Reparations as Redistribution

Kyle D. Logue, University of Michigan


Most proponents of slavery reparations seem to have in mind substantial redistribution from whites to blacks within the U.S. This Article takes seriously the idea of slavery reparations as a redistributive program. The Article thus has a normative component in that it offers a new justification of some degree of racial redistribution, a justification that takes into account distributive justice concerns as well as efficiency concerns. The argument, in brief, is that, since race strongly correlates with differences in well-being, is relatively immutable (or at least not a function of work/leisure choices), and is relatively observable, a program of racial redistribution can have the properties of a distributively just lump-sum transfer. There are, of course, problems associated with racial redistribution, which the Article also discusses. Precisely how much redistribution by race there should be, what forms such redistribution should take, and whether the types of racial redistribution that we already have (via targeted spending programs and prohibitions against statistical discrimination as well as through race-based affirmative-action programs) is enough are the difficult questions that this Article does not answer. The Article does, however, suggest some of the general types of programs that should be considered and the criteria for evaluating them. Moreover, what is most relevant for the current debate over slavery reparations, the Article suggests that the slavery reparations debate would be improved if the focus of attention were redirected towards these distributive justice, efficiency, and policy-design issues and away from the questions of whether currently living white Americans (or corporations owned by white Americans) benefited from, and which currently living African Americans were harmed by, the institution of slavery.