Here Are the Biggest Problems With California's Reparations Plan

Members of California's reparations task force / YouTube
April 15, 2023

If you're wondering what California's reparations task force is up to, you're not alone.

At the height of the Black Lives Matter fervor in 2020, California Democrats began their push for a task force that would explore the possibility of compensating descendants of slaves for what happened to their ancestors. In 2021, the state appointed a panel made up of activists, academics, and a George Soros-funded "superlawyer" to write and enact a reparations plan.

The task force was supposed to find a way to uplift black Californians and provide a model for the rest of the country. After two years, hours of meetings, and one 492-page report on systemic racism in the state, the panel hasn't made much progress—but it is set to deliver its recommendations to lawmakers in July.

To help you understand the madness as the deadline approaches, here are some of the biggest problems with California's reparations plan.

California Wasn't a Slave State

Slavery reparations are generally understood as a government's way of making up for enslaving a person's ancestors. But California was admitted as a free state in 1850, a fact that in most states would have left the idea of a reparations commission dead on arrival. But California is not like most states.

Rather than dishing out simple, lump-sum payments, the task force has endeavored to rectify every bad thing that's ever happened to the state's black residents, including the seizure of property through eminent domain, housing discrimination, mass incarceration and "over-policing," and poor health outcomes.

The task force has also proposed creating government agencies to implement its plans and suggested a number of symbolic gestures, such as amending the state constitution to outlaw slavery and censuring a racist former governor who was elected in 1849.

All told, the most recent iteration of the task force's proposal is expected to cost the state $800 billion.

California Can't Afford Any of the Task Force's Proposals

The proposed reparation plan's $800 billion price tag could be a problem, since it's 2.5 times more than California's annual budget. That would be an issue in a good year. But the state already faces a $23 billion shortfall, one that will likely increase amid growing economic uncertainty and a fleeing tax base.

Not to be deterred by harsh economic reality, the task force's advisers have suggested paying more than $800 billion, noting that figure doesn't fully account for black residents' "pain and suffering." And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

There's Always a Crazier Idea

Just when it seems the task force has settled on one wildly expensive plan, two more pop up. Economic advisers last month suggested they should also explore compensation for black residents' intellectual property, environmental harm, and other impossible-to-quantify issues—including school integration.

That's right: One harm is the "deprivation of segregated education."

Tax attorneys have also entered the debate to suggest a "public-private partnership" approach to reparations, where wealthy white people who feel guilty can get tax breaks to privately fund payments to black people.

These experts offered the caveat that "racial repair is a matter of justice based on broken promises and human rights violations," so true reparations "cannot proceed from a request for generosity."

No One Is Happy With the Plan

While pollsters haven’t tallied Californians' view on reparations, a national Pew Research survey showed that majorities of whites, Latinos, and Asians oppose the concept, compared with a majority of blacks who support it. In California, white residents, Latino residents, and Asian residents each significantly outnumber the state's 2.5 million black residents.

Meanwhile, black Californians who support reparations have begun to suspect the whole effort is a head fake. At commission meetings, they have called the task force a scam and said that "Scottish" Governor Newsom shouldn't have any say over reparations.

They may have a point. Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D.), who sits on the task force and will have to sell the final reparations plan to his colleagues in the legislature, has been spreading the word in sympathetic media outlets that the "actual meat" of reparations will be policies that stop racism—not cash payments.

The Commission Is Running Out of Time To Make Real Decisions

The task force is now running out of time. It has until June to propose its final recommendations, but its has yet to figure out its plan's most basic elements.

These include the following questions: Who should get reparations, whether reparations should come as direct cash payments, and whether some people—such as inmates serving life sentences, or the homeless—are more deserving than, say, academics and lawyers who moved to California for fancy jobs or university degrees.

Should reparations go only to descendants of slaves? Should they go to California residents only? Would the task force commit more injustice by requiring black people to prove they are either?

Guess we'll have to wait and see!