Civilizing the Economy A New Economics of Provision

What about Reparations?

Posted May 28, 2014 by Marvin Brown in Uncategorized, No Comments

The essay by Ta-Nehisi Coates on reparations in The Atlantic (June, 2014) may be more important for thinking about addressing the issue of inequality than Thomas Piketty’s book on capital.   What we learn from Coates, or are reminded of since many of us knew this even as we denied it, is that the inequality in America is largely due to white people taking from black people. There is probably no more convincing evidence of the existence of white privilege today than the idea that we can create a just economy without dealing with this issue.

Coates’ argument is not about what white people should pay to black people, but rather that we should study the issue. We need a national conversation on race and capitalism. The issue is not just about money, but also about dignity. It is also about honesty:

To ignore the fact that one of the oldest republics in the world was erected on a foundation of white supremacy, to pretend that the problems of a dual society are the same as the problems of unregulated capitalism, is to cover the sin of national plunder with the sin of national lying.

Actually the statistics don’t lie:

Black families, regardless of income, are significantly less wealthy than white families. The Pew Research Center estimates that white household are worth roughly 20 times as much as black households, and that whereas only 15 percent of whites have zero or negative wealth, more than a third of blacks do.    

But what do these statistics mean? Coates makes a compelling case that this difference is not merely the result of social conditions, but of actual plundering of black resources by whites. So it is a good question: “What about Reparations?”

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Marvin T. Brown, Ph.D teaches business and organizational ethics at the University of San Francisco and Saybrook University in San Francisco.

This book is the culmination of 30 years of teaching and writing on business and society from a communicative perspective. Visit for more information.

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