Loury, Glenn 1948–
Glenn Loury 1948–
Glenn Loury’s opinions have not always been popular. As one of the nation’s foremost black intellectuals, having held positions at Northwestern University, the University of Michigan, Harvard University, and Boston University, Loury’s sometimes controversial dissection of racial disparities, systemic racism, and economic justice have often landed his views at the center of attention. Early in his professorial career, Loury made his mark as a distinguished academic economist with specific focus on the fields of welfare economics, industrial organization, natural resource economics, and the economics of income distribution. Once earmarked as the leading candidate for the position of under secretary of education in the Reagan administration before withdrawing his name from consideration, Loury also gained notoriety as a controversial social critic with right-wing perspectives that led to his designation as “one of the black darlings of the neoconservative intelligentsia” by Africana.com. In the 1980s and 1990s, Loury became known for his abrasive critique of affirmative action and his propensity to blame racial inequality on the dysfunction and corruption within the black community, as opposed to the racist attitudes that some argued gave rise to this scenario. In the late 1990s, however, Loury divulged a much-publicized split with the right, revising former viewpoints and attacking former colleagues. This break was formally ushered in with the release of his new book, The Anatomy of Racial Inequality, in February of 2002.
Despite his impressive career as an academic and public intellectual, Loury didn’t exactly ride the fast track to success early in life. Born in 1948 and reared by working-class parents in the less-than-utopian South Side of Chicago, Loury received his first taste of racism early in childhood. Loury recalled the physical intimidation he encountered upon riding his bike into neighborhoods that were considered off-limits to the black population. As a teenager Loury fathered two children out-of-wedlock and chose to drop out of college to take a job and a printing plant.
Working long hours as a manual laborer, Loury enrolled in courses at Southeast Junior College that he attended before reporting to his eight-hour shift each night. His diligence paid off in the form of a scholarship to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, just north of Chicago, where he earned his B.A. in mathematics in 1972. From there Loury went straight to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T), where he completed graduate work in economics under the supervision of Nobel laureate Robert M. Solow. He graduated with a Ph.D. in 1976.
Loury’s 1976 dissertation pioneered the economic analysis of “social capital”—the informal social ties and relationships that make lives more productive and successful. The concept had been previously studied and invoked by community activists, sociologists, and urban planners, but Loury was the first to provide an economic interpretation, looking at the social legacy of slavery and arguing that as long as whites possessed greater and unrestricted access to “social capital,” they would continue to enjoy a disproportionate advantage in the labor market. Thus, Loury concluded, racial inequality would reign supreme in American society
Born September 3, 1948, in Chicago, IL; son of Everett Loury and Gloria (Cartman) Roosley; married Charlene (divorced); married Linda Datcher, June 11, 1983; children: Lisa, Tamara, Glenn II, Nehemiah. Education: Northwestern University, B.A., 1972; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ph.D., 1976.
Career: Northwestern University, assistant professor of economics, 1976-79; University of Michigan, associate professor, 1979-80, professor of economics, 1980-82; Harvard University, professor of economics and Afro-American studies, 1982-84, professor of political economy, 1984-91; Boston University, professor of economics, 1991-; American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, Bradley Lecturer, 1992, 1994; visiting lecturer at colleges and universities in the United States and abroad, including Oxford University, Tel Aviv University, and University of Stockholm.
Memberships: American Economic Association; Econometric Society, fellow; American Academy of Arts and Sciences, fellow.
Awards: Guggenheim fellow, 1985-86; Leavey Award for Excellence in Free Enterprise Education, 1986; American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation, 1986; Book Award, Christianity Today, for One by One from the Inside Out; 1996.
Addresses: Agent —Adam Bellow, Free Press, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
well beyond the institution of the Civil Rights Act and the official end of legal discrimination.
Published only 12 years after the hallmark 1964 legislation was voted into law, Loury’s dissertation contained previously unconsidered implications for public policy, posing the conundrum, how can racial inequality be fought if embedded in far more subtler and prevalent social fabric than legal discrimination? Then came the question: to whom do we turn to for a remedy? The answer, Loury once argued, fell upon the shoulders of the “enemy within,” by which he meant those problems intrinsic to the black community—the drug addiction, out-of-wedlock birth rate, and epidemic of violence that plagued America’s inner cities in the late-1970s. Loury felt that these obstacles were much greater than those presented by the “enemy without,” white racism. Challenging the ideology and strategy of civil rights veterans, Loury claimed that blacks would never achieve true social and economic equality unless such barriers were met head-on. He became an outspoken critic of affirmative action and advocated solutions for poverty reduction that incorporated black entrepreneurialism as opposed to government aid.
In 1982 Loury found himself as the first tenured black professor in the Harvard economics department, and despite his impeccable credentials, Loury began to harbor an inner anxiety regarding how his white colleagues perceived him. Though he would move to the John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1984, Loury’s insecurities regarding his initial Harvard appointment remained with him and continued to influence his politics. Loury’s friend and Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson recounted this distress in the New York Times: “I think he was always doubtful as to whether the economics department had hired him because of his Afro-American connections. It was that anxiety about what his colleagues really thought of him that led him to doubt the value of affirmative action.” Loury emphasized the stigma affirmative action carried for individuals like himself who were forever left wondering if they had genuinely earned their success or if it had come by the way of racial quotas.
Loury’s ascent as an intellectual conservative occurred with dizzying speed. Nearly overnight, he became a point person for conservative magazines and a regular contributor to prominent journals of public affairs and policy. Among his friends he included Secretary of Education William J. Bennett and future Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. During the scandalous hearings regarding charges of sexual misconduct that engulfed Thomas’ nomination in 1991, Loury prayed with him over the phone.
Though many black intellectuals accused Loury of selling out to the right in exchange for the prestige, wealth, and acceptance that it offered, he took a certain pride in his status as a contrarian. In 1984 he spoke at a Washington gathering of the National Urban Coalition well attended by veteran civil rights activists. In his lecture he declared the civil rights movement over and demanded that blacks begin taking responsibility for their own societal problems rather than pointing the finger at white racism. His reproach of black society drew tears from Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr.
Loury began to receive more and more attention from Republican public-policy circles and seemed poised to begin a new career in that field when he was offered the position as under secretary of education to William Bennett in March of 1987. Loury’s personal life, however, had begun to unravel. To escape the arid air of think thanks and academic corridors, places where Loury often found himself the target of criticism from black liberals, he sought refuge and approval from Boston’s historically black neighborhoods that mirrored the South Side of his youth. There, Loury could play chess and chat with working-class men who welcomed his presence rather than excluding him for his views on social policy.
Soon, however, Loury’s forays into the urban ghettos represented more than a search for genuine fellowship and acceptance. After withdrawing his nomination for the under secretary position, it was revealed that his secret 23-year-old mistress, a college student, had brought assault charges against him. Though she later dropped the charges, it signaled the beginning of a downfall. He developed a severe cocaine habit, spending his nights wandering about public housing projects, all the while keeping it a secret from his wife and colleagues at Harvard, where he maintained his demeanor as a eminent lecturer. In retrospect Loury classified that time in his life as pathological. “I was castigating the moral failings of African-American life even as I was deeply caught up in it,” Loury told the New York Times. In November of 1987 he was arrested on charges of cocaine and marijuana possession.
What followed was a period of recovery and rebirth for Loury. He spent some time in a hospital, then in a halfway house. After overcoming his addiction, Loury participated in a baptism ceremony and became a born-again Christian. In 1989 his wife gave birth to the first of their two sons. Though his Harvard colleagues encouraged him to stay, the scandal hung over his head and in 1991 Loury moved across the Charles River to take a tenured position at Boston University, where for the next year he immersed himself in theoretical economics and took a break from racial commentary.
His renewed religious faith, while not directly impacting his politics, provided Loury with a better ability to perceive and grasp his own weaknesses. Loury could no longer adopt the self-righteous, preachy talk of telling people to get their acts together to save the black community. He came to see the inadequacy of his previous assumptions and began questioning the right’s alarming stance towards issues such as racial profiling and the criminal justice system. He expressed utter outrage with the 1994 publication of Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve, a book that argued that genes were the be all and end all determinant of economic success, namely that blacks were intellectually inferior. It was later discovered that the bulk of the book’s content was completely wrong, from suspect data to statistical miscalculations to the intentional suppression of contrary evidence.
Though Loury’s conservative friends had remained with him up until now, he found them mysteriously absent when he attempted to publish a critique of The Bell Curve. Publications that had been ready and willing to print his work in the past flatly refused to accept his review. Loury took even greater offense at an article entitled “The End of Racism,” by Dinesh D’Souza, a fellow member of Loury’s at The American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative public policy collaborative. In the essay, D’Souza fiercely decried economic inequality as the product of “black failure.” In 1995 Loury resigned from AEI over its support of D’Souza. A year later, in a column entitled “What’s Wrong with the Right,” Loury questioned the motives of the conservative movement and suggested its lack of genuine concern for securing racial justice. Around the same time, Loury also resigned from the Center for New Black Leadership upon his refusal to lobby for a California referendum that sought to prohibit race-and sex-based preferences in state hiring and college admissions.
Loury’s political and academic evolution continued over the next few years. As the founding director of Boston University’s Institute on Race and Social Division (IRSD), a position he’s held since 1997, Loury has committed himself to the Institute’s mission of advancing the “scholarly investigation of, and innovative teaching about, the causes, consequences, and methods of resolution of divisive conflicts between social groups within the modern nation-state.” As a multidisciplinary research center, the IRSD acts as a forum that strives to foster a dialogue that stretches across categories of race and ethnicity to encourage an open and sincere discussion of social tensions present within the United States and beyond.
Despite his departure from conservative politics, Loury has managed to avoid being classified as a typical liberal and remains “fiercely independent,” according to the New York Times. While having revised his views on topics such as affirmative action, he maintains a critical eye toward such policies and insists that they uphold common measures of evaluation. His book, The Anatomy of Racial Inequality, presents a collection of essays Loury delivered as the W.E.B. Du Bois Lectures at Harvard University in April of 2000 in which he dissected the roles of racial stereotypes and racial stigmas in shaping black Americans’ social and economic marginality and articulated an urgent call for racial justice. Reforming racial economic inequality, Loury argued, is much more complex than a matter of procedures which insure equal opportunity. To Loury, both the man and the economist, achieving racial justice requires a moral vision on everyone’s part. Equality will come only with the complete elimination of the “objective disparity in economic and social capacity between the race-segregated networks of affiliation that continue to characterize the social structure of American public life, and that constitute the most morally disturbing remnant of this nation’s tortured past.”
Loury, Glenn, The Anatomy of Racial Inequality, Harvard University Press, 2002.
Jet, October 9, 1995, p. 16.
New York Times, December 3, 1987, p. A20.
New York Times, January 20, 2002.
The Africana QA, www.Africana.com
Contemporary Authors Online, web2.infotrac.galegroup.com
The Institute on Race and Social Division, www.bu.edu/irsd
Slate Magazine, slate.msn.com
—Benjamin M. Branham
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