The Reparations Puzzle

The idea of reparations for black people has attracted a considerable amount of attention in the last few years, especially after Ta-Nehisi Coates gave it a boost in 2014. But there’s been relatively little written on the details of how it would work.

To get the ball rolling, it seemed natural to play around with wealth survey data to see what reparations might look like in aggregate. When you start doing that, however, you run immediately into an odd problem created by the way that wealth is generally distributed throughout society.

Because wealth is distributed very unevenly within every racial group, any race-specific wealth transfer regime will either 1) open up massive racial wealth disparities going in the opposite direction of current disparities or 2) provide the vast majority of its benefits to the upper class.

The only way to avoid one of those two unsavory outcomes is to ensure any wealth transfer regime tackles both class and race inequality at the same time, as discussed below.

— Read on


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