While American mythology lauds fair competition and self-made heroes, the reality is that our system of inheritance creates unfair competition and makes it particularly challenging to be a self-made hero. A key aspect of the inheritance problem is the disparity it has created between white and black Americans.
After the end of slavery black Americans owned about .5% of the total worth of the country. This is not surprising: most blacks had been property before this date. They did not have wealth because they were wealth. In 1990 things had had improved for black Americans—they now own about 1% of America’s wealth. This is not surprising—they started with little or nothing, whites received a bounty of governmental gifts, and blacks were systematically denied these gifts and restricted in their opportunities to earn their own way. While most of those in positions to address this matter must be fine with it, if you believe in fair competition and equality of opportunity, then consistency requires that you also believe that this problem needs to be addressed.
Condensing history, white people have enjoyed numerous advantages gifted to them by the state. The Homestead Act of 1862 provided gifts of land that went mostly to white people. This land was taken, in large part, by the 1830 Indian Removal Act. Compensation was also paid to white slave owners after the civil war, but the 40 acres and a mule remains an empty promise to this day. The 1935 Wagner Act gave unions the ability to engage in collective bargaining, and these unions were a great boon to white workers. But it permitted unions to exclude non-whites, which they generally did to the detriment of black Americans.
The Federal Housing Administration’s programs allowed millions of average white Americans to buy homes, while excluding black Americans. The national neighborhood appraisal system tied mortgage eligibility to race. Integrated communities were defined as being financial risk and ineligible for home loans—something now known as “redlining.” From 1934 to 1962, the government backed $120 billion in home loans with 98% going to whites. Lest one think that that things are significantly different now; black and Latino mortgage applicants are still 60% more likely than whites to be rejected—even controlling for factors other than race. One common response to such assertions is that while past racism was bad, the past is past. While this does have rhetorical appeal, it is fundamentally mistaken: the past influences and shapes the present. One obvious way this occurs is through inheritance: the wealth accrued from slavery and from state handouts to white people have been passed down through the generations. This is not to deny obvious truths: some white people blow their inheritance, many white people are mired in poverty, and there are rich black Americans. The problem is a general problem that is not disproved by individual exceptions.
Because of these policies and prejudices of the past, a representative white family today has, on average, about eight times the assets of a representative African American family. Even if families with the same current incomes are compared, white families have over double the wealth of Black families. A primary reason for this is inheritance.
Inheritance enables a family to pass down wealth that can be used to provide competitive advantages such as funding education and providing starting money for businesses. It also helps people endure difficult times, such as the current pandemic, better. As such, whites enjoy a significant competitive advantage relative to blacks that is unearned: they simply inherit this advantage. The advantage is also, as noted above, based on explicitly racist and discriminatory policies.
Some have called for reparations for these past injustices and I certainly agree with this notion. However, there are numerous obstacles to this approach. One stock objection is that reparations would take resources from living people to give them to other living people based on injustices committed by people who are now dead. While this objection can be countered, an easy way to get around this objection, and many others, is to adopt a plan focused on heavily taxing inheritance and using the revenue to directly counter these past (and present) economic injustices.
To win over consistent conservatives, the resources should be used to enhance the fair competition they claim to believe in. Examples of how the resources should be used include addressing funding inequities in education, addressing infrastructure inequities, and addressing disparities in mortgages. That is, providing people with a fair start so they compete in the free market beloved by conservatives. Obviously, once the historical racial disparities have been addressed and competition is truly fair, then the resources can be fully switched over to address general economic inequality that arose from other past economic injustices.
When marketing the idea to conservatives, the emphasis should be on how people are now benefiting from what conservatives claim to loath: unearned handouts from the state and unfair advantages provided based on race by the state. One can assume that people with such professed values will support this idea—otherwise one would suspect they are inconsistent or perhaps even racists. The proposed plan would help remove these unfair and unearned handouts to enable the competition to be reset. To use the obvious analogy, this would be like a sports official seeing people cheating in a track relay race by getting an unfair head start and using bikes. The official would be getting everyone to the same starting line, taking away the bikes and restarting the race for a fair competition.
This proposal has many virtues, but perhaps the greatest is that it allows for past economic injustices to be addressed in a painless manner: nothing will be taken away from any living person for what a dead person did. Rather, some people will receive significantly less of an unearned gift. As such, they are not losing anything—they are simply getting less of something they do not actually deserve. While some might profess pain at this, that would be an absurd response—like getting a free cake and whining because one did not get a thousand free cakes simply for being born.
As always, the devil is in the details. As noted in other essays, I am not proposing that inheritance be eliminated, nor am I arguing in favor of the state taking your grandma’s Hummel and assault rifle collection and giving it to a poor family. The general idea is that inheritance should be taxed, and the tax rate should be the result of careful consideration of all the relevant factors, such as the average inheritance in the United States. The plan could also involve increasing the tax rate gradually over time, to reduce the “pain” and thus the fervor of the opposition. In any case, a rational and fair proposal would take considerable effort to design—but would certainly be worth doing if we want to be serious when we speak of fairness and opportunity in the United States.
Thank you for your wonderful posts. I do have disagreement, but respect other opinions than my own. I love to see what angle people look at – question. Two people looking at a shape and one says its a square and the other says it is a circle. How can that be?
I often look for logical writings and often find disappointment when bias is cloaked in the appeal to authority presentation. While I could go into all the superficialities of your post, it’s clear that you are not objective but do align with political divisiveness. One is that you relied on the distinction between conservative and not, as if there is a permanence and finite set of values that are only ascribable to one and not the other. As if different species. And you inadvertently do this with race – only it’s not so inadvertent to me, but I’m sure it is to others once they see it.
You are inadvertently saying that there is indeed a difference between races when you draw on the statistics to make your argument. You relied on the statistics to make a bold claim that presents that blacks can’t invest and create inheritance but whites do by default. Because the skin causes this pattern? Is that what you are saying? That it is indeed a DNA advantage that the whites have and no other color can institute as they are unable? Because of their skin color?
Are you also saying that only whites can achieve this elevated status? That they are the only ones that were able to achieve advantage? The only ones that can be prejudiced? More along the lines of political divisiveness, only American whites? Even in contrast to the history and present power structures of most other ethnic populations and their dominance over other humans that didn’t match thier race in in other countries? Is racism and advantage still to whites in countries like India, China, etc? Or is the issue really about the fact that within all races is the same ability within the few to dominate the many? Or is the issue really that only a small percentage of people in their ethnic regions and circles are able to achieve the peak of hierarchy, and those that aren’t familiar of traditions and culture, or considered to be at the same qualification and intellectual status are unable to find the confidence or strategy to reach the same heights?
Americans in other countries who hold on to their cultural roots (did you just think that Americans don’t have a culture?), don’t quite fit in to the ways of other countries, and they are always second guessing themselves. They always know that they being Americans will always be seen as Americans trying to adapt to the culture around them. Were you thinking “white” Americans? I wasn’t saying that. But whites, since you probably thought it, know they aren’t going to be accepted automatically into the hierarchical structure without a lot of work and demonstration – because of how they look. The other race/ethnocentric dominance will always see those people as secondary to the their country. So why is it that the political left can get away with making the claim that it’s only white Americans, and only white conservative Americans that have this DNA predisposition? When the truth is that all humans carry within the same sets of issues.
I’ll add another component to the discussion – Conservatives. Why do conservatives repel the idea of government aiming merits and demerits based on race? Because they are trying to keep racism alive? or is it more that their common faith ascribes to the practice that all are equals among them as their own individuals, and in the faith none rise higher than the other? All are equals even if they function at different levels. And isn’t it actually the left with their constant diatribes and selling points, that races must be sorted into their race labels and each group seen as different from the other? When most of all the groups share more in common than apart? Who is compelling the argument to identify by race? Who is ascribing to the argument that races are different, that whites are better at rising to wealth and inheritance, and that only whites have been able to dominate the landscapes? Isn’t that really about the fact that a coincidence of whites who came from more advanced organizations and practices stepped ahead of those who held to traditional cultures? Alexander the Great – was his advantage his color or his talent? What of Xerxes and the Egyptian Pharaohs, and those of the royal family in Africa and the chiefs of the native’s of all countries? Wasn’t Persia a land of advancement that was as a culture intellectually ahead of all the regions they eventually dominated? What of the Mayans and their conquest to the epitome of kingdom status to those around them? But only White American Conservatives have this advantage though in hard numbers the whites have more numbers in poverty and killed by police than any other race in this country?
Remember, if you’re going to count who and what the police have engaged, then they have not engaged the entire population of any race. It is the contact they directly had to the people separate of the populations around them that they actually came into contact with. To state percentage of the race as a whole can only be certain if every person in the country has has the same encounters with the police. But they haven’t. So – the number has to be counted by those that the police actually engaged, and with those numbers, they have shot more whites etc. Since race matters to progressives, liberals and democrats, but not so much to a conservative – including conservatives of other colors – here’s where we talk about what happens statistically within the races that creates the distinction between the races – what do they hold within their group’s culture that can increase or decrease the odds of what happens to the statistics of that race? Because that’s where the differences are – and color is only the identifying distinction of difference that creates the coincidence. Can it not be true that if the other races shared the same sets of principles, philosophy and societal structure, that they would see the same levels of problems? Meaning that if we are going to compare apples to apples, then we cannot compare apples to oranges (no, I do not mean Trump followers – but if they were all orange, wouldn’t we see racism in a full march against orange people?) then we have to correctly weigh all of the averages of behaviors and principles.
Here’s one – people, even those who are fighting for equality (most are seeking equalization, not equality), when two Cadillac Escalades pull in, and the drivers get out, one gets out wearing higher society dress and behavior and the other gets out in expensive jewelry, high cost athletic suits and $200.00 shoes, that the one people will target as the “rich” is the one that got out looking more like high society than the one who doesn’t, while they both may have just as much money and as much advantage as the other. Why is the rich man that looks like the stereotype of a rich man judged more harshly that the one with rap pumping through the car and walking with thuggish stride and composure? Note that I did not use a race. I’ll bet you did though. Which is a broader point. Choice of image = choice of culture. Cultural dynamics exist without race, but one race in America seems to prefer the latter of a set of principles that are in direct contrast to the lines that form toward success. And a culture that is not born of their roots, but rather an American image – one of many unique American cultures. The cultural preferences and the behaviors within are a major factor to the statistics that are rarely included in the superficial assessment that only relies on race. Afterall, skin is superficial to the body and the person within, right?
So, objectively, I ask, why is it that experts fall into the logical traps and can’t even see they are there? Or, is it worse – they do see and know the logical traps are there, but they are using their platform to convince the masses to see what isn’t really there, for advantage? The Emperor and his invisible robe woven by an invisible thread made by magic.
Now I’m sure this has been buzzing around in there somewhere – just waiting for the insertion point “are you saying that racism doesn’t exist?” Did I say that? Or is that another opportunity for a logical fallacy to be employed to invalidate everything I said?
I just wrote about other countries and the problem of whites trying to live within another culture. Is that racism? By every definition it should be – the belief that color indeed makes us different. And, within the same message, I exposed that every culture can and likely has the same problems of institutional and structural racism. Not just for White Conservative Americans, but those who think that way – even when they employ a benevolent racism.
Other than that, enjoying your posts.
Let me give you an opportunity for fallacious conclusion. I am not formally educated to the degree that you are, and my writing skills are self taught. You now have the opportunity to discredit all that I have said. Because I am neither a modern liberal or academically approved and certified to think the way my professors taught me to think.
But I am a liberal in the classic sense. And there is a difference. I don’t believe any human has the right to rule over others by their own whims and don’t believe government is any more superior than the people who allow it to exist. And I don’t believe title or class makes anyone better than another. I’ve met highly educated idiots and highly intellectual people in poverty with addictions. I make friends of everyone I can and have a wider perspective than many I’ve met that claim they are worldly and educated. I’ve met conservatives that will give out of the miniscule they have and progressives that sneer at those not in their circles,
The two people looking at the shape are looking at the shape from differing angles and both are correct. How? Because one is looking at one side and the other from another side; one sees the end of the cylinder, and the other sees form the side of the cylinder [two framed views]. The two ends are round, and from the side is square. They are both right. But many times people will argue to be right, when all they had to do is go to the other side and look for themselves 😉
Have a great day! And get lots of popcorn. 2020 is a year to remember!