Jan 13 • 1HR 25M

Glenn Loury On Being A Minority Within A Minority

The brilliant economist gets personal.

 
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Unafraid conversations about anything

Glenn is an academic and writer. At the age of 33, he became the first African-American professor of economics at Harvard to get tenure, and he’s currently the Merton P. Stoltz Professor of Economics at Brown University, as well as a Paulson Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. His longtime podcast, The Glenn Show, is now on Substack, where he regularly appears with John McWhorter. He’s currently writing a memoir of his incredibly colorful life, The Enemy Within, which we talk about at length.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or on the right side of the player, click “Listen On” to add the Dishcast feed to your favorite podcast app). For two clips of our convo — how the insistence on the permanence of “white supremacy” hurts African-Americans, and how we are all “hypocrites” to some extent — pop over to our YouTube page.

Other topics: Glenn’s upbringing on the South Side, his forebears’ migration from the segregated South, his parents dealing with him as a prodigy, dropping out of college with a newborn, rebounding to MIT and Harvard, being ostracized by the black cognoscenti, his drug addiction, his conversion to Christianity, his loss of faith, falling out with the neocon right, the racial wealth gap, and affirmative action.

On the theme of race in America, a reader writes:

Please don’t use my name, but your column on evil gay characters in Hollywood is 100% accurate. And it’s something right now that black/Black people don’t have in our culture. I work as a script reader in Hollywood, and it’s virtually (but never explicitly) forbidden that any Black character be portrayed in a negative light, especially in something written by non-Black writers.

There are so many shows and films now anchored by flawless, one-note Black/PoC protagonists with nothing interesting about them — no flaws and no character arcs. They’re incredibly talented and awesome and so on ... but often just victims of the larger world. Once you start seeing this trend/trope, you see it everywhere — from Glass Onion to Black Panther 2 and countless others. (One exception is the new show Wednesday — which summarily got accusations of racism because the villains/bullies in the show were Black.) 

It’s often the clueless white male characters who get to have all the fun because they can actually be flawed! Which is both funny and interesting! And leads to conflict! Until about four years ago, anyone who studied storytelling since Aristotle knew that your main characters have to be flawed to be interesting.

Until Black/PoC can also play the villain, they’re never going achieve full equality —something you explain so well with “these gays.”

The PR team for Wednesday had a perfect response to the racism accusations: “I’m not forwarding a comment request this silly to Tim [Burton].” Another reader:

I couldn’t agree more with your latest column. Equality means being treated as badly as everyone else. And my particular pet peeves are crime/mystery shows. You show me the lineup on any mystery show and I’ll have it solved in ten minutes. The opening evidence will strongly point to a Black person. They will be arrested or strongly suspected throughout the show, but if you’ve been sentient for the last ten years you’d know that the rich white guy did it for some despicable reason, and the unfairly maligned Black person was of course innocent.

Another quick note on the evil gays:

A couple years back, on the anniversary of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1959 Suddenly, Last Summer, I wrote about how didactic the arbiters of queer culture had become, in effect precluding gay villains and tying the hands of writers: “I call it the ‘role model’ school of film criticism: if it’s not suitable for emulation by a 12-year-old, it’s not fit for the screen.”

Last week on the Dishcast, immigration reporter Nick Miroff updated us on the twin crises of fentanyl and the Southern border. Here’s a clip of Nick discussing how the definition of asylum is disappearing:

This listener enjoyed the episode:

Thank you for having Nick Miroff on the Dishcast again. Bill Melugin at Fox News has done more than any other reporter to help make Americans aware of the ongoing crisis at the border, but among legacy newspaper outlets, no one comes close to Miroff’s coverage and expertise.

His comment that the asylum process has mutated into a de facto “labor importation system” is on the money. Less so, was his suggestion that this has been allowed to happen in absence of immigration increases to address a shortage of labor. There is no labor shortage. Decades of wage stagnation have started to overlap with steady declines in the labor force participation rate. More people are on the economic outside looking in. If the labor force participation rate was back to where it was as recently as 2000, there would be 6.5 million more Americans in the workforce.

One thing that mass immigration can do is paper over long-festering problems —in the short run. Employers won’t have to worry about bringing sidelined workers back onto the field as long as the global workforce is eager to sign up at the offered wages and working conditions. But society is still left with those on the sidelines. To the extent that the government has allowed the border crisis to unfold as a way to help the economy avoid American workers, that is in itself a scandal and disgrace.

Another listener found the episode “highly enlightening”:

Economists can keep debating the issue of whether immigration is a net positive or negative for economic growth, but that argument seems almost irrelevant if one doesn’t take into account the horrible cost of fentanyl as it seeps through the border. Miroff himself notes that the damage to U.S. communities cost the economy $1.5 trillion in 2020 alone, according to a congressional analysis. That would seem to dwarf any economic benefit touted by open border advocates such as Bryan Caplan (who was very compelling when he came on the Dishcast).

President Biden belatedly appears to be addressing the problem, although so far his solutions appear cosmetic, rather than structural (if this analysis by Andrew McCarthy is to be believed — and it strikes me as credible). The point is that the immigration arguments are a sideshow until the issues highlight by Miroff’s excellent reporting are addressed.

Here’s Miroff on the fentanyl emergency:

Another listener:

I have what is admittedly a quibble, but I wonder if the current concern about fentanyl should be examined as one more moral crisis in the long line of moral crises we humans have faced throughout history: the Gin Crisis of the 18th century, the Reefer Madness Crisis, the Opium Den crisis, the Crack Cocaine Crisis, the Meth Crisis. I understand there was a Binge Drinking Crisis in the UK, about 10 years ago, when young women were the focus of much concern. (We can even think of Noah’s drunkenness as a caution against overindulgence.) As you point out, opium and its effects have been around for thousands of years, as well as alcohol.

And concern about the use of such substances has traipsed along as a constant scold. In each case, the overuse of the intoxicating substance was predicted to lead to a collapse in civilization, and the often draconian measures to address the crisis did much to make the problem worse — Prohibition, the War on Drugs, etc.

I am not suggesting we be complacent, but simply to put a context around this use of a new substance. In 2020, the number of deaths attributed to synthetic opioids (the majority fentanyl) was about 69,000, and in 2022 that rose to about 75,000. Just before the Covid-19 pandemic, deaths due to alcohol ranged about 90,000 per year, and so far during the pandemic, that total increased by about 10,000 per year. So alcohol is still more of a threat than fentanyl — if we just examine deaths.

But the exponential growth of fentanyl — and its unique danger to life itself — is new. This next listener floats an emerging theory on addiction:

You asked why drug addition (and fentanyl) are so prevalent in the US. Next to the plausible and well-known explanations, there is another fascinating theory: sugar may be the gateway drug. Given the prevalence of sugar practically everywhere in the US (read the label on a can of tomato juice), it could be that addictive behaviours are primed from childhood. This could explain the high rate of relapse — to break the consumption-reward pattern, you might need to get addicts off sugar, not just the drug.

Here’s a study on sugar addiction and another on sugar as a gateway — but not many researchers have worked on this issue so far. I guess people do not want to be the spoilsport at their children’s birthday parties. That said, as Michael Pollan and others have pointed out, you will not fix the health system unless you fix Big Food. It will be interesting to see whether that theory goes mainstream.

Another listener asks, “Have you interviewed a gender-critical feminist?”

Two suggestions:

Even though we just took giant steps backward in Scotland and Spain, let’s hope that 2023 is a year in which we start to reduce the number of gay kids around the world who are permanently neutered with drugs and surgery.

Three gender-critical feminists — Kathleen Stock, Julie Bindel and Katie Herzog — have been on the Dishcast. Speaking of gender criticism:

I don’t know if you saw the piece in the NY Times about Louisa May Alcott being a transgender man. It was a ridiculous argument. But the reader dissents refute the argument beautifully. I thought you might like to see the piece because it’s another version of not giving girls or boys who are non-conforming according to restrictive gender roles the freedom to be their own sex in their own way. What were we feminists fighting for but for girls to be girls however they like with the same freedoms boys and men enjoyed — without being boys or men?! Ditto your argument about gay rights for men to love men and be men in their own way.

Another recommendation:

You should interview Frank Mitloehner, who was the subject of an attempted hit piece by the New York Times. His research is about mitigating the impacts of animal farming on the environment.

Here’s a point that Mitloehner raised in a webinar that I NEVER see addressed by vegans: the US provides dairy products to its current population of about 340 million people with a little over nine million dairy cows — the same number as we had in 1865, when our population was only 30 million. That’s sustainability by anybody’s definition. 

Meanwhile, India has about 60 million dairy cows — and they are allowed to wander around releasing planet-warming gases until they die, rather than being slaughtered after their productive years (and many of those cows won’t even be eaten). Nine million cows vs. 60 million — I’ve never heard a single anti-meat person address India’s cows.

On the topic of animal rights, one more email:

Your reader wrote that veganism is “perfectly and beautifully normal.” As a long-term vegan, I surely find it to be, but I know that argument leads to lots of pushback about how humans have eaten animal products forever. Therefore, I’d like to pivot the topic away from veganism and towards the real issue: factory farming and factory fishing. Humans have gone from skillfully hunting wild animals, to raising animals on small farms using caring practices of animal husbandry, to — very suddenly and very recently — all atrocities all the time. A “rolling moral catastrophe.”

Here’s an excerpt from a farmer who practiced animal husbandry on a family farm back when such a thing still existed:

Today an estimated 99 percent of the meat in the United States comes from factory farms, barbaric places that leverage the selfish, amoral paradigm of human supremacy for immense capitalist gain. Industrialized agriculture has made meat, eggs, milk, leather, cheese, wool and other animal goods readily, cheaply available to the modern consumer but at a terrible cost — both to the animals, who endure savage cruelty, and to the low-wage laborers, many of whom are immigrants of color, who suffer injuries to body and spirit.

This likely isn’t news to you. The details of this dark business, while partly obscured by ag-gag laws, are widely documented, yet they remain underdiscussed. The torturous treatment of animals at the hands of multibillion-dollar monopolies is among the greatest horrors being committed on this planet.

If anyone believes any marketing or labeling suggesting that an animal product did not come from a factory farm, then you have almost certainly been deceived. Here’s Jonathan Safran Foer: “‘Free range,’ ‘cage free,’ ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ are nearly meaningless when it comes to animal welfare.” 

We have mercilessly turned our backs on thousands of years of our history, and on our religious tenets. From Pope Francis’s encyclical letter LAUDATO SI’

Moreover, when our hearts are authentically open to universal communion, this sense of fraternity excludes nothing and no one. It follows that our indifference or cruelty towards fellow creatures of this world sooner or later affects the treatment we mete out to other human beings. We have only one heart, and the same wretchedness which leads us to mistreat an animal will not be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people. Every act of cruelty towards any creature is “contrary to human dignity”. We can hardly consider ourselves to be fully loving if we disregard any aspect of reality: “Peace, justice and the preservation of creation are three absolutely interconnected themes, which cannot be separated and treated individually without once again falling into reductionism”. Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth.

So I’ll add two more names to the list of potential Dishcast guests on this topic: 1) Melanie Joy — here’s her TEDx talk; and 2) Lewis Bollard — here is a sample of him answering questions after a presentation. 

And by the way, bacon is mostly a taste experience of fat, salt, and smoke — all of which can be easily sourced without using animal products.

We will definitely have a guest on animal rights in the coming weeks. Check out the full Dishcast archive here. And thanks as always for the feedback: dish@andrewsullivan.com.