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Reparation, in the form of universal basic income, is an idea whose time has come

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글: 차만재(MARN J. CHA) 박사

Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs discusses a basic income program he helped institute. Early data show the recipients spent the money on essentials. AP FILE

What makes current rage over racial injustices laid bare by the pandemic as well as George Floyd’s death different from the past ones is a call from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds for a systemic, structural and transformative reform over policing and social inequality. Not to slip back to where things were, this time everyone would like to see a fundamental change. This means that we should bite the bullet.

Reparation for the descendants of former American Black slaves is a case in point. The idea was discussed, debated and tossed around many times, as it still is. Underlying racial injustice and inequality in America is economics: poverty and all its attendant consequences. Hence, how about discussing reparation for our Black citizens in the spirit of universal basic income?

Do they deserve it? Absolutely. American capitalism has grown and developed on the back of slavery. Compensating for their misery and its impact is terribly wrong? Let’s say, a la Andrew Yang, that we pay $1,000 or more to each Black citizen every month, no questions asked, for the next two generations. Haven’t we been doing it in form of welfare checks?


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Universal basic income is different from welfare. No bureaucratic hassle, no meager handout, no means tested, but a substantial amount of cash. It gives the recipients dignity, economic security and freedom. Let’s bet on economists’ theorem, the seemingly obvious, that the higher the income, the higher the savings rate. Wherewith all the ensuing socio-economic benefits! Or shall we fail to do it for conventional woes? What if it fosters social loafers and social ills? Wouldn’t it lead to disincentive to seek work and a free ride as a way of life? And how do we pay for it?

During the 1960s and ‘70s, we had the basic income maintenance experiment in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Iowa, North Carolina, Gary, Indiana, Seattle and Denver. One group of public aid eligible citizens was provided with the basic income, and it was withheld from another, to see what behavioral differences it might yield. There was no appreciable difference between the two groups with respect to rate at which they sought work. The most noticeable change among those receiving the basic income was improvement of their housing standards and homeownership.

During the pandemic, South Korea’s local jurisdictions put into effect local basic income programs. They see a spike among the basic income-receiving young people seeking employment. The reason: the stress from worrying about paying rent and other basic stuff is taken off. They get motivated to job hunt with vigor.

As for how to pay for it, an additional tax burden on the part of the beneficiaries of the past slave labor may likely be inevitable. Consider it a pay back and a moral act. For a lot of reasons like corruption, politics, a lack of oversight, unintended, mostly undesirable, consequences follow social policy implementation. For that matter, it occurs to any policy enforcement. This is a social cost. Unless the social costs effect outweighs the intended benefit, the program should continue, taking on improvement as it moves forward.

Reparation is a large-scale compensation whose justification is grounded in our moral precept. Reparation’s effect will be system-changing.  <7월 24일 Fresno Bee 기제>

* Marn J. Cha is professor emeritus of Political Science and Public Administration at Fresno State.

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