Glenn Loury

Glenn Cartman Loury / b. 1948 / Chicago, Illinois, USA / Professor of Economics, Author, Podcaster

Note: The specific sources of the following quotations are unknown.

Criminal Justice

The land of the free—we’ve got an army marching around the world under the banner of freedom, and yet, we are the most un-free society, in terms of institutions of the deprivation of liberty, of incarceration. The incidence of incarceration is higher in the United States than elsewhere in the world.

You can put a person in jail for five years, for 10 years, or 20 years, for the same crime. We’re deciding on 10 years to 20 years, when five years would be enough. Okay. The deterrent value, the additional amount of leverage that you get over a criminal to keep them from breaking the law in the first place, associated with making the sentences longer, is de minimis; it’s essentially nothing.

The primary contact between Black men and the government today is the prison system.

Never before has a supposedly free country denied basic liberty to so many of its citizens. In December 2006, some 2.25 million persons were being held in the nearly 5,000 prisons and jails that are scattered across America’s urban and rural landscapes. . . . On average, state inmates have fewer than 11 years of schooling. They are also vastly disproportionately black and brown.

Today, 15 years after crime peaked, the American prison system has become a leviathan unmatched in human history. Never has a supposedly ‘free country’ denied basic liberty to so many of its citizens. . . . We have become a nation of jailers.

Critical Race Theory

[Speaking with John McWhorter]:

I take umbrage at the lionization of lightweight, empty-suited, empty-headed mother*****s like Ibram X. Kendi. Who couldn’t carry my book bag. He hasn’t read a f*****g thing. If you ask him what Nietzsche said, he would have no idea. He’s an unserious, superficial, empty-suited, lightweight—he’s not our equal, not even close.


We can see in retrospect that criminalizing the consumption of alcohol proves not to be the solution to the very real problem of drunkenness. So to what I want to say is the very real problem of the human susceptibility to addiction isn’t best dealt with by building prisons and throwing people into jails.

My mouth is no prayer book, but my view is, I’d view addiction to these substances as a medical problem and I would treat it accordingly. What little I know about the history of drug control policy in the United States leaves me thinking that a hugely important moment came when the lawyers win out over the doctors on this matter.

The drug problem in this country is a consumption issue.


The pursuit of knowledge and education is a path towards empowerment and progress.

Equality of Opportunity

Equality of opportunity is a fundamental principle of justice, and we must work towards achieving it for all.


America is the only advanced industrial democracy where people can get sick and languish because they can’t afford care. Or where people are blocked in access to the system because they don’t have access to insurance, which is only available through certain narrow portals and under certain very restricted conditions. We’re the only society that hasn’t embraced this idea that no one should go without access to these services, regardless of their financial condition. And no one should be saddled with a lifetime of debt because they have the misfortune of falling ill.

If you have a system that says everybody who needs healthcare gets it and we’re going to make sure that it gets paid for by raising your taxes and providing the requirements on individuals where they have the ability to pay, such as we determine as appropriate, then the insurance issue doesn’t come up.

Human Dignity

True progress can only be achieved when we recognize the dignity and worth of every individual, regardless of their background.

Loury on Loury

I’m left. Okay. And sometimes radically, and sometimes I even shock myself with the degree of radicalness in my own—that I’m allowing to come out in my old age.

[Re: Brown University]:

The facilities are magnificent, the campus is beautifulI even like living four days a week in Providence, which I never thought I was going to do.

I was a hot commodity . . . Being African-American didn’t hurt me—I was one of the leading young theoretical economists of the generation.

What I was wrong about was not realizing that in my saying those things in the way I said them had political consequences . . . It wasn’t just a matter about being right. Being right about something isn’t good enough. You also have to be smart about it.

[Re: Loury’s drug problems during the 1980s]:

I got my life back together and I haven’t looked back.

Public Discourse

Every now and then when I hear someone called a racist, I just mentally insert the word “witch.” And it almost always works. What they’re actually doing is they’re calling you a witch.

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.

Racial Disparity

The persistence of racial inequality in America is a scandal. We must confront it, honestly and forthrightly.

We need to have open and honest discussions about race in order to move forward as a society.

Racial problems can’t be easily reconciled with a pat account about racism and discrimination that lets us sort of relax into saying when we finally get this right, when we get rid of racism, when we reach the post-racial society, everything is going to be okay. Well, no, because along the way here, as we’ve not yet been in this racial nirvana, facts on the ground have been created.

There are many disparities, and for every disparity, there are alternative explanations that one can bring to bear, but structural racism doesn’t even attempt to provide an explanation. It attempts to maneuver you into a corner rhetorically so that you must concede it’s not the fault of the people who suffered the condition at hand.

I’m not saying that you won’t find many patterns or practices of racial mistreatment in history, but I’m saying that the link between them and the contemporary circumstances of African American communities, especially at the bottom end, is woefully inadequate to explain what we see.

Slavery ended a long time ago, but the institution of chattel slavery and the ideology of racial subordination that accompanied it have cast a long shadow. I speak here of the history of lynching throughout the country; the racially biased policing and judging in the South under Jim Crow and in the cities of the Northeast, Midwest, and West to which blacks migrated after the First and Second World Wars; and the history of racial apartheid that ended only as a matter of law with the civil-rights movement. It should come as no surprise that in the post–civil rights era, race, far from being peripheral, has been central to the evolution of American social policy.


I don’t want to see the issue of Black reparations for slavery close the door to historic memory and continuing responsibility.


The fact that we don’t’ talk about it, that we don’t have a politics in which this question of war and peace can even get onto the table, so that we can open up our Orwell, our 1984, or Animal Farm, or whatever, and read the political text that’s being spotted to us on the television right off of the page; the fact that we don’t have a politics robust enough to actually debate whether or not we want to be a country permanently at war. That’s what keeps me from sleeping at night


My sermon for us Americans would be to construct the kind of institutions of mutuality and social cooperation that don’t leave 15 or 20 percent of our people falling through the cracks. We can do it. It’s not like we don’t know what to do. It’s not like there aren’t models there. It’s not like this isn’t being done elsewhere. It’s not like we can’t afford to do it. It’s a question of political will and it’s about our definition as a people.