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A new paper on the long term impact of slavery and Jim Crow is making the rounds with the usual suspects. The paper claims to have studied the life outcomes of black descendents of freedmen, which were the blacks who were out of slavery before the start of Civil War. This group is then compared to the descendents of those who were only made free after the Civil War. The latter group has lower education, income, and wealth today than the former group.
Steve Sailer has filled up the comments section on the post about it at Marginal Revolution, telling the world it is not nature or nurture. It is both. This is a favorite hobbyhorse of the older HBD crowd. They seem to think this is a compromise their detractors will accept. This is always wrong because their detractors make moral arguments, for which there can be no compromise. For them it is always nurture and those who say otherwise are evil.
The study assumes that those who were freed at the end of the Civil War resided in states that eventually adopted Jim Crow laws. This deprived them of things like education that were available to blacks in other states. The other assumption is that blacks in the north had easy access to education, while blacks in the South were not allowed to read. This cartoon version of our social history is part of the larger morality tale that drives the civic religion of the managerial class.
The big problem with this study is that we have to assume that the freedman and the slave were cognitively equal, on average. That is a rather big assumption that is not based in the historical record. We have mountains of contemporaneous accounts suggesting that freedman were extraordinary blacks who earned their freedom in various ways. Freedman often continued in service to their former owner, but as a paid employee rather than as a slave.
There is a better than average chance that the freedman in the 19th century were significantly smarter than their enslaved counterparts. Some may have been clever enough to escape and make a life in the north. Others may have provided such great service to their owner that they were freed as a reward. In other words, the descendents of freedmen may have done better because their ancestors were smarter than the general slave population that was eventually set free.
There is also the problem with assuming that Jim Crow deprived blacks in the South of an education. We know that black illiteracy sharply declined in the first half of the twentieth century. At the start of the century, about a quarter of blacks in the South were literate, while 80% of whites could read. By 1950 the gap had closed to a few points, which says blacks were getting at least a basic education. Depending on the study, it appears that black literacy has declined since 1950.
The far larger problem is the assumption that social policies cast a shadow long after they have been eliminated. If we use 1965 as the end of Jim Crow, then we are onto the third generation who never experienced these laws. Despite the massive efforts to address the racial gaps, the gaps remain. In some cases, like literacy and illegitimacy rates, the gaps have grown larger. The whole cause and effect relationship starts to fall apart quickly when you look at the data.
Even if we can adjust for all of these factors and make a case that modern black people are suffering in some measurable way from ancient polices, so what? If the point is to compensate them in some way, as the restorative justice crowd demands, you create a moral contradiction that cannot be resolved. Compensation is a contract imposed on at least two parties to the contract. The side receiving it must accept and the side providing it must also accept.
The logic of compensation starts with the assumption that one party is at fault and caused measurable harm to the other party. Even if you wish to pretend modern black people are victims of policies that have been gone for generations, you cannot pretend that there is anyone alive today who can be held liable. The slave owners have been dead for over a century. They were all ruined in the Civil War. The creators of Jim Crow have also been dead for generations.
Then you have the problem with compensation. For it to be just, it must compensate the aggrieved party for measurable harm. There is no way to compensate someone for hurt feelings or a loss of cultural pride. This cannot be measured. Compensating someone for pain and suffering is a convoluted way of punishing the guilty party in order to discourage the offending behavior. The court fines the offending party and hands the money to the victim.
Punishing modern white people for behavior they did not do in order to prevent them from doing the thing they did not do is grotesquely immoral. In one of life’s many ironies, it is similar to the German principle of Sippenhaft. This is the claim that the clan or family shares responsibility for the crimes of a member. The difference is that there is no claim here that the group being punished had any role in the alleged crime, because the alleged crime happened generations ago.
Of course, logic and morality do not matter here. At least not the sort of logic and morality that makes civilized life possible. People cook up these papers because they serve the interests of the people who underwrite this stuff. The audience for this material needs to believe they are justified in their hatreds. Without a holy book or supernatural authority, they are left to conjure some other justification for what has evolved into an intergenerational blood feud.
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