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$14 Trillion; This is How Much the U.S. Would Have to Pay as Reparations for Slavery

For several years, the issue of reparation for slavery has been raised by descendants of slaves in the Americas and the Caribbean.

The belief that white Americans owe black Americans a moral debt for compensation for slavery, Jim Crow and long-standing racism has been ongoing since emancipation.

Critics of reparation say that it would be difficult to make fair calculations as to how much victims would take and in what form, considering the years involved.

A University of Connecticut researcher, Thomas Craemer, however, maintains that giving out historical reparations should not be difficult as there are other examples of historical reparations paid many years after damages were made.

In the journal Social Science Quarterly, Craemer estimated that it would cost between $5.9 trillion and $14.2 trillion to give historical reparations.

The journal, cited by Newsweek, said Craemer came up with those figures by tabulating how many hours all slaves worked in the United States from when the country was officially established in 1776 until 1865 when slavery was officially abolished.

He subsequently multiplied the amount of time they worked by average wage prices at the time, and then a compounding interest rate of 3 percent per year to calculate the reparation figure.

“Reparations will never bring one life back, and it’s totally inadequate to the terror of the [past], but having a meaningful symbol of reparations is a good thing, not just for recipients but for the people who provide it,” Craemer said.

Growing up in Germany, Craemer was moved to do this work because Germany agreed to pay reparations to Jewish victims of the Nazis and had since 2012, paid $89 billion in compensation.

“I grew up with this guilt complex about the Holocaust, and I remember kind of feeling good that my country paid reparations,” Craemer said.

He added that when the policy of reparation was first thought of, hundreds of people resisted. Their action is somewhat not different from what is happening in the U.S. in terms of reparations, he believed.

In 1865, near the end of the Civil War, Union Army General William Tecumseh Sherman promised slaves that they would receive 40 acres and a mule. He even set aside land for that purpose but President Andrew Johnson defaulted.

Since then, there have been discussions on reparations with critics saying that it would be difficult to figure out slavery reparations.

Craemer, in his journal, disagreed and highlighted examples of similar reparations paid, including the French spoliation claims. He wrote that during “a seven-year period from 1793 to 1800…France attacked American ships in retaliation for the United States’s neutral stance in the war between France and Britain.”

France refused to pay for the damage they caused to properties of people during the war, yet many Americans sued their federal government under the argument that those damages were the ultimate responsibility of the U.S. government.

This led to years of debates, but by 1910, the U.S. government agreed to pay back $1 million in claims to hundreds of its own citizens, Newsweek reported.

In November 2018, there were reports that Scotland’s Glasgow University is preparing to make slavery reparation payments after admitting that the university received millions of dollars from slavery in Africa and the Caribbean.

The University signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of West Indies (UWI) in Jamaica as part of a reparative justice programme which includes the implementation of projects that will provide scholarships and exchange programmes for Jamaican and other Caribbean students through the UWI.

Craemer’s reparation cost is just in the United States of America alone.

For Africa, reparations were at  $777 trillion in 1999 as per the recommendations of the African World Reparations and Repatriation Truth Commission.

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