Reparations and Power: How to spend ten trillion dollars


We grow the corn
They give us the husk.
We bake the bread
They give us the crust.
We raise the meat
They give us the skin.
And that’s the way they take us in.
Naught’s a naught,
a figure’s a figure,
all’s for the white man
and none for the nigger-

Afro-American folk rhyme

Before we turn to dollars, remember, that between our ancestors who were captured and those who were freed, millions were born, lived, and died in slavery. It is our solemn duty to remember, lest all the world forget. If ever we forget them, may history turn its back on us and posterity revile our names. It is imperative to remember that for all its power, money is vulgar paper, and that it was the servants of this cruel master that carried us away across the seas. We have the power to serve something better, not necessarily a deity, but the dream of freedom. Quoth the Ancestors: “Up above my head, I hear freedom in the air, there must be a God, somewhere.”

There are many ways to weigh this debt. Some would have us count the hours of slavery and pay them one by one. Harpers magazine estimated the value of all enslaved labor from 1619-1865 at 97 trillion dollars. Thomas Creamer at the University of Connecticut recommends 14 trillion for labor done between 1776 and 1865 at 3% compounded interest over the intervening period. YES! Magazine estimates that if we received the full value of the “40 acres and a mule,” promised by Sherman’s field order, it would come to 6.4 trillion. I am a Black separatist, why is explained here. 24 trillion would secure the land and funds for the state I imagine.

97 trillion is about 13 trillion dollars more than the combined GDP of every nation on earth. 14 trillion is about three times the yearly federal budget. In my last post I said I was going to examine a 14 trillion dollar reparations package, but, I think 10 trillion may be more instructive. Not because it is necessarily what I think we should seek, but because it might give us a sense of scale.

In this article: “One way to make reparations work,” top neoliberal shill emeritus and Bloomberg economist Noah Smith examines the idea of issuing “baby bonds” to Black newborns. Baby bonds are trust funds issued at birth and dispensed 18 years later. To build on this idea: With $400 billion, we could give every Black child $25,000 at birth. If this fund is administered by a commonly held reparations fund, a Black Power Trust, assuming a 5% annual return compounded annually, each beneficiary would have $60,000 by age 18. For adults, I propose a Universal Black Income; every recipient would receive a monthly or yearly check from the Black Power Trust (BPT). In order to maximize the positive impact of this fund, I propose to base payments on the recipient’s income, with the poorer receiving more than the wealthier. The wealthy would still receive payments, but it will do all of us more good to give more money to those who need it more. I propose:

$17,000 a year to those 18 and above making less than $16,000 a year.

$13,600 to those making $16,001-$55,000 a year.

$3885 to those making $55,001-$85,000

$2428 to those making more than $85000 a year.

400 billion with 5% returns will pay for the birth bonds. 7.5 trillion at a similar rate will pay the yearly 301 billion for the Universal Black Income I suggest.

We’ve now spent 8 trillion dollars (7.9, but I’ll round) 2 trillion left.

In my last post, I argued for using reparations to enhance Black institutions. With the remaining 2 trillion we might give $700 billion to HBCUs to increase their endowments. If we tie the endowments to enrollment, the average school would receive 7 billion, boosting their per capita endowments from $2400 to 2.3 million per student, in line with the 150 wealthiest American universities. Another 300 billion could go to the United Negro College Fund to boost their endowment 50,000%.  With this windfall, HBCUs in partnership with the UNCF could ensure that no Black student has to take out loans for college. In addition, an increased net worth would vastly improve the Black fundraising base for both the UNCF and HBCUs and increase the population of Black folks that would be able to contribute significant financial support to their own students.

A consortium of HBCU/UNCF staff, alumni and students could accredit HBCUs, and set stipulations for the disbursement of funds. It could establish a network of Afrocentric charter/private schools to expand the HBCU pipeline. At the standard charter school per-pupil estimate, we could enroll all 8 million Black public school students for 64 billion dollars a year through redirected public education funds, endowments and parental contributions. Every HBCU could have a laboratory school where teachers and researchers work on unleashing the brilliance of Black pupils. Areas not near an HBCU could house satellite campuses that provide training for teachers and community organizers while offering continuing education courses in job skills, financial literacy and the humanities. Schools in the Black Ivy League (Or as I prefer, the Ebony League) might open boarding schools built around intellectually intensive programs rooted in Afrocentric values, especially Ubuntu. HBCUs could establish think tanks focused on research that matters to Black America. This infusion would also improve financing for HBCU graduate education to ensure that scholars need not choose between an affirming, generative environment and ample funding from rich White schools. HBCUs would also be ideal sites for startup incubators of both for-profit and non-profit enterprises.

Now, the final trillion: There are 339 Black owned banks and credit unions in America holding a total of 10 billion dollars. With 1 trillion dollars we could multiply that total 10,000%. If they loan out just 10% of their assets at a time, (A modest estimate) that’s 250,000 Black start ups or 500,000 mortgages. A Black Economic Union (BEU) representing banks and credit unions, as well as shareholders in Black credit unions and Black bank account holders, could set policy to promote industrial, housing and agricultural cooperatives. Housing cooperatives in particular would be our bulwark against gentrification. Worker ownership of the means of production should be promoted as the ideal organizing principle for Black enterprise because it would maximize community benefit.

These proposals intersect. For instance, the Birth Trusts could be invested in the BPT, which would be invested in the stock market, the BEU and land. The BEU investment would be separate from the 1 trillion dollar infusion. The trust’s landholdings could be leased long-term to families and businesses at a discount. Predominantly Black municipalities might agree to tax trust lands at a reduced rate, since their residents would be the beneficiaries of trust dividends as well as HBCU-UNCF consortium charter schools and Black Economic Union loans. HBCU endowments could also be partially invested into said fund, which would increase scholarship funds to individual students both on the HBCU and UNCF side, while generating startup funds for alumni.

How to administer all this? I’ve proposed two organizations, an HBCU-UNCF consortium and a Black Economic Union. What these would oversee is dwarfed by the 8 trillion dollar BPT. In what follows, I have tried to distribute power widely and avoid creating a new elite for White power to co-opt. Black America could be divided into precincts of approximately 5000 people, which would each elect one delegate to a quadrennial convention of the Black Power Trust Foundation. These precincts would be divided into about 50 regions, each electing a representative to the board which would administer the fund and oversee its staff. Each region’s delegates would meet annually to review the board’s work. (I’m getting into the weeds here, but, my brain is wound up.) Each meeting would vote to approve or disapprove the board’s work. If 60% of the regions disapprove, the regions would collectively vote on every individual board member. Board members not receiving 50% +1 regional votes in their favor would be expelled and their regional constituents would have to send someone else. The HBCU-UNCF consortium and the Black Economic Union might be governed on a similar model, with most delegates chosen by institutional stakeholders and the Black Power Trust Foundation appointing a certain number of seats to each board. (And they in turn contributing additional board members to the BPTF)

This sketch is surely not exhaustive. This is something for us to debate and consider. No matter what happens, what will define our future will not be money. What will define our future will be what defined our past, our bond and commitment one to another, our commitment to those that made us and to the unborn. From the slave ship, through the plantations, under the lynching tree, through every storm, it is this wealth that has carried us over and it alone can sustain us. Ashe.

Addendum: For anyone worried about determining eligibility for the provisions directed to individual beneficiaries, I propose that anyone with a documented record of identifying as Black who can show an unbroken record of being descended from such persons going back to the 1920s, should be presumed to be a descendant of enslaved Africans. In my next two posts, I’m going to sketch out possibilities for how the government might finance reparations, as well as an exploration of reclaiming the moral, as opposed to economic case.

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