NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Reparations for Slavery

September 10, 2001

The United Nations conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, raised again the issue of reparations for slavery. Some African leaders said that since slaves were forcibly taken from Africa, they deserve compensation for this loss.

However -- as massively documented by historian Hugh Thomas in "The Slave Trade" (Simon & Schuster, 1997)-- very few Africans were kidnapped by European slave traders. The vast majority were sold into slavery by African leaders of the time.

According to Thomas, African leaders were paid about 50 pounds in cash or trade goods for each slave in the 18th century -- enough to support a person for 4 years. Given that about 10 million Africans were sold over the years, even a low estimate of the wealth obtained by African leaders would be about 300 million pounds. At a 5 percent interest rate, compounded over 150 years, it would equal almost $1 trillion today.

It is worth noting that the U.S., against which reparations demands have been strongest, only got about 4 percent of the slaves taken from Africa.

  • According to a careful calculation by historian P.D. Curtin, between 1500 and 1870, 399,000 slaves were brought to the U.S.
  • Almost 10 times this number went to the Caribbean and about the same to Brazil.
  • Spanish America got 4 times as many slaves as came to the U.S.

Slavery is, was and always will be abhorrent. Efforts to root it out wherever it exists should never cease. But making it seem as if only the U.S. bears responsibility for the past sin of slavery is unfair. And paying reparations to current African leaders, whose predecessors bear much of the responsibility for Africa's loss, is utterly unjustified.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, September 10, 2001.


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