Reparations Revisited

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post arguing that Nozickian libertarianism entails reparations.* The reparations in question follow from Nozick’s “principle of compensation,” which offers compensation for what Nozick calls “preventive restraints,” that is, coercive restrictions on individuals imposed in order to lessen the risk that they will violate others’ rights. So-called Terry stops are a paradigmatic example of a preventive restraint in Nozick’s sense (I argued), so that those on the receiving end of them would on Nozick’s view be owed compensation. If we assume (ex hypothesi, but still plausibly) that young black men (or black people generally) are disproportionately on the receiving end of preventive restraints, then young black men (or blacks generally) would disproportionately receive Nozickian compensation. That compensation, I suggested, is a form of what’s commonly called “reparations.”

By “compensation,” I primarily had in mind what Nozick had in mind: cash payments to the preventively detained (but innocent). But there’s another, weaker but still relevant sense of compensation in the vicinity. Suppose that A violates B’s rights, and in doing so makes off with ill-gotten goods g. Now suppose that for whatever practical reason, it’s impossible to compensate B by returning g or even the fruits of g to her. Yet A wrongfully enjoys the fruits of g. If the best we can do is to deprive A of the ill-gotten benefits of having stolen g, there is a weak, extended (but arguably obligatory) sense in which our doing so is, if not literally compensation, then a second-best approximation to compensation. Call it a sort of “least we can do approximation” to compensation.

It turns out that Michael Bloomberg is about to declare his candidacy for the presidency on the Democratic ticket. Arguably, Bloomberg was, as mayor of New York City, one of the main proponents or architects of the “stop and frisk” policies that made preventive detention of the innocent a feature of life during his time in office. It’s also arguable that this preventive detention was highly racialized. If so, that’s a good argument for voting against Bloomberg in the primary. A vote against Bloomberg is, in the extended sense just described, a kind of “least we can do approximation” to compensation for the preventive detentions he promoted as mayor. For that reason, we might justifiably see it as an approximation to reparations, as well. It obviously doesn’t compare to a cash payment, but it’s better than voting for him or putting him in office.

For an interesting contrast on this issue, read these two columns in sequence. The first, by Charles Blow, argues against a vote for Bloomberg given his record on “stop and frisk.” The second, by Tom Friedman, argues for Bloomberg despite his record on “stop and frisk.” I happen to agree with Blow,** but the interesting thing, I think, is that adoption of Nozick’s view gives a normative salience to Blow’s position vis-à-vis Friedman’s that it might not otherwise have had. Why think that Bloomberg’s position on stop and frisk trumps the issues Friedman raises? Because adoption of a Nozick-type libertarianism entails adoption of a principle of compensation that has real weight in political deliberations. It can’t, if Nozick is right, simply be ignored. But to adopt Friedman’s view is blithely to ignore it.

There’s also an interesting implication here for character-based voting. In voting against Bloomberg (or resolving not to vote for him), there’s a sense in which one’s vote is simultaneously a vote against Bloomberg’s policies and a vote against his character: it’s a vote against the morally callous character that would rationalize and implement such policies. Note that in doing so, we need not assume that Bloomberg would, as president, re-enact those very policies. It’s not clear that he would. It’s not even clear that he could. But it’s also not clear that it matters. What matters is that he once enacted them. If you think the policies were bad enough, and matter enough, then in opposing Bloomberg’s bid for the presidency, you kill several normative birds with one political stone. I know that sounds terribly violent. But it’s not half as violent as he was.

*Roderick reminds me that Rothbardian libertarianism entails reparations, too. Good grief. Is there any kind of libertarianism that doesn’t entail reparations?

**Friedman tells us with a straight face that we should look to Israeli politics for guidance on American politics, because Israeli policies are the “off Broadway” dress rehearsal for Broadway-style American policies. It doesn’t occur to him that that applies to policing, as well, with not-great implications for our “Mike.”

10 thoughts on “Reparations Revisited

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  3. Hard to know whether to laugh or cry:

    Mr. Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly fiercely defended stop-and-frisk in the face of criticism and legal challenges. They argued that it was an essential practice for police, and predicted — wrongly, it would turn out — that curtailing it would lead to a dramatic rise in crime.

    “Look at what’s happened in Boston,” Mr. Bloomberg said in 2013. “Remember what happened here on 9/11. Remember all of those who’ve been killed by gun violence and the families they left behind.”

    Remember what happened here on…9/11? The 9/11 hijackers went through airport security screenings where they were inadequately searched before they boarded aircraft. An airport search is a consent search, not a stop and frisk (i.e., Terry stop), and it has absolutely nothing to do with the street-level pedestrian stops that were at the heart of the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy. Bloomberg knew that. He was just cynically exploiting 9/11 because he knew it would push the right buttons.

    In the case of Boston (the Boston Marathon Bombing), there was no reasonable suspicion in real time that would have justified a stop and frisk of the Tsarnaev brothers; the FBI pinpointed them days after the bombing by poring over videotapes of the crowd. (A stop and frisk would in any case have gotten the officers involved blown up.) Bloomberg’s invocation of the Boston bombing was, like 9/11, a bald faced attempt to exploit a pseudo-memory of the event and re-write history to suit his purposes.

    Anyone inclined to accept Bloomberg’s recent “apology” at face value should pause for awhile to consider the habits of mind that would lead someone to say what he said. The sheer cynical gall of his claims almost defies belief.


  4. Pingback: Police Tailgating and Entrapment Revisited | Policy of Truth

  5. Favorite passage:

    Still, the issue keeps coming up, and Mr. Bloomberg trails other candidates among black voters. He was asked about stop-and-frisk in recent interviews with Stephen Colbert and on “The View.” When Democratic-leaning black voters nationwide were asked which candidate they would “definitely not consider supporting,” 17 percent named Mr. Bloomberg, according to a Washington Post-Ipsos poll this month. Only one candidate, Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, had a higher level of disapproval.


  6. Pingback: Bloomberg on “Stop and Frisk”: Part 2 of 2 | Policy of Truth

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