Economist Glenn Loury calls for 'trans-racial humanism'

Glenn Loury and Edmund Santurri
Glenn Loury, professor of economics at Brown University, sits with moderator Edmund Santurri (left) of St. Olaf College Institute for Freedom and Community on Friday.
Lakaia Thornton | Courtesy of St. Olaf College

Economist Glenn Loury was the featured speaker at a program held at the St. Olaf College Institute for Freedom and Community. Friday’s session was titled, "Truth, Justice and Racial Equality."

Loury said “true racial equality is equality of dignity and respect — of standing and performance.” Affirmative action is problematic, he said, because “I want equality for my people. Affirmative action as a tool is one thing. As a crutch it is another.”

The history of discrimination — and the resulting economic disadvantage and social stigma — means that racism has permanent effects. The government should further the goal of equality. “Laissez-faire is not sufficient,” Loury said.

But Loury said his argument is nuanced. Racial equality can only be achieved if we have a strategy for promoting equality.

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“Equality means investment,” he argued. “I want developmental affirmative action, not preferential affirmative action.”

He adds that being color-blind is naive because we can't ignore social and political realities. And he calls for "trans-racial humanism."

While he is black and considers his own views to be mostly conservative, he said, “I will not allow identity to trump my rationality and my individuality. I’m a human being first. I think about politics and I come to the conclusions that I come to. It doesn’t stop me from being black. Sometimes those opinions are conservative. No apology is being offered for that here.”

Loury is opposed to a federal program of reparations to descendants of enslaved people. With about 35 million African-Americans, a minimal $50,000 reparation payment to each would amount to $2 trillion, which Loury says is not politically feasible. And it shouldn’t be, he adds. More societal work is crucial, and if a huge payout occurs, nothing more will be done.

“Once reparations are paid — game over,” he said.

Glenn Loury spoke with professor Edmund Santurri, the director of the Institute for Freedom and Community at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.