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    Estimating Slavery Reparations: Present ValueComparisons of Historical MultigenerationalReparations Policies

    Thomas Craemer, University of Connecticut

    Objective. I investigate two problems regarding multigenerational reparations: legal obstacles causedby the passage of time and economic difficulties in obtaining realistic present value estimates.

    Methods. To investigate legal precedents, I trace the French spoliation claims, which were paidover a period of 123 years, and Haitis independence debt, which was paid over 156 years. Toinvestigate present value estimation, I compare existing slavery reparations estimates based on slaveprices as expected future income to alternative estimates based on the number of unremunerated

    work hours multiplied with historical free labor market wages.Results. I estimate the present valueof U.S. slave labor in 2009 dollars to range from $5.9 to $14.2 trillion. Historical precedentssuggest that political rather than narrowly legal processes will determine any ultimate claims.Conclusions. Neither problems nor solutions associated with multigenerational reparations are new.New is the estimation method and the resulting upward correction of reparations estimates.

    Public opinion research on slavery reparations suggests that support for slavery cruciallydepends onwhois to receive reparations, fromwhom, in whatmodality, and for whatreason(Craemer 2009a, 2009b; Dawson and Popoff, 2004). Otherwise, the connection is hardto see since the injured parties and proposed reparations recipients are separated by many

    generations. Reparations opponent Horowitz (2001: point 4) expresses this view when hestates: Most Americans have no connection (direct or indirect) to slavery. This statement,of course, fails to consider the fact that legal distinctions considered unconstitutional todaycontinue to exert tangible effects on Americans living today (Westley, 2005). Some Amer-icans alive today are excluded from receiving inheritances based on the hard work of theirancestors, simply because their ancestors were arbitrarily designated Person held to Serviceor Labour (U.S. Constitution, 2011, Article 4 Section 2, prior to the 13th Amendment).Instead, the property rights to these inheritances are transmitted to individuals whose an-cestors were equally arbitrarily designated as Party to whom such Service or Labour maybe due. Of course, over many generations estates diffuse, and people not named in any

    will may directly or indirectly benefit from the interest earning capital originally producedby a slave. Today, an African-American slave descendant can only indirectly benefit froman ancestors hard work by virtue of living in a powerful economy that received its start-upcapital during the 89 years when the U.S. government allowed slavery to exist. In contrast,some heirs of slave owners benefit both indirectlyanddirectly. They benefit from thepowerful economy and they may currently earn interest on estates accumulated in partthrough the hard work of other Americans ancestors.

    Direct correspondence to Thomas Craemer, Department of Public Policy, University of Connecticut, 1800Asylum Avenue, West Hartford, CT [email protected]. Thomas Craemer shall share

    all data and coding for replication purposes. The author would like to thank Robert Westley for inspiringdiscussions of slavery reparations.

    SOCIAL SCIENCE QUARTERLY, Volume 96, Number 2, June 2015C2015 by the Southwestern Social Science Association

    DOI: 10.1111/ssqu.12151

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    With regard to reparations, the uncertainty associated with the passage of time is viewedas a major obstacle (Kaplan and Valls, 2007). This obstacle is not only empirical but alsobased in law, influencing legal standing. Westley (2005:85) writes: Time and standingin American law are interrelated concepts . . . and . . . are socially constructed. Theirsocial construction renders them inherently political. According to Westley (2005:91),

    [l]egislatures may alter statutes of limitations or eliminate them altogether. This points tothe potential for a future political solution to the slavery reparations question. The historicalprecedents discussed in the following section, the so-called French spoliation claims andthe Haitian independence debt, show that previous multigenerational reparations casesfaced similar challenges. The two cases are comparable in three ways. First, both wereultimately resolved by political rather than merely legal means. Second, the governmentof the United States played a crucial role in administering both cases. Finally, time lapseswere comparable123 years in the case of the French spoliation claims, and 156 years inthe case of the Haitian independence debt. With 150 years since the abolition of slavery in1865, the time lapse regarding slavery reparations in the United States falls between these

    two historical precedents.In other ways, the two reparations precedents are not comparable. For example, whilethe French spoliation claims represent amoralexample of multigenerational reparations(descendants of the harmed party were compensated), the Haitian independence debtrepresents an immoralexample (descendants of slaves were forced to pay reparations todescendants of their former owners). Further, both cases differ from slavery reparations asthe beneficiaries in both cases were White1 (White Americans in the case of the Frenchspoliation claims and White French in the case of the Haitian independence debt) ratherthan Black (descendants of slaves in the United States or Haiti).

    With respect to slavery reparations in the United States, the uncertainty associated with

    the passage of time and the resulting need to make simplifying assumptions have provena challenge for historical economists. In this article, I am going to compare specific repa-rations proposals developed in the 1990s whose present value estimates (in 2009 US$)ranged from a total debt of $17.4 billion (Ransom and Sutch, 1990) and $1.4 trillion(Neal, 1990), to $4.7 trillion (Marketti, 1990). These proposals do not represent the uni-verse of all reparations proposals ever developed, but they represent a specific subset ofproposals that look only at the 89 years during which slavery existed in the United States.They ignore slavery in the colonial period, as well as reparations for injustices during the JimCrow era. These issues are important, but would require different remedies. The existingreparations estimates are based on slave prices as expected future income streams from thesale of cash crops. They ignore the substantial time spent by slaves on forced activities otherthan cash crop production. To correct for this omission, I propose an alternative estimationmethod based on the number of unremunerated work hours multiplied by historical hourlyfree labor compensation to estimate the value that slaves contributed to the U.S. econ-omy. In terms of total amounts, my reparations estimates exceed the historical precedents(the French spoliation claims and the Haitian independence debt), as well as most of thereviewed proposals made in the 1990s. However, in per capita terms, recipients of theFrench spoliation claims and the Haitian independence debt received substantially largerindividual reparations awards than would be the case for African Americans even underthe most liberal reparations estimate considered here.

    In the following section, I will review the historical precedents for multigenerationalreparations: the French spoliation claims and the Haitian independence debt. In subsequent

    1To emphasize the socially constructed character of the race concept, group names are capitalized even ifthey refer to colors (e.g., Black, White, Black Americans, and White Americans).

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    sections, I will review specific slavery reparations proposals by Ransom and Sutch (1990),Neal (1990), and Marketti (1990) based on slave prices. I will provide an economic critiqueof their approach and present an alternative estimation method based on historical freelabor market wages. Then, I will compare all reparations schemes, both historical andproposed, in terms of magnitude to the Bush/Obama stimulus packages of 2008 and 2009.

    This provides a baseline of comparison of large contemporary government expendituresthat were also the result of a political process. They share the function of stimulatingthe economy, an aspect that has historically been part of slavery reparations proposalsfrom the earliest proposals. For example, the first movement for slavery reparations (slavepensions) in the 1890s represented a strange coalition of southern ex-confederates andex-slaves (Berry, 2005:35). Legislation to this effect was supported by abolitionist iconFrederick Douglass and introduced into the Senate by Alabama Democrat Edmund M.Pettus (Diouf, 2007:20102). While African-American supporters hoped that reparationswould improve the living standards of ex-slaves, white southern Democrats pursued thebill as a stimulus package for the stagnating southern economy.

    Historical Precedents for Multigenerational Reparations

    The French Spoliation Claims

    The French spoliation claims represent the earliest precedent of multigenerational repara-tions in the United States. They date back to the American Revolution but their settlementlasted well into the 20th century. The claims cover only a seven-year period from 1793to 1800 when France attacked American ships in retaliation for the United States neutralstance in the war between France and Britain (Scattergood and Henry, 1910:21/29). Thisneutrality, formalized through the Jay Treaty in 1794, was interpreted by the revolutionarygovernment of France as a breach of the treaty Benjamin Franklin had concluded in 1778on behalf of the American Revolution with King Louis XVI of France (hereafter referred toas the Franklin Treaty). Following the Franklin Treaty of 1778 Royal France had poured anestimated $280,000,000 (1,400,000,000 francs) into the American Revolution along withnearly 20,000 troops and a navy of 36 war ships (Scattergood and Henry, 1910:19/148).In return, the United States had promised aid should Frances possessions in the WestIndies ever be threatened. That aid was neither forthcoming in 1791 when a slave uprisingin Saint-Domingue threatened French colonial rule, nor in 1793 when Britain challengedFrench domination in Saint-Domingue. In light of these developments, Jays Treaty in 1794was perceived by Revolutionary France as a hostile act and led to a policy of confiscationdirected at American merchant ships. The U.S. government referred to these confiscationsas spoliations and demanded compensation from France.

    What turned the spoliations claims into an American reparations case was the fact thatthe United States concluded a treaty with France on September 30, 1800 ending thedispute. France agreed to release the United States from her obligations under the FranklinTreaty of 1778 in return for the United States releasing France from the spoliation claims.This led to a century of political lobbying on the part of the original claimants and theirheirs for payment of the spoliation claims by the U.S. government. Their reasoning, shared

    by Senator Charles Sumner in 1864, was based on the Fifth Amendment. Sumner writes:The Constitution . . . declares that private property shall not be taken for public usewithout just compensation. Here private property, to a vast amount, was taken for public

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    use, involving the peace and welfare of the whole country; and down to this day thesufferers are petitioning Congress for that just compensation solemnly promised by theConstitution (Sumner cited in Scattergood and Henry, 1910:8384). As the Civil Warwas drawing to a close, Sumner discussed three main objections to the spoliation claims:(1) It is said that these claims are ancient and stale . . . (2) It is sometimes said that these

    claims are no longer the property of the original sufferers . . . (3) It is sometimes suggestedthat, even assuming the meritorious character of these claims, yet in the present conditionof the country they ought to be postponed (Sumner cited in Scattergood and Henry,1910:6567). In response to the first two objections, Sumner stated: It would be hardlycreditable for a government to take advantage of its own procrastination and refuse justcompensation because the original sufferer had been compelled . . . to discount his claims.. . . It is well known that in many families these claims still exist as heirlooms, transmittedby ancestral care in the full confidence that, sooner or later, they will be recognized by theGovernment (Sumner cited in Scattergood and Henry, 1910:6667). In response to thethird objection regarding war time and the associated economic difficulties, Sumner stated:

    Any postponement must inevitably throw these claims into direct competition with thosenow accumulating on account of losses during the rebellion . . . If the earlier claims arejust they should not be exposed to the hazards of any such competition, when feeling willbe stronger than reason (Sumner cited in Scattergood and Henry, 1910:67).

    It was not until 1885 that Congress referred the spoliation claims to the U.S. Courtof Claims for evaluation and payment (Scattergood and Henry, 1910:8). The Court ofClaims was tasked with conducting extensive historical research, relying on documentsfrom executors and descendants of the original proprietors and sending special governmentagents abroad to search for evidence relating to the claims (Scattergood and Henry, 1910:89).

    By 1890, the Court of Claims had decided on claims worth a combined value of$11,726,726.26 (present value in 2009 dollars: $276,446,580.26, computed based onFriedmans, 2009, Inflation Calculator).2 The Court of Claims found in favor of 282 pe-titions praying for a combined amount of $3,346,726.26 (present value in 2009 dollars:$78,895,934.73) but limited the total amount of reparations to $1,604,681.99 (presentvalue in 2009 dollars: $37,828,873.86), making up only 13.68 percent of the originalclaims. Petitions amounting to $8,380,000 were dismissed by the court due to a lack ofevidence (Mansur cited in Scattergood and Henry, 1910:133). Thus, the average claim re-ceived by a successful claimant was $5,690.36 (present value in 2009 dollars: $134,144.90).

    Throughout the history of the French spoliation claims, three presidential vetoes hadto be overcome before Congress could appropriate funds, the first by President Polk in1846, the second by President Pierce in 1855, and the last by President Cleveland in 1896(Scattergood and Henry, 1910:3637), moving the spoliation claims issue well into the20th century. Describing the situation in 1910, Scattergood and Henry (1910) state, thetotal favorable findings from the beginning to the present have amounted to only a littlemore than $6,000,000, and it is understood that the subject is now almost disposed of, sofar as favorable findings by the court are concerned . . . the total amount of these claimsis now practically certain not to exceed $6,500,000 (Scattergood cited in Scattergoodand Henry, 1910:910). The range of $6 to $6.5 million in 1910 would represent from$136,432,892.37 to $147,802,300.06 in 2009 dollars.

    2Present values in 2009 dollars are computed using Friedmans (2009) Inflation Calculator( based on consumer price index statistics from Historical Statistics ofthe United States (USGPO, 1975) and from the annual Statistical Abstracts of the United States.

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    Haitis Independence Debt

    Haitis independence debt turned the concept of slavery reparations on its head sinceit forced former slaves to pay compensation to their former owners. In 1791, a slaverebellion broke out in the French colony of Saint-Domingue that ultimately led to Haitian

    independence in 1804. Initially, the insurgent slaves fought against the French Revolutionbecause it had failed to abolish slavery. When the French Revolution found itself at war witha united royalist Europe it declared the abolition of slavery on February 4, 1794, to gainthe support of the insurgent slaves. The latter switched sides and supported the FrenchRevolution against the British and Spanish. However, in 1801, Napoleon sent GeneralLeclerk to reestablish slavery and imprison the leader of the slave uprising, ToussaintLOuverture, who died in captivity in France in 1802. In response, LOuvertures successorJean-Jacques Dessalines defeated Napoleon in 1803 long before any European militarypower matched this feat. A side effect of the French defeat was Napoleons decisionto sell the Louisiana Territory to the United States after it lost its strategic purpose of

    defending Frances most valuable colonial possession. Jean-Jacques Dessalines declaredHaitis independence as a free Black nation on January 1, 1804. In 1806, Haiti splitinto two parts, a monarchy under King Henri Christophe in the north, and a republicunder President Petion in the south. While the north retained a plantation system similar toslavery, the south divided the old plantations among the former slaves. Thus, while the northhad sufficient income from exports to build a strong military and defend independenceagainst colonial aggression, the south sought a diplomatic strategy. Beauvois (2009:112)writes that Petion proposed to pay France in return for an official recognition of Haitisindependence: rather than demanding return of the former owners property, the Frenchgovernment would do much better, both for itself and for the former owners, if it would sell

    us Saint-Domingue like it sold Louisiana to the United States. In 1820, Petions successorPresident Boyer united the two parts of Haiti and continued indemnity negotiations withFrance. King Charles X of France ended negotiations on April 17, 1825 by dispatching aunilaterally drafted order to Port-au-Prince reinforced by a large fleet, demanding in returnfor an official acknowledgment of Haitis independence that [t]he current inhabitants ofthe French part of Saint-Domingue will pay one hundred fifty million francs . . . intendedto compensate the former settlers who demand an indemnity (Sur lIndemnite, 1828:3,translation TC).

    The French demand for restitution represented over 10 times the annual Haitian revenueat that time so that Haiti had to borrow the money. It borrowed the first 30,000,000- francinstallment from the French bank Ternaux Grandolpe et Cie, and the second from LafitteRothschild Lapanonze. Haiti could not complete the scheduled indemnity payments anddefaulted. In 1838, renegotiations of the terms concluded with the Traite dAmitie reducingthe remaining balance down to 60,000,000 francs (Phillips, 2008:5). This deal was againreinforced by a large fleet (Phillips, 2008:6). Haiti paid the final installment in 1883 afterhaving paid more than 90,000,000 francs in reparations. Haiti had to borrow more than166,000,000 francs to finance the indemnity and early loan payments. Phillips (2008:6)writes: More than half of that money was returned to the lending banks under the rubricof commissions, fees and interest payments. In 1915, as in prior years, 80 percent of thegovernments revenue was spent on servicing the independence debt, stunting growthof infrastructure, education, and healthcare (Phillips, 2008:7). That same year the UnitedStates invaded and occupied Haiti and in 1919, the National City Bank of New York (todaysCitibank) acquired a controlling interest in the Haitian National Bank (Phillips, 2008:6).In 1922, the bank acquired Haitis outstanding debts to French banks and continued to

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    service these debts until 1947 (Phillips, 2008:6). Phillips (2008) writes: It took Haiti 122years to repay its Independence Debt. It did so 140 years after the abolition of the slavetrade and 85 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. In the same year, the Nazis paidfor their crimes, including slavery, at Nuremberg, Haiti still labored to repay in cash thefreedom its founding fathers had won with their lives (Phillips, 2008:6).

    On occasion of the bicentennial of Haitis declaration of independence in 2004, thegovernment of Haiti under President Aristide filed a legal brief to request, not reparationsfor slavery itself, but simply a repayment of Haitis independence debt (De Cordoba, 2004).Haitian economist and close advisor to President Aristide, Francis St.-Hubert, computedthe present value figure of that amount with 5 percent interest and arrived at an amount of$21,685,135,571.48, presumably in 2004 dollars ($24,426,224,950.57 in 2009 dollars).He said: The clock is running at a rate of $34 a second (St.-Hubert quoted in DeCordoba, 2004).

    When it comes to slavery reparations in the United States, the argument is often madethat tracing withheld wages and other benefits over many generations would be impossibly

    complicated (see Kaplan and Valls, 2007). The most interesting aspect of the Haitian case isthe meticulous research at government expense tracing indemnity claims from the originalslaveholders over many generations to their legal heirs. Phillips (2008:12) writes: Detailedclaims, submitted by former slave owners for compensation, including the monetary valueof the lost slaves . . . have been documented. In 1828, the French government producedan incredibly detailed report listing the names of all property owners of Saint-Domingueprior to the revolution. This massive six- volume Etat Detaille (1828) contains the namesof former property owners, information about lost plantations and other real estate, as wellas names and estimated values of the lost enterprises. Naturally, the estimated value of theenterprises contains the value of the slaves who were exploited in them. Most importantly,

    theEtat Detaille (1828) contains lists of heirs with sometimes up to 40 names. Overall, itcontains about 7,900 names of owners and their heirs.The spoliation claims and the Haitian independence debt are moral opposites, the

    former indemnifying descendants of victims and the other descendants of perpetrators.But they both show that reparations for events multiple generations in the past are not anew idea. There is ample legal as well as administrative precedent. In both cases, extensivearchival research was financed by governments and political settlements were reached.The arguments against multigenerational reparations are also not new: the argument thatnobody alive today was either ever a slave owner or a slave mirrors the arguments againstthe French spoliations claims Charles Sumner responded to so eloquently. However, the

    historical events they addressed were very circumscribed, ranging from 1791 to 1800 inthe French spoliations case, and from 1791 to 1804 with regard to Haitis independencedebt. The fact that slavery lasted for centuries and involved a vastly greater number ofpotential claimants (ex-slaves and their descendants) makes slavery reparation a muchmore daunting process. Further, the debt is likely much more staggering, involving manymillions of lifetimes of unpaid labor, compounding interest over a longer period of time.This raises the question of what order of magnitude to expect for possible slavery reparationspolicies in the United States.

    Slavery Reparations Proposals

    This section compares three specific slavery reparations proposals developed to addressrestitution for unpaid labor and lost inheritances in the 1990s. They are compiled in Richard

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    F. Americas (1990) The Wealth of Races. The Present Value of Benefits from Past Injustices.Thebook contains a wider range of proposals that also take into consideration remedial policiesfor racial discrimination following the Civil War to the current time. Although these broaderreparations proposals deserve equal consideration, I am focusing the present discussion ona set of more narrow proposals for two reasons. Although slavery and discrimination

    are historically intertwined, they are conceptually distinguishable. Lost wages and deniedaccess to inheritances can be addressed at the individual level, comparable to the Frenchspoliations claims and the Haitian independence debt. Of course, race was part and parcelof both cases. However, their claims were based on lost inheritances with interest, not ongroup membership per se. In contrast, reparations policies that address racial discriminationrequire group-based remedies based on the same group distinctions that represented thebasis for discrimination (Westley, 2005). The conflation of individual-level and group-level claims has led both reparations supporters and reparations opponents to interpretantidiscrimination policies and affirmative action as substitutes for slavery reparations.For example, reparations supporter Westley (1998:12829) states: Affirmative action, by

    providing Blacks with educational and employment opportunities that they would nototherwise have due to white racism, compensated Blacks for the injustices they suffered.Reparations opponent McWhorter (2003) uses this logic to argue that reparations havealready been paid. Conservative columnist Krauthammer (2001) even advocates slaveryreparations in return for an elimination of existing affirmative action policies (for a moredetailed discussion, see Craemer, 2009a:281).

    Interestingly, the historical precedents of multigenerationalreparations such as the Frenchspoliations claims or Haitis independence debt tend to be overlooked in this contextdespite the fact that the latter has direct relevance to slavery. Why should descendants ofBlack slaves relinquish claims that descendants of their owners and other Whites not only

    claimed but received? And why should one form of claim (group-level racial discrimination)count against another (individual-level denied inheritances) when one historical injusticeaggravated the other?

    Slavery Reparations Estimates from the 1990s

    Various methods have been proposed to estimate the size of the reparations debt, withestimates ranging from $17 billion (Ransom and Sutch, 1990), to $1.4 trillion (Neal,1990), up to $4.7 trillion (Marketti, 1990), all in 1983 dollars. In 2009 dollars, this would

    represent $36.14 billion, $2.98 trillion, and $9.99 trillion, respectively.Ransom and Sutch (1990:32) use the market value of a slave from historical records as

    the buyers calculation of the present value of the stream of income which the buyer couldextract from the slave. With that expected income stream representing the difference ofthe slaves productivity and the cost of feeding and housing the slave, according to Ransomand Sutch (1990:32), the price of a slave summarizes the capitalized value of the economicexploitation inherent in the slave system. They define the term economic exploitationas that part of labors product which is not returned to the slave as food, shelter, andother consumption items (Ransom and Sutch, 1990:32). Using a rate of return of 6.6percent, Ransom and Sutch (1990:3233) estimate the dollar value of exploitation from

    the crop output produced by slaves in each year using evidence on the slave populationand the average price of slaves. Ransom and Sutch (1990:47) calculate the total value ofexploitation per slave and subtract from it the estimated value of consumption provided tothe slave. These numbers allow Ransom and Sutch (1990) to compute the total amount of

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    exploited slave labor for each year, summing it across years, while compounding interest,yielding the present valueof past exploitation in 1860, which they estimated in 1983 at$17.4 billion (Ransom and Sutch, 1990:33), $36.99 billion in 2009 dollars.

    The idea of subtracting the cost of slave consumption from the slaves productivity, andonly treating the difference as expropriated property for which reparations are due, seems

    odd. Whatever food a slave consumed was not his or her choice, nor was it for his or herbenefit. Even when ingested, the calories remained the property of the slave owner alongwith the work these calories produced.

    The logical problem with this estimation method becomes even clearer in Neals (1990)calculation of the current benefits of slavery. Conceptually, Neals (1990:92) estimationmethod seems straight forward: estimate the difference between what slave owners wouldhave had to pay free black men and women for the same tasks . . . and what they actuallyspent on their slaves. However, rather than using historical wage records along with thetotal number of work hours available to slave owners, Neal (1990) follows Ransom andSutch (1990) in using slave prices as a basis for estimating slave wages. Neal (1990)

    writes: The empirical work involves three steps. The first estimates the market value of theunpaid net wages of slaves who lived at various times before emancipation. . . . The secondestimates the number of slaves who labored without fair pay. . . . The third multipliesthe amounts by the number of slaves . . . and aggregates them (Neal, 1990:94). Neal(1990:100) arrives at a present value estimate of diverted slave wages of $1.4 trillion in1883, which represents $2.98 trillion in 2009 dollars. As Ransom and Sutchs (1990)method, however, Neals (1990) method relies on the market price of the slave as the futureincome stream expected by the slave owner, not on the slaves actual time lost. Using asimilar method, Marketti (1990) arrives at larger estimates, ranging from $2.1 to $4.7trillion in 1983 (Marketti 1990:107), representing a range of $4.46 to $9.99 trillion in

    2009 dollars.Although estimation methods based on slave owner expectations and slave losses mayyield debt estimates of similar orders of magnitude, it seems important conceptually touse historical records from the slaves perspective, not the slave owners. Only from a slaveowners perspective would it seem necessary to estimate the number of slaves who laboredwithout fair pay (Neal, 1990:94). From a slaves perspective, fair pay is an obviousoxymoron, and in place of an estimate, the actual total number of slaves can be used as abasis of debt estimation.

    Slave prices resembled wages only from the perspective of a slave owner, who wouldhave had the choice of hiring free laborers instead of purchasing slaves. In contrast, fromthe perspective of the slave, upkeep costs did not resemble a wage (much less a fairone) because the slave had no (legal) choice in the matter. If unhappy with the wage(provisions), the slave could not choose a different employer (slave owner), thus rulingout any competition of employers (slave owners) for employees (slaves). To circumventthis problem, I use historical data on hourly compensation for free labor, adding up thetotal hours of work that were available to slave owners, and multiplying the two. Beforedoing this, a discussion of the assumptions underlying price formation on free markets isrequired.

    Free Labor Economics

    The idea that prices represent true reflections of supply and demand on markets forlabor, goods, and services assumes that all market participants exercise free choice. Slave

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    labor obviously violates this assumption. Further, while the goal of a planter was to producecrops for sale, profit-maximizing motives led planters to spend as little money as possible onfeeding, clothing, and housing slaves and on running the slave owners household. The log-ical answer to this problem was to use slaves to produce directly for domestic consumption.This represented a form of subsistence farming writ large. However, economic measures

    based on market assumptions are blind to forced labor and subsistence production. Sincemany of the goods and services slaves produced were not exchanged for money, they wouldneither have entered slave prices nor the gross domestic product (GDP) (see Bloem andShrestha, 2000; Costanza et al. 2009).

    Based on forced subsistence farming, plantations could accumulate lavish wealth for theowners while producing comparatively little monetary income. This led to the seeminglycontradictory phenomenon of money scarcity among the rich. George Washington biog-rapher Ron Chernow (2010) illustrates this phenomenon when he describes Washingtonas land and slave rich but cash poor (Chernow cited in Spears, 2010). The goods andservices that allowed him to live lavish in a state of money scarcity were produced on

    his own farms by the farms slaves. While the prices for Washingtons slaves on a slavemarket would only have represented their monetary earning potential through cash cropproduction, a more accurate estimate of the value they contributed to Washingtons lifewould be to estimate the money Washington would have had to spend to pay free laborersto produce all goods and services his slaves produced, including those aimed at domesticconsumption (subsistence work). In the following section, I will use historical data onwages for free labor to estimate the total value that slaves contributed the U.S. economywhile slavery existed in the United States.

    Alternative Estimation Method

    Using historical data on wages for free labor raises the obvious question of whether slavesif freed would have received the same compensation. Of course, racial discrimination mighthave led to lower wages for freed slaves in practice. But discrimination cannot legitimatelybe used to reduce present value reparations estimates. The only relevant consideration isthe likelihood that wages could have changed had an estimated 3 million forced laborerssuddenly flooded the free labor market.

    Figure 1 illustrates why, at least in theory, the addition of freed slave laborers might nothave exerted a net effect on wages. In this model, S represents wage labor supply under free

    market conditions and S

    wage labor supply under slavery. The demand for labor underfree market conditions is denoted D and that under slavery D. TheX-axis represents thequantity of wage labor available, Q under free market conditions and Q under slavery.Under free market conditions the intersection of lines S and D represents the market price(wage) for free labor. Removing potential wage laborers from the market into slavery wouldreduce free labor supply, which, if it was the only effect, would lead to wage increases forthe remaining free laborers (the intersection of lines S and D). However, the institutionof slavery also removed the corresponding quantity of wage labor demand from the labormarket (moving line D to D), resulting in a free labor market wage that remains more orless unchanged (intersection of S and D). These countervailing considerations justify the

    use of free market hourly compensation records to estimate the earning potential of slaveshad they been free laborers at the time. Of course, slavery forced slaves to produce morelabor than they would have offered voluntarily (longer work days). As such, the quantityof labor available to slave owners may have been greater than the amount of labor they

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    FIGURE 1

    Effect of Slavery on Free Wages

    NOTE: D= demand; S= supply; Q= quantity of labor; w=wages; X = free market quantity; X =quantityunder slavery.

    could have purchased on the free labor market had the slaves been free laborers. Thissuggests market wages may have been higher had slaves been free laborers. On the otherhand, it is also possible that the labor slaves offered as free laborers might have been moreefficient (better rested, higher motivation), such that less labor (a shorter work day) wouldhave had the same effect, reducing the amount of labor (in work hours) demanded underfree market conditions. With these countervailing considerations, average market hourlycompensation for free labor is probably a reasonably good estimate of wages lost due toslavery.

    To obtain reparations estimates, I use the work hours available in the slave labor forceand multiply them with average market wages at the time. The slave population is recorded

    from the 1790 census on (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1975:18) and estimated by linearinterpolation for years between decennial censuses. For the period from 1776 to 1789, esti-mates are obtained by linear extrapolation using the estimated annual population increasebetween 1790 and 1800 (reducing the number of slaves by 19,592.1 for each year before1790). Information on production workers hourly compensation (in nominal dollars) isprovided online by Officer and Williamson (2009). These wage data are available from1790 to 2009 and I estimated the missing values before that time by linear extrapolationusing data on the cost of unskilled labor, which is available all the way back to 1774.3 I


    The extrapolation procedure is based on the assumption that production workers hourly compensationin nominal dollars would have experienced ups and downs proportional to those of the cost of unskilled labor.For the year before the first recorded production workers hourly compensation, I took the first nominal dollarcompensation and divided it by the ratio of that years cost of unskilled labor index over the correspondingindex for the year for which the estimate of production worker compensation was to be determined. Then

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    Estimating Slavery Reparations 649

    estimate reparations for the period from 1776 to 1865 since this is the time the UnitedStates could have abolished slavery but failed to do so.

    I present two slavery-reparations scenarios whereby the more conservative estimates theamount of uncompensated work time only, while the more liberal one counts any amountof time the slave was on the clock. Scenario 1 only counts slaves of working age (five

    years or older) during daylight working hours (on average roughly 12). Scenario 2 relaxesthe age requirement because slave owners were under no legal obligation to observe agelimits, and it counts all 24 hours of the day as time to be compensated. Scenario 2 hasthe advantage of accurately representing the role of downtime and sleep for a slave: it wasrestoration of energy for further forced labor. It was not spare time in the wage-labor sensewith choice of activities and granting it or not was entirely up to the slave ownerno lawrequired it. Granting or denying it was part of the economic calculation of the slave ownerand the life expectancy of a slave crucially depended on that utility calculation.

    For Scenario 1, the proportion of slaves under the age of five is estimated and subtractedfrom the total number of slaves recorded in the decennial censuses. The estimate is based on

    the number of slaves under the age of five listed in the 1850 and 1860 censuses (the listingsare separate by male and female slaves, and for each group in both years, the percentageof under-five year olds is computed). The percentages are then averaged across gendersand across the two years (16.69 percent). For 1776, the estimated number of slaves is423,394 (above five years of age 352,709), with an estimated number of work hours of365(12)=4,380 hours for Scenario 1. For Scenario 2, the number of work hours amountsto 365(24) = 8,760 hours. At an estimated production workers hourly compensationof $0.017, the amounts owed for the year 1776 are $26,722,011.76 for Scenario 1 and$64,154,126.11 for Scenario 2. Since these wages remained unpaid, interest is charged forthat year, which, at a conservative 3 percent, would result in $27,523,672.12 for Scenario 1

    and $66,078,749.90 for Scenario 2. In each scenario, the next years uncompensated slavework hours are multiplied with that years production worker hourly compensation, addedto the previous unpaid total, and the total sum compounded with 3 percent interest. Thisprocedure is continued until 1860, the last year antebellum for which census figures areavailable. Since the formal abolition of slavery did not occur until 1865, these estimatesleave an additional five years of slave labor unaccounted for. During the Civil War, theslave population dropped, and no reliable census records are available to impute slavepopulation estimates for the years between the 1860 census and 1865. Thus, the resultingfigures establish lower boundaries for debt estimates.

    From 1860 until 2009, the estimated amount grows each year by the interest ratethat is applied (here 3 percent) and the resulting total slavery debt figures for 2009 are$5,931,336,366,538.91 for Scenario 1 and $14,239,934,652,326.70 for Scenario 2. If thenumber of slave descendants is estimated based on the number of people who identify asAfrican American or Black in the U.S. Census of 20062008 (37,131,771 individuals4),per capita reparations would amount to $159,737.50 in Scenario 1 and $383,497.32 inScenario 2. With a U.S. Census estimate for the total U.S. population of 301,507,198,the per capita debt for all Americans (White, Black, or otherwise) would amount to$19,672.29 in Scenario 1 and $47,229.17 in Scenario 2. Since most reparations recipientswould have a dual role as debtors (Americans) as well as claimants (slave descendants),net per capita reparations would amount to $140,065.21 in Scenario 1 and $336,268.15

    I treated that estimate as the first available production worker compensation entry and repeated the processuntil all missing values back to 1776 had been estimated.

    4The 2000 Census Black population proportion was p = 0.1231538457. At a total U.S. population of301,507,198 in 20062008, the Black population estimate for that time span would be 37,131,771.

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    FIGURE 2

    Unpaid Slave Labor at 3 Percent Interest as Percentage of the U.S. GDP (Dotted Horizontal

    Line); Dotted Vertical Lines Represent the Civil War (18601865)

    in Scenario 2. According to the Pew Research Center (Taylor et al., 2011), the racial

    gap in median household net worth between Whites and African Americans in 2009amounted to $107,472. Thus, both scenarios would help to eliminate the persisting wealthgap.

    Debt estimates over long periods of time are extremely sensitive to the choice of interestrate as a comparison with the 2009 U.S. GDP of approximately $14,256,300,000,000.00demonstrates. At 3 percent interest, the debt estimated for Scenario 1 is less than half theU.S. GDP (41.6 percent) and that for Scenario 2 is roughly the same as the U.S. GDP(99.88 percent). In contrast, at 4 percent interest, the debt balloons to 2.6 times the U.S.GDP in Scenario 1 and 6.17 times the U.S. GDP in Scenario 2. Thus, settling on aninterest rate would likely represent the most important topic of political negotiations in

    any reparations debate.Figure 2 plots the slave debt at 3 percent interest over time as percentage of the U.S.

    GDP with the top panel representing the conservative Scenario 1 and the bottom theliberal Scenario 2. The dotted horizontal line just above the X-axis represents 100 percentof the U.S. GDP and the dotted vertical lines mark the beginning and the end of the CivilWar (18601865). For most of American history, paying the debt in full as a lump sumwould have seemed impossible. Only under the more conservative scenario (Scenario 1 at 3percent interest) would the total slavery debt have dropped below 100 percent of the U.S.GDP and only as recently as the mid-1980s (see top panel of Figure 2). The massive roleslave labor played in the U.S. economy, especially prior to the Civil war, is evident in both

    panels of Figure 2. During the Civil War, its proportion of the overall economy dipped,but continued to be well above 100 percent of the U.S. GDP even after the Civil War.How could slavery have been multiple times more valuable than the entire coun-

    trys GDP? As described above, this question plagues all economic theories of unpaid

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    Estimating Slavery Reparations 651

    FIGURE 3

    Slavery Reparations Estimates and 2008/2009 Stimulus Package in 2009 Dollars Compared to

    the U.S. GDP

    NOTE: Spoliations: French spoliation awards; Haiti: Haiti independence debt; Ransom/Sutch: Ransom &Sutch (1990); Bush/Obama: Bushs and Obamas Stimulus Packages of 2008 and 2009; Neal: Neal (1990);Scenario 1: Scenario 1 at 3 percent interest; Marketti: Marketti (1990); Scenario 2: Scenario 2 at 3 percentinterest; U.S. GDP: U.S. GDP in 2009 (total top panel, per capita bottom panel).

    labor (e.g., Bloem and Shrestha, 2000; Costanza et al., 2009). The GDP measuresonly financial transactions in formal markets and renders other economic activitiesincluding slave labor and subsistence workinvisible. What the charts in Figure 2 clearlydemonstrate is the enormous contribution slave labor made in kick-starting the U.S.economy.

    Comparing Current Value of Historical Reparations Proposals

    The top panel of Figure 3 provides a comparison of all reparations policies discussed

    in this article, both historical and proposed (black bars). Estimates are in 2009 dollarsto facilitate comparison with the Bush/Obama stimulus packages of 2008/2009 (whitebars). The stimulus packages represent a baseline of comparison for large governmentexpenditures that have proven politically feasible despite their lack of popularity. The

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    652 Social Science Quarterly

    Bush/Obama stimulus packages combine the Economic Stimulus Act worth $152 billion,signed into law by President George W. Bush on February 13, 2008, the EmergencyEconomic Stabilization Act worth $700 billion, signed into law by President Bush onOctober 3, 2008, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act worth $787 billion,signed into law by President Barack Obama on February 17, 2009. The total amount of the

    stimulus packages exceeds $1.6 trillion. As a further baseline of comparison, the right-mostbars in Figure 3 provide the 2009 U.S. GDP.

    The French spoliation awards as of 1910, the demanded repayment of Haitis indepen-dence debt as estimated in 2004, and the U.S. slavery reparations estimates of Ransom andSuch (1990) fall substantially below the 2008/2009 stimulus packages, while Neals (1990)and Markettis (1990) estimates based on slave prices, as well as Scenarios 1 and 2 based onhistorical hourly wages (computed at 3 percent interest), fall substantially above. In fact,Scenario 2, which counts 24 hours a day and seven days a week without age restrictions onbillable hours, rivals the entire 2009 U.S. GDP (see top panel of Figure 3). Reparationsdemands based on national income estimates are not without precedent. The independence

    debt France demanded of Haiti was carefully calculated to represent 10 times the nationalincome of Haiti. Beauvais (2009) writes about how France arrived at the demand of a 150million francs indemnity: Following the order of 17 April, a commission responsible forreviewing Haitis income [was] appointed on September 1, 1825. Based on Haitian exportsfigures in 1823 . . . the commission concluded . . . that Haitis annual net income [was]15 million. Thus, France claimed an indemnity amounting to 10 years of net nationalincome (Beauvois, 2009:116, translation TC).

    Of course, comparing stimulus packages to reparations policies seems odd. First, repa-rations policies aim at compensating for bad past behavior, while stimulus packages areoriented toward future economic growth (although they could also be viewed asrewarding

    bad past behavior). Some of the stimulus amounts (e.g., TARP as part of the EmergencyEconomic Stabilization Act of 2008, signed by President Bush on October 3, 2008) re-quire repayment by the corporations that received them. This would not be the casewith slavery reparations. However, this could be viewed as a mere reversal in the se-quence in which payments are made. In the case of TARP, the government advancedcapital to be repaid by private corporations. In the case of slavery reparations, slaveswere the ones who provided the stimulus package (start-up capital for the U.S. econ-omy) and reparations would represent repayment albeit with a long delay. At the sametime, however, they may provide the U.S. economy with an important stimulus for futuregrowth.

    The bottom panel of Figure 3 presents the total estimated amounts from the top paneldivided by the number of claimants or their heirs. The French spoliation claims awardedwere distributed among 282 recipients, while 7,900 claimants and heirs are listed in theEtatDetaille (1828) as recipients for Haitis independence debt (former French slave ownersand their heirs). As potential recipients for slavery reparations, I use the census estimatefor the number of African Americans in 20062008, and for the Bush/Obama stimuluspackages of 2008/2009, I use the total U.S. population estimate. This presentation formatsuggests that individual claimants or heirs in the two historical examples, the Frenchspoliation claims and the Haitian independence debt, claimed or received substantiallylarger per capita reparations awards than would be the case for African Americans evenunder the most liberal reparations estimate considered here (Scenario 2 at 3 percentinterest).

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    Conclusion and Discussion

    Neither the problems nor the solutions associated with multigenerational reparationspolicies are new. Both the French spoliation claims and Haitis independence debt suggestthat individual-level multigenerational reparations claims can be traced over long periods

    of time given the political will. They also illustrate that legal processes alone are insuf-ficient unless political opposition can be overcome. In both cases, reparations were paidas a result of lengthy political processes involving multiple countervailing interests andpurposes.

    The French spoliation case demonstrates how individual-level claims between Americanship owners and French privateers were assumed by the federal government based on theFifth Amendment. The idea was that by relieving the French government from havingto pay fair compensation, the federal government of the United States had assumed thedebt. By devising a Constitution that relieved slave owners from having to compensatefellow human beings whose unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happinesshad been recognized in the Declaration of Independence (1776), the federal governmentsimilarly assumed the debt owed them.5 By giving slave owners title to their slaves time,the government took private property to kick-start the U.S. economy. VanDyke (2003:62)writes: it is appropriate and necessary to characterize [the] claim for reparations basedon the slave experience as a property claim, protected by the Fifth Amendment of theUnited States Constitution, and cognizable in courts of law. The same argument had beenmade in the French spoliation case not only by Senator Sumner, but also by Chief JusticeJohn Marshall, Secretary of State and Senator Henry Clay, Secretary of State and SenatorEdward Livingston, as well as Secretary of State and Senator Daniel Webster. Sumnerstated emphatically: Here private property, to a vast amount, was taken for public use,involving the . . . welfare of the whole country (Sumner cited in Scattergood and Henry,1910:8384, 114).

    Besides legal obstacles, the passage of time also creates empirical problems of how toadequately estimate the magnitude of the debt. Sufficient historical documentation exists toderive reasonable current value estimates but estimations based on free-market assumptionsmay have rendered past estimates too conservative (Marketti, 1990; Neal, 1990; Ransomand Sutch, 1990). They overlook productive activities that slaves were forced to performfor their own subsistence and their masters support and that were never exchanged ona market for currency. Using an alternative estimation method based on the number ofunremunerated work hours multiplied with historical free labor market wages I arrive atcurrent value estimates for U.S. slave labor (at 3 percent interest) ranging from $5.9 to

    $14.2 trillion in 2009 dollars.The sheer magnitude of the claims arising from slavery raises questions about the po-

    litical feasibility of slavery reparations. The analysis of historical precedents suggests thatpolitical processes are central to multigenerational reparations cases. In a democracy, thisplaces a great weight on public opinion. Research on public opinion in the United Statesshows that slavery reparations proposals tend to elicit significantly more public oppositionthan support (Craemer, 2009a). However, this opposition is not unqualified; reparationsproposals that specify a potential providers and a potential recipients connection to slaverytend to receive significantly more support than more general reparations proposals (Crae-mer, 2009a, 2009b). This suggests that support for slavery reparations might grow to the

    5Article IV, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution (2011) establishes not only slavery but, by referring toslaves as persons, it also establishes the personhood of slaves. The Fifth Amendment applies to all persons,rendering the slaves time one property with two government-recognized owners.

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    extent that the slaves contribution to the U.S. economy is better understood. That estatesaccumulated through slave labor continue to earn compound interest without benefitingslave descendants directly is an important part of that understanding.

    That massive spending is possible despite popular skepticism was illustrated by thestimulus packages of 2008 and 2009they represented government expenditures with

    the goal of stimulating the economy. While the purpose of stimulating the economy wasviewed as being in the general interest, the idea of rewarding bad behavior was unpopular.A CNN/Opinion Research poll conducted in September 2008 suggested that 79 percentof respondents favored government action, but 77 percent also said they believed that agovernment bail-out would benefit those responsible for the economic downturn in thefirst place (Musante, 2008). A slavery reparations package may provide the same generalbenefit of stimulating the economy, without the odious reward of bad behavior.

    As the analyses presented here suggest, the total debt from unpaid wages would likelybe substantially larger than the 2008/2009 stimulus packages. What scenario and whatinterest rate it should be based on, whether paid in full or up to a certain limit, and based

    on what eligibility criteria is up to the political process to decide. When Sumner argued forthe payment of the French spoliation claims in 1864, the United States faced not just aneconomic crisis, but with the Civil War a struggle for its very survival. Sumner stated: Theresources of the people are now tasked to put down the rebellion. Let nothing be stinted.But there is another duty which must not be forgotten. The just debts of the Republicmust be paid to the last dollar. Here also nothing must be stinted . . . The Republic willhave new title to love at home and honor abroad, when with one hand it overcomes therebellion now menacing its existence, and with the other does justice to ancient petitioners,long neglected (Sumner cited in Scattergood and Henry, 1910:67).


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