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Glenn Loury’s Glaring Honesty

Is there a woman alive who can resist the charms of Glenn Loury? The answer, at least in Loury’s telling, is no. For the past 60 years, according to his new memoir Late Admissions, Loury has been seducing colleagues, students, strangers in bars, and wives of friends, almost all while he is a married father. Why is he telling readers all this? Other reviewers have wondered. Friends advised him against it. He says he wanted to tell the truth about everything or we wouldn’t believe him about anything.

If nothing else, readers will come to see him as a man of voracious appetites. And once we understand his seemingly uncontrollable desires for sex (and drugs), we will also begin to see clearly his intellectual hunger and promiscuity. At one point, one of his teenage sons asks him why he can’t just stay put, why he insisted on taking a job in Providence when his family lived in Boston. “Where are you? You’re missing in action. Why are you always somewhere else?” Loury’s devastating answer: “Because I’m bored.”

“That was it,” he reflects now. “At home, puttering around the house, attending to the minutiae of domestic life, I would become restless. When the family wound down at night and headed for bed, I’d find myself itching to get up, go out and find some action.” His desire to find action led not only to all sorts of extracurricular activities (though sometimes Late Admissions makes these seem less “extra” and rather the main event), but also to a meteoric and zigzagging career through academia.

Loury was born on the South Side of Chicago in 1948, and he had a number of adults around him who were also interested in finding “some action.” His mother cheated on his father (which resulted in the birth of his younger sister). One of his uncles practically kept a harem in Loury’s telling. The stability in his young life was provided thanks to his mother’s sister Elois, who owned a large house and gave his divorced mother and her two children a small apartment in the back.

Loury excelled academically and entered high school very young and smaller than his classmates. If Late Admissions is riddled with Loury’s insecurities, this is perhaps the beginning of them. An early fear that he would never get a girl seems to have led him to pursue romance and sex with reckless abandon. He even stole a car as a teenager in the service of this goal.

Loury is at great pains to explain that although his was a borderline middle-class childhood, he was never more than a couple of steps from the ghetto. He spent time visiting friends and relatives in public housing projects. He witnessed plenty of violence. He went to a decent school but easily could have ended up at a bad one. Whether he is trying to prove something to the black readers (that he is not like the bougie blacks he encounters in college and his professional life) or to the white readers (that he represents the authentic black experience), I have no idea.

What becomes clear is that Loury’s racial, sexual, and class insecurities pile up like kindling, and every professional interaction seems to light a match. Sometimes this means that he excels in all of his classes (especially math), gets a scholarship to Northwestern, and finishes graduate school at MIT, publishing in some of the most prestigious economics journals along the way. But sometimes it means that when he is given a tenured position in the economics and African American studies department at Harvard, he “chokes,” worried that he will not be able to live up to the expectations that have been placed on him.

And those expectations, to be fair, are enormous. It is not just that Loury by this point is the father of three children (only two of whom he acknowledges); he does not know whether his success is the result of merit or the result of racial set-asides. He learns, for instance, that the economics department at MIT admits 25 students each year but has an additional three slots set aside for blacks. “One of these slots is occupied by me when I arrive in 1972, though I suspect that my strong performance at Northwestern would have stood me in good stead in the admissions tournament, regardless.” The problem is that he never knows. Just as it has with so many others, affirmative action made Loury question his own bona fides.

Later he was told about a job at MIT, “You wouldn’t be getting this offer if you weren’t black.” Loury says he “didn’t take offense.” The words came from a friend who, Loury speculated, wanted to let him know about the conversations going on behind the scenes. But the second thing he took from this was that if he failed at the job, “it would be seen not only as a personal failure but as a failure of ‘my people.’ I would be failing my race.”

The question of how Loury wants others to see him professionally also vexes him. He cares about the fate of black people in America. But should he spend his time writing about such issues? “Either I would be a black economist working on black issues or a black economist pointedly not working on black issues. That is, I’d either make my race into a career or I’d be preoccupied throughout my career by avoiding my race. I don’t much care for either option.”

Eventually Loury’s failure to produce more research and his growing interest in public policy led him to the Kennedy School at Harvard, where he begins a career as a public intellectual. Depending on who you ask this is either the best profession or the worst one for someone wracked with personal insecurities.

Unlike many black conservatives (Shelby Steele, Thomas Sowell, etc.), Loury didn’t really start on the left. He attended a Black Panther gathering as a young man, “but attending a political rally was not the way I wanted to use what little free time I had at my disposal.” A combination of his biography—including his father’s strong belief in personal responsibility and not depending on the government for anything—as well as his academic formation in the world of math and economics meant that he was unlikely to end up a socialist. He read his way through the works of Karl Marx as a professor—at the urging of a mentor who wanted him to learn about other disciplines—but it didn’t seem to hold any kind of emotional pull.

Loury’s research on oil and gas deregulation brought him to the attention of folks on the right in the 1980s. His reaction to outreach from supply-siders in the Reagan administration was very measured. As he explained their pitch, “They are dubious about calls to redistribute wealth. It is better to let businesses and individuals keep their money and spend it as they see fit than for politicians to decide how those resources are allocated. … I’m not a free-market zealot, but I can appreciate the logic behind these ideas. It’s all a question of balance. … Some government intervention can be a good thing. But, as I know from my study of the oil and gas industry, overregulation can hinder growth.”

Unlike most of the neoconservatives with whom he eventually associated, Loury was never “mugged by reality.” He understood supply and demand. He understood how crime destroyed cities and that black people were too often the perpetrators and the victims. He understood how broken families and drugs were destroying black communities more than the racial attitudes of whites. (On this last point, readers will marvel at Loury’s capacity for cognitive dissonance.)

But there’s a difference between knowing these facts and saying them out loud. Loury’s public break with his conservative friends happened both because of things he didn’t like on the right—the publication of The Bell Curve and the refusal of forums like Commentary magazine and the American Enterprise Institute to allow him to publicly refute its claims—but also because he was tired of disappointing folks on the left. He recalls being at a meeting of civil rights leaders, including a tearful Coretta Scott King, and being made to feel as if he had betrayed his race.

After the publication of his book, The Anatomy of Racial Inequality, though, these leaders welcomed him “back home.” Henry Louis Gates, Cornel West—even Jesse Jackson—all embraced Loury. “They started to invite me to their panels and their cocktail parties. When I gave a lecture, they would show up, and not just to hector me from the audience during the Q&A.”

What was the substance of his break with the right? His disagreements with Charles Murray and Dinesh D’Souza are clear, but his anger with Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom is much less so. He disagreed with their pessimism about the chances for improving the lives of the black underclass, and he thought that too many conservatives have become “content to start and end their discussion with a demonstration of the fact that racial liberals are confused, angry and scared.” In other words, the conservative critique was necessary but not sufficient. Was that a reason to throw his friends under the bus?

Loury acknowledges that even while he was hobnobbing with Jesse Jackson and the like, he never really changed his mind. “I could not go home again. I was a conservative, and in truth I suspected that’s what I always had been.” Loury portrays his return to the right as less a matter of changing his mind and more a matter of the left becoming more intolerant and intolerable. From campus speakers being shouted down to the rise of Black Lives Matter to the popularity of shoddy scholarship like Michelle Alexander’s, Loury couldn’t abide his new friends anymore. Perhaps, after almost eight decades, he finally heeded the advice of his onetime friend Midge Decter: “There comes a time when you need to join the side you’re on.”

Late Admissions: Confessions of a Black Conservative

by Glenn C. Loury

W.W. Norton, 448 pp., $32.50

Naomi Schaefer Riley, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum, is the author of No Way to Treat a Child: How the Foster Care System, Family Courts, and Racial Activists Are Wrecking Young Lives.

The post Glenn Loury’s Glaring Honesty appeared first on Washington Free Beacon.

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