I have heard arguments that reparations should be given to the descendants of US slaves, usually monetary compensation. For instance, the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent called for the following:

To ease the racial tensions today, there is a need for a public acknowledgement of past historical injustices. There is a need for a conversation on reparatory justice.


The group urges a serious consideration of a full formal apology, repatriation, cultural institutions, public health initiatives, African knowledge programs, psychological rehabilitation, technological transfer and debt cancellation

Focusing on just the reparations, how do such proponents plan to identify recipients?

I know that we don't have complete genealogy records for the descendants of all slaves, so are such proposals limited to those who could prove their ancestry? Do proponents suggest special consideration be given to those who had more slaves in their ancestry than others? (E.g. would a person who could prove they had five slave ancestors be given greater reparations than one who only had one?)

There have already been smaller scale reparations, reparations to descendants of slaves sold at Georgetown University. I understand there have also been proposals for Caribbean nations as well. Would the means of finding recipients for those reparations be the same for US ones?

  • Are you asking what the proposed mechanisms are by people who argue for reparations? (in which case, i expect 99% of them offer no details, as they are interested in political grandstanding and not nitty gritty details of governance. But i'd be happy to be proven wrong). – user4012 Nov 7 '16 at 1:04
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    I am voting to close because it is about the implementation of an hypotetical plan that so far as we know has never been seriously considered by the USA government, and of which all the details (intent, scope, funding, etc.) are completely undefined. But maybe the recently released report about Georgetown University reparations to descendants of slaves owned and sold by the organization may provide some ideas (slavery.georgetown.edu/report). You are welcome @user4012 – SJuan76 Nov 7 '16 at 1:10
  • Knowing about the Georgetown University reparations would be very helpful, as I imagine such a plan would be used as an example for any government plans. Still, I suppose an answer of "there's no possible way to figure it out" would be acceptable if that's really the answer. – Thunderforge Nov 7 '16 at 3:48
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    I nominate this question for re-opening. Please rephrase and include in your question historical antecedents that may inform how a reparations may be paid out. – K Dog Nov 7 '16 at 12:28
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    @lazarusL I've added quotes from the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent. Thanks for the suggestions on how to make this better. – Thunderforge Nov 7 '16 at 16:05

If descendants of slave owners have to compensate descendants of slaves, many people would find themselves compensating, well, themselves. For example, Barack Obama had at most one ancestor who might have been a slave, and that would be through multiple generations of slave owners. He would be a net payer under that kind of system.

Donald Trump's ancestors were in Scotland and Germany during slavery. He wouldn't pay anything. On the bright side, he probably doesn't have any enslaved ancestors, so he wouldn't get money either.

The Bush and Cheney families are distantly related to Obama, so assuming they are related to the same slave owning ancestors, they too would be net payers.

A proposal from the Huffington Post. They want to use a system that requires a person to have claimed to be African-American on a census at least ten years prior and demonstrate an enslaved ancestor.

Of course, they don't explain how poor people would be able to demonstrate an enslaved ancestor. Perhaps they think it would be all right if middle class and rich African-American families got all the benefits. Nor do they explain how they would verify such ancestral claims.

A more realistic example from Gawker. Their idea is to use poverty as a proxy for enslavement and pay from the government in general. Middle class and rich African-Americans would receive no reparations. Impoverished descendants of slave owners would pay nothing (presuming they don't pay taxes).

Of course, that sounds a lot like the existing anti-poverty programs.

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It will depend on how well the state has kept records; and it might be a good instance of where the technology of big data could come identifying the likelihood of someone being a descendent of slaves.

Even if one doesn't have complete genealogy records, one might be satisfied if such a system is able to positively identify say 90% positively; one could verify such a system by taking a randomised control set of people who are known to be such descendents.

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  • Could you give an example of how a system would be able to show with 90% certainty that someone is a descendant of a slave? – Thunderforge Nov 8 '16 at 3:45
  • @thunderforge:that would be difficult given that there are no such systems; however the same statistical principles that are used in drug trial tests for determining the efficicacy of a certain drug, or in LHC for determining the significance of an observation applies. – Mozibur Ullah Nov 8 '16 at 4:15

Based upon a) historical evidence of public administration of similar political issues in the Pigford case, sometimes called the Clinton/Obama reparations and contemporary rent seeking and public choice theory (or other cases of harm, like the asbestos claims), there should be an expectation that any such program would be politicized, be rife with fraud and abuse, and neglect those that it was designed to pay off.

The Pigford case has been described as a scam.

The enormous scam was set in motion by a 1997 class-action lawsuit called Pigford v. Glickman, with black farmers alleging that the Department of Agriculture discriminated against them in allocating loans. The Government Accountability Office and the Agriculture Department found no evidence of ongoing discrimination, but that black farmers had been treated unfairly in the past. This injustice became the predicate for officially sanctioned fraud amounting to reparations for non-white, non-male farmers.

The Clinton administration decided on a $1 billion settlement, “more a political decision than a litigation decision,” one lawyer told the Times. The presiding judge expanded the definition of claimants to include anyone who had “attempted to farm,” and no written complaint of discrimination was necessary. The judge wanted to set up a mechanism to provide “those class members with little or no documentary evidence with a virtually automatic cash payment of $50,000.” He succeeded brilliantly. Staff from lawyers’ offices filled out forms for claimants at mass meetings. People filled out applications for their kids. Entire families filled out applications. Most applicants had never received any loans, making it impossible to check the record to verify their claims.

The NYT held that the program was established to encourage fraud at the taxpayer expense and to offer little accountability. In short to encourage lying.

Plaintiffs numbered no more than 500. The USDA estimated no more than 2000 claims could be filed. The National Black Farmers Association numbers the total number of black farmers at 18,000. But to date 94,000 claims have been paid out. (Human Events)[http://humanevents.com/2010/12/08/the-pigford-scandal/)

As in the Pigford case we can anticipate that there will be little to no verifiable criteria in place, and what criteria there are, will be subjective and encourage fraud.

In short, based upon the examples of Obama and Clinton, the assumption is that they do not plan to "correctly" identify qualified recipients at all.

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    While this is interesting information, explaining how likely fraud and abuse will be doesn't actually answer the question of how to identify the government might identify descendants of slaves in the US. – Thunderforge Nov 7 '16 at 18:38
  • To play devil's advocate, there are rebuttals to the NYT article about the Pigford case, such as this one from Susan Schneider, professor and director of the Section on Agricultural and Food Law at the University of Arkansas. – Thunderforge Nov 7 '16 at 18:44
  • @Thuderforge, yes this answer does. Basically we can assume that a) this is a political payoff and b) therefore the Dems have an incentive to buy as many votes as possible, so c) there won't be any real criteria in place, just like Pigford – K Dog Nov 7 '16 at 19:11

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