Harvard Prof Continues to Embarass the Civilized WorldPosted: May 4, 2013
Niall Ferguson is one of those right wing “intellectuals” that continually proves why there are few intellectually prepared people to actually argue the idiotic causes of modern ‘conservatives’ cogently. Since there is no real case to be made, the conversation usually turns to some screed against some straw man or some persecuted out group. Ferguson is a homophobe. He can’t go long without finding some really stupid way to make being gay an issue in any thing that relates to his diatribes. He really stepped in it this time. This is from Digby.
There’s a lot of chatter today about Niall Ferguson’s odious comments about John Maynard Keynes.
This is the gist of it:
An excerpt from Lance Roberts’ post at StreetTalkLive.com reporting a question from former PIMCO banker Paul McCulley (in bold) and Robertson’s notes on Ferguson’s response (its not clear whether these notes are verbatim or paraphrased):
Question By Paul McCulley
“The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs…in the long run we are all dead.”
Are we in a liquidity trap, are we at a zero bound of interest rates and stuck at 8% unemployment?
[Ferguson:] Keynes was a homosexual and had no intention of having children. We are NOT dead in the long run…our children are our progeny. It is the economic ideals of Keynes that have gotten us into the problems of today. Short term fixes, with a neglect of the long run, leads to the continuous cycles of booms and busts. Economies that pursue such short term solutions have always suffered not only decline, but destruction, in the long run.
Several details of Ferguson’s remarks that were included in the Financial Advisor story have not been confirmed by other sources. For example, Financial Advisor reported that Ferguson asked his audience how many children Keynes had and “explained that Keynes had none because he was a homosexual and was married to a ballerina, with whom he likely talked of “poetry” rather than procreated.” Other sources have not reported that rhetorical question or the additional disparaging remarks in Ferguson’s answer to it. No full transcript or video of Ferguson’s remarks has yet emerged.
In addition to the offensive suggestion that those who don’t have children don’t care about the future or society, Professor Ferguson’s reported remarks are bizarre and insulting to Keynes on two levels.
First, this is the first time we have heard a respectable academic tie another economist’s beliefs to his or her personal situation rather than his or her research. Saying that Keynes’ economic philosophy was based on him being childless would be like saying that Ferguson’s own economic philosophy is based on him being rich and famous and therefore not caring about the plight of poor unemployed people.
Second, Keynes’ policies did not suggest that he did not care about future generations. On the contrary. … For the sake of both future generations and current generations, Keynes believed that governments should run deficits during recessions and then run surpluses during economic booms. Politicians have never seemed to be able to follow the second part of Keynes’ proscription — they tend to run deficits at all times — but it seems unfair to blame this latter failing on Keynes.
Ferguson is not the first person to suggest that Keynes did not care about the future, and this sentiment is normally tied to one of Keynes’ most famous sayings:
“… In the long run, we are all dead.”
Importantly, however, in saying this, Keynes was in no way suggesting that the future doesn’t matter. Rather, when this remark is read in context, it is clear that Keynes was chiding economists for ducking responsibility for their own lousy short-term predictions:
In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if, in tempestuous seasons, they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again.
So if Ferguson is basing his assertion that Keynes didn’t care about the future on this line, his remark is even more unfair.
For those who are new to the larger economic debate that is the backdrop to these remarks, here’s a snapshot:
Professor Ferguson and other economists have been loudly and consistently warning for years that the deficit spending and debts of most developed countries will eventually end in disaster. Professor Ferguson and other “austerians” suggest that governments should immediately cut spending and balance their budgets, even if this results in a brutal short-term recession and exploding unemployment.
This “austerian” philosophy has been countered by the “Keynesian” philosophy advocated by Paul Krugman and others in which governments enact stimulus and run big deficits during weak economic periods to offset weak private-sector spending and help shore up employment, consumer spending, and social well-being until the private sector recovers. High debts and deficits are a long-term concern that needs to be addressed, Krugman says, but they do not constitute a near-term crisis that requires immense, self-inflicted, short-term pain to alleviate.
In the past five years, the experience of many countries suggests that Krugman’s philosophy is correct, and, as yet, none of the doom predicted by Ferguson and other austerians has come to pass. Meanwhile, countries like the U.K. and Greece, which have cut spending to try to balance their budgets, have been mired in multiple recessions (or, in the case of Greece, a depression). And, notably, because lower economic output leads to less tax revenue, these countries have not made much progress in balancing their budgets.
It’s pretty spurious behavior. Ferguson has no intellectual, theoretical or empirical evidence for his deficit hysteria so when he has nothing to validate he views, he turns to homophobia. So, he did apologize. But it doesn’t mean much because he’s done it before. That link goes to a page of one of his books. He has a history of being a jerk on many levels.
Ferguson should be the last person to be casting aspersions on anyone else’s personal life, given that, while still married to someone else, he began an affair with author and activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali and knocked her up. He then dumped his wife of over 20 years (they had had three children together) to marry Ali. What a heart-warming demonstration of traditional values!
Ferguson’s slur was ugly indeed — so much so that the no-doubt conservative audience fell into a stunned silence following his remark. But Ferguson — a man for whom the term “hackademic” would surely have been invented, had it not already existed — is part of a long right-wing hack tradition. He is far from the first to take this line of attack. Ferguson likely stole the “childless homosexual” epithet from British wingnut Daniel Johnson (who’s the son of another winger, Paul Johnson. Why do these demon spawn second generation right-wingers tend to be even more appalling than their progenitors? ). The great novelist — and famously nasty conservative — V.S. Naipul has characterized Keynes as a gay exploiter.
Over on this side of the pond, conservative author Mark Steyn attempted to smear Keynes’ ideas by referring to him as — surprise! — a “childless homosexual.” The American Spectator has repeated that slur, as has this contributor to FrontPageMag.com. George Will has also cast the “childless” aspersion (which is pretty clearly a dog whistle for “gay”) against Keynes. So did right-wing economists Greg Mankiw and Joseph Schumpeter. I am reliably informed that William F. Buckley used to gay-bait Keynes as well, although a quick internet search did not produce evidence of this.
Ferguson’s comments are idiotic and offensive on many levels. First of all, there’s his illogical ad hominem style of argument — could not an Oxford-educated Harvard professor done a little bit better? Then there’s the juvenile homophobia — OMG! this faggy fag economist who liked to talk about faggy subjects subjects like poetry and ballet with his wife! — when everyone knows only Real Men can do economics!
But it’s not only the homophobia that’s offensive, it’s the bitchy slur against childless people. I deeply resent the insinuation that, because I haven’t irresponsibly procreated, I care nothing about future generations and would cheerfully assent to the world going to hell in a handbasket.
Anyway, I should know not to take people like Ferguson seriously, but damn it!, the man gets a platform and is at an institution where he gets more status than he deserves. He’s an obvious example of affirmative action placement for assholes. Rich, powerful”conservatives” moan about never seeing one of them in the communist land of academia so universities have to bring in some obvious propaganda-spewing asshole in to fill the ranks. Ferguson is part of the affirmative action plan of the anti-intellectual intellectual right to stick their asshole views in academia even when they never stand up to rigorous peer review. Too bad we’ve become so advanced in the idea of equivocation that serious hacks can crawl their way up to the public arena through academia simply because we have to make room for an invalid approach to life, the world, and the meaning of humanity and civilization. Perhaps Ferguson should just get a shrink and work out his troubled young life in Brit public school with him/her instead of on the rest of us.