Harvard Prof Continues to Embarass the Civilized World

homophobia2Niall 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.

WTF? Read this for some folks attending the speech that twittered and blogs his comments.

Basically Keynes doesn’t get the future because he wasn’t a breeder?  This excerpt is from Henry Blodgett at Business Insider.

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.

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Monday Reads

Good Morning!

We’re headed towards fall and the season when everything is pumpkin-spiced. I selected some Harvest Pumpkin Ale by Blue Moon for the weekend.  I haven’t quite hit the energy level to make pumpkin bread or muffins but I’m sure it will come soon.  The a/c is beginning to stay off over night so the seasons must be changing.

I read a few things in the NYT that I thought I’d share today.  The first one is up my alley: “Don’t Tell Anyone, but the Stimulus Worked”.  Yup, Keynes is still relevant and so is the idea of using stimulus to recover from a recession.

On the most basic level, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is responsible for saving and creating 2.5 million jobs. The majority of economists agree that it helped the economy grow by as much as 3.8 percent, and kept the unemployment rate from reaching 12 percent.

The stimulus is the reason, in fact, that most Americans are better off than they were four years ago, when the economy was in serious danger of shutting down.

But the stimulus did far more than stimulate: it protected the most vulnerable from the recession’s heavy winds. Of the act’s $840 billion final cost, $1.5 billion went to rent subsidies and emergency housing that kept 1.2 million people under roofs. (That’s why the recession didn’t produce rampant homelessness.) It increased spending on food stamps, unemployment benefits and Medicaid, keeping at least seven million Americans from falling below the poverty line.

And as Mr. Grunwald shows, it made crucial investments in neglected economic sectors that are likely to pay off for decades. It jump-started the switch to electronic medical records, which will largely end the use of paper records by 2015. It poured more than $1 billion into comparative-effectiveness research on pharmaceuticals. It extended broadband Internet to thousands of rural communities. And it spent $90 billion on a huge variety of wind, solar and other clean energy projects that revived the industry. Republicans, of course, only want to talk about Solyndra, but most of the green investments have been quite successful, and renewable power output has doubled.

Americans don’t know most of this, and not just because Mitt Romney and his party denigrate the law as a boondoggle every five minutes. Democrats, so battered by the transformation of “stimulus” into a synonym for waste and fraud (of which there was little), have stopped using the word.

Actually, Romney appears to be a closet Keynesian.  As usual, what he says depends on who he’s saying it to.

Edward Lazear, chairman of the Council on Economic Advisers under George W. Bush, released a paper last week attempting an empirical estimate of whether current unemployment is “structural” or “cyclical” and came down firmly on the side of a cyclical explanation. Released 12 months ago, that would have read as a powerful argument for the Democratic side in an ongoing argument about stimulus. But everyone knows that stimulus is not going to happen between now and the election. Instead, it’s a sign that prominent economists in GOP circles haven’t really abandoned the New Keynesian consensus in policy circles but were only putting it in cold storage to hobble President Obama. Earlier in August, Alesina published a new paper with two coauthors arguing that deficit-reduction plans do hurt growth after all—but only when they involve tax hikes. Together, these papers lay the foundation for a 2013 agenda of big, deficit-increasing tax cuts—coincidentally enough the exact same policy that was at the heart of Reagan and Bush administration economics.

Meanwhile, accepting the GOP nomination, Romney argued that “cuts to our military will eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs, and also put our security at risk”—a precisely Keynesian take on every Republican’s favorite form of government spending.

Romney also swore that “when nations cheat in trade, there will be unmistakable consequences.” The Republican platform more specifically argues that America should “impose countervailing duties if China fails to amend its currency policies.” That’s a policy whose previous most prominent advocate has been none other than ur-Keynesian Paul Krugman. More broadly, it’s an indication that Romney may be thinking of pursuing much-needed monetary policy stimulus and trying to frame it as a nationalistic anti-Chinese measure.

Romney’s inkled Keynesian type stimulus ideas before as mentioned in this Jonathan Chait analysis.

 But in his Halperin interview, Romney frankly admits that reducing the budget deficit in the midst of an economic crisis would be a horrible idea:

Halperin: You have a plan, as you said, over a number of years, to reduce spending dramatically. Why not in the first year, if you’re elected — why not in 2013, go all the way and propose the kind of budget with spending restraints, that you’d like to see after four years in office? Why not do it more quickly?

Romney: Well because, if you take a trillion dollars for instance, out of the first year of the federal budget, that would shrink GDP over 5%. That is by definition throwing us into recession or depression.  So I’m not going to do that, of course.

Romney says this as if it’s completely obvious that reducing the deficit in the short term would throw the economy back into recession, even though he and his party have been arguing the opposite case with hysterical fervor. Republicans have committed themselves to Austrian economic notions and other hoary doctrines justifying the position that reducing deficits is a helpful way out of a liquidity trap.

Isn’t it weird how Democrats are now afraid to talk about the stimulus plan and how it worked, but Mitt Romney appears to offer up Keynesian solutions when he’s not out race baiting in front of some right wingers?  Does this man stay consistent on anything?

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel is going to take Chicago teachers to court to end their strike.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has announced that he will seek a court order to end the first teachers’ strike in the city in 25 years, which escalated on Sunday when the teachers’ union decided to extend their walk-out.

The strike has cancelled classes for 350,000 kindergarten, elementary and high school students in the United States’ third-largest school district and will enter its sixth day on Monday.

It risks friction within President Barack Obama’s political coalition, where many Democrats differ over approaches to education reform, ahead of the November 6 Presidential election against Republican Mitt Romney. Emanuel is Obama’s former top White House aide.

The mayor called the strike “illegal” on Sunday and said he would go to court to seek an injunction to block it.

“I will not stand by while the children of Chicago are played as pawns in an internal dispute within a union,” Emanuel said, adding that the union walked out over issues that are not subject to a strike under Illinois state law.

 There is a lot at stake for every one in this strike.  We’ve seen a lot of crap reform happen in the educational system recently that is not in the best interest of children.  Breaking teachers unions happened in New Orleans.  The results have not been good but that has not stopped the same types of reforms from creeping around the country.  There is more here at stake than most people realize.

Under the guise of austerity measures, the burden of deficit reduction now becomes an excuse to remove public education from the discourse of freedom and social transformation. Within this regime of repressive schooling, education for the masses now consists of a “dumbing down” logic that enshrines top-down high-stakes testing, vocationalized education for the poor, schools modeled after prisons and teachers reduced to the status of mindless technicians.

The brave teachers in Chicago have had enough of this authoritarian and anti-democratic view of education. They have revolted in the name of a revolutionary ideal that inserts dignity and power back into teaching, and breathes vitality and substance back into the relationship between education and democracy. In rejecting the primacy of “the market as the sole principle of social and political organization,” they have recognized that what is at stake in the current struggle they face is “a whole generation ‘s sense of the future.”[2]

They are reclaiming the right, if not the responsibility, to assert the civic duty of public education, address the issues of race, class and agency that over-determine the relations of power that bear down on schools; and assert that the real crisis of education is about the conditions of its democratic institutions and the teachers, students and citizens who are responsible for maintaining them.

And while the strike is close to being settled, the ideals it is fighting for are far from settled. The noble ideals and project underlying this strike are primarily focused on both the purpose of schooling, and the vital nature of public education in developing the formative culture necessary to produce the ideas, values, individuals and public spheres essential for the construction of a vibrant and substantive democracy.

Okay, here’s a good one.  Shark SAVES man. Yes.  It’s for real.  This man was adrift on a boat for 5 weeks until …

Only a day after Falaile passed away a storm blew into the area and rained for several days allowing Teitoi to fill two five-gallon containers with a life-saving supply of fresh water.

“There were two choices in my mind at the time. Either someone would find me or I would follow my brother-in-law. It was out of my control.”

He continued to pray regularly and on the morning of September 11 caught sight of a fishing boat in the distance but the crew were unable to see him.
Dejected, he did what he had done most days, curling up under a small covered area in the bow to stay out of the tropical sun.

Mr Teitoi said he woke in the afternoon to the sound of scratching and looked overboard to see a six-foot shark circling the boat and bumping the hull.

When the shark had his attention it swam off.

“He was guiding me to a fishing boat. I looked up and there was the stern of a ship and I could see crew with binoculars looking at me.”

When the vessel Marshalls 203 pulled Mr Teitoi on board the first thing he asked for was a cigarette.

“They told me to wait. They took me to meet the captain, and they gave me juice and some food.”

What an amazing story!

So, what’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Breaking … WSJ Discovers Lack of Demand is behind Weak U.S. Economy

Via Andrew Leonard at Salon, the Wall Street Journal today reported the results of a survey they conducted with 53 economists:

In the survey, conducted July 8-13 and released Monday, 53 economists—not all of whom answer every question—were asked the main reason employers aren’t hiring more readily. Of the 51 who responded to the question, 31 cited lack of demand (65%) and 14 (27%) cited uncertainty about government policy. The others said hiring overseas was more appealing.

Only the conservative WSJ, the President, and Congresss could be surprised by these results. I’m not sure who these 53 economists were, but I think they must have been rather conservative, because the survey found that most did not think the government should do anything more to stimulate the economy.

Despite their forecasts for slow growth and an elevated unemployment rate, the economists aren’t in favor of further action either by the Fed or the federal government. Forty-one economists in the WSJ survey said the central bank shouldn’t pursue another round of bond-buying aimed at reducing interest rates, and thirty-eight said another round of fiscal stimulus shouldn’t be a part of any deficit-reduction package.

Economists added that they hope that as conditions begin to improve, albeit slowly, consumers will become more optimistic. “For whatever reasons, in addition to discrete headwinds, I think we’ve taken a hit to animal spirits and as those headwinds fade sentiment will revive,” said Stephen Stanley of Pierpont Securities. “Optimism can be self-sustaining, but pessimism can also provide a persistent drag.”

If any of the economists the WSJ talked to mentioned the possibility that the government itself could create jobs and thus stimulate demand–as FDR did the last time things were this bad, the WSJ did not report it.

Andrew Leonard crows:

what could be more obvious, even in the absence of rigorous training in economics? In the absence of demand, businesses will refrain from ramping up production and adding staff — no matter what employers think about the future regulatory climate. To prime this pump, to rev up this engine, to get the “delicate machine” working properly, the first focus for economic policymakers should be figuring out ways to boost demand.

Wouldn’t the best way to do that be to create jobs? Even Andrew Leonard doesn’t mention that. It seems ass-backwards to me to talk about getting consumers to spend more in order to get companies to start hiring. How can consumers spend more when many of them are unemployed? Maybe Dakinikat can explain this to me.

Anyway, it’s pretty amazing that the WSJ is admitting we have a demand problem. Now if only they could convince President Obama…


Morphing the Conversation

One of the things that I’ve found profoundly upsetting about the last several decades is how successfully movement conservatism has confused and morphed policy conversation into a mishmash of labels which in no way describe what used to be general understanding of policy. Movement conservatism has reframed many definitions that were used as the basis for policy discourse. In a reaction to this, movement progressivism has reframed the reframe rather than try to shift the conversation back to what used to be common ground and common definitions. The terms “socialism”, “liberal”, and “Keynesian” are now completely divorced from reality–if I can use that word–and from their traditional meanings. Shared definitions and discussion of one’s assumptions are important for civil debate. Civil debate is necessary for successful policy implementation. Our discourse is so inflamed these day that we no longer even share the process by which we have historically entered into dialogue. Screaming ill-defined frames is now de rigueur.

Movement conservatism–its media outlets and thinktanks– has moved the Overton Window so far off the ruler that even former Reagan officials are coming forward to press the reset button. Movement progressivism has borrowed from their play book and is now doing the same. Several TC readers have brought up some really good examples recently.

My personal hypothesis is that both Democrats and Republicans have the same agenda which is to feed the hand of the industries and interests that can keep them in power. They play on different teams with different sponsors but their basic goals are the same. That would be to return money to people that provide money to them. The rhetoric we see in ads and speeches are positioned to keep us on the hook and tagging along. Ever so often they throw us a few things like a study on getting rid of DADT or a law that looks like it may get rid of job place discrimination. These are mostly symbolic and have very little real effect. The right does the same thing. They throw a few restrictions on abortion rights or pull together funds for an government agency that lets churches proselytize through social services. Nothing changes in the big policy realm except the continuation of laws that concentrate media, economic, and political power into the power brokers of each party’s choice. This is something that many of the ‘tea-partiers’ as well as those drawn to the move-on movement share; a sense that government moves when one set of interests that fund politicians asks it to do so. We get wars when the Oil industry needs its interests protected. We get bail outs when the finance industry needs its interests protected. Meanwhile, the rest of us get fed hype that something is happening in our best interests as they reframe discourse with their best Madison Avenue gestalt.

Yesterday, I tried to approach this problem from the sociopolitical concepts. Today, because of some down thread links folks pointed out, I’m going to switch to the socioeconomic. I tag these things with ‘socio’ on the front, because I do believe that most of this comes from differences in class more than differences in anything else. Today’s populists are spewing the words ‘elite’ when I think what they are really sensing is they are far removed from the bonus class of Wall Street, the political class in Washington, and the cultural class in Hollywood. There is nothing elite about them other than their ability to attract money and power through a velvet schmooze and a public platform.

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