Recognition and Reparations Reconsidered: Lessons from Germany

  • Bernd Reiter


Racial justice in the United States, and indeed throughout the Americas, can be achieved only by addressing and rectifying the wrongs done in the past to the descendants of African slaves. This is so because under conditions of free market competition, past inequalities and disparities in wealth and asset holding tend to be reproduced and even reinforced in the present. As the US economist Fred Hirsch has shown, under free market conditions, there is no catching up with those who entered competitive markets earlier or with more assets. The benefits of addressing past wrongs with policies of material reparations and symbolic recognition can be understood by comparing the United States to Germany, which has not only paid reparations to Holocaust survivors and the descendants of Jewish slave laborers but also outlawed any public display of any symbols glorifying the horrors enacted in the past.