Black Economist Glen Loury On Race Relations

From City Journal:

* I happen to be suspicious about the assertion of authority based upon personal identity, such as being black. Let’s take this example. Were the actions we’ve all seen of the police officer in Minneapolis, Derek Chauvin, expressions of racial hatred? I happen to think that we have no reason to suppose that about him, absent further evidence. There are plenty of alternative explanations for his actions that could be given, from negligence to him just being a mean son of a bitch.

* It’s ad hominem. We’re supposed to impute authority to people because of their racial identity?

* These events don’t speak for themselves. Americans disagree about Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter is not axiomatic. The group represents a thrust in American politics. We can talk about it. I’m not without sympathy for the struggle for racial justice, but I have disputes with people when it comes to interpreting what’s going on in American cities. The letter doesn’t mention the fact that it’s dangerous on the streets of many inner-city neighborhoods where police have to operate every day, that there are a lot of weapons out there, or that the homicide rate is extraordinarily high and that most of the people committing the homicides in these places are black.

* I object to the soft tyranny of having political postures put forward as self-evident truths to which every decent member of this community should subscribe. I object to that. That’s the last thing that a university should be doing. It’s malpractice. It is administrative malpractice of this precious institution to be swept along by political fad and fancy, and then demand the assent of every administrator, in lockstep, without any dispute among themselves. This is horrible, I thought. I thought the propagation of such groupthink at our university was just horrible.

* People cry, “structural racism.” Is that why the homicide rate is an order of magnitude higher among young black men? They say structural racism. Is that why the SAT test-score gap is as big as it is? They say structural racism. Is that why two in three black American kids are born to women without a husband? Is it all about structural racism? Is everything structural racism? It has become a tautology explaining everything. All racial disparities are due to structural racism, evidently. Covid-19 comes along and there’s a disparity in the health incidence. It’s due to structural racism. They’re naming partners at a New York City law firm and there are few black faces. Structural racism. They’re admitting people to specialized exam schools in New York City and the Asians do better. This has to be structural racism, with a twist—the twist being that this time, the structural racism somehow comes out favoring the Asians.

This is not social science. This is propaganda. It’s religion. People are trying to win arguments by using words as if they were weapons.

* Take structural racism’s narrative of incarceration. It’s supposed to be self-evident that if there’s a racial disparity in the incidence of punishment from law-breaking, then the law is illegitimate. Well, an alternative hypothesis is that, for reasons that we could perhaps spend lots of time pursuing, behaviors are different. Behaviors that bear on lawbreaking are different between races, on average. Violence is one behavior, but it’s not the only one I’m talking about. People have tried to do these studies. They’ve examined whether policing practices can accommodate disparity in arrest rates. They’ve examined whether court dispositions are somehow structurally biased, finding blacks guilty when whites would have been found innocent; whether judges systematically pronounce longer sentences for blacks than for whites. The net finding was no.

* Sam Harris says that if we can’t reason together, then the only alternative for dispute resolution is violence.

* I think Fryer’s studies give us good evidence of the Ferguson Effect’s validity. This most recent paper is only one study, but the numbers are stunning. It looks at Ferguson, Riverside, Chicago, and Baltimore as cities where there were Michael Brown- or Freddie Gray-type viral incidents of police brutality, which caused a big public stir that then drew in a federal investigation of each respective local police department. He compares those to other cities, similar in demography and economic structure, but where there was no viral incident, or there was a viral incident, but it was not followed by an investigation by the federal government of the local department.

Fryer finds that violent crime is significantly higher in those cities that were investigated than it is in comparable cities in the years after the federal investigations. It’s a very comprehensive regression-discontinuity study. It’s not perfect, but I think it’s compelling. They estimate that these investigations caused an additional 900 homicides and an additional 30,000 or so felonies. Why? Because, he says, the amount of policing activity in those places diminished significantly with the onset of the federal inquiry, which he shows by documenting the decrease in stops made by police in those places. So he’s got two findings, really. First: police engagement with citizens seems to be sensitive to the extent to which police are placed in jeopardy by the scrutiny of the federal government. Second: the amount of violent crime in those places depends on the amount of police engagement because violent crime goes up when police engagement goes down. That’s an association, not a demonstration of causality, but it’s a very suggestive association.

* You have two alternatives. You can live with disparities, or you can live in totalitarianism.

* Why would I ever expect that there would be parity across the board between ethnic, racial, cultural, and ancestral population groups in an open society? It’s a contradiction because difference is a very fact of groupness. What do I mean by a group? Well, it’s genes, to some degree; it’s culture; it’s networks of social affiliation, of intermarriage and kinship. I mean the shared narrative, the same hopes, the dreams, the stories. I mean the practices of parenting and filial piety and whatever else there might be.

A group is a group. It has characteristics. Those characteristics matter for whether you play in the NBA. They matter for whether you learn to master the violin or the piano. They matter for whether you pursue technical subjects or choose to become a humanist or a scientist. They matter for the food that you eat. They matter for how many children you raise and how you raise them. They matter as to the age when you first have sex. They matter for all those things, and I think everyone would agree with that.

But now you’re telling me that they don’t matter for who becomes a partner in a law firm? They don’t matter for who becomes a chair in the Philosophy Department somewhere? Groupness implies disparity because groupness, if taken seriously, implies differences in ways of living life. Not everybody wants to play the fiddle. Not everybody wants to dunk a basketball. Not everybody is frightened to death that their parents are going to be disappointed with them if they come home with an A-minus. Not everybody is susceptible to being swayed into a social affiliation that requires them to commit a violent crime in order to prove their bona fides. Groups differ. Groups are not evenly distributed across society. That’s inevitable. If you insist that those be flattened, you’re only going to be able to succeed by imposing a totalitarian regime that monitors everything and jiggers everything, recomputing and refiguring things until we’ve got the same number of blacks in proportion to their population and the same number of second-generation Vietnamese immigrants in proportion to their population being admitted to Caltech or the Bronx High School of Science. I don’t want to live in that world.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
This entry was posted in Race. Bookmark the permalink.