Reparations will amount to a transfer of wealth from the more powerful to the more powerless. This is the closest approximation of justice that I would imagine is possible.

We will now engage in some purposely simplified back-of-the-envelope math. Imagine a nationwide, one-time infusion of wealth to those who live at the lower end of America's economic pyramid. Let's take as our starting point that Black households have roughly 60% of the income and 5% of the wealth that White households do. (Hispanic households have just a tiny bit more wealth than Black households. Median household net worth is about $81,000. Average household net worth, which is swelled by the fortunes at the top, is $535,000.) For the sake of argument, let's be exceedingly modest in our goals: let's imagine giving an amount of money that would give the average Black household at least more than half of the wealth of the average White household. We can calculate this very neatly: if Black households have 5% of White net worth now, let's add 50% to that, giving the average Black household 55% the net worth of the average White household, which is something north of $110,000. Sticking with our neat, clean, and modest estimate here, let's round half of that down to $50,000.

Fifty thousand dollars per household. This would be enough in theory to raise the average Black household to at least half of what the average White household has in wealth. I would call that an exceedingly modest goal, as reparations go. For ease of math, let's call that $25,000 per single adult, or $50,000 for families with children. Give this amount as a one-time payment to, let's say, the entire bottom half of American adults by wealth. That's about 120 million people. For the sake of plausibility, let's limit ourselves to adults under the age of 65—sorry, retirees, we promise to fund your Social Security. That leaves us with about 100 million Americans. So a reparation payment of $25K per would come in at a total cost of $2,500,000,000,000. Pricey! But let's spread it out over, oh, five years. Now it's only $500 billion a year. That's only about three quarters of the US Defense Department's budget, and for a much more worthy cause.

How do we pay for something like this? (If you doubt America's ability to pay for something like this, witness the magical rescue of the banks in 2008). Since the aim here is to take a step towards righting the economic wrongs of the past, we could aim to levy taxes in two areas that disproportionately favor Whites over Blacks when it comes to holdings of wealth: financial securities, and real estate. For example, higher capital gains taxes, a financial transaction tax, an estate tax, higher land taxes… these are all things we should be doing anyhow, for the good of society. Some of the reparation money could also come in the form of tax credits, by suspending the regressive payroll tax that disproportionately targets the poor. Some of it can be financed with debt. The makeup of the tax scheme that we would use to pay the bill is a separate discussion, but recent history has amply proven that the money can be found if we have the political will. And keep in mind that this money is not being tossed into a bonfire—it is being given to the people most likely to spend it. This could be the greatest single economic stimulus this nation has ever seen. This is not destruction of wealth; it is a transfer of wealth, on a large scale.