The Debt We Still Owe

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tags: African American history, economics, reparations

This interview with William "Sandy" Darity, Samuel Dubois Cook professor of public policy, African and African American studies and Economics at Duke, head of the Samuel Dubois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke, and co-author of the book From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century, was conducted and condensed by franknews

What is wealth? 

It's important to distinguish wealth from income because I think that people frequently confuse the two. Income is a flow of resources that people receive, primarily their earnings. Wealth is a stock of resources-- the difference between what you own and what you owe - the net value of your personal property.

Wealth is important because it provides a resource that can offset income losses in emergencies - situations where an individual might lose a job, or a family is confronted with a catastrophic illness. In all of these situations, if you are part of a wealthier household or family it is easier to cope with the situation because you can draw upon your wealth to compensate for your loss in income.

What opportunities are you locked out from if you can't accumulate wealth?

Wealth provides you with an opportunity to more fully participate in the political process in the United States. Electoral politics in the U.S. are driven by money.

Wealth provides you with the opportunity to buy your way into higher amenity neighborhoods that include higher-quality schools for your children. And if you are dissatisfied with the public schools, you can purchase private education for your children.

It becomes possible for wealthier families to make sure that their sons and daughters leave college with a degree in hand and no significant amount of student debt. 

Wealthier households have the capacity to transfer resources across generations in a way in which households that have little or no wealth cannot. There are intergenerational benefits that are associated with being part of a wealthier family. You could argue that wealth begets wealth in the sense that if you start with higher levels of wealth, you have more opportunities to acquire more wealth. You can particularly think about people who are interested in business ownership or self-employment of some sort. If they initially start out with a larger stake of resources, it makes it possible for them to bear more risk and to be more likely to sustain a successful enterprise.

How do you view the racial wealth gap in the US? 

In the United States, the racial wealth gap is something that I interpret in the context of the historical relationship between two groups - black folks and white folks. The racial wealth gap is enormous. The survey of consumer finances indicates that on average the net worth of a black household is $800,000 less than the net worth of a white household.

That is an enormous disparity. The origin, I believe, is in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. That's the point at which the newly emancipated did not receive any form of restitution. Although they had been promised 40-acre land grants per household, there was a failure to implement that.

Read entire article at Frank Interviews

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