>> A prominent Black intellectual makes the case against affirmative action, economic reparations, and woke culture this week on "Firing Line."
>> True equality comes about from parity of performance, not from patronizing deference.
>> His out-of-the-box thinking has made him both admired and reviled throughout his near-50-year career.
Professor Glenn Loury grew up on Chicago's South Side and earned a PhD in economics from M.I.T.
In the 1980s, he was a Reagan Republican... >> It's no more difficult to be a Black conservative than it is to stand up for your convictions under any circumstances.
>> ...who, at age 33, became Harvard's first tenured Black economics professor.
Loury has also had his share of lows.
>> You mentioned drug addiction.
There was a period of infidelity and philandering.
And, you know, I was -- I was lost.
>> Now, at the age of 74, he teaches at Brown University and hosts a popular podcast where he has a lot to say about some of the most charged issues of the day.
>> Democrats have ruined city after city.
>> What does Professor Glenn Loury say now?
>> "Firing Line with Margaret Hoover" is made possible in part by... And by... Corporate funding is provided by... >> Professor Glenn Loury, welcome back to "Firing Line."
>> Oh, thank you, Margaret.
Good to be back.
>> You've described what it was like to grow up in what you called a vivid and stylish, lower-middle-class neighborhood in Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s.
In the 1980s, you taught at Harvard.
And during that era, you self-identified as a Reagan Republican but later then became disillusioned with the right in the mid 1990s.
Tell me about that evolution and what happened.
>> Well, I think it begins in graduate school in the '70s for me, when I'm studying economics at M.I.T.
and I become acquainted with ideas about free markets and capitalism that appealed to me -- the virtues of democratic, liberal, free-market society -- so that I was predisposed to give the Reagan conservatives a hearing.
But as you say, I became disillusioned in the fullness of time.
I guess I thought that many of my compatriots on the right were more interested in saying that the liberals were wrong about the urban crisis than they were in actually getting involved in solving the problems.
And I had some personal things that were happening with me -- a religious conversion.
I went through a crisis -- midlife crisis in my life, and I became a born again Christian in the late '80s and early '90s.
And that also, I think, affected my political evolution.
>> You've written multiple books.
You host this really popular podcast, "The Glenn Show," and you've just completed the first draft of your memoir, "The Enemy Within."
So those who have followed you know that you've spoken very openly about the life's challenges you just referenced, from becoming a teenage parent to struggling with a crack-cocaine addiction.
How did the act of writing your memoir help you understand those more challenging moments in your life differently?
>> Well, what a wonderful question that is, Margaret.
Writing a memoir, if you're honest about it, is a definite invitation to self-criticism, self-exploration and questioning of self.
So, I mean, you mentioned drug addiction.
There was a period of infidelity and philandering.
And, you know, I was -- I was lost.
There was also a crisis in my professional life.
I got to Harvard and didn't know if I was really up to the challenge of being the "first Black professor of economics with tenure."
So a lot of stuff like that.
I found God and then I lost him.
>> I want to get to the policy matters and the public-policy questions that you have focused your research on and your work on.
As you know, according to polling, the majority of Americans, and this includes white Americans, believe systemic racism exists.
Now, you've taken issue with the notion of systemic racism for decades.
And you write about what you call racial stigmatization.
Can you help explain to this audience the distinction between the two?
>> What I don't like about the systemic-racism argument is that it leaves the responsibility for the resolution of the problem with the very parties that the argument assumes are not interested in solving the problem, because, after all, the system is racist.
I'm not unmindful of the history of slavery and its effect.
But I think development is the imperative.
And the thing about development is, no one can do it for you.
You have to raise your children.
You have to acquire the educational capacities.
So the systemic-racism argument puts the ball in the wrong court for me.
I want to focus attention on taking responsibility for our freedom, not complaining about our supposed oppression.
>> White families have a median income of more than $70,000, compared to $41,000 for Black families.
Net worth of a typical white family is nearly eight times greater than that of a Black family.
In 2021, in testimony before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, you said that policymakers should be, quote...
So how do you go about, and how do we go about, solving the wealth gap?
>> Early childhood development, I think, is the key.
Development for all of our people, not in the interest of closing racial gaps but in the interest of meeting our human responsibilities to our fellow citizens.
I mean, one reason I don't want to frame the problem of inequality mainly in racial terms is that the politics of solving the problem requires transracial coalitions.
So I think it's bad for our country, in the long run, to frame the inequality problems in racial terms, that it will create the kind of conflict that I fear that we're going to be experiencing going forward these next years.
Affirmative action is coming under fire at the Supreme Court.
Reparations is becoming the rallying cry in cities and states across the country.
These are deeply divisive policies that turn on the vision of inequality in racial terms, which I don't think is the only way of looking at it.
Let's develop all of our people.
It seems to me that that's the healthiest framework for addressing inequality in the country.
>> There's, um...
There's a recent episode of a Disney+ series, "The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder," and it features a song about something you just mentioned, reparations.
>> ♪ Slaves built this country ♪ >> And we, the descendants of slaves in America, have earned reparations for their suffering.
>> And continue to earn reparations every moment we spend submerged in the systemic prejudice, racism, and... >> ...white supremacy... >> ...that America was founded with and still has not atoned for.
>> ♪ Slaves built this country ♪ >> You have written about reparations.
So my question then to you is, what is a better way to discharge that moral obligation?
>> [ Breathes deeply ] The only way, in my view, to effectively discharge that moral obligation is to embed it within a broader humanistic vision for the society as a whole.
I don't think we can go back in time and settle the score.
I think the arrow points forward, not backward.
But my most fervent concern about the reparations debate is that it divides us into contending camps.
We're a country of 330 million people.
There are 40 million Black people.
Reparations at any scale would be trillions of dollars.
It would be Social Security-magnitude federal policy if it were carried to its logical conclusion.
This is not the way we want to run our country.
We don't want to teach our children about our history in terms of quid pro quo.
"White people got this because Black people were held back."
It's much, much, much more complicated and much more interesting than that, I would hold.
So, the reparations narrative, the reparations politics, and the reparations policy are all deeply flawed, in my opinion, a seductive lure to Black Americans that we would make our politics about repair and reparations, but a mistake in the 21st century.
>> You know, after the killing of George Floyd in 2021, you've republished your seminal book, "The Anatomy of Racial Inequality," and you wrote a new preface where you admit that you had come to have some misgivings about affirmative action, which you now oppose.
And you've written, quote... We are going to be facing these questions of affirmative action.
The Supreme Court is looking at it now.
Care to elaborate?
Affirmative action and the case is before the Court in this session, and it's going to be decided, and the decision will be momentous.
We've been at this for a long time.
That's the first thing I would say about affirmative action.
I mean, I was an affirmative action baby of a sort.
I went to college at Northwestern University on a scholarship as a minority student from the South Side.
I got to M.I.T., in part, with the support of a fellowship that was for minority students, and so on.
1970, 1980, 1990, even, you could argue, I think, for a state of exception where, "We're going to have a special dispensation for people of color, for Black and Latino, because..." And there was a transition that was going on and you could make the case that that was a necessary instrument in order to open institutions up.
But here we are now, you know, a half century down the road.
And we have to ask, I think, whether this is the way we want to do business permanently.
And I fear that the answer to that question has to be no.
You don't want to create a regime in which, as a matter of entitlement, Black students are judged by a different yardstick in terms of their fitness for competitive, elite, selective venues.
That's not a path to equality.
It does not face up to the real problem.
The real problem is underdevelopment.
It's that people are not acquiring the skills that allow them to compete effectively on the merits.
Moreover, it is undignified.
How can you have equality, how can people look themselves in the eye knowing that they know that the presence of African-Americans is due, in part, to a preferential treatment in the selection process?
You might use that as a tool of transition, but you wouldn't want to embed that permanently into the -- into the environment.
And we're at the point now in 2023, not 1973, not 1993, where we're really at risk of creating a permanent regime of patronization of Black aspirants.
Not judging them by the same standard of academic excellence is patronizing them.
It's not developing them.
>> I think the question -- the question is, how do you empirically decide whether 50 years is the right amount of time?
What is the appropriate length of time for said stopgap measure?
And how do you decide?
>> 50 years is probably too long.
And you're right, it is seat-of-the-pants.
The judgment that we've been at this for a while and it's time to call it quits is intuition.
It's not science.
I can tell you this.
I can tell you that when Sandra Sellers, lecturer at the Georgetown Law Center in a negotiation course, commented on a live mic to a colleague that she lamented that, disproportionately, the students who were doing poorly in her class were Black and she wished it weren't so, and "Woe is me," that the -- the revelation of that conversation caused a firestorm at Georgetown Law Center, and the institution was accused of racism.
"How dare professors talk that way about their students."
And this is the point.
This illustrates the point that I'm making about dignity.
You can shut people up by telling them they can't talk about something like what she was talking about, by telling them that it's racist to think that way.
But you don't change the facts on the ground, and everybody actually knows the facts on the ground, even if they're not prepared to discuss them publicly.
You can't have a hyper-ultra-elite and competitive venue use different criteria for selecting Black students and others into that venue and expect that there won't be differences in their performance after this selection.
That's not equality.
It's not development.
So that's why I call it "cheap grace."
It's an insidious corruption of the ground on which true equality could stand.
True equality comes about from parity of performance, not from patronizing deference.
>> And you still think even acknowledging that you benefited from it -- I recognize, also, you made a comment earlier in this conversation that, you know, that maybe there was some self-doubt in your own experience about being the first Black tenured professor of economics at Harvard.
Do you tie those two events together?
>> Well, I'd like to give myself the benefit of the doubt and to think that my views more broadly are not being driven by bitterness or resentment or anger or regret of my own personal experience.
That would not be honorable of me, I don't think.
On the other hand, as a human being, I can't disallow that some of the passion that you may detect in my presentation here is due to my lived experience, as they say.
And, yes, it was the case.
I got to Harvard at the age of 33 as a full professor, tenured in economics.
I didn't know if I was good enough.
There -- I didn't know if I was good enough.
Affirmative action didn't help me, in that respect.
It was a boulder on my back.
Was I good enough or was I not?
The anxiety of it.
Different people will handle such stress differently.
So that was a cost.
Now, there was also a benefit.
An African-American was appointed professor of economics at Harvard.
I had whatever influence and made whatever contribution I made in the process.
But equality -- this is what I'm talking about.
Equal standing, equal respect, equal honor, equal dignity.
These things have to be earned.
They can't be created by fiat, by legislation, or administrative practice.
They have to be earned.
>> You've written about mass incarceration, you've studied mass incarceration, and you question whether mass incarceration is the result of systemic racism in policing.
Here's a quote from 2021.
You said... Unpack that for me.
>> So, the key distinction there for me in the incarceration debate is between individual and social responsibility.
The individual who breaks the law, they are responsible for their action.
There is also the collective responsibility that a society has to structure its institutions in such a way to promote the general well-being of all of its people.
And if you come to rely as heavily as we did come to rely, as we have come to rely, upon imprisonment as a response to social disorder, that is not accepting collective or social responsibility.
And that's what led me to say you can have a million cases, and each one of them could be rightly decided -- that is to say, decided rightly in terms of individual responsibility of the criminal in question -- and nevertheless have perpetrated a great historic moral error because you never stepped back and ask yourself, "What is it that we are doing here?
Is this the only route to the maintenance of order into the confrontation with the problems of crime?"
These things are a betrayal of our collective or our social responsibility, and that's what I was trying to say in that book.
>> You've visited prison, spoken to inmates.
What did you learn from those conversations that you've had?
>> It's going to sound sentimental, but the answer to your question is, I learned that they were human beings, too, and that there but for the grace of God go I, at some level.
I learned that there was deep moral error in giving up on people.
I had a student in one of my classes at Brown.
I taught a class on criminal-justice issues.
He had been an inmate at a state facility here in Rhode Island because he came up in a gang with guns and drugs, and he got caught.
But he made something of himself.
He ended up with a law degree from Yale University and a wonderful practice in Southern Florida.
A wonderful story about human potential.
Now, of course, every inmate is not going to be a future student at Yale Law School or Brown University.
But there are human beings behind those bars.
>> Every one of them has a story.
Some of them have done terrible things.
But what kind of society, what kind of people are we if we simply turn our back on them, if we throw them on the dung heap of human debris, if we treat them as if they were less than fully human?
>> You appeared on the original "Firing Line," hosted by William F. Buckley Jr.
In 1991, you participated in a "Firing Line" debate on the question, "Is freedom of thought in danger on American campuses?"
You were on the side arguing that it was.
And I want to play a section of the back-and-forth between you and Catharine Stimpson, who was then a dean at Rutgers, who was on the other side of the question.
>> The cult of sensitivity has evolved in such a way that particular substantive issues of vital importance to be discussed cannot be discussed because particular insular minorities are exercising power, real power, to curtail the discussion that their feelings not be hurt.
I don't think that helps anybody.
>> Professor Stimpson.
>> Now, my question.
What has happened to courage?
I am so tired of these stories of tenured professors with reasonable salaries who meet a group of students who say, "Please don't do that," and then they go home and whine and cry and say, "I am being harassed."
That is nonsense.
[ Applause ] Absolute nonsense.
So what has happened to courage, sir?
What has happened to courage?
>> Oh, I think courage is in good stead.
I don't doubt that many of us have exhibited it by making the arguments that we've made.
But there's something about this charge of racism or sexism.
There's something insidious about it that undermines the legitimacy of the person against whom it's leveled, that is taken up by people in such a way as to cast people out of the community.
>> Professor, it's been 30 years.
Would you answer that question the same way today?
>> Uh... Yeah, probably.
But I wouldn't be being completely honest when I did, because she does have a point, actually, that if you think you have an insight that goes outside of the bounds, the integrity and dedication to your to your craft, to your trade as an intellectual, I think compels you to stick your head up out of the foxhole and to say what truth you think you've been given to know.
And there is something, I think, in the complaint about political correctness that avoids that act of integrity by making oneself into a victim.
"Woe is me.
They won't let me speak."
So I think, I have to say, with 30 years' hindsight -- [ Chuckles ] -- that Catharine Stimpson has a point.
>> Was political correctness in that argument the antecedent to "wokeness"?
>> Yes, today's wokeness is a direct descendant from the P.C.
about which people were complaining 30 years ago.
I think that's correct.
>> At M.I.T., where you obtained your PhD, a survey from last summer found that 40% of the faculty are more likely to self-censor now than in 2020.
So how -- how do you think universities -- how can they stop this self-censorship?
>> Well, I think we need commitment from the top, from the provost and the president and the administrative leadership of the university to the principles of the university, which is a special kind of institution, that I don't think we're getting it very often at all from the leadership of our universities.
>> Well, Professor Loury, I look forward to welcoming you back to "Firing Line" when your book is out.
>> Thank you.
>> Thank you for joining me on "Firing Line."
>> My pleasure, really.
>> "Firing Line with Margaret Hoover" is made possible in part by... And by... Corporate funding is provided by... ♪ ♪ >> You're watching PBS.