Theory of Reparations

From: Phil Osborn (
Date: Sat Aug 11 2001 - 17:43:00 MDT

So long as this idea of collective responsibility is given credence, there will be war.

This is a corollary of "where there is not justice, there cannot be peace." (forgot the source.)

The concept of collective responsibility, applied consistently, would leave every single individual in dept for billions of dollars. We are all descendents, somewhere along the line, of murderers and rapists. Every chapter of history is written in the blood of the victims by the victors.

The "Native Americans" included cannibals and some of the most vicious and bloody nation-states in all human experience. The Conquistadores, over all, were an improvement. (This is not to say that vast injustices were not perpetrated against peaceful and civilized Indians, such as the Cherokee.)

The blacks sold as slaves bound for the Americas were sold typically by other blacks or Arabs. The demand for slaves certainly fueled much of this, but does not excuse it. The African slave trade existed internally long before it became an export market. In central Africa today, according to an L.A. Times piece a few years ago, there are formerly colonial cities in which the pavement is all gone for building shanties, the power is on, if at all, for a few hours a day, and live humans are sold as meat animals in the central markets.

On the other hand, the father of a friend of mine in South Carolina boasted that they were still keeping up the old slave quarters on the ancestral plantation, in the hopes that they would yet prove to be handy. In that case, and in many others in which individual ownership can be definitely traced and related to the slave victims, I can't think of any good reason why the descendents of those slaves couldn't demand title to that plantation as reparations.

The Balkan situation is an example of what happens when people think in terms of collective responsibility. So long as they think that way, there cannot possibly be a solution. Each side could legitimately, if you accept the collective responsibility premise, demand more in reparations than the entire net worth of the others. Unfortunately, there are plenty of politicians and "leaders" who are always ready to step forth and push that agenda, and once that snowball gets rolling, it quickly becomes very hard to stop. See Eric Hoffer's works for more detailed analysis.

One possible solution is to turn us all into investors in each other's success. If I own shares in a business or depend upon their products, I want it to succeed. Otherwise, given the millions of businesses out there, the fate of any particular business is of little consequence to me, and the impact of a particular business's failure, justly or unjustly, on the general community is likewise not of particular interest. Similarly for individual people. We in the 1st world hardly notice if a thousand individuals in central Africa are massacred. If it happens in China or Bosnia, we take a little more notice. If it happens in London or Los Angeles, we get really upset.

But if we had the opportunity to directly invest in individuals worldwide, through financial mechanisms such as Massachussetts Trusts, then a vast network of information resources and companies would quickly emerge on the net to serve that investment option, looking for the individuals most likely to be good investments - the kid in Africa or Laos with a high IQ, a positive attitude, and a good family, but no money for education, or the small businessman or woman who has all the skills and willingness to work, but lacks the capital. The collective solutions to these problems are often worse than the problem, sucking good money from taxpayers or contributors and ending up giving it to dictators who use it to make matters worse, which gets them more money. The micro-loans program, which has brought the critical assessment information down to the local level, on the other hand, has been very successful.

The net offers us the opportunity to do this on a vast scale, involving the entire planetary population. First, however, to make this fly, we will need a reliable mechanism to handle disputes, liabilities and general risk, globally down to the local level. So, once again, I put forth the idea of an explicit social contract, backed by escrow, insurance, and arbitration.

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