On Reparations (back-of-the-envelope calculations)

2004, Harper’s: $97 trillion for stolen wages (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reparations_for_slavery_in_the_United_States#United_States_government)

A year of human life is worth $50,000 in 2008 (http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1808049,00.html#:~:text=In%20theory%2C%20a%20year%20of,cover%20a%20new%20medical%20procedure.).

Two different sets of figures for life expectancy in Civil War times: 25 White vs 21 Black, and 35 White vs. 31 Black. Both indicate 4 lost years of Black life per person. (See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slave_health_on_plantations_in_the_United_States#Life_expectancy) I found another reference that indicates 20 years of difference (https://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtid=2&psid=3040) but maybe we can go with 4 as a floor.

4 million enslaved people in 1860.

4e6 people * 4 years of lost life * $50,000/year = 4e6 * 2e5 = 8e11 = $800 trillion for years of lost life. And that’s just a snapshot of 1860. (And, by the way, I’m not even counting years of lost life after Emancipation until the present simply because that’s more nebulous and I want hard numbers.)

So, throw in the $95 trillion, and we get about $900 trillion. That is a big number (and a minimum).

We blew $6 trillion on Iraq ($2 tril for the 10-year “engagement” and $4 tril over the following 40 years to care for wounded veterans and replace lost/damaged equipment) (https://herereadthis.blog/2019/01/30/iraq-war-costs-u-s-more-than-2-trillion-study-reuters/), achieved nothing, and the economy didn’t even burp.

We spent 400 years profiting from the labor (and misery) of Africans permanently cut off from their homelands and forcibly brought to this country, so we can’t quite be expected to pay it all back overnight. Say we pay it back over… 100 years? So, 1e12/100 = $10 trillion/year? U.S. GDP recently is about $20 tril/year. That’s kind of a big hit? I guess? Say we do it over 400 years? That’s, like… $2.5 tril/year, a 10% payment on our GDP? That doesn’t seem so bad.

Just throwing some numbers around. It’s not infinity.

(Sorry, Native Americans, I know I totally left you out. I can’t even begin to calculate that.)

Population of enslaved people over time because WordPress/IFTTT/Twitter always grab the last link: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1010169/black-and-slave-population-us-1790-1880/

1 thought on “On Reparations (back-of-the-envelope calculations)

  1. Pingback: On slavery and the fragmentation of families | Here, Read This

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