Your current web browser is outdated. For best viewing experience, please consider upgrading to the latest version.

Donation - Other Level

Please use the quantity box to donate any amount you wish. Sign Up to Donate


Send a question or comment using the form below. This message may be routed through support staff.

Email Article

Password Reset Request


Add a topic or expert to your feed.


Follow Experts & Topics

Stay on top of our work by selecting topics and experts of interest.

On The Ground
Main Error Mesage Here
More detailed message would go here to provide context for the user and how to proceed
Main Error Mesage Here
More detailed message would go here to provide context for the user and how to proceed

Manhattan Institute

Close Nav
Share this commentary on Close

Council Job-Killer


Council Job-Killer

December 20, 2002
Urban PolicyNYC

IT looks like the City Council is trying to kill off New York’s economy once and for all. With city businesses facing a crippling 18.5 percent property tax hike while 9/11 and the threat of future terrorism continue to drag down local investment, a quarter of the council (with more votes to come) has decided that now is the perfect moment to subject Gotham’s companies to the slavery-reparations racket.

And a particularly ludicrous reparations racket, at that.

Any business that sells the city a significant quantity of goods or services must disclose its recent financial history and any crimes its officers may have committed. Such information lets the city determine whether the firm is a “responsible bidder” with the financial capacity to fulfill its contract and the “business integrity” to justify the award of public dollars.

And now the council’s reparations racketeers want to amend the city’s contracting law to require any company doing business with the city to document, as part of its showing of business integrity, whether it had any “engagement with” or “profit from” slavery.

Suddenly, the council has developed an epochal sense of time. The city now judges a firm’s financial and ethical fitness at most over the last decade, not by leapfrogging two centuries into the past. Has your firm delivered substandard goods or falsified its payrolls? Have its owners been convicted of a felony? The city’s contracting office doesn’t want to know, as long as the infractions occurred 10 years ago.

But . . . let’s say that your firm’s corporate great-great-grandparent sold some machinery for use on Virginia plantations in 1805. Under the bill’s sloppy language, this could be relevant to whether you are a responsible bidder for city contracts today.

Never mind that even if your business is run entirely by octogenarians, they would have been born nearly 50 years after the federal government abolished slavery. Anyone in your firm’s corporate ancestry who was alive at the end of the Civil War has been dead for nearly a century.

In other words, no one in business today has any possible responsibility for business decisions made at least 150 years ago. No one in business today ever had the opportunity to stop commerce with slave-holders, because - City Council please take note! - slavery no longer exists in America.

These are obvious truths, but the obvious has totally disappeared for the reparations racketeers. How should the city’s contracting office use the information about a firm’s ancient “engagement” with slavery? The council isn’t saying. Such information should be “considered in the context of a company’s full record when making [the] determination” of business integrity, the sponsors suggest coyly.

The racketeers are too pusillanimous to state the absurd implication of their bill - that a company’s lawful engagement with slavery over 200 years ago shows bad business integrity of the owners today.

Here’s what the bill really is: a Christmas present to O.J. attorney Johnnie Cochran and Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree. Cochran and Ogletree plan to file billions of dollars worth of reparations lawsuits against corporations and governments for their alleged involvement in slavery. The City Council wants to make businesses provide Cochran and Ogletree with the historical research that the lawyers will then use to sue them.

Last March, tort lawyers filed a reparations suit in Brooklyn against FleetBoston, Aetna, CSX and one hundred “corporate [John] Does.” And who might those as-yet unnamed corporations be? The City Council’s reparations bill will smoke them out.

At the time the Brooklyn suit was filed, Councilman Charles Barron, one of the bill’s 13 co-sponsors, warned grimly: “Somebody has to pay.” Barron and his colleagues are now making good on that threat.

Given reparations advocates’ claim that every living white American still profits from slavery, there isn’t a company today that wouldn’t be covered by the council’s bill. Many of New York’s contractors will undoubtedly decide that the city’s business is hardly worth the risk of hanging up a sign saying: “Sue me!”

With less competition for the provision of goods and services, the city’s contracting costs will jump, exacerbating the existing budget crisis.

But the council can’t be bothered with such trivial matters as ensuring efficient and competitive services in a time of straitened resources. It’s far more satisfying to play symbolic race politics.

And never mind that nothing in this bill will help any black resident in New York - or even that it will set children back by perpetuating the lie that black progress depends upon white concessions.

Slavery and segregation were brutal betrayals of America’s founding principles, but the country has long since acknowledged its original sin. Instead of penalizing New York’s firms for moral transgressions they did not commit, the council should create the business climate that will allow Gotham’s entrepreneurs to once again make the city an opportunity machine.