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Second in 2015-16 CASBS Symposium Series Features Glenn Loury (video)

How does racial inequality manifest itself in today’s America? What does this mean for the future of American democracy? There is a huge gap in the wealth, asset holdings, schooling, imprisonment, and mortality between black and white Americans.

This circumstance poses profound challenges for the future of American democracy.

A nation like the U.S. can be judged by the identities of those it incarcerates, according to CASBS fellow Glenn Loury. The data shows that the U.S. prison population is “staggeringly large” and overwhelmingly non-white. Why?

On Tuesday, January 26, CASBS hosted its second symposium of the academic year – “Racial Inequality in 21st Century America: Where do we go from Here?” – as part of its Evidence of Change series. CASBS fellow Glenn Loury discussed his intellectual journey and the contemporary state of affairs, drawing upon his four decades of work both as a renowned applied economist and a prominent, vocal social critic and theorist.

Focusing on incarceration as his case in point, Loury explored the nature of racial inequality and the threat it poses to the character of American democracy. In advance of the symposium, Loury noted:

I reject false binaries – it’s “their” fault, because “they” reap what “they” sow; versus it’s “our” fault for being indifferent to ongoing racism. I argue that history matters – not only in terms of material inheritance, but also by means of mental habits of thought that have been bequeathed to us. Based on historical study and contemporary political analysis, I argue that, but for latent socio-political biases linked to the need to justify racial domination in the past, the stark racial disparities in incarceration rates, as well as the high levels of confinement in the aggregate, never could have enjoyed such popular support. A focus on crime and punishment illustrates what I propose as a more general conceptual approach to understanding other kinds of racial disparities.

Without question, Loury’s stirring, powerful presentation – which you can view below and on the CASBS YouTube channel – left many attendees in the CASBS main meeting room wanting more.

In response to demand, Loury – the Merton P. Stoltz Professor of the Social Sciences and professor of economics at Brown University – provides here his rich, detailed slide presentation as well as the full text of a lecture he delivered at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in 2012: “The Responsibilities of Intellectuals in the Age of Mass Incarceration.”

You also can read a recent Q&A with The Stanford Daily. For an even deeper dive, watch “The Glenn Show” on, in which he and invited guests discuss a wide range of economic, political, and social issues.


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