A Black Economist Critiques Old-Style Affirmative Action

By Francis, David R. | The Christian Science Monitor, April 3, 1992 | Go to article overview

A Black Economist Critiques Old-Style Affirmative Action


Francis, David R., The Christian Science Monitor


GLENN LOURY is one of several black conservative economists rapidly acquiring a national reputation. So when the Boston University professor gave a public lecture at BU earlier this week, it attracted a goodly audience of students, professors, and members of the community, mostly white. One reason was the topic, "The Economics of Discrimination."

Senator John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts discovered how hot that subject was when he said at Yale University Tuesday: "You've got to have a program of affirmative action in this country.... But we ought to acknowledge the downside aspects of it."

A Boston NAACP official promptly called his remarks "race-baiting."

Such snap comments, however, are more difficult when a critique of affirmative action is made by a black.

The first part of Mr. Loury's lengthy talk could be summed up by former President Carter's pithy remark, "Life is unfair." Loury points out that economic inequality between the races is a product of "unjust history, propagated across the generations in part by the segmented social structure of our race-conscious society." Most blacks in the United States are descendants of slaves, affected by a history of discrimination. Other groups have similarly been influenced by a history of injustice.

"All societies, and therefore all economies, exhibit significant social segmentation, as various groups of individuals and families cluster together because of their historically derived commonalities of language, ethnicity, religion, culture, class, geography," he says. These groupings "exert a profound influence upon resource allocation, especially those resources important for the development of human beings."

A skilled worker, notes Loury, is produced by inputs of education, parenting, acculturation, nutrition, etc. He runs through how some of these inputs affect many blacks. Over 60 percent of black children did not live in households with both parents present in 1988, compared with 20 percent of white children.

The institution of marriage has been in rapid decline among blacks for more than three decades. Among women ages 15 to 44, fewer than 3 out of 10 were married with a spouse present in 1988. …

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