Econ prof Loury takes on the blogosphere

Sunday, December 9, 2007

After years in the media spotlight, on the opinion pages of national newspapers and in countless radio interviews, Professor of Economics Glenn Loury has entered a new forum: the blogosphere.

The Web site was started about two years ago, according to co-founder Robert Wright, with the idea that “the Internet makes high-brow video economically feasible.” The site features hundreds of “diavlogs” (dialog plus vlog, or video blog) between two people – whether bloggers, like most of the regulars, or authors or public intellectuals, such as Loury.

“This is a pretty cool thing that Bob Wright and company have developed,” Loury said. He said he got involved with the site through “pure chance” when his friend Joshua Cohen – a professor of philosophy, political science and law at Stanford and co-editor of the Boston Review – asked if he wanted to do it. Loury said he has had two conversations broadcast on the site so far, both with Cohen, and has more scheduled.

The conversations take place in an unusual format, with participants talking on the telephone and recording video of themselves at the same time. The split screen result is exactly what the Web site’s name suggests: two heads talking to each other. In their first conversation, Loury can be seen relaxed on the phone, apparently at home, and Cohen sits in front of a bookcase in his office, a hands-free set on his head.

The result is a far cry from debate shows on cable television, and that’s part of the draw, Loury said. With just two participants, a personal tone and conversations usually lasting about an hour, it’s “more civilized than that,” he said.

“We agree too much to call it debating,” Cohen said. “It’s not a five-minute … bumper-sticker sort of conversation.”

The “heads” are free to choose topics of discussion between themselves – whether one issue, such as Loury’s recent article in the Boston Review on race and incarceration, or a range of topics, as in their second conversation.

“We don’t do much in the way of controlling content,” Wright said. After the site’s operators pick pairs, the two agree on whatever topics they might want to discuss, for however long they wish, although the site does prefer topical and varied issues, he said.

Loury seems comfortable with the medium and is bringing new topics to the table, Wright said, adding that Loury could become a regular.

Loury’s presence on illustrates the Internet’s importance as an intellectual forum, particularly given Loury’s background. Loury was once considered one of the foremost conservative voices in the nation.

“I was a foremost conservative because I was black,” Loury said, explaining that his views were not particularly interesting otherwise. By the early 1990s, he said, he had left the leading edge of conservatism, and today he considers himself a progressive, he said.

For future programs on, Loury said anything could be game, whether it be American politics, international affairs or academic life. Race, the subject of his last book, will likely come up, he said. But his commitment to the site could become more than a monthly phone conversation – Wright is “keen to get me to do more,” Loury said.

Loury, who arrived at Brown two years ago as a tenured professor of economics, said he is happy with his decision to come to College Hill.

“This place seems to have its head on straight,” Loury said – as opposed to Boston University, he said, where he was unhappy with the administration before leaving.

“He’s having a tremendous impact on my department,” said Professor of Economics Andrew Foster, who is chair of the department. Foster said he has seen more graduate students working on issues of race, an issue of particular interest to Loury.