Friday, April 26, 2024


Most historians agree that the reparations required of Germany after World War I had unfortunate consequences. Are those lessons relevant to the consideration of reparations in general?
.... Reparations caused endless, dangerous resentment, and damaged the prospects of genuine reconciliation. They arguably harmed both those paying them and those receiving them. They caused severe trade distortions and added to financial instability. They imposed burdens on people not responsible for the damage being repaired. Worst of all, the political outcomes were disastrous.

One might think that such a discouraging and well-known historical example as the Treaty of Versailles would cause those blithely proposing billions or trillions in reparations for long-distant wrongs to exercise some caution, especially as today’s circumstances make the case for reparations vastly less strong than it was in 1920. Precisely what damage today is to be repaired? Who are the victims now? Who alive in the 2020s is responsible for events in the 1720s? How can the monetary cost of remote harms be reasonably calculated? Would resentment be caused by the imposition of reparations? How damaging might that be to present society and to the relationship between payers and receivers? Could resources be better used to relieve urgent 21st-century needs, rather than to pay the distant heirs of long-dead victims? ....

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