necessarily lead to violence, countless Britons have found themselves questioning the values and systems within which they grew up and lived. The vast majority move relatively smoothly from this rejection to a different value system and certainly without resorting to building a home-made nail bomb-vest and detonating it in a crowded concert hall. George Harrison’s post-Beatles career would have been tragically short otherwise, for example.

It’s obviously the Jihadis’ chosen solution that is the problem for those of us who wish to attend concerts without risking anything more severe than tinnitus.

If a young man has followed the spiritual journey that leads to a rejection of the values of his home nation, is it possible that we might prevent the next step, that of determining that the only solution is violent Jihad?

Perhaps, but if just a single disaffected youth slips through whatever intelligence-gathering and “de-radicalisation” programmes are implemented, the consequence is tragedy.

Is it likely that the current pool of UK-residents with Jihadi thoughts would accept an immediate and unambiguous statement from the UK Prime Minister apologising for overseas invasions, wars and drone strikes and a vow to not engage in these again?

There’s a joke at the expense of the French (the best jokes often are); Q. How many Frenchmen does it take to defend Paris? A. Who knows, it’s never been attempted.

Similarly, we are highly unlikely to ever be in the position where a country such as the UK or the USA would ever make such a pronouncement. However, we could point to the example of Spain, which reacted to the Madrid terror attacks of 2004 by pulling her troops out of Iraq. Did this result in a reduction in credible threats of terrorism? That’s hard to answer with empirical data but an active cell was prevented from attacking Barcelona in 2008 and further credible threats have been reported since, so the threat clearly didn’t reduce to zero.

This suggests that, even if western military action overseas was the touchpaper for the Jihadi movement, it’s no longer the only factor in the spiritual journey that leads a 22 year old male to reject their home country’s laws and values and murder unsuspecting music fans. This movement looks to have become the religious equivalent of a parthenogenetic organism, capable of producing new recruits regardless of the external stimulus.

Thought experiment: We can wave a magic wand which will simultaneously prevent all western forces attacking Muslim countries and globally remove all Jihadi-motivation from those currently with that view. Would there be no further Jihadi attacks in the West?

If Corbyn is correct, the answer to this question should be an emphatic “yes”. There is a problem with this, however; Jihadism is “re-bootable” (this is someone else’s observation but we can’t recall whose).

By this we mean, if nothing but the holy texts of Islam survived a global apocalypse and an alien found and read these, it is possible that they might interpret the messages contained within the Quran in such a way that leads them to embrace violent Jihad. The texts themselves explicitly call on the follower to wage war on the unconverted and apostates alike.

The answer to the question posed in our thought experiment is certainly not an unqualified “yes” and, unless we could delete the various passages from all copies of the Quran and every subsequent commentary written on the subject, chances are the answer is “no, more Jihadis would replace the ones we removed with our magic wand“.

Bill’s opinion

Even if the West is fully-culpable for the radicalisation of disaffected youths who are subsequently motivated to commit suicide with methods designed to take as many innocent lives as possible, the problem is not likely to go away now, regardless of any move towards pacifism or foreign non-intervention.

Our reality requires a different solution to Corbyn’s suggestion but also, it’s clear that the current mitigating actions are not effective either.

Do you really want to hurt me?

With IDAHOBIT day being only a week behind us, we thought it worth exploring some related issues which we feel might not be receiving a full examination in the traditional media. The hypothesis below is an assumed distillation of a range of received wisdom positions which are presented regularly in the media discussion of the subject. Hopefully we’ve not fallen too far into the strawman trap by presenting this as the discussion point.

Hypothesis: Transphobia (Wiki: “a range of negative attitudes and feelings toward transgender or transsexual people”) is a form of irrational prejudice based on the incorrect assumption that gender is binary and acceptance of transgender or transsexual people is one of the best forms of support they can be offered.

The modern discussion of the subjects of gender identity and sexuality pivots significantly around definitions, much angst is expended on many sides of the discussion about what we mean when we talk of male, female, other proposed genders and various sexual preferences. Indeed, in some discussions, even the use of the noun; preferences comes with some baggage, with its inferred assumption that individuals have complete free will in deciding who to find attractive.

It’s unlikely that the problem of definitions is going to be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction in the following exploration, so we’ll probably have to accept that and try to continue regardless.

How many human genders exist?

The first definition clarification to be made here is to break the link between gender and sexuality; who you are and who you find sexually attractive/what you desire to do with them are clearly not the same thing, as evidenced by many high-profile celebrity relationships that don’t fit the traditional model of a square-jawed, broad-shouldered alpha male coupled with a slightly subservient female (q.v. Bernie Ecclestone). If we accept that gender and sexuality require discrete definitions, we can continue to look at the definition of gender.

Physiologically, there are a range of versions of the arrangement of sex organs and, again, the Wikipedia page on this hints at the minefield of definitions and nouns in contention to describe these conditions. Depending on the version of definitions you choose, these conditions may account for between 0.018 to 1.7% of human births. Based on those statistics, physical differences from the “standard” male or female sex organs are rare, but not so rare for for us to never interact in everyday life with someone with one of the conditions. However, unless you meet them in a sauna or being intersex is like being gluten intolerant (“Q. How do you know if someone is gluten intolerant? A. They’ll tell you within 30 seconds of meeting you”), perhaps you’d never know.

Another group of individuals “identify” with a different gender to the one their physical sex organs might suggest. In most cases, there is little evidence to suggest that this identification is also reflected physically. The Williams Institute estimate that, in the USA, this accounts for around 0.3% of the population.

What is “gender”?

Of course, despite the statements about physical and mental differences, we still haven’t defined “gender”.

It seems the bifurcation of opinion here is that gender is either defined by the physical properties the person received at birth or whatever they later decide they prefer. Either gender is fixed by physical properties or is “fluid” based on the conclusion of a internal mental process. Only one, not both positions can be true.

For the 98% of us who have no physical or mental ambiguity or opposition to our what our physical sex organs suggest should be our gender, this might seem like an uninteresting if nuanced question. However, given that 2% of the population of, say, the USA equates to 6.5 million people, it’s important to a significant population.

What are the consequences of accepting the “mental decision equals gender” position?

The original hypothesis above suggests that universal acceptance of the personally-stated gender of an individual is one of the best methods of support the other 99.7% of us can offer to the 0.3%. This might take the form of using particular pronouns to describe them, accepting their use of the public toilet of their choice, allowing them to compete in sports events in the gender category they prefer, or not making disparaging comments about their appearance, etc.

At an individual level, this may act as a salve to the internal conflict between the physical and mental view of their gender. How effective a salve might that be though, if you have penis, a protruding jaw, large shoulders and the daily requirement to shave away a beard, yet every time you look in the mirror and tell yourself that you are female, the very confronting physical evidence suggests the opposite?

Suicide attempt rates for those who don’t identify as the gender suggested by their physiology are staggering – up to 40% in some studies, compared to 0.1% in the population as a whole. In fact, the only group in history we can find that have similar documented rates of suicide or attempted suicide were those subjected to the evil brutality in Nazi and Soviet concentration camps, yet the research suggests that even these desperate groups had suicide rates of “only” 25%.

Hopefully nobody reading this ever feels so hopeless that taking their life is a real option and there’s limited mileage to compare levels of despair and desperation but…. is it really possible that discrimination in a western democracy with all the attendant freedoms and protections under the rule of law is worse than being subjected to the horrors of Belsen or a Soviet era Siberian gulag?

Perhaps it is. If so, there’s likely to be some real life control experiments we can compare against. African Americans in the southern states in the Jim Crow era, Christians in modern day Middle East, women living under the Taliban in Afghanistan, for example. We can find no research which suggests an epidemic of suicide or attempted suicide even close to that of the 0.3% who identify as a gender counter to their physiological state. This strongly suggests that something in addition to just discrimination is the main cause of their suffering.

In fact, there’s research which suggests that the suicide and attempted suicide rates hardly drop, if at all, for those people who have gender reassignment surgery. Peace is clearly not found at the end of a scalpel.

Thought experiment; switch “transgender” for “anorexia”.

Using a slightly-modified version of the original hypothesis;

Anorexiaphobia (Wiki: “a range of negative attitudes and feelings toward anorexic people”) is a form of irrational prejudice based on the incorrect assumption that eating is necessary and acceptance of anorexic people is one of the best forms of support they can be offered.

That’s a crazy idea, isn’t it? We’re clearly not being kind to someone suffering from the, often fatal but certainly destructive, eating disorder anorexia. In fact, by not attempting to help the person with the condition come to terms with the problem and at least prevent them from further physically harming themselves we are probably being morally deficient in our duty as family, friends, neighbours.

Is the mental position that you are of a different gender to that suggested by your physiology so very different from the mental position that you are overweight despite the physical evidence to the contrary?

Taking the thought experiment to an extreme, what would be an appropriate response if this evening your loved one told you that they “identify” with a different species, say, an eagle, and they intend to act on this very real feeling of body dismorphia by building an eyrie at the top of the nearest mountain to live on? Most likely, you’d plead with them to seek help from a mental health professional and consider some type of intervention to physically protect them.

Bill’s Opinion

In the absence of physical evidence of irregular sex organs, it’s possible that someone who identifies with a sex not suggested by their physiology is suffering from a form of mental illness. Agreeing with this internal dichotomy and supporting or encouraging their transition through surgery is unlikely to improve their internal conflict and, in fact, the evidence suggests that they will be no happier following the gender reassignment procedures, just irreversibly physically different. Making a regrettable tattoo seem very mild by comparison.

If there’s even a slight possibility that we are not helping people with this problem by just agreeing with them, the conclusion must be that we’re missing the opportunity to help them in more tangible and effective ways. Therefore the moral case is the opposite of much of the proposed hypothesis; we should have sympathy and support these people but be brave enough call out that their delusions are harmful.

 

 

 

Reparations; the white man’s burden

We could have commenced this blog with something anodyne to cut our teeth on, but where’s the fun in that? So let’s get straight into it.

Hypothesis

The history of slavery in the United States justifies reparations for African Americans.

The proposition has been put forward by a UN-affiliated body (United Nations’ Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent), among others, but also the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA and a coalition of Caribbean nations is making similar claims from their former colonial nations. The UN body’s report is here.

 

Instinctively, it feels right and fair, doesn’t it? African slavery to the USA was an unequivocal case of evil perpetrated by one group of people on another, many of the descendants of both groups are easily identifiable and, in numerous cases (too many to be considered a coincidence) the inequality between the lives of the two groups remains wide.

If we agree with the paragraph above, perhaps looking at the practicalities of delivering the reparations might be a useful test of whether the moral case is valid?

To whom?

First we will need to agree the answer to two separate questions; “from whom?” and “to whom?”.

The “to whom?” part is probably the easiest. Records exist for immigration, citizenship, birth, death and marriage certificates to a high degree of accuracy in the USA. It should therefore be reasonably straightforward to ascertain who is descended from slaves rather than, say, later free immigrants from West Africa.

However, there still might be some discomfort in judging the level of “degrees” in this regard. Imagine a scenario where someone who can trace their heritage back to a great-grandparent who was a slave but the other 7 great-grandparents were free citizens. Should this person be entitled to only an 8th of the compensation of a person who can show 8 slave great-grandparents?

What about present day outcomes? Should we means test?

If the 1/8th slave-descendant was living a comfortable middle-class life, it might feel fine to limit the amount of compensation due to them. What if the situations were reversed though? Would we be comfortable compensating the person with 8 slave great-grandparents if they were successful and had a high net worth and giving “Mr 1/8th” little or nothing regardless of their relative net worth?

From whom?

This is the more difficult question which doesn’t seem to be adequately answered by the UN body. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to state that the report recommends that the “the United States” pays (point 94). Given that there is no one person called “the United States”, the body are presumably calling on the US Federal government to foot the bill. From where does the Federal government receive its income? Either taxes from living citizens or debt incurred on behalf of those yet to be born, neither of which were around during the transatlantic slave trade era to bear any responsibility for the evils committed.

In fact, a very large number of those taxpayers or yet to be born taxpayers are themselves descendants of slaves, so there will either have to be a two-speed tax system for proven descendants of slaves (for how long and at what rate?) or a recognition that descendants of slaves will have to pay for reparations to descendants of slaves.

What’s the statute of limitations for evil acts?

In most countries with a well-functioning and universally-respected rule of law, there is no statute of limitation for the most serious crimes such as murder. Or, more accurately, the statute of limitations is triggered at the end of the life of the alleged criminal. The child of a murderer is not held accountable for the crimes of their parent.

Perhaps the idea of reparations is not to punish the descendants of slave owners but to compensate the descendants of slaves only? The problem with this is that compensation requires two parties; the compensated and those who provide the compensation. We’re back to looking for the person called “the United States” to pay with revenue received from taxes from those who weren’t around at the time of the crime.

The question of the practicalities of compensation for slavery is even harder to grasp than that of the theft of a family heirloom or other type of property; personal freedom was taken 3 generations ago, there is nothing tangible you can take from the (innocent) descendants of the guilty that would “make good” that crime without involving a crime against the descendant. This is how everlasting blood feuds develop in some parts of the world.

What tangible loss has been incurred by the living?

This is not the strongest argument made here today but it requires articulating nonetheless. The descendants of slaves are able to demand reparations due to several key attributes that they possess, the first and least trivial is life itself. The life expectancy in the USA for African-Americans is 75 years compared to around 52 years for West African countries. If your ancestors survived slavery, you are better off than your relatives who were left behind.

Another important factor in the ability to claim reparations is the fact that the descendants of slaves are currently living in the USA, a country with a legal system which enables claims to be made. This is no guarantee of a favourable outcome of course, but the possibility of success of a tort claim in Alabama is far greater than Angola.

Thirdly, living American descendants of slaves posses something millions of Africans currently desire and thousands risk dangerous sea crossings in Europe to obtain; citizenship of a country that isn’t in Africa, the rights and privileges of which have a tangible market value in the world, easily measured by the fees charged by people-smugglers and forgers of identification documents.

Of course, none of the last three paragraphs are intended to suggest that the living descendants of slaves have had an easy life comparative to the descendants of free men but, by the nature of the system within which they were freed, they have had a better chance to survive and thrive than the control experiment in West Africa.

What role does personal responsibility play and when?

Following on from the previous question, we might consider at what point does the impact of evil perpetrated on an ancestor become auxiliary to the free will and personal responsibility of the descendants? How many generations later might it be reasonable to expect their own actions to play a greater part in determining their outcomes? We risk  further suppressing the freedoms of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of slaves by suggesting that the root cause of all their challenges in life is due to the evil perpetrated 3 generations previously.

Which other groups might be called upon to pay?

Is the guilt of the transatlantic slave trade exclusive to one group of people, defined either by nationality or ethnicity? If not, should the other guilty parties be called up to pay, should reparations be determined necessary, moral and practicable?

European slave traders didn’t instigate slavery on the continent of Africa, but exploited a pre-existing practice. Rival tribal groups in West Africa delivered their prisoners to the coastal ports to be sold to the slave traders, reducing the requirement for the Europeans to make dangerous journeys into the interior to do their own dirty work.

An African slave trade existed for nearly a thousand years prior to the European involvement, resulting in tens of millions of African slaves being transported to the Middle East. If reparations are due, why aren’t the Arab states being handed an invoice too?

Can a group prosecute a group?

The proposition of the existence of group guilt is a difficult one to justify; to suggest a collective responsibility is to reject the concept of free will. Either we have free will and therefore only individuals commit crimes or we don’t make our own choices and groups of people are collectively guilty.

 

Bill’s Opinion

Tangible harm inflicted upon any person, including our ancestors, has a statute of limitations which ends at the death of the guilty, just like all other crimes. To suggest otherwise requires us to agree to the concept of generational guilt.

If we reject the concept of generational guilt, we must reject the idea of state-funded reparations as the state does not have any possessions that are held on behalf of citizens who are guilty of crimes committed 200 years ago.