Wipe The Board Clean

I was watching a documentary on the last presidential election, and one of the people interviewed said something I found interesting.

I can’t give a direct quote but to paraphrase it:

Freeing blacks and giving them the right to vote was the equivalent of letting them in on a game of Monopoly where all the properties are already bought and have hotels on them. It’s a game they can’t win. He then said the board needed to be wiped clean.

I’ve been tossing this statements around in my head since and was wondering, would it be possible with the knowledge we have today, to create a more fair and just society than what’s grown organically over the last 200 years?

I really don’t even know where to begin on this, so if you have a thought experiment to help get me in the right direction, would be appreciated.

Yes. But we’d have to throw like 99.9% of our values out of the window.

Imagine a society where you aren’t born to parents, but to a community. You aren’t raised exclusively by your parents or your family, but you are brought up in a kibbutz-like situation where everyone receives a nearly uniform upbringing. A regulatory body oversees all the creches to ensure uniformity across the state and country. Parents get one-on-one time with their children, but society as whole makes it clear that no one owns their own children. You aren’t entitled to fuck someone up just because they possess half your DNA. If anyone sees you treating your kid in a way that goes against the values of the community, you will have hell to pay.

K-12 schools are kept to uniform standards. If communities want to raise extra funds in support of schools, that’s okay. But that money has to be spread out evenly, not just dropped into the hands of a few.

Once you graduate from high school, you are free to compete. No more diversity quotas or guilt-trippin’ about privilege if wind up successful.

(To make this kind of society attractive, let’s say that everyone who signs up for it is entitled to free medical care, safe housing, and a minimum basic income. If you don’t want to live in this communistic hell-hole, no one will force you to. But you aren’t eligible for a safety net.)

I think it would be reasonable to conclude that a society like this would be a lot fairer than what we currently have. Would it be perfect? No. And I’m sure that it would have problems that we don’t have (what kind of values would the kiddies be indoctrinated with and who gets to decide what they are?)

I think we assume that people are inherently selfish and individualistic and thus wouldn’t be in support of such a program. I dunno about all that. I think if it was a system we’d always embraced, we would think it quite natural–just like we tend to think our current system is.

The U.S. tax system is designed to allow existing wealth to increase (low capital gains tax rate) and to pass largely untaxed down the generations (low estate tax & the outrageous “step-up basis”), while placing a high tax burden on earned income. Reforming the system to tax capital gains and inherited wealth at least at the same rates as earned income would not wipe the board clean, but it would be a step in the direction of meritocracy. The current proposed tax reforms take things further in the wrong direction.

Does that mean that anyone who “got into the game” after the 1860’s (e.g. immigrants to America) also has no hope of winning?

And what does it mean, in terms of this analogy, to “win the game”? And who is it that can’t do this? African-Americans individually, or collectively? Can there only be one winner? Is it a zero-sum game, where a gain for one player is necessarily a loss for all the others, and vice versa?

I think it approaches zero-sum when you take material things from middle class or even upper middle class people (rich people, not so zero-sum since poorer people will be helped more than the rich people will be hurt). Fighting active forms of oppression and providing everyone with education opportunities, on the other hand, is a positive sum game since I’m not privileged by the existence of racism: the less of it there is, the better off everyone will be, for example everyone being matched to the most efficient job, and fewer resources being wasted on prejudicial justice.

I really wish I had answers to your questions. Like I said, I was paraphrasing the questions he had. I promise to keep your questions in my mind as I ponder what he said though.

I’m not sure exactly what the Monopoly metaphor is asking for in real world terms. There are references to black people and distributing money so I’m guessing this is a discussion of reparations.

I don’t like the idea of reparations. I feel it’s a misguided effort.

No black person who’s living in 2017 suffered directly from slavery. What black people are suffering from now is the racism that’s existed since 1865. Racism is the real ongoing problem.

And how would reparations fix that? Yes, it would give black people an economic boost. But it would be a treatment for the symptoms rather than a cure for the disease. And that treatment would use up a lot of the resources that should have been spent on the cure.

Imagine that there had been a major reparation program directed against the effects of racism back in 1967. Every black person was given a substantial payment to counteract the bad effects they had experienced due to racism.

It’s now 2017. The money from 1967 has all been spent. Racism is still around. Most black people are still experiencing bad effects from racism. But now when they try to discuss the problems caused by racism, everyone else is going to say “Don’t talk to us about racism. We wrote a check for that fifty years ago. We paid off the debt we owed for racism so it’s no longer a problem we need to get concerned about.”

This was the basis for Affirmative Action: it responds to historical inequalities in a gradual fashion. It helps reduce, over time, these heritable disadvantages.

Wiping the board clean is an interesting thought experiment. If the government first confiscated all property in the country the question would be how do you determine how to divide it equally.

You could use the property value prior to the confiscation but then that will tend to concentrate people at a higher density then they are now in some locations and have people more spread out in others. For now, let’s say that every current household get 200K of house since that close enough to the nationwide average and we can worry about farm and other private lands after we tackle housing. In Orange County the average house is worth 650K so now we’ve got three households in each house in Orange County while in Minnehaha County the average home price is 170K so 7 households could share 8 homes. In practice, this would triple the population of Orange County and reduce the population of Minnehaha by 12.5%. So now we’ve forced people to move where the government decides but rather than doing it based on what is best for the country we’ve done it based on where land is expensive so that seems to be a terrible idea.

My next idea is we do it based on a “house” so all houses are created equal and everyone gets one but how do we deal with the fact the average home in Katy, Tx is 3,000 sqft while the average home in Manhattan, NY is 917 sqft. I think we’ll struggle to have everyone believe they got a fair shake. The nice part is everyone gets to stay where they are geographically though the government would probably do some raffle to see if you get to move into your neighbor’s house. Though if we don’t make the circles large enough everyone who had a beach house in Malibu will probably still live in Malibu and everyone who lived in Compton will still live in Malibu so to make it really fair there will still be some government forced moving.

I guess the last real problem is how to split up families. Generally poorer people tend not to move very far since they have a support network in place but if Bob gets a house in Malibu but his mom stays in Compton then we’re destroying his support network. This is a little easier using the original pricing metric where you could take Bob and his whole family’s 4 households and move them all into one house in Malibu. On the other hand, if we mix everyone up and no one has a support network then we’d probably do a better job of wiping the slate clean so if we took the 100,000 people that live in Compton and said that 33 of them each had to move to a different one of the 3000 counties and then did that for each city we could scramble up everyone support network and force them to have new role models and friends. This would tend to screw more rural people since someone living in Durango, CO would only get to take 15 people with them and cities with less than 3,000 people would send you by your self. Of course population isn’t divided evenly by county now so we’d have to build new houses and tear down old ones.

Once we figure this out we’ll have to look at how to wipe the slate clean with jobs and education but that probably looks a lot like** Monstro’s** idea and only works on the next generation.

Oh, I just had a though the government could auction the stuff back to the people. Everyone in the country could be given a million tokens and those could be used to bid on the confiscated property. So sure you could blow your million on a beach house but then you’ve got to walk everywhere because you don’t have enough left to bid on a car or you could live on a ranch in North Dakota with your own helicopter and a fleet of cars. This way people could choose what they value could pool resources to keep networks together and in the end, you’d have some kind of even distribution of wealth. There would be some gamesmanship and smarter people would probably come away with more by bidding strategically but overall it could work.

Just had a thought, but wouldn’t wiping the board clean be the hardest on the elderly who’ve spent their whole life playing one game only to have the rules changed when it comes their turn to collect.

Sure. The problem is that in practical terms there’s no way to do it. There’s too much inertia and other practical issues to let us tear down our own society and rebuild it from the ground up (especially in a way better than we have now), so you’d basically need to set up a new nation from scratch somewhere else. But there’s no place on Earth where that’s really practical anymore on a large scale.

The racism that existed in 1865 stems from the racism that existed prior to that. It’s not like right after Emancipation, white people suddenly thought black people were equals but it’s all been downhill since.

Can you at least imagine how white people who have roots in the USA going back to the early to mid 1800s might be in a more advantageous position than black people in the same situation–barring the oppression that occurred after Emancipation? Imagine a young white guy in 1860 grinning ear to ear because he just acquired 160 acres of free land under the Homestead Act. Now imagine his descendents sneering at his black counterpart’s descendents for not having any land. Are the latter in the position to sneer because of Jim Crow? Or are they in the position to sneer because of all the shit that has gone down since the beginning of this country’s founding? It just seems really weird to establish an arbitrary cut-off point when it comes to Amerian’s legacy of anti-black racism.

If black people had been allowed to immigrate here just like European ethnic groups, I seriously doubt there would have been Jim Crow. At least not almost 90 years of it.

You can make a lot of arguments for why slave reparations aren’t a realistic goal, and I wouldn’t say a word. But the “black people aren’t still suffering from slavery” bit is just patently wrong. Americans wouldn’t have been prejudiced by 200 years of “nigger, nigger, NIGGER!” burned into their psyches if it hadn’t been for slavery.

I think it’s barely a metaphor, it’s meant to be a literal description of the economic situation. The point is that the U.S. economic system is heavily skewed toward keeping wealth in the hands of those who are already wealthy, and allowing that wealth to pass almost untaxed to their descendants. The argument is that if some groups were barred from historical participation in the huge U.S. economic expansion, then under the current system their lack of capital is a barrier to obtaining an equal foothold in the modern economy.

I don’t know to what extent it’s a separate issue from racism. After all, the same argument applies to poor non-black people - to the extent that under the U.S. system a lack of capital damns you to a perpetual economic underclass, the historical reasons for your current poverty are irrelevant.

But unless we’re planning to give Communism another try, equality of outcome cannot be the goal; so we can only to work toward equality of opportunity as best we can. And the current situation (notably the tax system) is a pretty weak effort. We should be taxing existing wealth and inherited wealth much more heavily, and using the revenue to pay for universal education and healthcare for a start, so that children from poor families who are smart and motivated at least have a fair shake at getting their lives off the ground.

As you said in your earlier post, reforming the system would not wipe the board clean; but maybe that’s a good thing. In terms of the Monopoly analogy/metaphor, wiping the board clean just starts the game over, but you’re still playing the same game with the same rules. Maybe it’s better to change the rules.