The brown Pandit's Brown can wrap up this broadcast, and I'm here with Mukunda and we were very special guest today, Dr. Glenn Lowry, could you introduce yourself? Yeah, I'm Glenn Lowry.
I teach at Brown University, professor of economics and of international and public affairs here in Brown. And I have a podcast called The Glenn Show At Loggerheads. That TV, I'm happy to be with you guys Thottam.
And I am a I'm a patron of the Glenn Show. I have probably listened to like ninety eight percent of Glenn and Jon's conversations over the years. I would recommend it to anybody out there as a very interesting take. And I know they call themselves the black guys of blogging has. But I think some of their some of their some of their best stuff, aside from there can be commentary, is actually what it has nothing to do with being a black American, some of their more international stuff.
So I want to ask you I would start out with economics here. Economist You have a formal background in that field. So two thousand. We have the financial crisis. You know, I had told friends because I read what the smart people say, that the Great Moderation was here in two thousand six, two thousand seven and that, you know, just just be chill. I heard Larry Summers told me the truth and all this stuff. And I mean, I won't say smug about it, but I was like, these are really smart people.
That twenty eight happened. And I have to be honest, I just I have like a high degree of skepticism now about a lot of the so I come from a scientific background, predictions important. And so, you know, I don't feel like a lot of the economists predicted that particular financial crisis as some people did, but some people always predict them. And so it's twenty twenty it's been twelve years. And I feel like in some ways our cultural and economic elites have kind of brushed off twenty eight.
But I don't feel like they've reckoned with the level of skepticism, cynicism that that's produced among regular people. Probably. I mean, on some level this is called populism. Occupy all these things. But even someone like me, I just would automatically say, oh, well, this is what economists like. You know, I could tell you economist University of Chicago, who I knew. And he was like, oh, don't even pay attention to macroeconomics.
Everything is this two thousand six. Everything's micro. And then the financial crisis happened. So, I mean, where is economics today? Like, it's still a prestigious field.
People have their signatures, but I'll get out of here is it's still a prestigious field. Look, don't judge economics by the ability to predict whether a hurricane is going to turn left or right. I mean, I think you ask too much of economics. I think, in fact, you might to some degree, it's not it's not like engineering. It's not like it's a bridge going to fall down. I mean, there's I don't know is my answer to you.
I mean, it's OK to not know. I mean, in the very nature of the case, the, you know, sort of cycle market crash bubbles dynamic of these of these kinds of marketplaces where there's this intersubjectivity that goes on because you're betting on what the other person is thinking, that you're thinking that he's thinking. I mean, these are fragile things. I don't know if people really understand it is economic still. You know, if you didn't ask so much of economics in the first place, I think you wouldn't you wouldn't be you wouldn't be disappointed.
It's a hard problem. It's a very hard problem. Well, I mean, here's the thing. If you can predict what's going to happen, you can make money doing it right, I mean, you said that some people predicted what happened in 2008, but I mean, everybody is throwing a dart at the board. Some of those darts are going to actually hit the spot. That doesn't mean anybody knows what they're doing. So I don't know, that's not very satisfying, but that's my response.
I mean, as long as I'm an honest, honest response. So what are the things that I'm in economics I notice around that period was also the rise of behavioral economics, at least in kind of like the public consciousness nudges and all that stuff I read Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, and he's all over public radio for a while out of Duke. So, I mean, has that faded or is it just me?
Is what just you I mean, here's to the behavioral economics boomlet. I mean, is it still there or do you think people thought like, oh, there's like kind of like it's not as important as people thought that I did.
Richard Thaler, get a Nobel Prize. I mean, I think there is a kind of melding of psychology and economics research. And there's also a development of experimental economics, which is methodological, not not substantive, but people going in the labs and doing things. So I think it's here to stay. I think it's affecting economic theory, which is not any longer just mathematical modeling, but it is also people saying I have this of that finding from how to actually play games.
I mean, you know, we have an assumption of perfect rationality, which we can then use to compute equilibria under certain sort of protocols. But how do people actually behave in the laboratory? So, you know, I think behavioral economics is here to stay boomlet. I mean, nudging, unsuspicious about nudging. I think the numbers have their own agenda. And so under cloak of moving people this way that they can impose their values. I mean, I kind of I'm not a big I'm not big on planning.
Yeah. Yeah. Well, did it all. Peter's just recently come out with a paper he's been talking about about how economic theory is wrong based upon his modeling. I believe it is. I forget the theory he used recently was talking about behavioral scientists are fundamentally incorrect about the way they approach the entire model of economics because they they take certain things as if, like, reasonable people would behave. And they use that as a model as opposed to how people end up do behaving.
And because of that, their entire basis is pretty much off.
Well, that's the critique. And I mean, that's why behavioral economics is here to stay, I think, because the program of postulating that people are just simply maximizing utility or something like that and then calculating the implications of that was kind of exhausted. But but I don't think that's all of economics. I mean, I think, for example, the.
You know, like water flows downhill, insights from economics, there's something called price theory, the demand curve is actually slow downward. Incentives do matter. The system, they behave in a way that is not the predictable consequence of any individual's action. Equilibrium forces will have certain implications. So, you know, they're they're like, I don't know, you can call them nostrums or whatever. I don't know. But I mean, I do think that there are insights and that that's somewhat independent of whether or not I've got exactly accurate psychological bio genetic account of human behavior arbitrage.
Arbitrage is one of those things. That's a water runs downhill point. They're going to be forces that move to equate those prices. And if you suppress, they're going to then create implicit markets. I mean, you know, the minimum wage, I mean, people are I'm going to maybe date myself or mark myself here, some kind of neo liberal ideologue. You don't control the prices on apartments in a lively and transforming part of the city with dynamic issues are going on and people making decisions about investing in businesses and whether or not to acquire and and renovate and and what not and where to locate.
And, you know, you don't plan that, you know, say, oh, housing is not affordable and that's not fair. You let the market forces rip, you let the water flow downhill. You let people who can see profitable opportunities take care of them. Now, if you're concerned about poverty, redistribute income and some very basic way. And we could talk about how to do it, but don't use every site of public activity as an occasion to play out some kind of political drama when there's certain basic things that are true.
Markets work, incentives matter. You can stop the process from selling his labor at ten dollars an hour, but you can't make an employee who thinks his labor is only worth ten dollars an hour. Pay him 15. So, Glenn, you're talking about basic things here, and one question that I do have is how much math do you think an economist really needs?
Well, if he wants to get out of graduate school, he's going to need he's going to need a minor in undergraduate, minor in mathematics in order to get to bring in the econometrics courses. Now, if you're asking me the practice of economics rightly undertaken, how much math would be utilized? If you're not a specialist who's actually writing technical papers on some theoretical issue, if you are a practicing economist in some sense, and that can be an academic as well as someone who is in the business of the financial sector.
I don't think you need that much. I mean, you know, the math hurdle to get into graduate school is a screen and it's a very imperfect screen. That's all it's doing. I mean, basically, you the IQ guy, I mean, isn't it really selecting on people's intelligence? Well, I mean.
So, yeah, I guess what I'm asking then is I don't know if I am the IQ guy, but. But what I'm asking, though, is like, you know, there's all this complex math that a lot of economists need, but is it basically just a way to kind of create an ordering system for, like, OK, who's the brightest guy in the room? And we're going to have him go to MIT as opposed to can this math actually extract insight out of the data and out of the world?
So, you know, I was just reading about Paul Samuelson because I tweeted something about him recently and it came up in my podcast because I was being interviewed about my early education. And I was talking about when I first saw the insight about why in an idealized, competitive, no externalities world, the competitive equilibrium was going to be efficient. You know, and it's it's a very simple mathematical observation. Prices are formalized as an effective space as causing there to be a hyper plane of equal pay out.
These are the good the bundles of goods that at those prices generate the same payoff. And that type of plane is separating to convict sets, one of which represents the set of bundles of goods that can be produced with existing technology and the other, which represents the set of bundles of goods which can be distributed in such a way that everybody is better off than they are at a given point.
And the price train separates these two sets at a point such that the two sets are themselves separated from each other, except at the point where they touch this efficiency, because the bundles of goods that can make everybody better off are disjoint from the bundles of goods that are feasible to actually produce with existing technology. This was this idea. OK, now here's all I want to say. That's a profound insight. That's the 20th century expression of what Adam Smith was after.
This is progress. This is social science, formalizing an abstract and exact way, the measurable descriptive variables necessary to understand something about society. OK, so I don't even remember what your question was, but but I'm using this as an example to say there are beautiful ideas. Relevant to politics and society, Arrow's impossibility theorem, you know, this work, this is the social choice, the theory of social choice, this is social choice and individual values, I can be very brief.
The question is, does their existing mechanism that allows you to aggregate from individual preferences a social preference ordering which would be consistent with certain minimal common sense restrictions, that you think the aggregation of individual preferences to social order ordering should respect any proves that other than. Dictatorship, it's impossible to have a general mechanism of individual preference aggregation which satisfies those requirements. This is this is an open problem in political theory for 200 years, OK, that gets that ends up getting resolved in a profoundly satisfying way.
OK, that's the kind of insight I mean.
So, yeah, I just want some of this stuff in game theory. I mean, we could talk about it. I mean, we could talk about information, economics, about your contract theory, about incomplete contracts. I mean, the fact that economists can't predict whether or not a given market that is this way or that is going to fall this way in the next moment doesn't mean that the last hundred fifty years haven't really, really deepened in profoundly enriched our comprehension of these of these matters of social significance.
I'm going to defend economics to the end of the year.
So glad you mentioned the big names there. Samuelson Arrow Giants of the 20th century in genetics and evolutionary genetics. Ari Fleischer, who obviously is also a statistician, is a big deal. And I do recommend people who are interested in the topic of evolutionary genetics to read his genetical theory of natural selection, which he wrote in the late nineteen twenties. And so there are some areas of biology that are highly empirical where something is two years out of date, it's very out of date.
And then there's other areas where it's very formule like population genetics, where I was partly trained. There's a lot of formal, you know, just basically the edifice of population genetics was developed in the 20th century in a data poor environment, which I think you as an economist might understand in the earlier period in particular, are there any books or papers you recommend from, say, the 20th century where it's like, if you're interested, the topic of economics?
You should you should read that paper because those insights are so deep and they're still so relevant. Oh, gosh. Well, the book that I love, it's very contemporary, it's economics for the Common Good is by John T. Rowe. It's a beautiful book, but it is intentionally not a deeply technical discussion. Although Tyrol is himself a giant and in his mastery of technique and application of it to deep problems, I was just extolling the virtues of channeling Cooperman's.
I think it's nineteen fifty seven and three essays on the state of economic science. This is Cooperman's. He was at Yale, received the Nobel at some point along the way. Actually I think he was awarded would have been probably about nineteen seventy five or so with Cantor, which was the Russian mathematician and linear programming and stuff like that. But but Coupland's book, three essays on the state economic science develops this very elegant model of economic efficiency and decentralization of the sort that I was alluding to just a moment ago when I was talking about the concept.
That's cool. But what what would I you know, it's dated the Samuelson's foundations of economic analysis. I had occasion to call the people's mind, and I think that's like nineteen forty seven or something like that and. It is taking this nice, smooth mathematics is differential calculus and matrix algebra stuff and a little differential equations, you know, stability theory and applying it to the analysis of classical, economic and consumer theory produce a theory, stability of equilibrium.
And it was not novel in its time because it was a kind of formal mathematical again, it wasn't really very deep. It was it was just basically Newtonian physics. It was thermodynamics. I mean, the structure of the equations look look really very similar, but it was novel to be applying it to economics. And so as a historian of economics, I think you'd have to you'd have to take note of Samjhauta funnyman and Morganstein. This is Jonathan Normy, the great John Norman and Oskar Morgenstern.
The book is called A Theory of Games and Economic Behavior. And I think it's like 1940. Nine forty eight, something like that of women and Stern basically inaugurate what has become this, you know, sprawling edifice of intellectual creativity and I think, you know, profound insight, which is modern game theory. And they start from the very foundation. I mean, they you know, the Norman Morgenstein utility function, which is their numerical expression of people's preferences over gambles that separates there is assessment of probabilities from their weighting, of the relative value of different states of the world, which might occur, and shows that for certain axioms on the general expression of risk preference, one can represent the ordering over alternative gambles.
And this very nice, by linear way, the value of an option. Is the winner of the vector, which is the probability that a given outcome would occur with another factor, which is the utility assigned to that outcome having occurred. And those two things are separable in that way. And what are the minimal restrictions on preferences that could allow you to represent a decision makers ordering of alternative gambles in that? Very nice by linear way. This is one of the I just give one example of one of the kind of insights back to the games and it sort of systematic exploration of some of the problems in game theory and in cooperative game theory.
But that would be another book that I would recommend. I would be remiss if I didn't mention Thomas Schelling's The Strategy of Conflict, which, if I'm not mistaken, doesn't have a single equation in it. But is the I think it was nineteen ninety five. Maybe it was later. I think it was later the Nobel in Economics goes to Schelling and Robert Altman. Altman is an Israeli American mathematician and statistician slash economist. Who made profound contributions to game theory as a formal mathematician, shelling is a essayist, verbal economist who doesn't write down formal models except in the very most skeletal way, but nevertheless explores the sort of, you know, mysteries and the inner logic of some of the some of the strategic questions of bluffing.
What is a bluff, credible threat, what how to establish the credibility of mind. And the shelling was much closer to as a defense intellectual in the early 1960s and then later was much closer to sort of the world of practice. And they were jointly awarded the prize and shown was was very good friend of mine. So I would have been reading this, not to mention.
Yeah. So I mean, one reason I struggled is with the way the Internet is today, especially some of the older stuff, you could get it free. There's a lot of people out there. The Internet wasn't around when I was a little kid. I just I just wonder. So when you said von Neumann, everything I read about him, I'm not really sure he's human. I'm hoping there's a lot more women out there who has access to SCI Hub and all these preprint servers.
And actually, I don't even know if that's a good thing. It's it's kind of beyond our Ken. Right. But I think there's so many intellectual opportunities out there today. And I really hope that there are people out there that are taking advantage of it, whatever their resources, because we do kind of live it in a bit of a utopia. If you're an intellectual, I want to ask you about just signals and just credibility in terms of a biological science.
They are getting rid of the Griese out of a lot of departments. And the arguments I personally find the very wanting. And I just say that they want to select who they want to select instead of saying that it's biased and all that stuff. Because, I mean, you could I mean, these are people who have some statistics. You could explain range restriction, conditioning on the collider, and then they just forget about it magically the next round of the argument.
So I start to realize, OK, this isn't really what they are. They're not putting their cards on the table. Why they're doing this. I feel like economics is one of those fields where I would be skeptical that they would get rid of the jury, although I know in physics, in some places they have already. So do you think that it will happen in economics? If not, why? And I also would wonder, like, how would you mean?
Economics is a very quantitative field. I mean, so what I always tell people is like, you know, you're going to have to do letters of introduction, but I don't really understand how that's I mean, like, you know, I listen to your recent podcast. I kind of know about your biography. Like, I can imagine you getting a letter of introduction, you know, that might not have worked as well for someone your your background for something as opposed to, you know, so it's just like I don't think it's going to work out the way they think.
But I mean, what are your thoughts on the degree and if it's if it's around to stay in economics at least. I don't see why economics should be immune from what seems to me to be a more general trend. I have heard that the grid has been abandoned in a number of of places, even in the sciences, biology. And I mean, what's actually going on here now? What's going on is that there are differences in performance on the grid, which then result in group differences and access to the educational program.
And I mean, then there are different arguments. One is that the grid is itself somehow biased. The other is that those particular skills are not so important to the to the task at hand. I think that both of those arguments are wrong. But I would would not I mean, I think I, I, I think it's not going to end with the GRV. Supposing that you constitute a class in a technical discipline out of people who have been admitted without attending to the grid.
Some of them are going to have low degrees or virtual degrees. If they had taken a job, I would have been lost. Now, what do we know, even within the restricted range of the selected people who come into study in the program? So I'm already cutting at the right tail. Variation in the gray is correlated with performance. So this guy, we never got a sample because he didn't take the grid because it's not required anymore for the program is way out of the range.
And there's every reason to think that this performance will be even more dramatically below quote unquote par if I maintain the technical curriculum. So so we're going to have people like that around, whereas before we would only had one in 100 because we've got a pretty good predictor of the degree. Now we're going to have 15 and a hundred or twenty five and 102 or like that. Are we going to just welcome all our. I think the answer to that is no, certainly not if they're all black and brown or a certain kind of brown, the Southwest, USA, brown.
Not the South Asian brown. Yeah, I saw a joke I like to tell. Let me finish my thought, please.
Let me let me finish my thought. My thought is that you're going to change the Constitution. This is not just about selection and the abandonment of the degree, the abandonment of the the camel's nose under the tent. It's to step on to the slippery slope. OK, you're going to end up ruining the institution. By making it impossible to enforce standards, that's what's at stake here. Civilization is at stake here. This is just one small arena, the maintenance of standards of human judgment.
Is what's at stake here. You can't do rarefied high end technical engineering, biogenetics, physics, economics or anything else without being able to score above the 90th percentile or at least the 90th on the Jarry.
We all know that. So that's where I'm coming from. This is a fight for the basic essential integrity of what we're doing. Yeah, you got to let identity politics cause you to fold up your technical tent. You're going to surrender your intellectual mandate to some superficial fancy. Of the contemporary trend. Tonight, in the direction of, quote, unquote, the oppressed. We're talking about economics. We're talking about biophysics, we're talking about we're talking about human achievement.
So so, Dr. Laura, if I can push back a little bit here, is it is it the one of the crux of this argument, the fact that some people are just not good test takers? They might have been very good with the subject matter, but not good test takers about it. So is it this in some sense a basically a litmus test of who could take a test? Well, and not say who's capable of doing the high end economics or high end math or high end whatever technical field we're talking about?
Well, that's right. And I'm wrong. I mean, my my premise is that there are actually differences among individuals in their ability to do this thing, which are imperfectly proxy by performance on the tests. Of course, that there's error. There's a difference between what the test is measuring and what the actual unobserved productivity of the person is. It's only correlated with it. But and therefore it behooves you if you insist that the test is missing talent to tell me how I'm going to find that talent.
What do you propose? Are you just want a random drug? You're going to just do a random drug on the population and hope to find that talent?
Or do you have some other way of discerning what that particular talent might be? I'm only in the prediction business if the test is not a good predictor. I'm not in favor of the test, but I am in favor of defending the fortress from mediocrity. Yeah, I mean, there's not much daylight between Dr. Larry and me, so I don't really want to go any further in that direction.
I have there's a lot of stories like I left academia in twenty sixteen and there were already, I can tell you, a twenty eleven.
It's a cultural change. In 2011, biology professors were not recommending people if they're grea the math for, for, for quantitative biology. If they're Geria the math was below seven hundred, they would not give a recommendation.
And today I mean they wouldn't even look at it. I'm not saying they would recommend but I knew many professors. They were like I'm not going to look at this because you're below that. Right. And then today, the same departments, people are like they're the faculty are voting to to get rid of the jury. Now, I'm going to give one story. This is a real story. A friend of mine, I'm pretty sure he's going to be in the National Academy of Sciences.
He's like one of the most productive young academics I know. And he opposed getting rid of the GRE for a variety of reasons. The same reasons you gave Dr. Larry. And but he lost because the cultural mood, what he explained is what he's privately talk to people about is what are they going to do? Well, he's one of the best young researchers in his department. He's going to get the best students. He's just going to look at a proxy, which is like, do they go to an Ivy League university?
He'll be fine.
It's the other younger junior faculty who just got hired who may not have a track record yet, and they're going to have more of a random draw. So, you know, his argument is like he's he's going to do fine. He knows who the best undergraduate researchers that have the connections at Rockefeller University or Harvard, etc. He'll be fine. So he's going to get like the talented one twentieth or whatever. You know, the Greens feel like, OK, there's a kid from Korea, like international students, for example.
They don't benefit from the same pedigree networks because, I mean, they're from some lab.
But I think you're making a really important point. I mean, first, the matching problem, social selection. And then, you know, once they get in, who do they work with? And it really matters who you work with on both sides of that transaction. So you want to get good matching and that requires information. But the other is proxy's, which is that if you just take out one measure, people are going to substitute other measures.
And the ethical implications of them having done so may be exactly the opposite of what it is and you profess to be trying to promote. So, for example, relying on credentials from pedigree just gives more of a premium to background and and social position relative to the thing that really matters, which is mental acumen.
So, yeah, well, I guess the only thing I could say here would be, you know, it seems like this is kind of experimentation and let's see who can do what and if they're capable. And if it fails, it fails. And it could be not quite correct in, say, 10, 15 years if if, for example, we don't see if we see the level of quality or production or or, you know, I guess professional acumen drop, then we have to course correct at that point.
Wouldn't this be just a sort of attempt to see whether or not the elite status of the way we do current academic work is really producing any difference from a system which would let everyone come in and then filter down out some of the point? OK, well, no, I agree that it's an exaggeration. And therefore, if the outcome were somehow to see even a more productive scientific communities when we didn't rely on this method of selection, I think you would be proven wrong and I would be proven right.
And I would there'd be something that I was missing. But but it feels to me like a self-inflicted wound, like shooting yourself in the foot, you know. And like I said, I think it's a slippery slope. I don't think it ends with a shut down stem. Yeah, I mean, the barbarians are at the gates. I mean, I, I, I've seen yeah, I mean, look, I mean, I think it's it's one of the few times in human history that we're putting the political reasoning aside.
And I think there is, like you're saying, deep problems with that. Well, I think it's one of the times that we can actually have in history where you open it up a little bit more to the masses and see what happens. I mean, generally, we've done that in other areas.
We've seen mixed results, but we mean that. But that's what quantitate this is the thing that really frustrates me. The historical pattern is quantitative tests are ways to open up to masses. So, like, where were the first Kwanten? They're not quantitative, but like testing was introduced and how in China, because that was a way to get a category. So they've been doing that for two thousand years. Testing was introduced in Britain to pluck out proletariat, working class children.
That did really well. And there is some social science evidence that testing does benefit lower SES students in particular, because it turns out people just naturally think that the children of professors and doctors are smart. So, I mean, the story that I've heard in Germany, for example, where obviously I don't know where all brown skinned people here my personal space is Europeans are much more casually racist than white Americans. And so I've heard multiple experiences of brown skinned children in Germany where they're not recommended to go to university because, well, look at them, you know, but then it turns out they test really well.
They're like, OK, well, maybe they're OK for outlanders, you know? And so what you're basically trying to say is like, oh, well, the judgment of these individuals who's in academia, they all say that they're white supremacists and racists. Their judgment is better than the. I mean, this is what I put I put it that way to them. It's an awkward conversation because when it comes to your own laboratory, you have a very, very different criteria than when it comes to the whole institution.
Let me say something here. I think there's a general concern about testing, not just with respect to high end technical admissions decisions, but also with respect to assessing educational progress for youngsters in primary and secondary and so on, in evaluating teacher performance and things like that national report card on educational progress kind of thing like that. And there are some issues teaching to the test is one of them. So the test is not simply something that's, you know, disconnected from the rest of the system.
Once it is a known instrument, there's going to be to manipulate it. Right, this test prep and all that for the grade. But there's also just what does the curriculum, the endogenously determine being decided upon as we go along allocation of time in the classroom look like in view of the anticipation, the fact that the test is coming and what can make the argument that there's some uses of time in the classroom? I'm not not talking about a kids particular abilities.
I'm talking about what teachers do when they know a test is coming, some uses of time, which wouldn't contribute much at all to the performance on the test, but which would enhance the overall productivity of the kid, maybe their emotional and psychological skills. I make this up as I go along. You see the idea that complement cognitive skills so that the overall effectiveness of the person is enhanced and you don't want to spend 90 percent of your time on cognitive skills.
You want to spend 60 percent of your time or fifty five percent of your time on crimes that might be true, in which case testing as such, not any particular test, but the fact of assessment and basing outcomes on the assessment would have a drag, would have a blowback cost, which would be diverting proprietary attention to at the margin. This is an economist now diverting that attention from those tasks in the classroom that enhance the overall effectiveness of the person to those tasks that specifically enhance the test performance.
So I can see that kind of argument. I can see the argument the teachers might make. Don't assess me in the classroom on the basis of tests. That would be a different argument. Now, the test is not only measuring the effectiveness of my tutelage. I'm a teacher. I have the kids for a year. You measured the average increase in their performance on some tests over the course of that year. You took that to be an unbiased estimate of the UN observed individual specific trait, which is my productivity as a teacher.
I would argue as a teacher, the test outcome is also measuring what goes on at home, my inputs are only part of the inputs that are determining. The effect is that the kid is the parent overseeing to make sure the homework is done. Is the environment in which the kid is being raised complimentary to the overall pedagogic task of enhancing the kid's intellectual performance? So don't use the test as a sole measure of my ability when it's in fact confounding measure, what I do, what it is that I have to work with in terms of the social background of the kids that are in my class.
So many arguments. There are many arguments that that one could advance, could testing. But in terms of high end technical stuff, I'm talking about actually knowing how to invert the matrix. I'm talking about understanding why a sequence that converges to a point in a close set, that point has to be in the set. This kind of thing, come on, people who are not equally equipped with respect to their capacities to do this kind of work. This is not anything.
This is this particular thing. Yeah. Now, this particular thing constitutes one of the great foundations of human achievement.
OK, don't freak around with it, don't mess with it, don't don't make it into a political football, don't don't use it as a site to work out deep problems of social psyche that really haven't got anything to do with cosmology. You know, or evolutionary genetics? I mean, come on, leave my science alone, let me do science. Not everybody's cut out to do it. It is not a measure of the fairness of society, whether or not the composition of the National Academy of Sciences is ethnically representatives.
Well, so there was a recent paper, Evolutionary Genetics WOAK.
There was a recent paper. It was a paper. And then I think I interview The New York Times with one of the authors of the paper about how they want to keep track of the ethnicity of the people submitting papers to journals so that they can see the proportion of the ethnic groups and the gender and everything. And I personally think it's appalling. But one of the things that I I joked about is they should also people should also have their families net wealth tattooed on their forehead.
The reason I say this, I actually know the person I interviewed. I know their background. They're from a very, very wealthy family, actually, but they're a brown skinned person. So who would know? Right. But in any case. So there's a lot of stuff like that going on. I want to move to another topic before we have to leave. So in terms of competition, in terms of American intellectual productivity and what one of the things that concerns me is China.
I was you know, I I accepted the whole globalization narrative of China. I mean, it's great the Chinese poverty that they abolished, extreme poverty and all that stuff and that they've really transformed, like all this, our world of data stuff. Most of it's just China, the decline in poverty and stuff. So that's great. And then the 20s and into the teens, we have this kind of like Chimerica, this common market, and we're still getting a lot of Chinese goods.
But I'm really in the last year or two, that last year in particular, we need to start to get worried here because the Chinese are not as Coombabah about this as some of our intellectual and political class have been. And their competitor. And I just I'm kind of the covid-19 response. What we see is state capacity has really concerned me, was curious about your views on this club. To be honest with you, I don't have any in the sense that I don't know very much.
I read the newspaper like the next person, actually. I guess I do have views, but I'm almost afraid or ashamed to to share them.
You have it now. We kind of got it.
I mean, first of all, first of all, I mean, because some of them agree with Donald Trump. I mean, it was outrageous what happened in the early days of the outbreak of covid-19. That was an outrage that the Chinese Communist Party did not behave in the interest, a humanistic, global communitarian, whatever. We weren't told the truth. There were, you know, I mean, I don't actually know enough of the details about it to feel confident, even saying anything further in public.
Because, you know, the environment that we live in and that will be called a denier or whatever, I'll be called because I'm a true sir or a conspiracy theory. Believers like that.
I am with you. I'm with you.
Well, let me tell you, there is a rivalry afoot. I'm not quite sure how to think about it. I mean, these are big global hegemonic, you know, kind of what are the political currents on the globe of our age. It does seem pretty clear that American Imperial Suzerainty is waning. Yeah, we do feel we do feel exhausted over here at many levels and the blacks in the streets burning stuff down in the toppling of statues and the trans tyranny over political correctness and whatever, and the 16 19 project that The New York Times and Donald Trump's presidency and many other things beside are all giving testimony to the gasping over here.
I hope we can find our catch our breath and straighten ourselves up, but I can't promise you that that's going to happen. Yeah, so I was sitting if I was sitting somewhere in Southeast Asia and asking myself the question, what is the future of the twenty first century, I would not necessarily bet against the Chinese. Yeah, OK, I'm sorry, but I would say that and I'm not I'm not at all happy saying that because I'm a flag waver.
I believe in freedom. I believe in, you know, I believe in all these ideals leading the free world and whatnot. But we don't seem to have the moral courage. I'm with Douglas Murray on this. Actually, we don't seem to have the sense of confidence in our own project. This this there's all kinds of decay and rot. So I'm I'm I'm worried and I'm worried and what does a staggering, dessicated, desperate. Former prizefighter DU.
He lashes out. Before he gets knocked out, yeah. Yeah. I mean, do you think the cultural conflicts that we have in this country right now are partly just a way to distract us from the reality of what's going on all around us?
I don't I don't know. I saw an interesting book, I might even have it at hand.
No, it's not here on my desk, actually. I can't think of the woman's name. Now, it may come to me who is the author? She said something like the American Enterprise Institute or something like that. And it's what she's arguing is that identity politics is the is the stepchild of the decline of the family. And what she's arguing is that people don't any longer in American society because of the collapse or the withering away of conventional social mores around family life and the attendant environment for children that was created there by I'm talking about husbands, wives, family.
I'm talking about divorce and out of wedlock births and all that. I'm talking about single parenthood. I'm talking about, you know, absent fathers. I'm talking about a lot of stuff. And you could trace it to the 60s, you know, feminism and sexual revolution and the pill and the I mean, you know, gay liberation and, you know, and I'm not please don't get mad at me. Whoever is listening to this. I'm not trying to be against anybody's liberation.
I'm just saying this woman whose name escapes me, but it may yet come to me, argues that there is a sense of love being lost, of a vacancy, of an absence, of a sense of security and self. And people then seek out their the meanings that are absent from their lives because of the abandonment of the structure of familial entanglement in their more superficial characteristics, which are a part of themselves, their ethnicity or race, for example, but which are not the deepest and most essential part of themselves.
So this would be a link between a deeper dissolution of the fiber of of social connectivity and structure in society on the one hand. And the more, you know, superficial political expressions and their enthusiasms and their susceptibility to being drawn into this or that kallick or cult or group identity, something like that, I don't know if that made any sense to you.
Oh, no. Yeah. Yeah, it totally does. So I kind of want to close, close, close the conversation with that, just like I want to talk about Dr. Abrams can be a little bit. So I listen to you and John talk about Tallahassee coats in the early teens and I kind of find some of those comments.
Is it that long ago? Please cut the early.
I still I still remember when you were a Hillary start in 2008. Thousand. Oh, yeah. This guy goes all the way back up in arms.
I email John McWhorter in the year 2000, after losing the race when he was still at Berkeley, he responded in two thousand.
You must have been in grade school.
No, no, no, no. I'm I'm. I'm in my 40s. I got I got I got like the brown the brown baby face, you know what I'm saying?
It's the genes to the gene therapy. But but yeah. So I, I've seen the whole trajectory and I, you know, I remember thinking, well, you know, Tallahassee's like a writer like this is this is the most it's going to get and then it Kadisha.
But I got to say, it's not like it's so bad now.
I mean I mean, am I wrong here because it's been successful.
And, you know, I happened, as it were, channel flipping the other day to come across an enactment of the a scripted stage play enactment of between the world and me, HBO. Max is having it. Yeah. And I thought, you know, it was pretty powerful, actually.
I mean, some of those words were poetic. I mean, they were Baldwin esque. And it's you know, they had their their elegance, their they're kind of poetic. You know, there were some bizarre Sharpei. Yeah. There's some there that you can write. Ah, I should not. See coats and candy in the same category at all. I mean, and now this will sound like praise for Coats as a journalist at the Atlantic. Some of those pieces I can remember the piece on on Bill Cosby, I remember the fear of a black president.
Of course, the reparations pieces is, you know, renowned, influential.
So, you know, I mean, give Coats's do I have my problem with his ideas? Not not that I would never have said of Colts'. He's a lightweight, I might say, of of coats. Know you've got to find something other than the stick that you've been playing for the last decade, there was the second act. I mean, I want to know what this they're they're OK then. There's some that haven't read the novel. I know there's a novel out there I have read, but Coats's can kill the fish altogether.
So, I mean, what I'm just trying to get at is. Tallahassee has like, you know, he's a good writer and he did some great journalism, whatever disagreements and I have plenty of disagreements, you know, I'm more on, you know, John's faith, but it's like Candy is like, you know.
OK, I mean, this is twenty twenty, I mean, I thought it got better, you know, it's just, you know, I feel like a profound sense of disillusionment with American. I mean, he is I mean, arguably, he's the most prominent public intellectual in America today.
Whatever that needs, yeah, I mean, you you're going to have your metrics and you may be right.
I mean, you know, like, look, I mean, there's people with like huge indexes and they have, like, a lot of influence in academe. But like in terms of just like in the Atlantic quoting here, here's the thing.
Here's the thing. I remember Cornell West in his prime. Hmm. OK, Cornell West had read and could tell you exactly what David Hume was saying. Cornell West has thought deeply about the connections between Adam Smith and Karl Marx. Cornell, Cornell West knew what Durkheim was about. Cornell West had read off and could actually give you chapter and verse, it could make it relate to the things that he was talking about.
Cornel West knew what was in Dubois's black reconstruction is monumental history of the Reconstruction era after the Civil War.
Cornell West was a deeply is is is whatever he might do with his time, a deeply learned man. Even Canada is not. He gives no evidence of that depth. No, I'm just simply observing that so adolescent and unserious has become contemporary American intellectual life and a man of no depth. Could be so elevated. I know the real deal when I see it. He's a lightweight, but you know, you know what, we like to sail around, but it's where the car is the answer in the car because I mean, no ill will prove me wrong.
Stand up without a script and talk for an hour about a book. But if somebody is going to read a hundred years from now to stand up and give me a framework that indicates some subtlety of mind.
OK, where you actually argue something? In elaborate detail. OK, I know of mind when I see it, I'm not a fool. I know I know the difference between a faux phony, thin, superficial, insubstantial, a fad. And a deep line of inquiry. So so that's all I'm insisting on. Can we I mean, cartoons are one thing and literature is another.
Then why do people think he's an intellectual then the. Why is that? Well, I mean, I don't think they do.
I think they think that they should. So we're living a preference falsification land.
I oh, wow. And that's timber, Kiran. It was a friend of mine.
There's a lot of preference falsification in academia. Glad we both know that. Yeah, I mean, I think the move that I just made, I'm calling out somebody, I'm saying, you know, stand up and actually tell me about something that shows that you've actually got a good mind. And and people are going to say whatever they're going to say, you know, they're going to ascribe a political motive to me or they're going to get ad hominem or because I'm black, that's going to have something to do.
I think a lot of people have. What do you think?
The faculty of Boston University. We have an alumnus of the Boston University Law School here. I used to teach at Boston University. I taught there for almost 15 years between ninety one and two thousand and five, 14 years. I knew John Silber, the late John Silber, the late, great John Silberling, who built that university into the current, you know, so substantial place that it is. Do you not think that there are many, many, many members of the faculty of Boston University?
Who know that what I'm saying about Abran X kindie is true? OK. How many of them have given voice to that in the deliberations and councils of the university? I'll bet not a single one. They're not insane. No, no, they're not I'm only reiterating what you just got to. Yeah, I mean, it's so we talked about von Neumann, so a friend of mine was asked me what I thought about Candy. And I listened to him on Ezra Klein's podcast.
That's when I first really I'm actually reading his book. There's nothing in the book that's not in anything he said. So again, but I said Ezra Klein sounded like John von Neumann on that podcast, the gap between the two. And my friend started laughing because he knew exactly what I was saying. There is no offense to Ezra, but I mean, but he was asking questions that were just amazing. Ibraham Candy. And I was like, does anyone not ask this guy anything that he doesn't have canned responses to?
And I don't think so. Which is kind of disrespectful, but. Well, I'm thinking of John McWhorter right now because he would say have said before even Kennedy put yourself in his shoes. Well, I mean, so I would love to be there.
Well, it's so. So so here's here's. Yeah, I mean, here's the thing. I mean, maybe suffers from imposter syndrome. Maybe he knows deep within his heart that he's he's you know, what's the Peter Principle you promoted to the beyond your level, whatever that. I can't remember that. Yes. Over and over and over his head. Maybe he knows he can't can't can't really pull it off. Maybe every event is an agonizing experience or maybe dashes quickly for the safety of his hotel room as soon as the formal proceedings are over.
It doesn't doesn't linger over coffee. Maybe each word that he writes here now is measured in his mind against some idealization that he knows he could never actually achieve. Maybe we should feel sorry for. Now, I'm not sure if I mean, I'm fine. I mean, I I respect his moneymaking capability. I mean, he's doing something that's right for him. Yeah, but but but I mean, the discourse in America is getting a little more base than it used to be, but these kind of topics, especially when you start telling people either you're with us here against us and you're your original sin concepts.
I mean, I don't know if any of that gives anyone any way to walk out into the American society and basically say. How am I going to. What what about my existence makes makes this better, because when you're telling people that your existence is engaged, the way you engage with the world is inherently evil, I think that's problematic. Well, it might even also be racist. Yeah, because, in fact, isn't the argument that in virtue of your whiteness, the following things are true?
Right. I mean, I've been saying I don't know that I'm right, I said this about cults and maybe I was wrong. I said, it's a bubble. Your finance guy could maybe it's a bubble that people it's all built on what people think other people are thinking. And, you know, initially it rises because you get confirmation that other people are agreeing with you and given that other people and more are coming on and it kind of builds up.
Right. But unless there's something underneath that's real, it has to reach a point where perhaps I mean, where suddenly it gets revealed to be. And then the loss of confidence also builds on itself, on the downswing. And you get you know, the thing unravels. And maybe maybe that's what's going on here. I don't know. I mean, I frankly think that some of the reaction in American politics and again, I'm not going to use the name Donald Trump is a indication that there's a not insubstantial.
You talk about preference falsification. I'm sure a lot of people. Agreed with Trump about Colin Kaepernick, who wouldn't have said so. That is to say, he's a wealthy, spoiled, privileged athlete of color who's got a chip on his shoulder and has decided to use this ceremony of national affirmation as the site to strut his affected, you know, injury and whatever, whatever. I mean, I could give voice as I speak. I'm trying to give voice to this unspoken sentiment that I think is out there and I think a demagogue.
And let me let Trump play that role here. And the analysis that I'm offering sees an opportunity. When you have a regime of press with falsification, he knows there's a longing for people who are feeling put upon by the restraints of convention, who think the unthinkable and temper themselves from saying so. He knows that they long for a kind of affirmation saying the unsayable. I mean, and I just think that there's so many things that are like this.
I think the race and IQ thing is a thing that's like this, not the Trump has said anything of that sort.
Don't get insults, don't get us canceled again. Should I stop now? No. Know that I'm not taking a position. I'm describing what can't be said. I'm not actually saying it.
Just describing what I've been asking a question is itself something to be said in our era with certain topics.
Yeah, I know. I know. I know the term. Anyway, I could go on in that vein for a while. I think, though, that we've got we've got to wrap here, right? Yeah.
Yeah. It was great talking to you, Dr. Lowery. And by the way, are you still taking grad students for the listeners out there?
Well, I have one or two students in the department whom I've been working with. Yeah, but I'm not officially I'm not on anybody. I'm not the supervisor of any his PhD thesis at the moment. So I'm kind of I'm kind of eased out.
I'm easing into my next phase of the memoir. Thanks a lot. I might run for office, not killing people and saying Lourie recorded twenty twenty four. These people are mad.
You people, if you see this, are crazy. Who would want that life. You do you need those violent electropop. But I won't continue to speak out. I mean I think you know, I think that there's some very serious stakes here and I tried to give voice to it a little bit in this conversation.
I thought it was up. I'll be I'll be listening to you guys on the gun show. It's great talking to you. Finally, after all these years of hearing your voice on my back on the iPod Shuffle days and now am I all the way back to all the words?
Yeah, all the way back to that. To be nice to meet you, the awesome doctor. Take care. So long, guys.
Tune in next week for BROWNELL'S.