Sex, Drugs and Economics: The Double Life of a Conservative Gadfly


Loury didn’t abandon his academic ambitions. In 1970, he was admitted to Northwestern University, where he was recognized as a major mathematics talent. He received his graduate degree from M.I.T. Along the way he benefited from the affirmative-action programs he would later criticize. His career was quickly airborne.

He first sensed his innate conservatism during the Vietnam War. It had a lot to do with social class. While still in school he was employed at a printing company in Chicago, and he felt in sync with the blue-collar men he worked beside. They had no time for protest. They were busy providing for their families. Loury felt an “uncrossable divide” between himself and draft-card burners.

At Northwestern, he bristled at wealthy Black students who, he felt, played at radicalism. “The thought that someday they’ll all sit around in their well-appointed living rooms and reminisce about their time in ‘the struggle’ makes me ill,” he writes. “This brother wouldn’t know struggle if it pinned him down and sat on his head. I know something about struggle.”

When he taught at the University of Michigan in the early 1980s, he frequently went into nearby Detroit, sometimes with his wife and sometimes, in “Player” mode, without her. The city was roiling with accusations of police brutality. In Washington, a House Judiciary subcommittee was holding hearings about it. Loury felt, conversely, that poverty and violent crime, not the police, were tearing the city apart.

Well, I think, what about the people whose rights are being violated by muggers, thieves and murderers? What about those little girls dodging rapists on their morning walks to school? Where is their House subcommittee?

Loury began writing about these issues for magazines including The New Republic, where he argued that, among other things, “the bottom stratum of the black community has compelling problems which can no longer be blamed solely on white racism, and which force us to confront fundamental failures in black society.” Why, he asks in this book, is he betraying his people because he thinks they need to get their act together?



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