Glenn Loury
The Glenn Show
Jay Caspian Kang – Affirmative Elitism

Jay Caspian Kang – Affirmative Elitism


I’ve always thought that opposition to affirmative action wasn’t an inherently conservative position. People on the left have plenty of reason to criticize affirmative action. It’s a tool for elite class reproduction, one that dresses up economic inequality in the guise of egalitarianism. My guest this week, the journalist Jay Caspian Kang, seems to see it that way. He’s a man of the left who has written searching, deeply intelligent pieces about affirmative action (among many, many other subjects). In the years since he began covering the Students for Fair Admissions cases, he’s gone from a proponent of the policy to a critic.

I ask Jay what led to his changing view of affirmative action. The SCOTUS case clearly demonstrated that Harvard’s admissions policies discriminate against Asian American students. Jay talks about why some Asian American students defended those policies anyway. Jay’s critique of affirmative action is primarily structural, but isn’t there a cultural argument as well? I think the SCOTUS case is only the first wave of what will be a large-scale shift in how we think about the relationship between race and education, hiring, and any number of other areas. Some of the anti-China (and anti-Chinese) sentiment we’ve seen in recent years is already falling away. And finally, even though we both agree that affirmative action as it’s currently practiced needs to change, both of us think there is value in real diversity on campus. The question is how we achieve diversity fairly.

Join Discord

This post was released on Monday to paying subscribers and is now unlocked. To receive early access to TGS episodes, an ad-free podcast feed, Q&As, and other exclusive content and benefits, click below.


Sign Up for City Journal’s Newsletter

City Journal provides rigorous analysis that allows you to reach your own conclusions, rather than rehashing ideologically “safe” talking points. Explore it for yourselves and sign up for their free newsletter today.

Sign Up Now

0:00 How Jay’s position on affirmative action changed

12:15 Jay: I can’t see the virtue in affirmative action as it’s practiced

20:07 Why did so many Asian students defend policies that discriminated against Asians?

25:35 The hidden cultural argument in the California Mathematics Framework

32:01 Is the “people of color coalition” coming apart?

34:55 Why so little outrage over the SCOTUS affirmative action decision?

42:26 When students internalize artificial trauma narratives

49:06 America can’t economically decouple itself from China. Will anti-China rhetoric wane?

55:49 What will and won’t change in the wake of Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard

1:05:29 Isn’t there some value to diversity in education?

Recorded July 24, 2023

Links and Readings

Jay’s New Yorker piece, “Why the Champions of Affirmative Action Had to Leave Asian Americans Behind”

Jay’s book, The Loneliest Americans

Jay’s podcast with E. Tammy Kim, Time to Say Goodbye

Jay’s 2019 New York Times Magazine piece, “Where Does Affirmative Action Leave Asian-Americans?”

Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou’s book, The Asian American Achievement Paradox

Natasha Warikoo’s book, Race at the Top: Asian Americans and Whites in Pursuit of the American Dream in Suburban Schools

The California Mathematics Framework

Roland Fryer’s NYT piece, “How to Fix College Admissions Now”


Glenn Loury
The Glenn Show
Race, inequality, and economics in the US and throughout the world from Glenn Loury, Professor of Economics at Brown University and Paulson Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute