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Hamilton

Hamilton

Photographer: Myesha Evon Gardner for Bloomberg Businessweek

A Once Radical Idea to Close the Wealth Gap Is Actually Happening

How economist Darrick Hamilton brought baby bonds from Bed-Stuy to U.S. statehouses.

Darrick Hamilton grew up shuttling between two worlds. Each morning during the 1970s and ’80s he and his sister would travel three miles to Brooklyn Friends, the elite private Quaker school that their parents had scrimped, saved, and sacrificed to afford. Then the kids would return from downtown Brooklyn to Bedford-Stuyvesant, which was overwhelmingly Black, largely poor, and one of New York’s most dangerous neighborhoods.

At the time, pundits and politicians frequently talked of a “culture of poverty” or a “pathology” in Black “ghettos.” That didn’t compute for Hamilton. “I could see the vivid inequality,” he says, but “I could see fundamentally people were not different.” The neighbor he played football with who was later incarcerated for robbing an armored car didn’t seem essentially different from the classmate who might be an investment banker today.