In a survey last year 29% of Americans supported the idea that the government
should make cash payments to black Americans who were descendants of slaves—twice the share that agreed in the early 2000s.
As protests have rocked America in recent weeks, the idea of reparations to atone for the atrocity of slavery,
as well as to reduce the persistent gaps in income and wealth between people of different skin colours, has gained further prominence.
Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, has said he wants to explore it.
On June 11th California's state lawmakers passed a bill that establishes a task-force to study and propose recommendations for reparations.
The chances of the federal government implementing such a policy seem remote. But how would such a scheme work?
As "From Here to Equality", a new book written by William Darity, a scholar on reparations at Duke University, and A. Kirsten Mullen,
杜克大学研究赔款的学者William Darity以及A. Kirsten Mullen写的一本新书《From Here to Equality》表明
shows, the practicalities tend to take a back seat to philosophical arguments over whether reparations are needed in the first place.
Genealogists would face the tricky task of determining who would be eligible for them.
Economists, meanwhile, would have to consider two questions: how much to pay, and how best to spend the money?
History offers a guide to the first question. Past claims for reparations have relied on the notion that
people were wrongly deprived of income or property, or were unfairly forced to incur costs.
For instance, Israel calculated its claims for reparations from Germany after the second world war in part
by estimating the expenditure it incurred in order to resettle Jewish victims of Nazi persecution.
An official report into America's forced relocation and incarceration of Japanese-Americans during the war
reached the conclusion that they had been unfairly deprived of income and property worth $3bn (in today's prices).
In 1988 the American government issued a formal apology and eventually compensated 80,000 victims.
Many scholars have tried to work out what would count as sufficient compensation for the descendants of slaves, but there is little agreement between them.
One approach is to focus on compensation promised by the Union Army to freed slaves in 1865—the value of 40 acres of land and a mule—which was never realised.
The amount of cropland required to meet that commitment today has a value of about $160bn (0.7% of American GDP in 2019).