Asset Policy 2025: Beyond Reparations, Digital Wealth for the Next Century (April 2015)

Advocates for President Barack Obama to champion a national movement for reparations have a significant struggle ahead. The entrenchment of a Congress dedicated to states’ rights and limited government may well persist deep into the twenty-first century. Even with dedicated activism over the next decade, there is little evidence that any branch of the federal government will undertake the solemn task of national reconciliation in substantive ways to repair the damage done by racial inequality over the last two centuries. However, there is a wider base of popular support for this conversation than has ever existed. More than sixty million voters chose President Obama to lead the country in 2012. The power of the coalition, especially the young, if it can avoid disillusionment, has the power to redefine the nation and the world. Humanity deserves reparations for slavery, colonialism, and, now, globalization. How do we move forward from the current political moment? Organized, popular movement is the fundamental answer.

 

In September 2014, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History issued a challenge to students of history around the world. Share your ideas about the long history of reparations. Publish your findings and conclusions. Return to the centennial meeting in 2015 to discuss the range of possibilities and organize for future action. At the heart of the preliminary discussion, a question about the form of reparations payments rose immediately. What currency would be acceptable for potential payments? Whether dollars, euros, yen, or yuan, each central banking system represented crippling and divisive contexts for any future movement towards liberation. A few months later in California, advocates for the use of crypto-currencies – digital money – to destabilize global central banking pitched proposals to eliminate the crippling debts that African and Caribbean nations have carried since their independence. Another alternative is the massive mobilization of human capital, beyond the scales that powered the civil rights and independence movements in the middle of the twentieth century. This effort would globalize the work of early twentieth century trade unions, while leveraging the unprecedented power of transnational consumption to harness trillions of dollars in capital toward a singular redefinition of sustainable ownership and management wherever families live.

 

Pioneering scholars like SalamishahTillet and Mary Frances Berry excavated the long and specific agenda regarding reparations for slavery that every person honestly concerned with freedom must address. Callie House’s effort to create a national, economic cooperative was a model not sufficiently duplicated in the decades following the accomplishment of landmark civil rights legislation. T. Thomas Fortune’s efforts to create the National Negro Business League at the end of the nineteenth century expanded on House’s initial vision by recognizing the paradigm shift toward manufacturing and industry as the basis for wealth in the United States in the early twentieth century. W.E.B. DuBois’ call for networks of economic cooperatives across the African diaspora in 1935 also failed to motivate the creation of a financial infrastructure to sustain autonomous enterprises through the era of globalization.

 

The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA) has carried this legacy forward since 1987. Yet the organization has not generated sufficient interest and support, even among African Americans. Randall Robinson’s public reflection, titled The Debt, generated a brief spike in interest at the start of the twenty-first century, coinciding with a new generation’s engagement with the reparations debate through hip hop voices like KRS-One, Public Enemy, Dead Prez, and Black Star. Promising partnerships between activists and intellectuals (like the Black Radical Congress) did not create the institutions to follow in the footsteps of TransAfrica. The need to organize global political movements for economic justice only expanded in the last two decades. Worse, the breadth of the reparations agenda created a popular inertia, driving new supporters and possible allies away from the effort.

 

Ta-Nehisi Coates addressed this apathy squarely with his widely read essay – “The Case for Reparations” – in The Atlantic Monthly. Leveraging two generations of urban historical research, Coates moved the claim for repair away from the connection to enslavement in the Americas to the pervasive housing discrimination sponsored and subsidized by the federal government since 1937. Jamelle Bouie widened this opening with his short essay in Slatewhere he endorsed Coates’ claims and argued the moral imperative of reparations to heal the historic divisions in the United States. Other notable public voices to engage the topic include Melissa Harris-Perry, James Peterson, Peniel Joseph, Martha Biondi, David Freund, Nathan Connolly, Isabel Wilkerson, Michelle Alexander, William Darity,and Darrick Hamilton. Darity and Hamilton have developed a promising federal legislative initiative nicknamed ‘baby bonds’ to guarantee every child an opportunity build real assets (and avoid crippling debt) as they start adult life. Beyond the universal call to study the reasons for reparations in federal public policy, the time has come for an immediate, systemic intervention in the private sector to end the global crises of poverty and violence.

>

>

Sir Partha Dasgupta has studied the function of social capital in developing economies for four decades. In his most recent work in conjunction with the United Nations, he has shown that the wealthiest nations distinguish themselves by the high levels of human capital that they develop. In his formula, human capital represents the monetary value of a population’s education and marketable skills. In 2012, he estimated the inclusive wealth of the United States to exceed $118 trillion USD. More than 70 trillion of that wealth came from the skills and education of the American people. As historians Walter Johnson and Ed Baptist have shown in the nineteenth century, African Americans constituted a major driver in the capital and credit markets of the pre-industrial United States. To solve the problem posed by the ASALH challenge to create real reparations, African Americans and their global allies cannot rely on the mineral or financial wealth of the G8 nations to build economic stability at the local level. The only immediate intervention is the mobilization of the total human capital held by the most marginalized populations of the African, European, Asian, and Chicano diasporas.

>

>

One certain objection is the scale of the enterprise. How can anyone attempt to effectively organize some four billion people to thoughtfully participate in the global capital movement? It is a reasonable question. History and current events provide answers. In 2013, more than 200 million people left their homes to find new lives. This number has been stable for almost twenty years. Most of these efforts are dangerous, even deadly. A mission-oriented, multinational organization could both save lives and create greater economic stability by addressing the needs of the existing migrant pool. On a smaller scale in the United States, nearly 6 million African Americans left their homes in the South between 1910 and 1970. These Great Migrations transformed the American political economy, empowering the most inclusive governance and massive wealth generating legislation in the nation’s history. At the root of the American migrations were the editorials and advertisements in publications like Robert S. Abbott’s “Chicago Defender”. Newspapers and magazines provided popular discussion about the power and importance of working people moving. Without these courageous migrants, there would be no Harlem Renaissance, no New Deal, and no Civil Rights Movement.

>

>

The answer is a coherent, cooperative, sustained asset policy that unites non-profit organizations, private firms, and all levels of government, based on mass family migration. This call reaches out to every household with less than 500,000 USD in net worth to participate in organizing local groups to reduce household bills, increase personal income streams, and create regional planning networks under the guidance of African-American civil rights leaders. The first goal of these networks will be to facilitate recurring patterns of regional and international migration so that families can save more income and create participatory investment funds. For a household earning 64,000 USD per year in a G8 nation, general living expenses will cost less than 20,000 USD per year in a developing region. Each household could save over 15,000 USD per year to create new investments and passive income streams. Where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement created a 70% increase in household income across the South between 1950 and 1970, this Asset Policy can create the first chance at universal economic stability in human history.

>

>

Many of the formulations to repair historic and current injustices rely on the moral outrage that survivors and their descendants express. It is a successful technique, established between 1750 and 1870 by advocates for the abolition of racial slavery. Yet, this strategy has never been effective at generating popular support. At the peak of American abolitionism, only approximately 10 percent of Northerners favored an immediate end to slavery. A similar percentage of all Americans believed that federal legislation was necessary to end Jim Crow segregation in 1964. The Asset Policy does not rely on political popularity to move federal legislation; it is a local, individual commitment to use the framework of consumer markets to break down longstanding barriers to human equality. The greatest strength of this proposal is the economic necessity of voluntary participation in consumer capitalism. With conscientious limits on the availability of working families’ labor and consumption, the politics of institutional finance will change.

>

>

Consider the scale of Black participation in local consumer markets. Chicago, Illinois, has an African-American population of nearly 33 percent, spending almost 6 billion USD annually, representing almost 900 billion in human capital. Los Angeles – only 10 percent Black – sees almost 35 billion USD in Black spending and relies on approximately 400 billion USD in skills and education. NYC (26% African American) receives more than 25 billion USD in Black spending and leads US cities with Black human capital worth 2 trillion USD. In contrast, Atlanta is a majority Black city that only spends 4 billion USD with a human capital value over 200 billion. Houston’s Black population makes a quarter of the total local population, spending 26 billion a year, and worth nearly half a trillion dollars in education and expertise. Across the diaspora, Black cities represent a huge driver of potential growth as partners to African nations. Nigeria and South Africa’s respective GDPs were 593 billion and 341 billion in 2013. Even smaller potential partners like Ghana (35 billion) and Jamaica (14 billion) offer the chance to substantially increase asset creation around the world for working families through sustainable, small enterprise growth. As I have taught in my classes for more than a decade, unionism and education provided upward mobility for the poor and working classes between 1936 and 1981. Over the last forty years, the exclusion of working and middle class families from the opportunities to own industrial and commercial property is the main driver of global inequality.

>

>

A dynamic, mobile, working population across both regional and global scales is the key to a just world economy over the next century. Human capital provides the leverage that working people around the world need to correct the excesses of industrial and finance capital. Preventing the consolidation of digital enterprises as they attempt to reproduce the inequities of the last four centuries on an unprecedented scale is the immediate priority. The expansion of decentralized asset structures (and, as a result, passive income streams at the household level) is one path to economic stability for billions of people facing hunger, disease, and poverty. As a bonus, this kind of asset accumulation would create a class of global, propertied, working people whose political will would make traditional conceptions of reparations a symbolic concession. In this way, indigenous and marginal families in every nation could employ similar strategies to those used by displaced European Jews between 1897 and 1948 and interned Japanese Americans between 1970 and 1988. It is an opportunity to reset the global order in way that has not existed since the Black Death in the fourteenth century. Disaster need not be the pretext for revolution.

 

Sun City, South AfricaSun City, South Africa

Author: waltergreason1

Public Figure.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s