Glenn Loury
The Glenn Show
Rob Henderson – The Cost of Luxury Beliefs

Rob Henderson – The Cost of Luxury Beliefs


My guest this week is

, a Yale and Cambridge-trained psychologist, a writer, and a UATX affiliate who has just published a book, Troubled: A Memoir of Foster Care, Family, and Social Class. The book documents Rob’s harrowing early childhood and his journey from a declining working-class community to the Air Force to the elite strata of academia. It’s a remarkable story of someone who has transcended his upbringing and social environment without attempting to disavow them. If you know a little bit about me, you’ll understand why I find Rob’s story so compelling. (And if you don’t know a little bit about me, you’ll learn all you want to know and more from my own memoir!)

Rob tells me about his early childhood in the care of his mother, whose drug addiction put Rob in increasingly dangerous situations. Even after moving through the foster care system and into an adoptive home, Rob seemed to be headed in the wrong direction, but intervention from some concerned adults pointed Rob toward the Air Force, where he spent eight years. Later, as a 25-year-old freshman at Yale, Rob began encountering the sort of elite attitudes that he would later study formally. We discuss and debate Rob’s concept of “luxury beliefs,” or beliefs that confer social status on bearers who are wealthy enough to insulate themselves from their consequences while harming those who aren’t. We consider how those beliefs and the resentments they stir up can prime different classes for political mobilization. And finally, Rob tells me what his recent trip to Malaysia taught him about poverty and social dysfunction.

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0:00 What makes an “elite”?

4:37 Rob’s very rough early childhood

7:39 Rob’s experience with foster care and adoption

12:35 Why Rob joined the Air Force

17:23 Ground News ad

19:43 The uses of military discipline

24:35 A 25-year-old military vet freshman at Yale

27:15 Luxury beliefs and cultural capital

32:16 Who bears the cost of defunding the police?

38:03 Two-parent households for me but not for thee

43:19 Revealed preferences and implicit understanding

43:17 Interclass resentment as a political weapon

55:04 How Rob became both the “token liberal” and the “token conservative”

1:00:22 Rob: Poverty doesn’t necessarily generate social dysfunction

Recorded February 19, 2024

Links and Readings

Rob’s memoir, Troubled: A Memoir of Foster Care, Family, and Social Class

Rob’s Substack

Rob’s Boston Globe op-ed, “The SAT is pathway to more college diversity, not less”

Rob’s WSJ piece, “‘Luxury Beliefs’ That Only the Privileged Can Afford”

Robert Putnam’s book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis

Charles Murray’s book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010

Thorstein Veblen’s book, The Theory of the Leisure Class

Pierre Bourdieu’s book, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste

Michael Knox Beran’s book, Wasps: The Splendors and Miseries of an American Aristocracy

Rob’s NYT op-ed, “Why Being a Foster Child Made Me a Conservative”


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