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Razib Khan's Unsupervised Learning

Mar 4, 2023

Today on the podcast Razib talks to Dr. Glenn LouryMerton P. Stoltz Professor of the Social Sciences at Brown University. Loury also has a Substack that grew out of his conversations with John McWhorter on starting in 2008. He is the author of One by One from the Inside OutThe Anatomy of Racial Inequality and Race, Incarceration, and American Values. An erstwhile progressive, Loury was a neoconservative in the 1980’s before his gradual shift to back the political right in the 2010’s. 

Loury has been in public life for more than 25 years, but today’s discussion begins with his scholarship in the 1970’s as a young MIT economist. Razib goes back to Loury’s 1976 paper, A dynamic theory of racial income differences, and still his most cited publication. In many ways, the argument within the paper anticipated “wokeness” and theories of systemic racial privilege. Loury broadly agrees but emphasizes that it’s been nearly 40 years since he began writing that paper, and much has changed, including his judgment of the state of American society. A dynamic theory of racial income differences argues that inter-generational differences in human capital accumulation cannot be abolished simply through repealing discriminatory laws or norms. In other words, where you start in life matters, and centuries of oppression would have long-lasting effects. But the paper was written at a very different time in a very different America, in the wake of the Civil Rights movement and before an America reshaped by immigration.

Razib and Loury also touch on his ideological and personal evolution and how he views the last few decades, going from conservative to liberal to conservative again. Loury speculates on the possible trajectories of different futures in the United States. He emphasizes that we live in a global world and that the choices we make now in terms of how we leverage our human capital matter greatly in the context of international competition. They also discuss the academy's state, its role in the culture wars, and Loury’s rejection of progressive ideological conformity that he believes threatens the foundation of the scholarly enterprise.