The 10th Annual Arrow Lecture – Persistent Racial Inequality in the U.S.: An Economic Theorist's Account

The 10th Annual Arrow Lecture – Persistent Racial Inequality in the U.S.: An Economic Theorist's Account

Monday, December 4, 2017
5:00 pm - 7:00 pm

International Affairs Building, 420 W. 118 St., New York, NY 10027 Room 1501

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Glenn C. Loury, Merton P. Stoltz Professor of Social Sciences and Professor of Economics at Brown University, will deliver the 10th Annual Kenneth J. Arrow Lecture titled "Persistent Racial Inequality in the U.S.: An Economic Theorist’s Account." Steven N. Durlauf (University of Chicago), Rajiv Sethi (Barnard College and Columbia University); and Joseph E. Stiglitz (Columbia University) will serve as discussants. 

Professor Loury previously taught at Boston, Harvard and Northwestern Universities, and the University of Michigan. He holds a B.A. in Mathematics (Northwestern University) and a Ph.D. in Economics (MIT, 1976). Full bio

Open to Columbia University affiliates. Please register with your Columbia University UNI. 

This lecture is part of a Special Symposium in Memory of Kenneth J. Arrow. Learn more | Register here.  


Professor Glenn C. Loury argues that the phenomena of collective reputations and selective associations along racial lines go a long way toward accounting for ongoing social disadvantages experienced by African Americans as a group. One aspect of the argument explores the combined effects -- on the incentive to invest in market-rewarded skills, and on the resulting dynamics of inequality between social groups -- of the extent of segregation in social networks, the strength of peer effects, the character of production technology and the racial demographics of historically disadvantaged groups. Conditions are identified under which group inequality persists, even in the absence of differences in ability, credit constraints, or labor market discrimination. Another aspect of this argument will examine the evolution through time of negative racial stereotypes -- beliefs about members of an identifiable population subgroup that can be self-confirming." It is shown that, under some conditions, the stigma of historical disadvantage for a racially identifiable and systematically disadvantaged group can be overcome when new cohorts are sufficiently optimistic about their future prospects. Finally, Professor Loury considers the problem of efficiently designing interventions aimed at enhancing the representation of a disadvantaged racial group in selective arenas of education and employment.

Background materials

 (1) A non-technical lecture given at Oxford last year, with a somewhat personal perspective.

 (2) A technical paper on the persistence of racial inequality published in 2013.

 (3) A technical paper on how to remedy racial inequality via "affirmative action"

 (4) A technical paper on why "equal opportunity" will generally not be sufficient to deal with the problem of persisting racial inequality.

 (5) A non-technical paper on the relationship of Barack Obama's presidency to the traditions of African American protest.

About Kenneth J. Arrow Lecture Series

Kenneth J. Arrow’s work was formative in shaping the field of economics over the past sixty years and his ideas, style of research, and breadth of vision were a model for generations of the boldest and most creative economists.
Kenneth J. Arrow received his Ph.D. in Economics from Columbia University in 1951, and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the university in 1973.  He was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science in Stockholm in 1972.  The Lecture Series is an academic tribute to Kenneth J. Arrow, celebrating his pioneering scholarship and innovative spirit.


Lecture Agenda

5:00pm-7:00pm – 10th Annual Kenneth J. Arrow Lecture – Persistent Racial Inequality in the U.S.: An Economic Theorist's Account

  • Delivered by Glenn C. Loury, Merton P. Stoltz Professor of the Social Sciences and Professor of Economics, Brown University

  • Discussants: Steven N. Durlauf, Professor of Public Policy, University of Chicago

  • Rajiv Sethi, Professor of Economics, Barnard College and Columbia University

  • Joseph E. Stiglitz, University Professor and 2001 Nobel Laureate, Columbia University 

Sponsored by the Program for Economic Research, the Center on Global Economic GovernanceColumbia University Press, and the Finance Division at the Columbia Business School