We’re joined this month by William A.( “Sandy”) Darity to discuss reparations for Black Americans. Sandy Darity is Samuel DuBois Cook Professor of Public Policy, African and African American Studies, and Economics and the director of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University. A founding theorist of stratification economics and foremost scholar of the racial wealth gap in the United Stats, Darity is perhaps best known for his committed public advocacy for acknowledging, redressing, and resolving histories of racist violence against enslaved black people and their descendents through a federal program of reparations for black Americans. In April 2020–just weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic and two months before the global uprisings that followed the murder of George Floyd–Darity and co-author Kirsten Mullen published the book From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the 21st Century. We speak with Professor Darity about this book–including its conception, reception, and circulation over the last few years. We also ask Darity about related projects like his proposals for “Baby Bonds” and a Federal Job Guarantee. We conclude, finally, by suggesting that the U.S. Treasury mint a $12 trillion-dollar platinum coin featuring prominent figures from the black freedom struggle for the purpose of financing reparations and educating the public about how money works.
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The following was transcribed by Mike Lewis and has been lightly edited for clarity.
Billy Saas: Sandy Darity, welcome to Money on the Left.
Sandy Darity: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Billy Saas: It is such a pleasure to have you. To get us started, you spoke just a few days ago at the reparations symposium at Spelman. It was put on by the Spelman Social Justice Program, and it was meant to be a dinner and a discussion. I’d be interested to know the shape of that conversation in late September 2023; what were some of the key takeaways and points of excitement that might have come from that dinner and discussion?
Sandy Darity: Well, I did the presentation as a conversation, and the other person who was participating in the conversation with me was my partner, Kirsten Mullen, who is the co-author of our book From Here To Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the 21st Century. There were two faculty members from Spelman College who posed questions for us to answer. One of them is Cynthia Spence, and the other is Romie Tribble. I think it was a pretty lively exchange because the best part of these discussions always is the question and answer period, and there were some very, very provocative questions that were raised. Most of them concern our perspective about who should be eligible to receive reparations from the United States government under the orbit of what might be referred to as African American reparations. A lot of the discussion hinged on our perspective about states and localities conducting projects that they call reparations, something that we’re extremely skeptical about. Then, there were a number of questions that concern the issue of how you would go about financing a reparations plan. So I think those were maybe the three hot button issues that came up during the course of our conversation.
Scott Ferguson: To me, one of the thornier questions is: who counts? How did you answer that question?
Sandy Darity: Well, I think for about 20 years, we have had an answer to that question. I’m not sure it’s an answer that’s acceptable to everyone. But we have proposed for a long time that the eligible community for reparations from the United States government, for African Americans, should be those Black Americans whose ancestors were enslaved in the United States. And so we’ve advanced a two pronged criteria for eligibility for reparations. And the first prong is: an individual would have to meet what we refer to as a lineage standard. That is to say, they would have to demonstrate they have at least one ancestor who was enslaved in the United States. But in addition to that, and this is the second prong of the criteria, they would have to meet an identity standard, which for us, involves self-classifying oneself as Black, Negro, African American, or Afro American for at least 12 years before the adoption of a reparations plan, or the adoption of a study commission for reparations. So our view is that the individuals who may be living as white in the United States, who might happen to have an ancestor who was enslaved in the United States should not be eligible for reparations. And similarly, individuals who are Black, who are immigrants from other parts of the Black diaspora, should not have an expectation of receiving reparations from the United States government. Now, from my perspective, they are fully deserving of reparations, but not necessarily from the United States government. Their countries of origin should be seeking reparations from the nations that colonized and enslaved them. Some people complain about this, but we do accept the existence of the nation state structure as being relevant to the way in which reparations should be executed and administered.
Billy Saas: Well that nation state structure is certainly very relevant to the question of financing. At risk of asking you to repeat everything that you talked about at Spelman just a few nights ago: how did those conversations go on that end? I know the financing one is something that we are particularly interested in.
Sandy Darity: I think it’s important to explain that we have been pursuing a very specific set of standards for determining what the amount is that is due. That, in turn, influences the way in which we think about financing reparations. So in the work that we’ve done, we’ve highlighted the racial wealth gap as the central factor that needs to be addressed by a reparations plan. And based upon data from the survey of consumer finances for 2019. For some reason, they have not yet issued the results for the 2022 survey. I expected that to be out by now, but apparently it’s not. So if I just stick with the 2019 survey, I come up with an estimate that the average Black family or Black household has about $841,000 less in net worth than the average white household. And if you were to try to construct a rough estimate of how much that amounted to per person, it would be about $350,000. If, in turn, about 40 million Americans who are Black whose ancestors were enslaved in the United States, if those 40 million persons were multiplied by $350,000 per person, you come up with a number of approximately $14 trillion. That’s the baseline from our perspective for the amount that is due under a reparations plan. And we focus on the racial wealth gap, because we think it’s the best single economic indicator of the cumulative intergenerational effects of white supremacy. So that said, it poses a major difficulty for states and localities to even approximate getting to that number when their total combined budgets are less than $5 trillion. And in addition, if we were to think about generous individuals who felt some sense of obligation to address the nation’s history of racism, putting together a fund where they cast in $1 billion on a monthly basis, so $12 billion a year, it would take a millennium to get to $14 trillion. So it’s really only the federal government that has the capacity to meet a bill of that magnitude, particularly since the federal government, and this is where the MMT dimension comes into the conversation. The federal government is not constrained by tax revenue, in terms of its spending activity. From our perspective, the only constraint is the danger of producing significant inflation from any expenditure that the government makes. We spent a bit of time in the final chapter of our book, trying to talk about ways in which expenditures for a reparations plan could be designed in such a way that they mitigate the inflation effect. And we suggested two very simple steps. The first step is that you could space the payments out over a period of time so that the amount of expenditure in any given moment, or a given year, would not be as large as it might possibly be if the total amount was distributed at once. And then we say, we’d like to constrain that to a 10 year period. We wouldn’t want the reparations payments to be spread out longer than a decade. But then the other way in which you could limit payments is by providing people with direct payments in the form of less liquid assets. So, part of the reparations payments might be direct cash transfers, but they could also be an endowment. It could be a trust account. Could be some form of an annuity. I don’t have the expectation that people would have no savings whatsoever in the absence of these kinds of constraints, but you could, in some way, kind of force a higher rate of savings, and thereby reduce the potential inflationary effects, as well. So that’s our concern. It’s not whether or not you’ve got the tax money to do it. It’s whether or not the distribution of the funds under a reparations plan would trigger a significant depreciation in the value of the currency. That’s something we would not want to have happen.
Billy Saas: You’re talking about the final chapter of From Here To Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the 21st Century, which, correct me if I’m wrong, came out in April of 2020?
Sandy Darity: That’s right. Then we have a second edition that came out last fall in paperback. And the only real difference is that the paperback edition has a new preface that we prepare, trying to bring the conversation up to date,
Billy Saas: Right, which would include everything that happened around that time, and after!
Sandy Darity: And especially January 6, 2021.
Billy Saas: So what was it like having that book come out in the thick of the early days of COVID, and just before, some of the most significant social and political action in the United States in some time.
Sandy Darity: We had hoped that the book would prompt a renewed conversation about reparations. But by the time the book came out, it wasn’t necessary for it to prompt a renewed conversation. In fact, from my perspective, the way in which the trajectory of reparations talk had gone in the United States after the 1960s, in particular, is that there really wasn’t much of it. There was discussion of reparations within certain circles in the Black community, but in terms of it being something that was on the national stage, that wasn’t the case. So in the year 2001, or so, in the beginning of that year, David Horowitz put an advertisement in a series of college newspapers attacking the idea of Black reparations kind of out of the blue because nobody was really talking about it. It actually triggered a greater degree of interest in reparations, at least among college students than had existed in the past. But at that point, in September, we had the assault on the Twin Towers. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, conversation about reparations just evaporated. It was not renewed until Ta-Nehesi Coates put out an article in The Atlantic in 2014. I think the significance of that article was in making or trying to build the Case for Reparations, he talked about atrocities that had taken place after slavery had ended. And I think that that was very, very significant and distinctive, because Kirsten and I are typically repelled by the phrase slavery reparations. We certainly think reparations are due for the long term effects of slavery. But slavery is not the only atrocity that’s relevant, and it’s certainly not the central policy that created the current racial wealth disparity in the United States. Especially if reparations had been provided, like the 40 acre land grants that were promised at the end of the Civil War. We might not have any kind of significant racial wealth differential in the United States today. So that’s one phase of the process that took place. But even after Ta-Nehisi Coates article, I think that there was a real diminution in conversation about reparations, which didn’t alter until 2019, the year before the pandemic, when there were a handful of candidates for the presidency running for the Democratic Party nomination, who actually said they endorsed reparations for Black Americans. This would include Julian Castro, Tom Steyer, and then perhaps most significantly, Marianne Williamson who actually came forward saying that there was an amount of money that she had in mind. Now, at the time, I think she talked about $500 billion dollars as a maximum. And in comparison with $14 trillion, that’s actually somewhat of a paltry amount. But nevertheless, that kind of projected a reparations conversation onto the national stage. Then in 2020, with the combination of the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd that had worldwide repercussions, I think that kind of cemented the presence of the reparations conversation. So this is a long winded way of saying that when our book came out, it came out in a climate in which there was a greater degree of interest in reparations than then had existed at any point in my own lifetime previously. I think we were concerned that the effects of the pandemic would mean that it would grossly limit our opportunities to do book readings and the like. Turns out quite the contrary, because of the virtual process. And we ended up probably doing many more presentations about the book than we would have been able to do in a situation where we would have had person to person contacts. In fact, it got a little bit ridiculous and exhausting. I think there’s a day in which we did five presentations on the book, and we said we’ll never do that again. I think, you know, there was some serendipity, actually a product of some very horrible circumstances that actually led the book to get more attention than it might otherwise have received.
Scott Ferguson: I have so many follow up questions. I’ve long been a supporter of reparations for Black Americans. I was very compelled by the Ta-Nehisi Coates piece back in 2014. But as a Modern Monetary Theory and heterodox economics fellow traveler, I was always concerned in multiple senses about the rhetorical and emotional appeals and fault lines and dangers of the question of who will pay, which Ta-Nehisi Coates raises in that article, without really giving an answer. Right, but who will pay? Suggesting that someone must pay. And from a certain point of view, from a MMT point of view, as we’ve been saying, the federal government should pay. Absolutely, the federal government should pay. But I think there’s a larger question being asked here, which is, should a group of people be taxed or punished or subtracted from in order to repair, in order to make things whole? And I guess what I would say is, there might be a moral case for maybe not literal taxation, because we know we don’t need that literal taxation. But there might be a moral case for making certain groups “pay” or have there be a lessening of their wealth or something like this. But I think I’ve also been very concerned to not frame reparations as a national reckoning in zero sum terms, and that that’s crucial for the emotional politics of and the emotional political viability of reparations. If a group of people rightly or wrongly feel like they’re losing out so that others can gain, I think that can be politically really toxic. And I’m curious if you’ve thought about these kinds of questions?
Sandy Darity: Yeah, this is a pretty challenging set of issues. I think the way in which we’ve focused on this notion that the federal government should finance this without raising taxes is from the point of view that we know that an objective of closing the racial wealth gap would alter the relative position of Black and white households in terms of wealth. And it would improve the relative position of Black households significantly. In fact, if the plan that we have in mind was enacted in which $350,000 was distributed to each Black American who was an eligible recipient, we would raise the median level of Black household wealth above the median level of white household wealth, although the mean levels would be equal. So that said, and I think if one’s going to attack the racial wealth gap, or do anything that’s of substance under the aegis of a reparations plan, you’re going to have to improve the relative position of Black Americans. So the best that we can do in terms of trying to insulate white Americans from damage from this process, is to avoid altering their absolute position. And so that’s why we focused on this notion that you could fund this thing without imposing taxes on anyone. And also without, in essence, taking money from white Americans to put into Black Americans pockets. That’s not what we have in mind. And that’s why federal funding becomes a critical engine. If you’re to do this at the state or local level, they are entities that are constrained by their tax base. And so money has to come from somebody and go to somebody else in terms of the state and local initiatives. Even if they borrow the money, well borrowing is deferred taxation. I think that’s why we focus on the federal case. But yes, the bullet will have to be bitten in terms of relative position.
Billy Saas: You and Kirsten talk about some of the misconceptions about why things are the way they are today, attributing life choices and lack of financial acumen or awareness for the wealth gap. It seems to me like, in addition to all of the wonderful outcomes that would follow from administering the reparations program, as y’all have outlined it, there’ll be a tremendous opportunity to have a conversation and to get some acknowledgement and engagement of a kind of more radical financial literacy: that this is how the money system works and has worked historically to reproduce these conditions of disparity. And what we’re talking about doing now is mobilizing and redirecting the potential and power of money toward redress, toward closure. The very thing that sort of ends up as kind of an avatar for an obstacle to reparations: how are you going to pay for it? Who’s going to pay for it? becomes an opportunity to think about money through the histories of this country and its place relative to regimes of repression and violence, but then also potentially, for liberation and redemption. Is there a place for a conversation about money in this context of advocating for reparations?
Sandy Darity: Yes, there is also a place for a conversation of the attentiveness that we give to the nation state. There’s also a possible conversation about the question of whether or not an objective that Black Americans might pursue with these additional resources would be an objective that really maintains a general structure of inequality and inequity. I think that those are all questions that are open ended, but I don’t necessarily see us moving off of that path in the absence of reparations. So I would not want to claim that the political decisions that Black Americans might make with additional resources would necessarily be revolutionary. I have no idea. They might not be. Regardless, there is a whole set of issues concerning the question of the denial of full citizenship of Black Americans. For the entire period of time we have existed in the republic that was formed in 1776.
Scott Ferguson: One of the other criticisms that you have, I think, a really meaningful response specifically when it comes to reparations and cash payments. So the criticism is that: ah well, it’s just money, and money is not a substantial enough moral recompense. And, of course, you have all kinds of other proposals and ideas that are in excess of building wealth, and closing the wealth gulf for Black Americans. You have a really strong response to that. Maybe I’ll let you respond to that criticism.
Sandy Darity: That kind of question came up the other day. Kirsten and I both said, well, just imagine a world in which the typical Black household in the United States had the equivalent of about $1 million in additional resources, say in 2019 dollars, if you will. Actually, it would probably be 1.2 million in a household before. Think about the range of opportunities, options, and also capacity to exercise political influence that those resources might provide them with. And then we begin to talk about having a very, very different world.
Scott Ferguson: Yeah, that’s exactly the answer that I was thinking of. I appreciate it on multiple levels. One, as an advocate for public money, I’m very skeptical, I’m very critical of certain, let’s say, mainstream, liberal ambivalences and moralizing around money and imagining that money is something that’s … It’s mere instrumentality, or it’s merely about private wealth acquisition and greed, or it’s somehow empty. And I think your response suggests that money is not empty private greed; money is a substantive, multifaceted, medium and social and political relationship that dearly matters for all of us, including those of us who have been structurally deprived for centuries.
Sandy Darity: Yeah, I mean, less hierarchical societies. I’m not aware of any society that’s non hierarchical, but less hierarchical societies or societies that have a better social floor for wellbeing. People still use something that we might call money. The more of it they have in those contexts, the more options they have to exercise. I mean, one of the tragedies of actually existing socialism has probably been the disproportionate amount of power that’s been registered with the individuals who run state bureaucracies. And it’s not accidental that they typically have more wealth than the other members of their society. So the question is not money, per se. The question is, what is the system in which money operates?
Billy Saas: Along those lines, we brought up the nation state as a category or concept that’s up for scrutiny. I think one of the ways that Scott and others in our orbit have tended to rethink or engage that question, as it relates to the financial system to money and to the form of government that exists, is around the question of sovereignty, which tends to be at the center of the story for conventional stories of Modern Monetary Theory and the history of money.
Sandy Darity: Right.
Billy Saas: And reconceiving of the problematic or the concept of sovereignty in terms of agency. It seems to me like that’s also a word or a concept that works better in the terms that you’re talking about and Scott was excited about with your response. It’s about who has the agency in a society and the distribution of that relative to others, and it happens to be in the money form most often.
Sandy Darity: Yeah, and the companion issue is always how fair or even do we want to make agency?
Scott Ferguson: So we’d like to talk to you about some of your other long term projects and proposals, but maybe to set the stage for that we can pause and step back and ask you, to the degree that you feel comfortable speaking about your personal and professional background, a little bit about how you came to these questions and how you came to them with such boldness. These proposals are not run of the mill. They’re really outside or they have been very much outside of a certain mainstream orthodoxy. And yet, you’ve been very committed to thinking outside that orthodoxy. How did Sandy Darity get here?
Sandy Darity: I think a lot of it has to do with my parents point of view. I was raised in a family where both of my parents earned doctorates at later points in their lives than when I earned mine. But I grew up with two parents who were very engaged in the academic world. But they never took the position that the reason they got to the points that they did was because there was something extraordinarily special about them. They always emphasize the kind of support that they had received from others that had given them the capacity to get to where they were. I remember my father, who came from a small, small town in the mountains of North Carolina called East Flat Rock, and there is no West Flat Rock. East Flat Rock was the Black side of Flat Rock. He tells a story about the point at which he was about to go to college and he really didn’t have any significant amount of clothing. And surprise for him is that the folks in his community left him a suit and a pair of shoes at the house for him to take with him to go to college. They didn’t have a lot of resources, but they contributed. His own parents had never gone beyond sixth grade. In schools, three of their four children, including my father, all completed college. And he said it was because his parents said you were going to go to college from an early age. He’s always said he didn’t know where they got that idea from. But the notion that my parents left me with is that your life outcomes are largely a consequence of the luck of the draw of the situation that you’re born into. So I never started with this view that people who were doing badly were doing badly primarily because of their own behavior and actions. I think that that’s been central, or that’s been at the core of my thinking. Now, of course, there are people out there who make serious mistakes. An individual, in the course of their own lifetime, can do good things and bad things in terms of building their own life success. But the phenomenon of poverty is something that I always thought of as something that was structural, rather than a consequence primarily of individual actions and individual decisions. When I went to college, I decided I was going to study economics, because I assumed that economics was the field in which I could have the best understanding of inequality. I’m trying not to laugh. I take these classes, and I say this doesn’t make any sense to me. This is not how the world works. So that’s how I kind of got launched on this by being an outlier economist. I guess I’m less of an outlier now, but I don’t know. Still feels like I’m not on the inside, and that’s probably a good thing.
Billy Saas: Your focus from early on, thanks to your parents sharing their perspective with you, is on the consequences of structures, less individuals. And I wonder, going back to reparations now, but it’s there in your other proposals as well. It’s about reparations, but it’s about reckoning with the consequences of structures that have been in place for so long. Not, you know, in addition to and alongside and adjacent to the institution of slavery, of racial inequality, as it was propounded and elaborated by the state over time, on the dispossessed, suppressed, and oppressed. But also, that part of this reparations and the reckoning or the conversation and the redress process has to be reckoning with the effects of those structures. I’m talking about white supremacy, right, the ramifications of white supremacy for everyone.
Sandy Darity: So we live in a hierarchical society. So conditions are uneven for all people in the society. All white Americans are not in the billionaire category. In fact, a very small number. On the other hand, when you have a racialized hierarchical system, then it’s a system that protects the dominant racial group from having to be in the bottom most positions, or having to bear the burden of the harshest circumstances that are associated with that system of stratification. So I am very, very concerned about the disparities that exist on the basis of race. But I also recognize that the overall system of hierarchy is damaging. So in addition to thinking about policies that should be pursued for the purposes of bridging the disparities that exist on the basis of race, I’ve also tried to think about policies that could at least moderate the worst effects of the overall system of hierarchy. And so in particular, I’ve thought about this idea that it’s not, it’s not new with me, by any means. We could have extraordinarily rich people in a society, but we could ensure that no one was in a position of deprivation. And we might then be less concerned about the fact that we have very rich people in the society. You know, if we could ensure the folks at the bottom actually had a decent existence and had a satisfactory array of opportunities. This is the question of the social floor that I think I referred to a moment ago. I’ve been thinking for many years about how we could create a social floor that would ensure that no one would be in a position where they had to suffer, or where they had to deny their children any significant range of opportunities to participate fully in the society and to fulfill their own creative ambitions. So, while reparations is a policy, specifically African American reparations is a policy that I’ve focused on from the standpoint of eliminating racial disparities, there are other policies that I’ve tried to think about and help develop, that are focused on raising the social floor in the United States, and potentially elsewhere, those policies could be applied in other places as well.
Scott Ferguson: So for our listeners who are less familiar with your work, or would like a reminder, maybe you can tell us about your proposal for a federal job guarantee. How that might look? How might that work? And what problems would it be addressing?
Sandy Darity: Yeah, and I definitely do not want to claim that the idea of a job guarantee is uniquely mine, it definitely has not. It has a long tradition and heterodox economics in particular. People like Hyman Minsky were advocates of a job guarantee. There may be some uniqueness to the particular way in which I think about how it should be done, but the idea itself is a fairly old one. I think that when it was introduced, most people were concerned about the question of trying to ensure that people had employment in bad times. I think that I’m at least as interested in the question of creating a floor on compensation. The access to a guaranteed job is something that should be permanent. And it should be a mechanism for compelling the private sector to improve the compensation standards that they provide. So individuals would always be able to opt out of bad private jobs by turning to the public sector for a guaranteed opportunity for employment. So I would couple the business cycle benefits of having a job guarantee with the potential benefits that are associated with ensuring a decent standard of compensation in all employment, both in the public and the private sector. So you know, some people could say, well, what you’ve really done is introduced a minimum wage mechanism. Yeah, you have, but it’s different from the traditional minimum wage, because it is something that would be available to people who are unemployed, we are guaranteeing an employment option for everyone. And it also could be structured in such a way that there is a benefits package that typically is denied to individuals who don’t work a sufficient number of hours under minimum wage law conditions. So in a sense, what we’re doing is sort of resetting the table with respect to what the kinds of conditions are that must be provided to individuals who are at work, including the opportunity to be at work. So that’s what I have in mind, the federal government would ensure that every American adult would have access to a decent job as a public sector employee, and that would be an option that would be permanently available to them.
Scott Ferguson: What kind of criticisms do you hear in response to that proposal?
Sandy Darity: One set of criticisms is you destroy smaller businesses that rely upon low wage labor. And my response to that is regardless of the scale of your business, if your business plan is projected on hiring people at very low wages, that’s not a socially acceptable business plan. The other argument that frequently is made is that we don’t have enough types of work for people to do productively. And my answer to that is, we may not have enough work that appears to be profitable to the private sector to hire people to do. But we have an immense amount of socially useful work that is going undone in the present moment. And then, you know, there’s the argument that AI is going to just destroy jobs anyway. And I would argue that, yes, AI is probably going to destroy a wide range of jobs. That’s all the more reason to have a public sector structure where you could identify the types of work that AI cannot replace. The last point that’s related to that is, would we be satisfied with care work that was conducted by robots? And I don’t know, we might be, but my personal reaction is that I still think that there’s an important place for the human touch.
Billy Saas: I don’t think we’re there yet.
Scott Ferguson: I don’t want to be there. I don’t want to.
Sandy Darity: Well, you know, you have human-like androids I guess maybe we wouldn’t be able to tell.
Scott Ferguson: I suppose. But why wouldn’t we want to care for each other? It just presumes so much, right? Oh, well, if I can quit caring for you, then that’s just an automatic good. So in addition to the federal job guarantee, another proposal you’ve been working on for many years, is something that you will often refer to as the baby bonds proposal. What is that? How does it work? What does it aim to do?
Sandy Darity: Well, I’m trying to think when Darrick Hamilton and I first started working on this. We may go back to 2008-2009 or so. The late Manning Marable at Columbia, heard me talking about this, and he piped in, and he said: Oh, baby bonds! So it’s been called that ever since. But it’s not really a bond. The idea is to provide every newborn infant with a trust account. And the trust account will be calibrated on the basis of their parents wealth position. So a child is born into the wealthiest of families, maybe we give them a $50 trust account, but for children born into families at the lowest end of the wealth distribution. Let me say, the idea of calibration was based upon your family’s wealth position relative to the median for all households in the United States. And so kids at the lower end would get, say, $50,000 or $60,000 as a trust account for families that might have a negative or zero net worth. The idea was to bring everybody’s wealth position, every child’s wealth position, closer to the national median. This is what distinguishes it to a large degree from the reparations plan, which focuses on the mean difference between household wealth rather than the median. Now, if you designed your baby bonds proposal to focus on targeting the mean level of wealth, then you could replicate the kind of objective that’s built into the Darity-Mullen version of a reparations plan, which is to get rid of the racial wealth gap. But the original formulation of the baby bonds proposal could not do that, because it’s median centered rather than centered on the conventional average.
Scott Ferguson: And what are the responses, criticisms, affirmations of that proposal?
Sandy Darity: I’m not aware of any real significant criticisms of that proposal. In fact, it always struck me as ironic that it hasn’t had even wider traction than it has had. There are three state governments or so that have pursued it. And I think Congressman Cory Booker has had some legislation on the books for something like that. It’s not in his proposal, the calibration is based upon the income position of the household rather than the wealth, because of some arguments that it’s harder to measure household wealth accurately. We have an income tax system. So presumably, we do have relatively good data on people’s incomes. But I’m not aware of any real substantive criticisms of it.
Scott Ferguson: I haven’t heard any.
Sandy Darity: Yeah, and it’s not that expensive. I mean, it would be, you know, given the typical number of newborn infants in the United States, it wouldn’t cost much more than $100 billion per annum. So yeah, that’s not big, big money in terms of the US budget.
Scott Ferguson: Right. But we also know that often it’s relatively small, small money that gets politicized and blown out of proportion as it is.
Sandy Darity: And people invoke this phrase, well, what are you doing with our taxpayer money? Right?
Scott Ferguson: That’s right.
Sandy Darity: And people are people on both sides of the aisle, the ideological spectrum, loves that phrase, taxpayer.
Scott Ferguson: Oh Absolutely!
Scott Ferguson: Yeah, that’s where they unite. They reach across the aisle to bemoan the loss of taxpayer money. So I’m wondering, what are you working on nowadays? What’s in your immediate or long term future? Anything you’d like to share?
Sandy Darity: Yeah. We’re doing some work at my research center, the Sammy DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity that’s related to various dimensions of wealth. We’re trying to launch a project that’s focused on international comparisons of intergroup wealth inequality. And then also, we’re hoping to have a major conference, overseas, presumably, in London. We’re in the process of trying to get funding together to be able to do it. But to have a major conference on stratification economics that might accompany the launching of a new journal called the Journal of Stratification Economics. I guess, from the standpoint of my own sense of what contributions I might have made or be making to the field of economics. I think that that’s largely attached with stratification economics.
Scott Ferguson: Can you tell our listeners a little bit about stratification economics? About where it comes from, and what are some of the basic suppositions? It seems to wear its meaning on its sleeve to a certain extent, but I’m curious if you could explain a little bit.
Sandy Darity: I think I introduced the term stratification economics in a speech that I gave. No, I’m not going to remember the exact year but it was, it was at a conference that was held by the Academy of Economics and Finance, which is a southern based economics and business scholars professional association. I gave this talk in Savannah, I guess it was 2005 or so. I had been thinking for a long time about how one could go about building a theoretical framework that did not blame individuals for being poor. I mean, that’s basically what it was. I increasingly began to develop a set of ideas that I decided I would put under the label stratification economics, borrowing from the field of sociology which has a fully developed sub-discipline in what they refer to as stratification. I was thinking that maybe there was a way to merge some of the approaches in economics with the approaches and sociology, to come up with a new sub discipline in economics that are called stratification economics that attempted to explain disparities between social groups, and between individuals that was not primarily focused on group based deficiencies or individual deficiencies, but was focused on the nature of the social system in which these people live. And so that’s how it began.
Scott Ferguson: That’s clarifying. Thank you so much. So are you familiar with the various proposals and legislation to mint a trillion dollar coin?
Sandy Darity: I am aware of it. I’ve never fully understood it.
Scott Ferguson: Well, there’s a proviso in the law that allows the Treasury to mint a platinum coin of any denomination. It’s been proposed several times over the last decade, in response to the so called sequestration and the so called debt crises, and the debt ceiling and these kinds of issues. It also ended up in Rashida Tlaib’s ABC Boost for Communities Act, which of course, didn’t pass, but was proposed legislation for emergency financing to individuals in the height of the pandemic era. But I was thinking, it would be great to expand this project, and maybe start dreaming up a $12 trillion coin for reparations, that perhaps on one side of the coin, on the beautiful platinum coin, we might see a picture of George Floyd. And maybe on the other side, there’s a medley of figures like A. Philip Randolph and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King. I’m wondering how that strikes you?
Sandy Darity: Well, I guess I’m not sure how that’s different from just putting the money in people’s accounts.
Scott Ferguson: It’s not. It’s different symbolically. But that’s what it is. Right. It’s about instructing the public on where the financing comes from right?
Sandy Darity: It’s coming off of this coin.
Scott Ferguson: Yeah, it’s coming off of this coin that we can make as a matter of law, and that it’s a matter of national imagery. So if we put certain figures instead of a bunch of dead white men, but we put other kinds of figures on the coin, that might have some profound meaning, as well.
Sandy Darity: The big reparations coin. I kinda like that.
Scott Ferguson: Ok, good. I have your endorsement. I hope to see this go viral very soon. Sandy Darity, thank you so much for joining us on Money on the Left. It’s been such a pleasure to talk to you.
Sandy Darity: Thank you so much for having me on. It’s great. Cheers.
* Thanks to the Money on the Left production team: William Saas (audio editor), Mike Lewis (transcription), & Emily Reynolds of The Buffalo Institute for Contemporary Art (graphic art)