Paul L. Caron

Friday, August 20, 2004

Keyes Proposes to Exempt African-Americans from Tax

Friday, August 20, 2004

Photo of Alan Keyes Illinois Republican Senate candidate Alan Keyes has proposed exempting African Americans from tax (per the Chicago Tribune):

"When a city had been devastated [in the Roman empire], for a certain length of time--a generation or two--they exempted the damaged city from taxation."

Keyes proposed that for a generation or two, African-Americans of slave heritage should be exempted from federal taxes-federal because slavery "was an egregious failure on the part of the federal establishment."... The former ambassador said his plan would give African-Americans "a competitive edge in the labor market," because those exempted would be cheaper to hire than federal tax-paying employees and would "compensate for all those years when your labor was being exploited."

Under Keyes' plan, African-Americans would still have to pay the Social Security tax, because "it's not a tax in the strict sense," said Keyes, calling it instead a payment to support a social insurance program.

Eugene Volokh notes: "No word on whether Americans whose ancestors died fighting in the Civil War would get special treatment as well, or whether having a slaveowner ancestor would double your tax bill." Volokh also points out that Keyes himself dismissed the idea of reparation two years ago in these words:
Those responsible [for reparations lawsuits] propose to settle the accounts of slavery leaving the Civil War out of the equation — complete and utter nonsense. The price for the sin of slavery has already been paid, in blood. . . .

Pettifogging lawyers and dishonest scholars will always be able to carp selectively and ignorantly about the warts upon our body politic.

But the truth of the Civil War is that the terrible price for American slavery has been paid, once for all, by the American people's deliberate acceptance of their duty to pay it when, in God's providence, Southern intransigence brought it due.

Yet Keyes held his ground when interviewed by a sympathetic Tucker Carlson on CNN's Crossfire, claiming that reparations for African-Americans through the Tax Code is "a thoroughly conservative, thoroughly consistent Republican approach":
CARLSON: All right. I want to ask you question then, Ambassador Keyes. I take you serious, I take your ideas seriously and I agree with most of them. So I was shocked the other day to see you give a press conference endorsing the idea of reparations for slavery, for tax breaks for descendants of slavery. You said, pointing out that your opponent Barack Obama is not descended from slaves and you are. This struck me as a kind of essential betrayal of the beliefs you've been espousing in public for the last 20 years.

KEYES: Not at all. I have taken a strong position against schemes of extortion from the fellow citizens of people here in America, based on the idea that somehow or another that would be requital for slavery. And I made clear over the years that I think the blood and treasured sacrifice during the Civil War constituted that requital.

But I have also made clear every time I was asked that there was objective damage done to black Americans by the slave system. And there have been frequent efforts in American history not thus far successful to address the wounds that were left by that legacy.

What I have laid on the table repeatedly is a thoroughly Republican, thoroughly conservative approach that is actually borrowed from ancient history in terms of what the Roman empire used to do to respond to damaged communities. You give them tax relief. You give them a tax break to make up for the fact, for instance in this case, the black folks toiled for generations at what was effectively 100 percent tax rate.

And by doing this, you unleash their enterprise. Give them an incentive to work. Give people an incentive to own businesses without taking pennies out of anybody else's pocket, you're able to create an environment where people are encouraged to work and put a strong foundation under themselves instead of putting money in a democracy to dominate their lives that undermines the moral foundations of their families and destroys their economic incentives.

As a matter of fact, it's a thoroughly conservative, thoroughly consistent Republican approach to a very serious challenge.

For other media and blogosphere commentary on the proposal, see here, here, here, and here.

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» Alan Keyes on slavery reparations: from The Volokh Conspiracy

Paul Caron (TaxProf) has more on Alan Keyes' slavery reparations plan... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 20, 2004 9:29:46 AM

» Interracial Marriages 5 from Michael Williams -- Master of None
Alan Keyes has an idea for "slavery reparations" for modern descendents of slaves. (Eugene Volokh and Paul Caron comment.) Basically, Ambassador Keyes wants to exempt blacks from paying income tax for 50 to 60 years. I think this would be... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 20, 2004 3:55:19 PM

» Huh? from Gene Expression
So now a Republican is in favor of Reparations? Alan Keyes is really batshit crazy.... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 21, 2004 3:56:43 AM

» Interracial Marriages 5 from Michael Williams -- Master of None
Alan Keyes has an idea for "slavery reparations" for modern descendents of slaves. (Eugene Volokh and Paul Caron comment.) Basically, Ambassador Keyes wants to exempt blacks from paying income tax for 50 to 60 years. I think this would be... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 21, 2004 10:40:05 AM


Ramon, if tax breaks are given only to one group of people, then the remaining taxpayers either need to pay more taxes or see overall levels of government services decline as a result. Whether it's targeted tax breaks or direct subsidies, it is transferring government money from one group of individuals to another.

Lee and jj, many payroll taxes have portions paid directly to the government by the employer. If these are eliminated then a person would be cheaper to hire, even if their base salary was nominally the same. Of course, I'm not sure there is any reason to assume these would be eliminated for the employer just because the employee is exempt.

Posted by: Sean E | Aug 23, 2004 9:34:07 AM

This is perfect! Let's change the tax code so that a) slaves pay zero tax, b) non-slave holders pay a flat tax of, say, 10 percent, and c) slave holders pay the "progressive" taxes we all currently pay. Keep it that way until we've collected, oh, maybe $500 Billion for reparations.

Of course, there aren't any slaves or slave holders left alive, so that would put everybody into the flat tax rate.

I could live with that...

Posted by: The Other John Hawkins | Aug 21, 2004 8:36:52 AM

Remember your economics. High skill blacks would be willing to take the 40K job if there were some other compensating factor such as location, career path or flexibility. The untaxed salary would be high enough to allow previously unsatisfied secondary concerns to assume a greater role. Those jobs would normally be given to people for whom the secondary issues were critical, possibly people with lesser skills.

Posted by: jj | Aug 20, 2004 7:58:24 PM

"...those exempted would be cheaper to hire than federal tax-paying employees..."

I'm trying to imagine how this works: "Well, I'm offering you 40K salary for this job. If you were white, of course, I'd offer 50K salary to offset the taxes ..." (How fast does the EEOC file a lawsuit?)

If the job is worth 50K to the employer, it's worth 50K regardless of what the employee nets (even if the employee is subject to taxes, the rate will vary depending on marital status, outside income, number of children ...) It is idiotic to suggest that employers could get away with _openly_ and _deliberately_ paying substantially lower salaries to blacks than to whites for the same jobs, even if blacks could net more after taxes.

Posted by: Lee | Aug 20, 2004 5:44:14 PM

You know, as a Mallard-American, I think there should be compensation for all of the members of my family tree that have been hunted and killed.

Slightly more seriously...
What about those of us whose American history starts somewhere around 1934? My family wasn't HERE in the slavery era, am I to be taxed, or am I exempt, since nobody in my family tree ever "benefitted" directly from slavery? Heck, considering my family background, since my ancestors were serfs, do I get some sort of compensation?

I understand what they want, and why. I just can't see a logical way to do it, or a logical REASON to do it.

Posted by: Wonderduck | Aug 20, 2004 5:11:31 PM

So if they have both slaves and slaveholders in their ancestry does the tax exemption still hold or cancel out?

Posted by: JB Elliott | Aug 20, 2004 3:22:26 PM

Any descendant of a slave who wants a check should look toward Africa, and to the descendants of those tribal chiefs who hunted down young, healthy Africans and sold them into slavery.

Posted by: Redman | Aug 20, 2004 3:15:30 PM

This proposal would undoubtedly create the sickening need for a paper trail of racial heritage. Suddenly, after a hundred years of progress, we'll have 1/4, 1/8, 1/16 rules again. Will we have the need to carefully categorize those who are 1/8th black as "black", and those who are 1/16th black as "white" - or will we give people proportional tax breaks based on how black they are? And what about the Chinese, and those who are part Chinese? And what about any other group that can make a claim to some form of slavery? How will the loopholes be closed?

And what about my family? I am white, and my wife is mulatto. We'll she get half a tax break, or all of it? Will I get a break because my wife is part-black, or will I pay twice the taxes as a white man to pay for my wife's 1/2 tax break? Will our children get a 1/4 of a tax break, or all of it? Or will they be called white to keep them from getting the break? Or will my children be called black, but not black enough?

I thought that we were past this....

Posted by: Nick | Aug 20, 2004 1:46:44 PM

What do you mean by the "free lunch" approach to taxes? The two positions you interpret as contradictory are in fact (whether you agree with them or not) quite the same in philosophy.

That is, reparations involve imposing a tax on some for the benefit of others. Likewise, reducing tax rates (which you term "tax breaks") involves taking less money from the taxed which is to be given to others. The Republican position (whether one agrees with it or not) is that the government should be hesitant to tax money from people. Therefore, opposing reparations and favoring lower tax rates have a very simple, common philosophical basis.

I'm curious though how you see that differently. Obviously you've given it some thought and perhaps I missed a point you were making in your post, so if you get a chance, I'd enjoy a clarification.

Posted by: Ramon Fernandez | Aug 20, 2004 1:42:26 PM

It seems that so many of our current crop of GOP politicians seem to really, truly believe in the free lunch approach to taxes: Reparations aren't fair because that is real money and it would be "extortion," but tax breaks don't really cost anything in this bizarre world-view.

Posted by: Drew | Aug 20, 2004 1:21:54 PM

What's kind of interesting is that if you consider slavery a failure of the Fed. Gov't then why wouldn't the post-Reconstruction Jim Crow laws be equally a failure. Slave holders at least could argue that the Constitution before the Civil War specifically accepted slavery. The post-War amendments made it clear that the Constitution considered African Americans to be equal to all other Americans.

Since the formal racism of Jim Crow and 'seperate but equal' didn't start to come down until the 1950's and 60s, Keyes has opened the door to a lot more reparations than he thinks!

Posted by: Boonton | Aug 20, 2004 12:17:53 PM