I meet Nathan Glazer at his Victorian home a few blocks from Harvard Square. At 88, he is still inclined to walk—quickly, like a native New Yorker—to lunch on Massachusetts Avenue, and he is still quick to pull out a clipping from this morning’s Wall Street Journal to support a point. I’ve told him that our discussion will focus on cities and social policy, including the “urban crisis” that first drew him to Harvard in 1969. Glazer begins the conversation by posing a query about public housing, in which we have a strong mutual interest.
Glazer: I’m going to raise a question: the special role in the history of public housing of the New York City Public Housing Authority. I think it plays a special role for a number of reasons. First of all, I don’t think they’ve bulldozed a single one of those projects, whereas almost everyone else has: Chicago and St. Louis and Atlanta and so on. And second, it’s almost entirely a high-rise system, except for some of their earlier projects—which is on the whole considered a no-no. And third, it does not seem to suffer, I don’t think, from huge vacancies.
Husock: Actually, the opposite is true. It’s quite fully occupied, but there’s a very large amount of what is called “overhousing.” There are many older people who have lived there for their whole lives, and just like you have a big house, they have a big house.
Glazer: Yeah. They have a big apartment.
Husock: They have more rooms, more bedrooms than there are individuals.
Glazer: And they haven’t been able to think about how to make more efficient use, in other words, of what they have.
Husock: And that’s about 15 to 20 percent of the units.
Glazer: Yeah, the whole public housing issue has dipped below the horizon of discussion, though of course it’s on a scale larger than welfare, more significant than welfare in part.
Husock: What people say, of course, is that New York is the good housing authority. But crime in New York City is very much concentrated in public housing. For instance, I have a son living in Brooklyn, in Park Slope, where there is, as you know, a big renaissance.
Husock: If you go three blocks from his house, you get to this huge public housing project, which is a dead zone. There can be no renewal there. Right?
Glazer: There can be nothing there.
Husock: Nothing there. It’s fixed in its use.
Glazer: The whole idea of public housing was a terrible mistake, because it destroyed urbanism. They never had room for stores. One of my early pieces, which I wrote for City Journal, was on East Harlem, where I was born and raised, and the housing projects coming in, and Jane Jacobs’s number on how many stores were destroyed was something like 3,000. You have this solid belt from about 100th Street up of public housing. The whole notion was so mad.
When I was at the housing and home finance agency, we had a project. Our agency and HEW [the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare] were supposed to collaborate in solving the problems of the famous Pruitt-Igoe project.
Husock: That was St. Louis.
Glazer: Before it was demolished, Pruitt-Igoe was already 25 percent vacant. Now, that was not a New York problem, a New York–type problem. The issue was, it was so unpopular already, there was a problem keeping it, certainly in terms of income and so on. There were enough qualified applicants, I assume, who didn’t want to live there. As I say, New York did not suffer from those problems.
Husock: Yes, that’s right.
Glazer: And it’s never been taken over by the state or the city or by the federal government for some kind of incompetence and management difficulties by its own managers. So this is the best of what we have, and it isn’t as if it’s been a boon to the city.
Husock: No matter how well maintained it might be, and it’s not that well maintained, it freezes the use.
Glazer: I think that is very important. The fact that a housing project should be lying there in sight of Lincoln Center is ridiculous. And yet there’s no way of moving these things. Other cities have found ways of demolishing them. Now, that’s interesting. Suppose you would raise in New York City the notion that this is not the best place any more and there’s a higher use. I suppose the politics in New York would make it totally impossible. Let’s think of some better use of this land, like we’ll give everybody housing somewhere else and we’ll auction off the land. Certainly the expansion of these well-to-do areas in Brooklyn would be pushing up against housing projects everywhere.
Husock: I was quite fascinated by your observation in The American Interest—and it’s related to your observation now about the disappearance of public housing as an issue—about the disappearance of the black underclass as an issue of any discussion.
Glazer: Well, certainly in ’69, when you talked about the problem of cities, you were talking, I guess, of the black underclass, and you were talking particularly about crime. You were talking particularly about riots. Those were days when blacks would talk about secession or at least taking parts of cities and running them independently—community control. The summer riots, which began about ’65 or so, would come every year. The most intense of them were after the assassination of Martin Luther King, which must have been in scores of cities, and large areas burned and damaged and so on.
So the urban crisis was thought of as that. And it developed into quite an industry. Though there had been people writing about cities and their problems before. There’s Ed Banfield. There’s Martin Meyerson. When I went to the housing and home finance agency, urban issues were big. We were already beginning to think about the crisis of public housing. We were about to start thinking about the crisis of welfare, the expansion of welfare. And thinking, certainly, about rising crime. And one important strand in our thinking was the notion of bringing together cities and suburbs from the point of view both of planning, because clearly they were linked, and enlisting the suburbs in terms of dealing with the fiscal problems of the cities. And there was this interpretation that cities have these special problems, higher concentrations of poor.
We’re going back 40 years, so in a way, we already need historians. Memory is not enough. But one does recall elements of that period that are now quite gone. For example, in ’63, I went to Berkeley. And at the same time Martin Meyerson, who was a figure in the field of planning, came there as dean of their college of environmental design. In those years there were subsidies for planners; there were special government programs for the training of planners and for the hiring of planners. Planning was a very big thing, with many different variants, including the use of high-tech approaches and numbers and so on. And there were laws—which I suppose still exist; I don’t know what’s happened to them—in which there were planning agencies created for metropolitan areas that had to sign off on transportation and other things. Planning was very big.
But there was always a problem. Ed Banfield was probably the sharpest in seeing what the key problem would be. What did the planners know? What was their ideology of the city? I notice in a recent issue of City Journal a temperate attack by your regular English correspondent on what planning has done to England. And we’d be saying the same thing about what planning has done to American cities. It wasn’t just planning. The planners might have done better. But it was also planning connected with the realities of politics and economic urban development. And the reality was that the involvement of planners or the planning model seemed not to improve on what would occur on the basis of normal economic activity. And I’m not saying it couldn’t, but it didn’t. It’s true at certain times it might have improved on it.
There were other planning ideas around. There was, of course, Jane Jacobs. She is the model. But Catherine Bauer, who was already writing her critique on public housing—
Husock: Which she had helped to create.
Glazer: I know, but she had learned and thought better. At the same time, I also remember talking to Roger Starr, who was once housing commissioner in New York. He and Jane Jacobs really were major antagonists. One recalls Robert Moses, but one should remember Roger Starr as housing commissioner under Mayor Beame. And in his view, there was a contrast between what we can do and what ideally would be best. And what we can do, if you have a lot of poor people who need housing, is build public housing. That can be done because of the law. There’s money. The federal government would pay for it. It can be done. And then there’s the notion of what should be done or what would be best if you could do it. And I recall this battle, or at least argument, between Roger, who was a wonderful analyst of the city and very knowledgeable, and Jane Jacobs, because she did not want to submit to the political realities. And sometimes she succeeded. And often she’d ideologically triumph. But it was an ideological triumph that was not matched by any reproduction of the more positive urban environment she had in mind.
Husock: That’s interesting, because we have this New Urbanism now, of course, which is in her thrall, but you don’t see it as being her kind of development, do you?
Glazer: Well, it’s a fully designed enterprise. And you know, one kind of fully designed enterprise may do better than another. In today’s New York Times, there’s a picture of a city in China, the most terrifying picture you can imagine, of these huge towers with nothing else—and it raises a number of questions on the reality and the real possibilities of a Jane Jacobs vision. Their planning certainly doesn’t call for a Jane Jacobs community.
Husock: In fact, they’re tearing down older-style houses in Beijing.
Glazer: That’s right. They’re tearing down their version of the West Village. And you know, you see things in China that are absolutely crazy, like in the former Canton, which is now—
Glazer: I was supposed to go to China a few years ago, so I went to a conference about it at MIT. There’s a plan to create a university sector in which they would build six universities in the same area. This is true madness. You know? Six universities. And think of the size each university would be. I suppose that if you’re a planner, you think of order: all universities here, this is the university sector. And this over here would be the something-else sector. And so on.
Anyway, this is what I think Jane Jacobs couldn’t face up to. Why is it that everywhere they push to build high-rises? It is the cost of housing. It is true density, and in a way, from another point of view, everywhere there’s almost enough land not to go that way. Maybe not Hong Kong, but almost everywhere you can. Now, you can have what strikes me as a more human environment. But I don’t know: high-rises, vast numbers very close to each other, with nothing visible on the ground? This seems to be either the political or the economic reality, though, and it overwhelms what you might call a more humane vision, which other political and economic realities once made possible.
Husock: You’re saying that the high-rise became the default.
Glazer: That’s right. There is an English account, now 30 years old, of a town [Sunderland] in England. It describes the problem of the old working-class sections. The working-class sections are row houses, two stories high, two rooms thick, and nothing on the street. They were built—clearly they could not have been built with any kind of government subsidy—by developers for workers. Now they’re going to be torn down so these people can live somewhere else. And the people are fighting it. You look at a picture of the area, and you see that at one end of the block there’s a tavern. At the other end of the block there’s something else. They’ve been there 100 years. And people have built an additional room out back and extended their house. The economic and political realities of those times made this a default thing. Apparently the realities of our time produce another default that is quite awful. And one doesn’t know how to deal with it.
Husock: It’s a really interesting point, because I think there is a received wisdom that Jane Jacobs won.
Glazer: She won ideologically. She did not win in reality. She’s lost everywhere in terms of how we build cities.
Husock: Except for a few boutique New Urbanist developments, which I suspect she would actually not like at all.
Glazer: That’s right.
Husock: Because they’re extremely dull.
Glazer: She would want an organic way for them to develop rather than a top-down designed way. She wouldn’t believe a designed way is possible. Let’s see if I can find [the New York Times picture].
Husock: Singapore is entirely that, entirely.
Glazer: Yeah. And was that necessary? Even Singapore is 400 square miles.
Husock: You have these big plazas. It seems to me as long as you retain all this open land for plazas, you could have covered it with low-rise development.
Glazer: That’s right. But I remember, years ago when I used to read architectural journals, an article—it must have been in the fifties—on how East Harlem public housing could have been redone to accommodate the same numbers in five-story buildings, or three- or four-story buildings. It was doable. In other words, you had less in the way of big public spaces, which you can’t maintain anyway, and more in the way of small public spaces, which you might hope to get people involved in maintaining—as against large areas, where you need public maintenance and so on. It was doable. I think that in many places, even in crowded Manhattan, there was an alternative; this architect showed the alternative. And I’m sure [even] Hubei province has enough room to do it differently.
Husock: China is a big country.
Glazer: It’s a big country. But this is what Hubei has now. High-rises. So now, how do we interpret this? China, I mean. Who builds them? And who designs them? I remember, when I went to this conference, saying that I hoped Jane Jacobs had been translated into Chinese. I’m sure it has been. They even translated Leo Strauss. The Jane Jacobs vision attracts all people of humanistic sense and instinct.
And now the question is: Why is it always something else that actually gets built? Think of the Brooklyn area, the few blocks that are coming down for the basketball arena at Atlantic Yards and its associated development, if it ever happens. At least in the accounts, there was such energy with which it was resisted. People were already moving in, and stores were opening. Buildings were being reused. Nothing like the arena project was necessary there, nothing. So if Jane Jacobs won, why did they push ahead with that? Why would Mayor Bloomberg push ahead with that? Well, he’s saying, “It will give work to building trades.” Okay, one thing. “It will increase taxable property, we hope, maybe.” The arena won’t increase taxable property. It just costs money. It costs the city’s money. Why do they do that?
It’s funny about the arenas. You know, at The Public Interest, we had a good man, a former student of mine, who demonstrated that every subsidized arena was a mistake. It cost money. It could never add up. Unfortunately, every mayor seems to think it’s a great idea and pushes for it.
In 1975, I was visiting in Iran. There was the conference in honor of the 200th anniversary of Persian independence. At that time, a distinguished architect had been commissioned by the shah of Iran to build a new center for Tehran. This was on a large parade ground, which was close to the traditional center. I visited with him for a few days there. And the issue was how to convince the shah—and maybe his wife, the empress, who was an architect—that the Western model was not the whole thing. You see, the architect understood this; he appreciated how in Iran, there were certain preindustrial developments—bringing in air, cooling buildings, handing water, wind towers, and so on. It was the Westerners who thought this was great. And it was the natives who thought, “No, what you’re doing isn’t right. We need glass towers in a hot climate.” Now that shouldn’t be the Chinese problem, because they have sufficient self-confidence, you would think, not to be imitators. It’s something else. They just think it’s the right thing to do.
Husock: It would take the most self-confidence for the Chinese to say, “We are going to preserve all the hutongs [traditional Beijing courtyard housing], which many would call slums, and build more of them.
Glazer: Yeah. And build them better than we used to, but build with the same urbanistic quality that they had. But I think you have raised the right question. What are the political and economic circumstances that make it impossible to realize the Jacobsian version? And does that simply mean that that’s the way life is? Or is it that there’s a way of approaching it? And I must say, I have more or less given up on those difficult issues and am more and more attached to the notion of preservation and what we can do and what we have. I’m less and less interested in what is new than in what is being done with what is old. That’s an aesthetic issue. That’s just a matter of taste, age, or something of that sort. Of course, the new has to be built, too. One needs new housing. One needs new cultural facilities, government buildings. It has to be done.
But to go back to the big question you raised at the beginning, which is: what happened with the original urban crisis? Well, a number of things happened to reduce its weight in thinking about urbanism. One was new immigration after the late sixties. Part of that new immigration meant revival of a sort in certain parts of cities. It also meant a shift of attention in terms of who you were concerned with. The issue of the blacks remained much more serious than the issue of poor immigrants. The only immigrant group, if you want to call it immigrant, that matches blacks in a way in terms of underclass difficulty, I think, is the Puerto Ricans. Even the Dominicans may do a bit better.
So one of the things that shifted perceptions was new immigration. Another thing: while the urban crisis persisted, things did begin to improve in the eighties and nineties. Those were better decades. The New York urban situation by the eighties was improving, and the whole notion that we have to deal with the crisis by imposing regionalism of some kind became somewhat muted. People are still writing about it, yes, and still pointing out that the cities have financial burdens that the suburbs ought to help meet. But there was certainly less and less attention, energy, and effort addressed to regionalism. I think that the most serious economic crisis since World War II, the one we are trying to get out of now, should have and to some extent has redirected attention again to the underclass issue.
I would say a third thing that reduced attention was, as a matter of fact, that the black middle class did grow, in large measure due to government employment. Blacks fought to do things that some of us were skeptical about, like creating new black districts. We did create basically a lower house with close to 10 percent black representation, as well as black mayors, whether that was good or bad. Some did better. Many did worse. So in a way, the problem of a black population that was not represented in politics and business and in government became reduced. So that’s another thing. It drew attention away from a very large black urban underclass, despite its persistence. I think what has happened with the most recent crisis should redirect attention to it.
And then, of course, I think it changes character in a way. I think that the huge increase in imprisonment, which is now a separate problem, a special problem of its own, changed some of the issues. It’s only over the last few years that it has been academically addressed, which doesn’t mean much. It’s become a major issue, with a special issue of Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, devoted to it.
You know, there’s a special problem there—or let me say the problem has morphed into another aspect. The old aspects are retained, but a new aspect is emerging which has to be dealt with and eventually has to gain more public attention: the educational aspect of the black underclass situation. Education is a big issue for the Obama administration. The strange thing is that despite the enthusiasm for a series of measures over the last ten or 15 years, and they’re measures that are still being pressed by the federal government, a lot of us think those measures don’t really seem to be having an impact. Take the new research on charter schools: some are better and some are worse. Or rewarding teachers by merit. Determining merit is very complicated, and then you introduce these systems of measurement, and all sorts of peculiar things happen; some of the better schools are penalized.
I recall my earliest involvement with the Manhattan Institute was on education issues. I came to New York, and I wrote articles, and things looked very good to me. And yes, they were good ideas. “Give teachers the opportunities to create new schools and have a system of choice.” And none of them have; no single one has been really significant. I mean, look at the whole idea of new small schools, which was picked up so enthusiastically by Klein, you know, Bloomberg’s former chancellor, and he had a stretch of years to work on it. Clearly there’s some good things to come out of it, but overall, it doesn’t seem to have made a big impact. And it’s hard to see where the impact will come from.
This is a subject that I have been close to, at least in leading research and watching it and so on, over the years. I’m sort of at a loss. And I then shift back to things that I’m more comfortable with, such things as a good national curriculum—which is good in its own right, regardless of what happens, and we know what some of the problems will be. But how do you improve teachers? We spend a good deal already. And you’re never going to compete with the financial advantage of being lawyers or going into the financial industry.
Husock: I almost feel like I’m listening to you sketch a new chapter of The Limits of Social Policy. The irony is this being social policy coming from the right. You know? With all the metrics and the evaluation, all the things that we always associated with social policy from the left. Which has always been your underlying benchmark: Is anything actually working?
Glazer: Working well.
Husock: So let me just play with something for a minute, then, and unify this with the discussion about what happened to the urban crisis. With the Moynihan report, you were so skeptical of all the various interventions. Now you’re skeptical of this new school intervention. And I don’t disagree with you on that. But as you pointed out in The Limits of Social Policy, the great untried initiative of the Moynihan Report was a big jobs program for black males.
Husock: And God knows we still have unbelievable unemployment of black males. So would you have any confidence, in retrospect, that that would have worked any better, even to the point that you’d still recommend it?
Glazer: I think then it would have worked. But you realize, a lot has happened. There have been drug epidemics. There have been different kinds of social programs. There’s been an undermining of those southern black migrations to the North. In the early sixties, it was still a migration of people who came to work. And now it is a population that has been affected by 40 years of programs and environments that have created a permanent, large unemployed population. And that has an effect. You know, I’ve often thought that one of the reasons that Puerto Ricans have done worse is they come from a welfare society.
Husock: 80 percent on food stamps in Puerto Rico.
Glazer: It does something. It’s a society that has produced a kind of dependency. I don’t know that [a job program] works today. Though I think a lot of social scientists think it does. If you look at how many people apply for jobs at McDonald’s and so on. I think it would still work to some extent.
Husock: A public works job, something.
Glazer: Some kind of job program. I don’t think it would work as well as it would have in the early sixties.
Glazer: Because of how a large part of the population has been educated to joblessness. And so I think that jobs of any kind will do something. They would do a good deal. But we also have a problem—and it’s very difficult to change—in which jobs for poor people are on the whole made very unattractive. Compare that to Europe, where it isn’t only immigrants who do poor jobs and where those jobs are much more attractive. They’re more attractive because they include things like vacations. They include health care. The jobs don’t include it, but health care comes anyway. And in a way, you’re better off at a low-income job [in Europe] than you are in this country. To take the low-income jobs, you really have to have an immigrant mentality. “This is better than what we had,” they think, “so we’ll plug away at it.”
Husock: Well, you pointed out in a wonderful article in The New Republic that the reservation wage for blacks is quite high. And that’s what you’re saying now, too.
Glazer: Yes. Our low-income jobs are very bad and even worse. I mean, it’s a terrible thing to sit here and talk about it, but they fight about the minimum wage. Minimum wage is so much lower here than it is in most other places, countries of our kind of development. And the jobs come with much fewer benefits and protections. You wonder, how do they manage? And now we have taken some bad courses.
Husock: So it could be true, then, getting back to the low-wage work being so unattractive, that the big new thing in social policy has got to be the health care.
Husock: And so in a way you’re implying—and this is nothing on the conservative page, right?—that guaranteed health care could make low-wage work more attractive.
Glazer: It could, except that there are real problems with how we have gone about it. It’s still basically going to be job-connected, which means that there’s always the pressure to reduce what the employer has to offer. We couldn’t get around the initial errors in what we did. The initial error was greater than Medicare. What Medicare did was to create a privileged class, a privileged class that had to be against its expansion and the dilution of its benefits. I think that was a basic issue. And of course the other thing we couldn’t get around is private insurance.
Think back to the education issue. One of the problems lies in expanding choice. You expand choice to the point where people can’t manage it. They can’t manage the judgment between the choice of schools, in terms of how they find the better ones. And the fact that you’re going to have the ability to choose between five or ten incomprehensible health-insurance programs is not going to be a benefit. It’s going to be terrible, and it will be a cost, a huge cost.
Husock: Transaction cost.
Glazer: But we were stuck with, first, the private insurance system, and second, the work orientation, and third, the beginning of Medicare. And there we were. And how to move on from that was enormously difficult.
Husock: So there’s an incredible path dependency, is what you’re saying.
Glazer: That’s right, exactly.
Husock: And so this is the liberal Glazer here.
Husock: You would really be comfortable with the social-democratic model as it relates to a national health care.
Glazer: I would be much more comfortable with it. I think it works much better.
Husock: The conservative critique, of course, is that there’s no incentive to take good care of yourself and that innovation would be strangled in the cradle.
Glazer: I don’t know about that. There would be other ways. I mean, first of all, we don’t see that that happens. Now, I do think the Swedes aren’t taking very good care of themselves; I look at the Swedish guy that they have on the face of Visit Sweden. But it doesn’t particularly show in life survival statistics. And are they dependent on American innovation in drugs and so on? Well, a little bit. But they don’t do badly in terms of medical research. So no, I’ve never been a total enthusiast, even though I do think there were good arguments for a lot of things—market approaches and so on.
Husock: It’s interesting to see how things tie together in funny ways. We’ve gone from the culture of joblessness, which concerns you so much, to thinking maybe health care really could have done something about that if it had been done the right way.
Glazer: I once wrote a piece in The Public Interest called “Reform Work, Not Welfare.” Well, we did reform welfare. But I said, the problem was that work in America was so unattractive. I referred to the required vacations in Europe; I referred to the universal health care. And there were also child-care credits and so on, which, again, were not tied to work at all. And of course there came a time, even for Europe—I mean, everyone is facing this problem of aging and the problem of the costs of all sorts of benefits, and some countries face a problem of immigrants with a different orientation. I recall a Norwegian economist there who says, “We don’t think of Moroccan immigrants in Norway, but apparently they come, and they have enough children that they can live off of child-care benefits.”
Husock: There are lots of Middle Easterners in suburban Stockholm.
Glazer: That’s right. If you’re a Swede, I think you’ll have a different orientation to these benefits. If you come from a poor country where they don’t exist, you think, how great. You don’t have to work any more. I don’t know the details, but there are certainly these immigrant backlashes and so on.
Husock: The core question is, “What became of the crisis of the sixties?” And you made the observation that immigration was not on the screen then. It was really a rearview mirror. It was regarded as a historical decision.
Husock: And you and Moynihan were making an original argument to say that there was a residue of ethnicity. Right?
Glazer: Right, that was the point.
Husock: And so now we’re at this point now where we’ve got this mass immigration. It’s unbelievable. It’s a huge change, right? And so I’m wondering, especially with this backlash against it, whether that gives you any pause in terms of the Beyond the Melting Pot argument. That is, might there not be pressures on these new immigrants to Americanize, certainly on Muslims, almost the way Germans were pressured after World War I?
Glazer: Yes. Well, I may be wrong. There is no question the pressures are much less. We do not have a strong Americanization movement of any kind. It has been suggested. There have been suggested measures of Americanization, Barbara Jordan’s commission and so on. But multiculturalism can mean 100 things; it has meant a reduction of American triumphalism in education, a very sharp reduction, an emphasis on the virtues of distinctive identity and even its maintenance to some extent. A huge change, I think, in elementary schooling and secondary schooling, and you can even see it in higher education, with the establishment everywhere of ethnic studies in one sort or another, even though they’re maybe not as popular as they used to be. And then there is an overall cultural change, and more acceptance and more approval of distinctive identity and what it means. And yet I think overall, the system of Americanization works, even if we have abandoned in large measure distinctive efforts to do so. It works. It works because it’s inevitable. You have to learn English to enter the economic system.
Husock: There are differences among immigrant groups.
Glazer: Yes, there are differences. Certainly there is no question with the mass Mexican or Latin American immigration, you can maintain more of life in Spanish than you can in Thai or Vietnamese or whatever. And there are also cultural differences and so on. But I think it does work. And it works slowly. It always has. There’s always been a different rate and degree of the social mobility of ethnic groups, in part related to education, in part related to culture and so on. True, if there were more Chinese and Korean immigrants, as against more Mexican, we would expect a more rapid adaptation in various ways. But that’s the kind we have, owing to our physical situation, geopolitical situation.
I don’t think we will have a permanent Mexican underclass. Now, I may be wrong. There are all sorts of studies on rate of acquisition of English and mobility, by generation and by time of immigration and by education and so on. But overall, I think that the pattern works. I think another reason it works is not only the simple economics and necessities and so on but also the power of American culture. Acquiring mass culture does what the educational system used to do or tried to do. It’s American sports. It’s American television. So I am not concerned on the Americanization [or] acculturation side.
Now, it’s true there are effects of immigration, and the economic effects are argued back and forth, certainly, and we have major figures on both sides. And I think probably the worst effect of large-scale immigration—but I don’t know how to control it—is to maintain this American pattern of very poor, or poorly paid and unattractive, low-income jobs for less educated people. That’s one thing that maintains it, because we have all these people willing to take [those jobs].
Husock: And you have natives unwilling to take those jobs, because they’re so unattractive.
Glazer: Right, because they want better. I mean the native-born American underclass. We shouldn’t exaggerate—they do line up for McDonald’s jobs and so on. But on the whole, they are less willing to take on two jobs, long hours, and so on. The immigrant pattern is still working, in which people are willing to accept very poor circumstances for mobility, in the case of children, or greater opportunities of that sort. So if we had fewer immigrants, we’d have to pay more for these jobs, and they’d be better jobs, but I don’t know what to do about that.
I don’t know what to do about the illegal immigrants, either. I think there’s a standard wisdom: Make it very hard for them to come, but once they’re here, give them a path to normalization. I’m for that. But I think that we will never be able to accommodate a path to normalization with the kind of rigorous cutting off of the pipeline of new illegal immigrants that is part of that deal. I just don’t see how we can do it. We don’t want to build a wall. But if we build a wall, it will be broken.
Husock: Unless Mexico got quite a bit richer.
Glazer: That could change it, yes. But we don’t know when it will happen. We are the only advanced country that has the misfortune of having a long border with a country so much poorer. And that’s a situation we can’t change.
Husock: Do you worry at all about what’s called downward assimilation of the second generation?
Glazer: Well, that does happen.
Husock: They could assimilate to the underclass.
Glazer: That’s right. I think that some of it will go that way. The class will not be so fully African-American.
Husock: Right. We’ll integrate the underclass. That will be the ironic residue of the sixties. That will be our racial integration of the underclass.
Glazer: There’s another thing we don’t have a political answer to. We don’t have an answer to that.
Husock: To immigration.
Glazer: We will never be, I think, so fierce as to truly be able to control it. And at the same time, there will always be the argument of why should those who came in have advantages over those who couldn’t come in because they were following the rules? It’s like helping out the people with mortgages they can’t pay.
Husock: Let me change the subject and ask you this: I look at the body of your work, and you’re writing about architecture, you’re writing about immigration, you’re writing about social policy, you’re writing about religion. Could the academy accommodate somebody like you today?
Glazer: First of all, the academy accommodates all sorts of people of accomplishment in one way or another. Visiting appointments and poets and politicians and writers and so on. So I think it could. I became accommodated in the mainline of the academy as a tenured appointment. So my first appointment to a university was tenured, as a matter of fact, with Berkeley. But it depends. We have so many institutions, and so many that are all ambitious in one way or another, trying to do different things and so on. I think more or less it could [accommodate me].
Husock: I guess I’m raising the issue of specialization and the encouragement of specialization as compared to being—I mean, it’s not that you’re a generalist. It’s that you have a multiplicity of specialties.
Glazer: Well, I don’t know; that’s the way I was, but fortunately, I did prefer the academy in the end, as against journalism, and they did have a place for me, and my feeling is, it has not become narrower. Maybe in some sense, it’s broader in the wrong way. Like when ethnic studies got started, and everybody wanted a black studies program, two things happened. People who were well worthy of tenured appointments, like you, got them, a few. And people who weren’t also got them.
Glazer: Because there was a rush. And I remember the Communist—
Husock: Angela Davis.
Glazer: All sorts of people. They needed people. You needed people in black studies. And so it went both ways. But I think that that tough period is over now. Now you have, for better or worse, you do have these [subjects] that become specialties, and they are real academic specialties. People do research and write books. University presses publish them. And there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be specialties. There were things to do there. I mean, they may not be the most important things to do, but there’s something to be done in each of these ethnic studies as subvariants and so on. And so I think that the conservative alarm over the college or university—it’s true, they’re more liberal than they used to be, much more—is exaggerated. That’s my feeling. Some disciplines are more affected than others. English and anthropology are the two most damaged, I think, by these developments. Others less so.
Husock: Not history?
Glazer: History? No, I think there’s a lot of history being done. They just choose different kinds of history. But I think from the point of view of undermining some central aspects of a discipline, I would say English, which has become in many areas very odd.
Husock: The deconstruction.
Glazer: Yeah, but I think even that’s changed somewhat. I think the study of literature has been damaged. But I don’t know about permanently. And anthropology has been undermined by so many different things. You know, I think I’ve talked enough—unless you have something vital.
Husock: No, every interview has its natural end. And if you try to push it too far, it doesn’t go any farther anyhow!