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There’s a great discussion on today’s Spectator Podcast (and a linked article in this week’s Spectator) around Sahil Mahtani’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek idea that 25% more students with Norman family names go through Oxbridge than those with Anglo-Saxon names, which leads to the Norman descendants earning significantly more through their lives. He argues that if we are to follow the logic of reparations for past crimes and misdemeanours of colonialism, the Norman families should be taxed and money shared amongst the Anglo-Saxons.

In the podcast Sahil defends his position against that of Nadine Batchelor-Hunt, who argues that there is a definite causal link between the old days of colonialism and slavery, and, in particular, the demand for Haiti to repay exorbitant amounts of money to re-attain it’s independence in the early 1800s, which it only finished paying in 1947, and the high levels of poverty there today. She argues that there is a direct and tangible link, her observations being based on ‘compassion and logic and common sense’.

This is the sort of rational/logical thinking that I believe is inherently dodgy. How many decisions and actions have been made by many hundreds or even thousands of people in Haiti, that has got them to where they are now, some 72 years after the final payments had been cleared? We can never know that amount of detail, just superficial simplifications which will always have gaps (which our minds are very good at filling).

Now, I don’t know what the reasoning is for Nadine’s trail of thought and I’m certainly no expert on the history of Haiti, and it may be the provable that there is a direct link between the poverty we see today in Haiti and the fact that they were crippled with debt until 70 odd years ago. But with our old friend the Extended Order ever lurking, I don’t believe that it could ever be that simple to know the hearts and minds of everyone who has led Haiti in past 70 years and have apparently failed to get their people out of poverty.

It probably sounds a bit harsh of me to say all this, but I think there is a danger in looking at history and drawing logical conclusions based on the evidence found. I do like to read and listen to historical books and arguments, but I always wonder a) is this really the full picture (because unless you are superhuman, you could never really take in all the detail, even if you were able to ascertain it)? and b) what is the agenda (because there will always be one; whether the author intends it or not, their unconscious biases will come out)?

I did very much agree with Nadine that, instead of trying to put some figure on reparations, we should be more forward looking and, post-Brexit, look to re-establish and build the links with countries such as Haiti, to work with them to get them out of poverty in a positive way. I would hope that with the amount of money we spend on foreign aid, we are already doing something towards it, but building trade with these countries could bring all kinds of untold benefits we’ve yet to imagine for everyone involved.

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