"There’s nothing wrong with writing people checks! Let's start there."
March 19, 2019 6:58 AM   Subscribe

 
Oh no, my first time trying to do a bunch of links up in the description turned out crowded, not at all like I had visualized it. Dang.


Anyway, one of the most fascinating bits of that interview was this:

there is a whole range of politics that happens outside of the voting booth. I think you’re seeing the effect of that. Obviously with the fact of Bernie’s campaign in 2016, and the effects of that, but I think you’re also seeing what I would describe as this sort of long war — or a continuation of the long war — with Black Lives Matter. I think those guys got a lot of flak at the time for this notion that they were too abstract, that they weren’t doing anything, they weren’t doing this, they weren’t doing that, but I actually think you can very much see the impact right now on the Democratic race.

Hashtaggery and facebook activism really has translated into actual political action and change. It's so satisfying to be able to throw that in the faces of people who sneer at politics on social media.
posted by MiraK at 7:14 AM on March 19 [19 favorites]


That Bloomberg article is a masterpiece of sounding sympathetic while advocating for the status quo; "discussion" "debate" "fact-finding commission," i.e. "kick the can down the road forever."
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:17 AM on March 19 [14 favorites]


Elizabeth Warren gives a full-throated endorsement of reparations at CNN town hall -- Warren didn’t say whether that should include financial reparations. (Ella Nilsenella for Vox, March 18, 2019)
While Warren stopped short of calling for direct payments, she threw her support behind a bill in the US House to study the issue and acknowledged the persistence of racial injustice in America.

“This is a stain on America and we’re not going to fix that, we’re not going to change that, until we address it head on, directly,” she said. “And make no mistake, it’s not just the original founding. It’s just what happened generation after generation.”

Warren said some of the most prominent examples of continued racial discrimination in the US include housing and employment discrimination against black families.

“Because of housing discrimination and employment discrimination, we live in a world where the average white family has $100 [and] the average black family has about $5,” she said. “So I believe it’s time to start the national full-blown conversation about reparations in this country. And that means I support the bill in the House to appoint a congressional panel of experts, people that are studying this and talk about different ways we may be able to do it and make a report back to Congress, so that we can as a nation do what’s right and begin to heal.”
H.R.40 - Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act submitted in the 116th Congress (2019-2020) by Rep. Jackson Lee, Sheila [D-TX-18]. Rep. Conyers, John, Jr. [D-MI-13] submitted a similar bill in the 115th Congress (2017-2018).
posted by filthy light thief at 7:31 AM on March 19 [9 favorites]


The interview with Eric Levitz (first link) is really illuminating. I always thought the rap on Coates being an eternal pessimist was overblown, when it was clear he was always trying to point out the scale of the problem of structural racism, not that it was beyond reform or abolition. In an interview somewhere, he has said that eliminating the racial wealth gap, and the structures that brought it into being, would be an event on par with the French Revolution -- with all the social upheaval that entails. You can call that pessimistic, but a recognition that there's no quick fix is a far healthier attitude to have in the long run.

A important wrinkle he adds here to the discussion of reparations is that it's a political question as much as it's one of policy:

And there are small-d democratic reasons for why you should be starting with a study instead of a plan. Have you talked to the community? Has the community thought much about it? Has there been much interaction with the community about how they would like to be paid back? I think there are actually great, morally important reasons for not sketching out a plan right now. But you should support HR 40 [the bill to create a commission on reparations]. It boggles my mind why we can’t behind that.

This is why the current discussion among Democratic candidates about reparations is a little silly. Reparations isn't just another political issue like controlling the cost of health care; it involves the foundational structures of our country, on the scale of centuries. You can't just tack it on to your campaign platform. There needs to be a more permanent infrastructure in place to foster discussion and build toward a consensus on what needs to be done. Given everything else going on in our country right now, it likely will take a while.
posted by Cash4Lead at 7:56 AM on March 19 [21 favorites]


My concern: conservatives get on board with the idea. "Sure, let's pay every black person $100. Race problems solved! No more need for affirmative action, amirite?"
posted by SPrintF at 8:11 AM on March 19 [8 favorites]


I hate the way this debate is devolving into a "universal policies" v "reparations" debate. I think that's totally insidious. They are not incompatible.

Also, I'm currently knee-deep in family documents about reparations from Germany, and man, there has to be a LOT of documentation to get reparations. The administration of slavery reparations in the U.S. is going to be very tricky, and tend to favor the better off folks who have managed to retain or construct family documentation. It's going to end up being a "universal" program in some sense, if it's not going to just favor the wealthy and better educated. Also, it's going to have to grapple with issues like "who is black"? How many people are getting 2% West African in their 23andme tests and will try to claim reparations based on that one ancestor from the mid-18th century?
posted by schwinggg! at 8:20 AM on March 19 [16 favorites]


As most people reading this probably know, the racial wealth gap is much larger than the racial income gap - the "median White family has 41 times more wealth than the median Black family." That is surely one of the reasons that black middle class children are more likely to end up poor: their families may have a decent income, but they are unlikely to have the same cushioning wealth. Somewhat counter-intuitively, research suggests that it's the income gap that drives the wealth gap, which should be the basis for a bit of optimism. All (all!) we have to do is close the income gap.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:30 AM on March 19 [5 favorites]


My concern: conservatives get on board with the idea. "Sure, let's pay every black person $100. Race problems solved! No more need for affirmative action, amirite?"

Forty acres and a mule is what comes to mind for me. Which is history that I honestly know little about, but most of what I hear comes cloaked in negativity. Like UBI (universal basic income) I have serious doubts with any apparently simple solution to what what amounts to an enormous complex of problems. Yet I do see how both (reparations and UBI) could be an essential part of a functional strategy toward improving things for a lot of people.
posted by philip-random at 8:31 AM on March 19


It is a moral failure that the US did not pay reparations to freed slaves in the generation following abolition. It is a repugnant stain on American history, and the need for reparations has not disappeared if as a society we wish to attenuate racial wealth disparity under our current system.

However, there are currently no credible proposals for how reparations would work in 2019. Warren's remarks identify the problem and the necessity clearly, but stop short of proposing a mechanism. Even the proposed house bill only seeks to set up a commission to study and propose a mechanism. This is a serious problem, and I do not think we are equipped to discuss credible mechanisms, nor are the implications of any imaginable mechanism acceptable.

I agree that there is nothing wrong with writing people checks, and the ideal of a one-time wealth transfer from the descendants of the beneficiaries of slavery to the victims is sound and necessary. However, there is worryingly little discussion of the following concerns:

Who counts as a descendant of a slave? Is it blood quantum or skin color? Do white passing descendants get reparations, while recent Ethiopian immigrants get nothing? Does Michelle get a check, and Barack pays for it? Do Malia and Sasha get a whole check, half a check, or no check because their mother got one?

Do descendants of American slaves who emigrated (e.g. Liberians) get reparations from the US federal government? Do American descendants of black slaves who weren't enslaved on US soil get reparations?

Who has the burden of proof for establishing ascendance? Poor people with the least resources will have the hardest time establishing it. Does the government do the research itself? Can you appeal the government's decision? Given that it's 2019, there will certainly be talk of an "objective" DNA test. Are we comfortable with the implications of such a test and the large database that will be built?

This is completely disregarding the probable political implications following any reparations regardless of their efficacy, namely that "racism is fixed now", of further violence against blacks for perceived injustices, of a political backlash against blacks as with the election of Trump.

Without addressing these points, advancing a workable plan and steeling ourselves for the implications of any of the less than perfect decisions we will be forced to make, discussions of reparations serve only as a rhetorical tool to distance actually existing racism from actually existing capitalism. And I do not personally feel that capitalism is worth saving, given its pernicious and historical racism.
posted by Mons Veneris at 8:34 AM on March 19 [16 favorites]


My grandfather, his mother and maternal grandparents fled Vienna in the 30s and he received reparations from Austria for many years (the reparations then passed to his widow, my grandmother, and were recently cancelled because we couldn't keep up with documentation requirements due to her poor health). My grandmother, her brother, mother, and maternal grandmother fled Munich in the 30s. None of them ever received reparations from Germany. The Austrian reparations came to a few hundred dollars per year and were obviously not going to make up for the relatives that were murdered, the home and property that was stolen, all of that. But they were an important symbolic gesture, and it's meaningful that Austria made it.

People get so worried about the logistics of paying out reparations but it's not like reparations are actually some newfangled thing or totally abstract, other places have managed it. And paying them is important not because they're going to lift people out of poverty or even make such a huge practical difference in any way but because of the symbolic weight of an apology that puts a country's money where its mouth is. The US has exploited black labor and black lives for centuries and acknowledging that in a real, concrete way (not with thoughts and prayers but with legislation and money) is worth a lot. Of course it would have been better if every former slave and their descendants had actually gotten 40 acres and a mule, but that didn't happen, so the best thing is to try and make some kind of reparations now.
posted by rue72 at 8:38 AM on March 19 [32 favorites]


I hate the way this debate is devolving into a "universal policies" v "reparations" debate. I think that's totally insidious. They are not incompatible.

Coates says so in the first link:
"...the case for reparations is not a case against universal programs — it’s a case against universal programs as the sole, total solution to this matter of white supremacy. It’s not a case against the social safety net. That should exist no matter what, right? Race aside, that stuff should exist. ...

[BUT...]

"White supremacy ... [in] this country, at varying moments, even in moments of left or progressive reform, so often does shit that either consciously or unconsciously hurts black people. ... black people have never lived in era wherein this country has not had some method to enforce social control over broad swaths of their community.

"I am deeply scared of any attempt to close the wealth gap, to ameliorate the broad socioeconomic disparity in almost every field between blacks and whites in this country, that avoids talking about why those disparities are there to begin with.

"It holds out the prospect of this country never learning the real lesson of white supremacy. It means the possibility of this dream state wherein we still think of ourselves as the font of freedom and liberty continuing. And if that happens, I would say it’s almost inevitable that we go on and plunder someone else."

posted by Aarti_Faarti at 9:03 AM on March 19 [5 favorites]


People here who are discussing reparations as exclusively related to slavery, and thus requiring some kind of genealogical or DNA testing, need to educate themselves a hell of a lot more on events since 1865. Coates's Case for Reparations is a good place to start, as it opens with a story of a man, who is still alive, who was personally and legally robbed of his wealth over and over.
posted by burden at 9:07 AM on March 19 [40 favorites]


there's nothing wrong with writing checks unless you're one of the ones who have to write them

who pays? any white person? do people who immigrated in the last 80 years need to pay, even if they're from vietnam or some other country that has nothing to do with the question?

don't we owe something similar to the native americans? perhaps to mexican americans?

can we really justify taxing a lower income white person for a reparation check given to an upper middle class african american?

there were many expressions of horror and disgust here at the idea of establishing tribal membership through DNA tests - but how else do we establish eligibility or responsibility for reparations?

how does one continue to advance issues of social justice and race if a good part of the population feels that "we paid for that"?

do we just give everyone eligible a check or should it be done through a government program that will ensure the money is spent wisely to benefit people? (and how do we ensure it doesn't turn into graft?)

the argument's been made that other countries have made reparations, but they did so to people who had suffered the injustices in living memory

in fact, i'm not sure what our democratic candidates are actually proposing as reparations

but if one fairly considers the questions i've stated, it's going to be very difficult for people of good will to figure it all out - and not everyone involved in our politics has good will

i see this as a deceptive short cut for a problem that is not going to be solved easily - however, the idea that a bill could be passed to study the issue might be good, as i don't know if people have really thought it through
posted by pyramid termite at 9:11 AM on March 19 [7 favorites]


Somewhat counter-intuitively, research suggests that it's the income gap that drives the wealth gap

Earn $1,000 per year less than you spend: Debt, penury, misery. Earn $10,000 per year more than you spend: Wealth. Easy to get that situation with a 20% wage gap.
posted by clawsoon at 9:12 AM on March 19 [7 favorites]


I can agree with financial compensation for losses or lost opportunity due to discrimination against living individuals within living memory, but I don't think it makes sense to start compensating for what happened to ancestors in previous centuries

However, in the unlikely event that something like this ever does transpire, it should address the losses of Native Americans to the same extent as African Americans
posted by knoyers at 9:20 AM on March 19


as i don't know if people have really thought it through

You are unquestionably the first person to raise these issues, and no one proposing reparations has given them any thought whatsoever.
posted by praemunire at 9:29 AM on March 19 [48 favorites]


My grandfather, his mother and maternal grandparents fled Vienna in the 30s and he received reparations from Austria for many years (the reparations then passed to his widow, my grandmother, and were recently cancelled because we couldn't keep up with documentation requirements due to her poor health). My grandmother, her brother, mother, and maternal grandmother fled Munich in the 30s. None of them ever received reparations from Germany. The Austrian reparations came to a few hundred dollars per year and were obviously not going to make up for the relatives that were murdered, the home and property that was stolen, all of that. But they were an important symbolic gesture, and it's meaningful that Austria made it.

This is a good point, and it's worth pointing out the daylight between your grandparents' situation as you describe it and theoretical reparations in the US:
  • You mention this as an "important symbolic gesture" to the ills suffered by your family. However, I think we can all agree that a symbolic gesture is woefully insufficient. The case for reparations is not an apology but dampening of the effects of systemic discrimination flowing from slavery over centuries. This is not hundreds of dollars a year, it's several thousands.
  • In your example, the still living victims received compensation within their lifetimes. And you further mention that due to administrative difficulties the payments have stopped. I trust you see how the logistics are much more complicated for descendants of black slaves in America.
  • Furthermore, it's important to note that Austria's reparations are destined to indemnify Jews who had their property stolen during WW2, not to compensate the victims for loss of their loved ones. It is a fundamentally different beast from reparations for slaves.
posted by Mons Veneris at 9:29 AM on March 19 [5 favorites]


You know, in order to get to the "let's write the checks" level, the whole of American politics will have to be remade. It's clear right here, where people are generally liberal to left.

It seems to me that reparations are a bit like Medicare for all, in that the first step is to say, "this is the right thing, let's do it" and then figure out how rather than getting caught up in "how could we possibly do a complicated thing". We do complicated things all the time. And the nice thing about the writing-checks deal is that if you mess up the first iteration, you can course-correct later.

Another thing for white people to consider: the writing-checks type of reparations would juice the hell out of the economy, because people are going to go out there and spend that money. There's tremendous pent-up need for all kinds of things from medical care to fixing people's houses and cars to glasses and dental care and clothes and toys and furniture and school supplies and daycare and household assistance, etc etc etc. A recurring, broad-based distribution of [whatever] amount of cash across these great United States would benefit everyone in the 99%.

It's a way of taking cash out of the pockets of [mostly] the wealthy, who just hoard it and use it to build their monstrous political and media influence, and putting it in the pockets of a wide range of people to spend as they see fit, substantially on goods and services in a way that will benefit society as a whole. White people don't need to get handed more cash to benefit from broader redistributive policies.

I mean obviously the underlying issue is justice, not redistribution, but I think people are really underestimating the redistributive benefits.
posted by Frowner at 9:36 AM on March 19 [36 favorites]


What I come back to, and what Coates has emphasized in interviews on this subjects, is this:
Reparations could not make up for the murder perpetrated by the Nazis. But they did launch Germany’s reckoning with itself, and perhaps provided a road map for how a great civilization might make itself worthy of the name.
I think elsewhere he's made an analogy between the cultural aspect of reparations and our cultural consciousness surrounding veterans. I have no direct family connection to the Korean War, but that's part of my "national heritage" with two national holidays. But MLK Day, Juneteenth, and commemoration of The Weeping Time are culturally segregated as only Black heritage.

pyramid termite: One of the conditions of Haitian independence were reparations to French colonists. Paying off the interest on those loans took about five generations into the 20th century. None of the original French landowners or African rebels were living, but the institutional debt was maintained through multiple French revolutions and constitutions.

Redlining, segregation (even in the North), and police violence are very much living history, and the argument is that segregation and discrimination now is derivative of the same system of oppression that was established with American slavery. It's not about the end of the American Civil War, it's about the failure to address systemic discrimination in the 150 years following.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 9:37 AM on March 19 [23 favorites]


I can agree with financial compensation for losses or lost opportunity due to discrimination against living individuals within living memory, but I don't think it makes sense to start compensating for what happened to ancestors in previous centuries

The US government still exists. It is responsible for its debts. Reparations were promised.* They were not given. Thus they are still owed.

it is not morally complicated.

*Or to put a sharper point on it, given in some cases then taken back, which doubtlessly triggers the "just compensation" clause of the 5th amendment.
posted by Zalzidrax at 9:48 AM on March 19 [8 favorites]


To add to GenderNull's point above, the interviewer notes in the first link (emphasis added) :
In “The Case for Reparations,” you cite Charles Ogletree’s proposal for “a program of job training and public works that takes racial justice as its mission but includes the poor of all races” as one hypothetical form reparations could take. And that form is a race-neutral program enacted in the name of compensating African-Americans for the state’s historic crimes against them.

to which Coates responds:
When I say I am for reparations, I’m saying that I am for the idea that this country and its major institutions has had an extractive relationship with black people for much of our history; that this fact explains basically all of the socioeconomic gap between black and white America, and thus, the way to close that gap is to pay it back.

The idea of reparations is the reckoning with injustice past, and the idea that such reckoning should be not merely symbolic (like an official apology? idek) but concrete. The conversations we are forced to have in order to make that happen are part of it. The pain it causes white people to part with their paychecks (indirectly or otherwise) is another part of it. All of the processing and the pearl clutching and the anger and the "how can we even be expected to correct such a vast wrong" is part of it. Whatever studies and investigations and committee resolutions/recommendations that come will be part of it. Dealing with overt or covert calls that we should stop talking and doing and thinking about this is also part of it: it makes visible how much of what caused and sustained slavery in the first place is still with us.

In the end, this is the rich fruit of the uncircumscribed writer's courage and imagination. We are grappling with the thing, at long last, those of us who were never affected by slavery. (Which sounds kind of self congratulatory, ugh, when what I mean is much less optimistic, more in the vein of, "we turned the stone over, now to reach into that mass of bugs and begin to dig.")
posted by MiraK at 9:51 AM on March 19 [3 favorites]


However, I think we can all agree that a symbolic gesture is woefully insufficient.

A symbolic gesture is much more powerful than no gesture. And personally, I think that the government cutting checks as reparations for the atrocities committed against black people is a very meaningful and important gesture to make. It acknowledges past and ongoing wrongdoing, and it validates what black people have been saying for literally hundreds of years about their role in building the country and continuing contributions to it.

Maybe you don't think that validation is important in and of itself but I certainly do.

Besides, there is literally no amount of money that can make up for the lives, families, cultures destroyed, the people maimed and murdered, the labor and wealth that has been stolen. Any money paid back is going to fundamentally be a gesture with the bulk of its value in its symbolic meaning and weight, because we can't literally rewrite history and right those wrongs.

Although in a purely practical sense, I do think it would be great for the economy because most people who would receive those checks aren't rich and would probably use rather than hoard the money.

I trust you see how the logistics are much more complicated for descendants of black slaves in America.

Personally, I think it would be fine to let people self-report their race. People know if they are entitled to reparations based on systemic racist exploitation or not. I think nitpicking over whether someone is black enough to receive reparations or white enough to pay them is missing how much the dynamic of exploitation is ongoing. I mean, racism is still a thing. White privilege and white supremacy is still a thing. This didn't all stop when Lincoln gave the Emancipation Proclamation ffs.

My thinking is that I get to go out in the world and benefit from white privilege regardless of my actual DNA makeup or how long my family has been in the US or whatever. Those benefits, including financial benefits, flow to me regardless of whether I even want them, no application process required. So why do we need to get so nitpicky and granular about benefits flowing to anyone else besides white people?
posted by rue72 at 10:02 AM on March 19 [9 favorites]


I'm reminded of the distinction in affirmative action arguments between "racism and misogyny exist, and our university should try to counteract them in admissions, like we try to recycle," versus "this university refused to admit under-represented minorities for decades, working extra hard to recruit and retain them is remediating our institutional mess, like cleaning up a toxic waste spill we created."

Many of the white people who have benefited and are benefiting from white supremacy in the US had no choice in the matter. My grandparents and parents did not ask to be systemically and unfairly advantaged when they bought their homes, but we know now that they were.

This is our waste to clean up, is what I'm saying, even if the ways we benefited from whiteness are relatively recent and minor.
posted by bagel at 10:05 AM on March 19 [3 favorites]


it is not morally complicated

I agree 100%. But I think people who have insight into the administrative state's ability to provide redress through the legal system, including reparations schemes, have serious reason to believe that the practical complications may make universal programs AS WELL AS existing affirmative action and anti-discrimination programs a MUCH more practical approach.
posted by schwinggg! at 10:07 AM on March 19


Redlining, segregation (even in the North), and police violence are very much living history, a

Exactly. And we have tools at our disposal, right now, to address the legacy of redlining, segregation, and police violence. We don't need reparations for that.
posted by schwinggg! at 10:10 AM on March 19


we have tools at our disposal, right now, to address the legacy of redlining...We don't need reparations for that.

That you say this makes me think that you actually do not understand what "the legacy of redlining" is. It is not merely a question of physical segregation; it was excluding blacks for decades from access to inexpensive property ownership through subsidized government loans (and similar means of promoting property ownership). This inequitable distribution of government benefits has compounded enormously over the years; many families who could buy homes at subsidized rates after WWII now count the ridiculously appreciated value of that property (or another home purchased a generation later from the proceeds of that property) as one of the cornerstones of their families' assets.

Exactly what "tool" fixes exclusion from an asset which has been appreciating drastically in value for three generations that doesn't involve writing checks?
posted by praemunire at 10:26 AM on March 19 [17 favorites]


Exactly what "tool" fixes exclusion from an asset which has been appreciating drastically in value for three generations that doesn't involve writing checks?
posted by praemunire at 10:26 AM on March 19 [+] [!]


Direct financial support for homeownership based on race, basically.
posted by schwinggg! at 10:27 AM on March 19


the practical complications may make universal programs ... a MUCH more practical approach.

Why is it more practical to focus on universal programs, though?

I mean, it's like arguing that it's more "practical" to elect men who will promote woman-friendly platforms than to elect women. Q: Why is that more practical? A: Because people are too sexist for female candidates to get elected. What exactly does the "practical" solution even solve??

It's no accident that Coates insists on calling it reparations, deliberately invoking race and slavery and making racial justice central to any discussion here. He even proposes a race-blind universalist implementation as long as it's done in the name of giving black people reparations for slavery. The fact the the idea of racial justice is so unpalatable IS the problem. To argue that we should make race-neutral amends because otherwise it's impractical - i.e. because people are still too racist to deliver racial justice - is to argue for perpetuating the very heart of the problem reparations are meant to address.
posted by MiraK at 10:32 AM on March 19 [10 favorites]


Why is it more practical to focus on universal programs, though?

Because a universal program is *universal* -- which means that access to it does not depend on your ability to prove you're part of the class, the way you do with individualized reparations/redress. Note that universal programs can be targeted towards specific characteristics like race & income -- but those are all present facts that can be more easily proven. A reparations program would inevitably privilege people with the resources to prove their membership in the class.
posted by schwinggg! at 10:49 AM on March 19 [3 favorites]


Who cares who gets the reparation checks? I think it would be like any other social fraud, it would occur at minor single digit percentages, just a cost of doing the right thing, and not worth worrying about beyond simple checks. But the checks are an important symbol, and honestly, if you're, say, a recent Somali immigrant you're going to be on the receiving end of America's awesome racism from day one, and it would be hard to argue you are not deserving.

An excellent first step in policy (which would probably fund the monetary reparations) is to massively fine companies and government agencies that perpetuate the racism in our society:
  • Does your company discriminate, especially at the upper levels of management? $$$$$
  • Is your police department a group of thugs and murderers? $$$$$
  • Does your zoning board redline? $$$$$
  • Does your political party gerrymander? $$$$$
  • Are all of your party's candidates white men? $$$$$
  • Are you a judge handing out light sentences on whites and throwing the book at blacks? $$$$$
  • Are your city's schools a collection of nice white schools and awful black schools? $$$$$
  • Is your entertainment empire promoting racism? $$$$$
Etc., etc.

Fines should hurt, perhaps even cripple the company or entity, so they cannot simply be written off as the cost of doing business. It should be so economically untenable to be racist that the first lesson on the first day of business school or civics will be:
 DO NOT DISCRIMINATE--YOU WILL GO BANKRUPT
(AND LIKELY WILL GO TO JAIL)
In addition, the key figures in the chain of command or supervision of any discriminatory act, like those listed above, should be fired, or jailed, as appropriate.

And hey, we could actually prosecute white-on-black crime, like the murder of blacks by white police.

One thing rich whites understand is money. HIt the fuckers in their pockets harshly, consistently and without "mercy", and things will change--quickly.
posted by maxwelton at 10:51 AM on March 19 [5 favorites]


*The US government still exists. It is responsible for its debts. Reparations were promised.* They were not given. Thus they are still owed.*

One general made a proclamation promising local freed slaves redistribution of several hundred thousand acres in the area around Charleston, as the Civil War was ending. This was never voted on or promised by Congress or by Lincoln. President Johnson rescinded the proclamation like three months after it was made, and no land had ever changed hands
posted by knoyers at 10:54 AM on March 19


Direct financial support for homeownership based on race, basically.

I'm finding it hard to respond to this because I'm finding it hard to believe there's an adult person on Mefi who is oblivious to the extraordinary way that properties in many areas of the U.S. appreciated in value over the past couple of generations, or the knock-on effects of that.
posted by praemunire at 10:56 AM on March 19 [5 favorites]


Why is it more practical to focus on universal programs, though?

Any non-universal system will increase the bureaucracy behind determining who qualifies, how much they get, etc etc. An increase in bureaucracy means an increase in inefficiency, as well as an increase in taxes dedicated to solving the problems of bureaucratic inefficiency, instead of these taxes going towards the actual reparations.
posted by hopeless romantique at 10:56 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


Basically, individualized reparations are most effective when you can have a practically per se standard of eligibility. For example, for nuclear workers to get compensation for beryllium disease, they have to show 1) they worked in a facility where there was beryllium present and 2) they have beryllium disease. The compensation is a substantial lump sum, plus lifetime health care.

But identifying the amount to pay for slavery, who gets it, and how ... is so much more complex.

Given that we know so much about the systemic impact of racism on wealth-creating institutions, like schools and policing and cities, I just think that universal programs are a much more feasible approach.
posted by schwinggg! at 10:58 AM on March 19


I'm finding it hard to respond to this because I'm finding it hard to believe there's an adult person on Mefi who is oblivious to the extraordinary way that properties in many areas of the U.S. appreciated in value over the past couple of generations, or the knock-on effects of that.
posted by praemunire at 10:56 AM on March 19 [+] [!]


I don't see how this entails that individualized reparations are the right remedy, though. Instead, what it sounds like you're calling for is redistribution.
posted by schwinggg! at 11:00 AM on March 19


This is just rehashing the arguments from when the reparations article first came out. And it shows that even getting to a point where Americans (or even uber liberal internet persons) can admit that reparations are owed is a huge battle.

Which was really Coates' point all along.
posted by iamnotangry at 11:04 AM on March 19 [4 favorites]


[Couple comments deleted. PSA: sock puppet accounts can't be used to appear as two separate people. It's a bannable offense to use sock puppets in a deceptive way -- pick one account and use that as your main account on the site, and use the sock only for occasional things that require privacy. There's a bit more in the FAQ entry on second accounts.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:06 AM on March 19 [5 favorites]


When JFK said we should do the hard things because they're hard, we as a nation threw the equivalent of hundreds of billions of dollars at a problem with very little care for efficiency vs. results. When banks made shitty bets on insane financial instruments and our economy was gonna be tanked, we as a nation threw god knows how much money at them to keep them solvent without putting any strings in place to ensure the money was handled well, nor that we'd get a goddamn thing out of it (spoiler: it wasn't, and we really didn't). But now that we're talking about addressing basically the bedrock sin of the nation, the problem is we just can't do it if it isn't efficient enough?

If we can do the right thing and damn the cost for national pride or to privatize the losses of the fucking gambling addicts in the financial sector, maybe we could consider doing it to even begin to put right what has been done to non-white people for the sake of white people.
posted by tocts at 11:07 AM on March 19 [19 favorites]


My understanding of The Case For Reparations has much less to do with individual payment or administration than the cultural understanding that American history is white supremacist, and a large chunk of wealth disparity is due to historic white supremacy.

Bickering about this or that policy when the argument is one of morality and national identity is putting the cart before the horse. The Case For Reparations is also the case for reconsidering Confederate monuments in multiracial and multicultural cities for example. If we start from the principle that white supremacy is the same kind of problem for our culture as, climate change for example, then maybe we can talk policy.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 11:23 AM on March 19 [7 favorites]


Bickering about this or that policy when the argument is one of morality and national identity is putting the cart before the horse. The Case For Reparations is also the case for reconsidering Confederate monuments in multiracial and multicultural cities for example. If we start from the principle that white supremacy is the same kind of problem for our culture as, climate change for example, then maybe we can talk policy.

Wow, I really could not disagree with this sentiment more. Just because something is morally right or fundamentally a good idea does not mean that we can overlook the practical matter of implementation. Without discussing and planning how to deal with complexities of distribution or unintentional consequences in other areas, we wouldn’t be able to come up with a good plan that actually corrects the moral failure we’re trying to address. Instead, we’d implement something either super half-assed or something that disrupted parts of society or the economy in radical, unplanned ways. Wouldn’t you rather do a lot of planning and discussion before enacting a policy, rather than trying to scrape together votes and motivation to fix it after?
posted by hopeless romantique at 11:42 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]


I’m always surprised that reparations talk never really seems to look at the institutions that both directly profited from slavery and still have the profits in their coffers, without having to go through any intermediaries. Chase held mortgages for slaves, profited on the interest on slaves, and its banks owned slaves itself at one time, for example. Is it because banks are powerful lobbywise?
posted by corb at 11:43 AM on March 19 [8 favorites]


And it shows that even getting to a point where Americans (or even uber liberal internet persons) can admit that reparations are owed is a huge battle.

It seems like people are using the word "reparations" in different ways. I absolutely believe that individual African-Americans deserve compensation for slavery (and current institutional racism, and current direct racism). That doesn't mean that I think that an individual legal entitlement based on membership in a class of former slaves is feasible.
posted by schwinggg! at 11:49 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


Just because something is morally right or fundamentally a good idea does not mean that we can overlook the practical matter of implementation.

I have the strong impression that people who don't think reparations are morally right or a good idea are using logistical objections in a bad-faith effort to mask the nature of their true objections.

It is far too soon to demand an implementation plan from supporters of reparations. There is no need for one right now - reparations are not beginning imminently.

In fact, the most radical Congressional proposal to date is to set up a commission to study the issue, and such study would presumably include consideration of implementation approaches. And yet, that bill has never been allowed come up for a vote.

Do you think that people oppose this bill because the federal government does not know how to implement the creation of a blue ribbon panel? Or could there be another reason?
posted by burden at 12:04 PM on March 19 [10 favorites]


hopeless romantique: Wouldn’t you rather do a lot of planning and discussion before enacting a policy, rather than trying to scrape together votes and motivation to fix it after?

Exactly what policy do you see as developed to a stage where we can actually talk about implementation? "Let's do a lot of discussion" is exactly what Coates has been advocating, both in his pivotal essay and in multiple follow up talks, essays, and interviews. The only people rushing to a conclusion about implementation are the people here setting up hypotheticals for the purpose of dismissing the idea of any reparations.

The differences between Coates's universal policy aid for home ownership for poor people, Reverend Barber's living wage and voting rights activism, or a hypothetical check for descendants of slaves really doesn't matter if we get none of the above because advocates also talk about white supremacy.

schwingggg!: It seems like people are using the word "reparations" in different ways.

You could actually bother to address some of the ideas discussed by the people represented in the FPP, rather than jumping to a conclusion about what you think they mean.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 12:16 PM on March 19 [5 favorites]


I’m always surprised that reparations talk never really seems to look at the institutions that both directly profited from slavery and still have the profits in their coffers, without having to go through any intermediaries. Chase held mortgages for slaves, profited on the interest on slaves, and its banks owned slaves itself at one time, for example. Is it because banks are powerful lobbywise?

You don't even have to go back that far. Wells Fargo had a predatory lending department that literally called their financial products "mud people loans" in the last decade.

We would need all three systems of government packed with Sanders and Warren loyalists in order to actually hold the financial industry accountable, let alone enact meaningful reparations.

And we should! It is a moral and ethical imperative.
posted by Ouverture at 12:27 PM on March 19 [4 favorites]


From the first link:
It’s actually the policy recommendation that I gave in the piece, and that is to support HR 40. That’s the bill that says you form a commission. You study what damage was done from slavery, and the legacy of slavery, and then you try to figure out the best ways to remedy it. It’s pretty simple. I think that’s Nancy Pelosi’s position at this point.

There’s a whole line of thinking that says the recommendation for a study is somehow like a cop-out or weak. I don’t really understand why that would be the case. Look, if you have a sickness, you have an illness, you probably start with diagnosis. The first step is to get some idea of what actually happened. We’ve never really done that. You’re talking about an epic crime that literally has its origins before there was a United States of America, and carries all the way up to this very day.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 12:34 PM on March 19 [8 favorites]


And:
And there are small-d democratic reasons for why you should be starting with a study instead of a plan. Have you talked to the community? Has the community thought much about it? Has there been much interaction with the community about how they would like to be paid back? I think there are actually great, morally important reasons for not sketching out a plan right now. But you should support HR 40. It boggles my mind why we can’t behind that.
So can we move beyond the notion that advocates for reparations are specifically proposing a specific kind of entitlement payment?
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 12:44 PM on March 19 [8 favorites]


I believe in both incredibly strong universal programs and reparations that actually mean a damn.

I also believe in helping as many marginalized people as possible as soon as possible.

That's why universal programs are so important. They minimize the time it takes to meaningfully help the most marginalized among us (which will disproportionately end up being black, Latino, and Native American people anyway) while we figure out (and fight for, because there will absolutely be a ton of legal fights) how to enact meaningful reparations.

Because people need food, shelter, healthcare, good jobs, and good schools right now while we wait a decade or longer to enact reparations.

And I hope we can provide the same for all the people of color who have had their lives destroyed by American foreign policy.
posted by Ouverture at 12:56 PM on March 19


My own idea is that a reparations bill should work along the lines of the G.I. Bill of 1944, a bill meant to assist those whose lives were disrupted by WWII. A Reparations Bill of low interest mortages and assistance in obtaining education and training would go a long way, as the G.I. Bill did, in expanding the middle class and boosting the economy in addition to attempting to right the historic wrongs done to African-Americans.

It's just a start, of course. Something needs to be done about rooting out systemic racism in law enforcement and the military. Something needs to be done about re-balancing how history is taught. Reparations mandates a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to complete the work.
posted by SPrintF at 12:58 PM on March 19 [2 favorites]


But you should support HR 40. It boggles my mind why we can’t behind that.

Ok, let me try this again. A bill that calls for a study is pretty much universally understood to be a political stunt (or at best a punt) in DC. It's literally designed to be a vehicle that gives representatives a fig leaf to be claiming to do something, while not actually taking any risk or making an commitments.
posted by schwinggg! at 1:42 PM on March 19


Right, right, clearly it's much better to literally do nothing, then.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:52 PM on March 19 [8 favorites]


[Folks, let's move to focusing on what can be done, or should be done, etc, rather than endless circular arguing over different flavors of what not to do, which gets pretty stale. schwingg, you've made your points a number of times here, maybe take a step back and let the thread breathe.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:54 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


It's folly to attempt to target individual reparations to the direct descendants of slaves and such an approach also ignores the ongoing prejudice and dispossession against black people whose family may have migrated at a later date. I'd prefer reparations to take the form of universal programs (health, housing, schooling etc.) implemented and then further bolstered with an additional X% funding in predominantly African-American communities.
posted by smithsmith at 3:23 PM on March 19


Well, Coates is neither politician nor policy wonk. He's a critic and a journalist who has certain opinions about what an ideal American democracy could look like. Advocating that reparations come from a democratic process in which the affected communities have a voice they currently lack strikes me as Coates being consistent rather than naive.

Pivoting from criticism that we're failing to address your ideas about individual entitlements based on a German model to criticism that we want to work through community-inclusive democratic processes looks a lot like moving the goalposts.

(I'm not convinced that Coates is naive. I think that he, like Barber, is playing a long civil rights game and getting congress to talk about it is a step.)
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 3:36 PM on March 19 [3 favorites]


Hashtaggery and facebook activism really has translated into actual political action and change. It's so satisfying to be able to throw that in the faces of people who sneer at politics on social media.

I've never really thought of BLM as primarily a social media phenomenon? Did it ever not have a component of in-person protest? I think it's true, though, that there's not exactly a hard line at this point between "social media activism" and "using social media to organize other kinds of activism" - but I do also think the fact that they made a point of doing the latter is important.
posted by atoxyl at 4:04 PM on March 19 [2 favorites]


Robin Hanson asks us to Consider Reparations
My main point here is that cash reparations for past slavery and racism harms make a lot of sense in the context of the general history and purpose of law. We have been suffering from a costly long-standing political feud, a law-like resolution could help us resolve and get past that feud, and cash transfers are our standard go-to way to resolve law-like conflicts.

I’m not going to argue for any particular level of compensation, nor for any particular interpretation of particular cases of precedent. I can believe that precedent isn’t clear here, and that many issues and complexities are in play. But complexity needn’t prevent resolution; we rely on law all the time to resolve complex disputes. In fact, in terms of avoiding wider social conflict, law is probably more socially valuable in more complex cases.

Yes, reparations today for wrongs from long ago does require some form of vicarious liability, wherein the people who lose and those who gain from a cash transfer aren’t the same as those who did wrongs and who were harmed. But we actually use many forms of vicarious liability in law today, and ancient societies used it a lot more.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:30 PM on March 19 [2 favorites]


I believe it may at least be somewhat instructive to have a look at a quick summary of how wide ranging long term policy to address racial inequality worked out in my country, Malaysia. It's not reparations, but from a practical perspective, ignoring the moral dimension, if there is an intractable problem with wealth distribution, what kind of hammer do you use to fix it.

BACKGROUND - Due to $reasons stemming from the divide and rule colonial legacy left to us by the British, in the transition to the modern, global economy, the Malay race ended up severely disadvantaged economically - despite making up around 60% of the total population, their share of ownership of the economy was only 2.4%. Wide ranging policies were developed with the goal of increasing their share of ownership to about 30%.

POLICY - There were mandatory 15% discounts on land and housing if you were Malay, other races would essentially need to pay more to make up for it. Publicly listed companies needed to prove minimum 30% Malay ownership, if a Malay shareholder sold their shares to a non-Malay, the company had to immediately issue more shares to Malays to maintain that ratio. There are subsidized high interest liquid savings accounts for Malays that pay out 10% interest per year, and also subsidized low interest loans available specially for Malays. From an education point of view, a strict quota system ensured that a Malay would need a far lower average to gain acceptance into tertiary education - usually a grade C average for acceptance into some courses that a non Malay would need a grade A average. Government controlled organizations also had a policy to preferentially hire and promote Malays and to leave non-Malays to the private sector.

RESULTS - Between 1970 and 1997 the Malay share of ownership of economy rose from 2.4% to 20%. In 1970, 4% of doctors were Malay - by 1997, it was 28%. A nearly 10x increase in economic participation under both metrics, ownership and mix of highly educated professionals.

In retrospect - would such a result have been achieved if left to the "free market"? Would the country's economy have grown faster as a whole if such interventions and distortions were not put in place? How do you quantify the benefit of reducing Gini inequality?

The process it not dissimilar to the conversation now: they set themselves a simultaneously modest yet ambitious target (30% ownership by a race which represents 60% of the economy sounds modest, until you see they were starting at 2.4%) and then did not shy away from implementing plainly blunt and "unfair" and even damaging policies with the aim of achieving that goal. Even if they did not achieve their targets, the progress has been nothing short of impressive. I'd argue the tools are there, they work, not perfectly, but they work, and the only need we need is the will to implement them.

This is in stark contrast to say, South Africa, which has failed to implement policy with enough teeth to reverse the growing inequality between blacks and whites - not only did they start with a huge gulf between blacks and whites at the end of Apartheid in 1994, by many metrics this inequality has only grown worse since then. The 10% of whites still own roughly 70% of land. Unemployment among blacks increased from around 20% to 40% in the 10 years post apartheid, despite robust economic growth.

I'd argue it's because they are constrained by debate about "what is fair policy that takes into account all stakeholders and edge cases" and so their policies are consistently too weak to reverse the natural path capitalism takes us on. It's not dissimilar to what is happening in the US, as the wealth gap between blacks and whites is trending upwards and will continue doing so unless firm steps are taken to address, whether reparations are taken as a moral excuse for doing so or no.
posted by xdvesper at 4:40 PM on March 19 [24 favorites]


Advocating that reparations come from a democratic process in which the affected communities have a voice they currently lack strikes me as Coates being consistent rather than naive.

My issue with that approach is that unless those conversations are happening within the context of actual political power - the possession of which requires the building of broad coalitions across racial lines - you might as well be screaming into the void. I'm beyond sceptical of the ability or commitment of political figures and pundits who express hesitancy or lukewarmness toward concrete and highly popular universal programs to come close to achieving the political mandate required to implement a targeted and effective reparations program beyond political symbolism. In fact, I'd go so far as to suggest this potential unattainability is a feature not a bug for many of those superficially adopting such a policy.
posted by smithsmith at 4:44 PM on March 19 [2 favorites]


I would like to know if people favor reparations payments to specifically American descendants of slaves (ADOS), in which case the majority of people of color in this country will be on the paying-in side of reparations, or reparations to all non-white people, in which case the majority of people receiving reparations will not be descendants of (American) slaves. Or some other option.
posted by zipadee at 4:49 PM on March 19


> reparations to all non-white people

I don't think anyone has suggested that, have they? Obviously there are many groups who could fairly be paid back by the US government for what was stolen from them, but those are other conversations; when people in the US talk about reparations, we mean African-Americans.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:29 PM on March 19 [3 favorites]


smithsmith: Coates is not lukewarm or hesitant regarding concrete and highly popular universal programs. He even proposed one. And to be frank, the tired post-2016 meme that racial justice (dogwhistle "identity politics"), is incompatible with action on education, health care, poverty, and employment really needs to be put to bed already. Interracial coalitions act on all of the above.

zipadee: One proposal would entail material support for structural solutions to structural problems, not just payments to specific people. So a solution to health-care access might entail funding for health-care services in underserved areas. I'm deeply skeptical that the problems of segregated public education (yes, that's still a de facto reality) can be solved by writing parents a check.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 6:26 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


Man, we are so skeptical of the value of checks, yet so very fond of the ones we get.
posted by praemunire at 8:34 PM on March 19 [2 favorites]


Coates is not lukewarm or hesitant regarding concrete and highly popular universal programs.


I wasn't talking about Coates. I was referring to people like Harris, Booker and a number of mainstream liberal pundits whose very recent commitment to universal programs strike me as tissue thin and politically expedient. To trust the firmness of their commitment to a far more politically fraught and substantive reparation policy seems naive to me.
posted by smithsmith at 9:56 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


Suburban white people don't even support funding stuff for suburban white children, on what planet do you think giving government money to black people would be politically viable?

When it came up in the news in the last week or two that a few of the Dem candidates started talking about reparations my first thought was that conservative operatives must have gotten that idea inserted to the conversation to turn it politically toxic because the only way for Trump to have a chance at reelection would be if they can get the Dems talking about stuff that is even more repulsive to the average white person than Trump.
posted by Blue Tsunami at 10:06 PM on March 19 [3 favorites]


When it came up in the news in the last week or two that a few of the Dem candidates started talking about reparations my first thought was that conservative operatives must have gotten that idea inserted to the conversation to turn it politically toxic because the only way for Trump to have a chance at reelection would be if they can get the Dems talking about stuff that is even more repulsive to the average white person than Trump.

They will do this anyway. They will even invent things. Timidity is not the answer for that. One thing that is more repulsive to the average white person* than somebody standing firmly behind a policy they don't like is somebody squirming around.

*why are we focussing on the average white person?
posted by patrick54 at 11:54 PM on March 19 [8 favorites]


I'm a special education/US history teacher. I get to have a fair amount of freedom in how I teach standards, so for Black History month, my students read excepts of Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow," Ta-Nehisi Coates, and watched 13th.

I have *never* seen such collective outrage and call to political action in 15 years of working with high schoolers. Kids were most upset because they didn't know any of this and had been taught that slavery was a Very Bad Thing that happened but now it's over and Rosa Parks sat on a bus and MLK Jr. marched and now we're all equal hurray and what they began to appreciate was the power of knowledge and the power of simple conversations.

So, for every one who's already jumping up and down with how will this work/this will never work/this will create bigger issues...

...please don't miss the point.

The point is that we're having the conversation. When there are books and videos and a state senator speaks about this issue, here's a chance for this to become part of our collective conversation.

Let's start with facts, let's continue having a discussion, and when we find ourselves essentially shitting on a Very Important Conversation, let's reign ourselves in and remember that sometimes, making unpleasant knowledge a part of our shared vocabulary can be a good thing because if nothing else, it's a start.

Our country has turned into a negative shithole of everything sucks and they suck and you suck.

For the future, we need to do better. Naming an issue is a start; let's allow that conversation to continue.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 5:19 AM on March 20 [21 favorites]


Suburban white people don't even support funding stuff for suburban white children, on what planet do you think giving government money to black people would be politically viable?
Nonsense. They love funding stuff for suburban white children, as long as they get to pick what it is and who it goes to. For proof, just look at school bond funding, which is over and above regular taxes.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:40 PM on March 20 [2 favorites]


I don't know why reparations have come up in this primary, with these candidates. I'm pretty skeptical about how it fits into this political cycle.

But all this

I would like to know if people favor reparations payments to specifically American descendants of slaves

the current discussion among Democratic candidates about reparations is a little silly

i don't know if people have really thought it through

there are currently no credible proposals for how reparations would work in 2019

Congratulations, you are right, there's a huge amount of finicky details to be worked out, THAT'S WHY right now, when a candidate says "I support reparations," what it means is "I support starting a conversation about reparations through the vehicle of HR 40."

HR 40 itself is just a plea, saying, can we just talk about this. At least that's the message I'm getting, from Conyers and Coates. Can we please take racism seriously for once in our goddamn lives. Can we just look, if nothing else, can we please just look at the consequences of our legacy of brutal dehumanizing racism.

Coates, in his 2014 essay "The Case for Reparations," says that even if this imaginary commission was a total shitshow, even if no checks were ever written at all, just the act of taking responsibility would be a huge step forward from where we were in 2014. Enumerating the damages, and admitting fault for a specific list of harms and grievances, would be yet another huge step. The commission could stop right there and I'd consider it a success, personally. Just issuing a report would be IMO an incredibly powerful symbolic gesture. And those are all steps that have to happen before we can get to the details about payouts.

And I'll point out, things like Obamacare and UBI and Britain's NHS all went through similar amorphous and ill-defined stages. They all got workshopped in private, sometimes in think tanks, several decades ago. Actually, reparations has been workshopped too! There have been a few think tank attempts; it's strange that no candidate has brought them up; but I think the reason they haven't is because a think tank cannot be the entity that takes responsibility or admits fault. It has to be Congress.

Repeat, because this is important: It has to be our duly elected representatives, Congress and/or the President, carrying out this whole process as representatives of the American people.

Possibly a comparison could be drawn to the 9/11 Commission. Congress doesn't have particular expertise or authority over intelligence failures. The actual investigation was carried out by professionals. Congress issued its own report for its own reasons, and it was partly symbolic.

Point is, finicky details about who gets what are the END of the process. The beginning is simply deciding that we want to address it. I guess we're past that by now, so the next step is enumerating what specific harms and damages need to be redressed. And that's basically what HR 40 calls for.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 4:04 PM on March 20 [5 favorites]


"I'm a special education/US history teacher. I get to have a fair amount of freedom in how I teach standards, so for Black History month, my students read excepts of Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow," Ta-Nehisi Coates, and watched 13th.

I have *never* seen such collective outrage and call to political action in 15 years of working with high schoolers. Kids were most upset because they didn't know any of this and had been taught that slavery was a Very Bad Thing that happened but now it's over and Rosa Parks sat on a bus and MLK Jr. marched and now we're all equal hurray and what they began to appreciate was the power of knowledge and the power of simple conversations. "

For another perspective on the New Jim Crow see this very thoughtful article by James Forman, a former public defender and the son of a leader in the Black Panther party who now teaches at Yale:

https://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4599&context=fss_papers
posted by zipadee at 10:18 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


wasn't talking about Coates. I was referring to people like Harris, Booker and a number of mainstream liberal pundits whose very recent commitment to universal programs strike me as tissue thin and politically expedient. To trust the firmness of their commitment to a far more politically fraught and substantive reparation policy seems naive to me.

I actually think real universal programs are more difficult than the simpler forms of reparations. If you wanted to send a $10,000 check to everyone who is a descendant of American slaves (that would be $40K for a family of four, not insubstantial), all you would have to do is finance $300 billion in spending, a lift but not impossible. It doesn't actually upset economic or power arrangements, it functions within them. There would be a big back and forth on chat shows and the op-ed pages about it, but there would be no particular reason for business to try to take it down unless it was financed by increasing taxes on them.

Contrast even a "simple" universal policy like single-payer which requires putting the private insurance industry completely out of business and completely transforming a significant part of the economy. You would draw tremendous fire from all kinds of powerful industry players as soon as that got serious.

I also don't think more complex universal programs such as those related to e.g. housing, schooling, and incarceration are possible to do without being very racially aware, which would involve much larger investments in black communities than white communities. These issues are intimately related to long-standing forms of racial segregation and oppression.
posted by zipadee at 10:31 AM on March 21


I haven't re-read Coates piece about reparations since it first published. I always remembered that it was powerful and persuasive. But wow, I had forgotten just how very much so.
posted by great_radio at 2:06 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Contrast even a "simple" universal policy like single-payer which requires putting the private insurance industry completely out of business and completely transforming a significant part of the economy. You would draw tremendous fire from all kinds of powerful industry players as soon as that got serious.

Single Payer may not be as disruptive as you think. Australia runs Single Payer, residents get a card which gives them free lifetime healthcare. But of the 170 billion spent per year on healthcare, only 67% is funded by the government via Single Payer. The rest of the 33% is handled by the private sector, which is where private medical insurance companies come in. There are a number of reasons to want to go private - you get your choice of surgeons, shorter waiting lists for elective procedures (essential procedures are done as a priority in a timely manner in the public system) and more comfortable stays - private rooms, better food. Somewhat counter-intuitively, the reputation of the public sector is generally better as their mandate is delivering quality healthcare, while the private sector's mandate is delivering profits, so the private sector definitely cuts more corners - their healthcare delivery is aimed at "minimum guidelines" while the public system aims at "best practice" for the behind-the-scenes stuff that the customer / patient does not see. (For eg, more rigorous drug and medication audit procedures, more specialists on site which you don't see unless something goes wrong, etc). Generally if anything goes majorly wrong the private hospitals quickly dump the patient into the public system because they often don't have the capability to handle serious / complex cases.

In the US, apparently of the $3.5 trillion spent on healthcare, $1.5 trillion was funded by the government (42%) so you're not far off Australia (67%). The different is mainly in terms of equality - who gets access, what gets funded.
posted by xdvesper at 4:39 PM on March 21


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