Niall Ferguson’s Gay Keynes Moment

Niall FergusonA funny thing happened on the way through the question and answer session of the Tenth Annual Altegris Conference in Carlsbad. Niall Ferguson claimed that John Maynard Keynes was all wrong about economics. But he said it in a most inappropriate way. Let me back up a bit, because I know most people have no context for this.

I’ve written quite a lot about Niall Ferguson. He’s a historian who has got a lot of attention over the years providing ignorant economic analysis that conservatives really want to hear. In particular, he claimed for years that hyperinflation was just around the corner. He eventually admitted that he was wrong. But since then, he’s become a standard conservative hack. In the run up to last year’s election, he wrote a highly publicized attack on Obama that that was riddled with falsehoods and was more generally just deceptive. We expect better from Harvard professors, but now that Ferguson is getting $50,000 a pop for speeches to the 1%, that is who he represents.

Needless to say, Ferguson believes that all we have to do is cut government spending to the bone and it will be Morning in America. I’m not going to go into all that is wrong with this; I’ve written enough about it elsewhere on this site. The main thing to understand is that Ferguson (like most conservatives) simply believes in cutting the government and so he disregards Keynes. He has no cogent arguments against Keynes.

So he took on one of Keynes’ most quotable lines, “Long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead.” Keynes was attacking economists of the time whose only advice about the Depression was that, “In the long run it will be okay.” Tom Kostigen reported that Ferguson said that while we might not be alive, our children and grandchildren would be. This, of course, totally misses the point Keynes was making. But it got worse. He said that Keynes didn’t care about future generations. Because he didn’t have children. Because he was gay.

The only part of that which is true is that he didn’t have children. His wife did suffer a spontaneous abortion, however. Regardless, Ferguson is not an idiot. He quickly put out an unqualified apology. I don’t particularly care one way or another. On the one hand, I know what it is like to get excited and say something that I don’t mean. On the other, I know that Ferguson is an elitist and that is its own kind of bigotry.

What I think is important here is how a supposedly serious academic stoops to character assassination rather than argument. And that is typical of the conservative economic movement. I understand that we all have our list of thinkers who we trust. I am inclined to believe something that Paul Krugman says and inclined to be skeptical about something Ferguson says. But that doesn’t mean I stop thinking: sometimes I disagree with Krugman; sometimes I agree with Ferguson. Ferguson admitted defeat on the inflation argument he was having with Krugman. But that didn’t cause any rethinking of his economic model. And that was because he doesn’t have an economic model. Like most conservatives, he has certain ideas about how society should be run, and he shoehorns all economic information into that.

And that is the lesson of Ferguson’s “Gay Keynes” moment.

Update (6 May 2013 9:21)

According to various sources, Keynes was gay. So I was wrong about that, not that it matters. However, it is generally true that any homosexual behavior tends to cause someone to be labeled as strictly homosexual. Human sexuality is far more complex than that. As Woof says in Hair, “Well, I wouldn’t kick Mick Jagger out of my bed, but uh, I’m not a homosexual, no.”

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Niall Ferguson’s Gay Keynes Moment

  1. I’ve made the occasional ad hominem remark myself. It’s only natural; we are easily-angered mammals by unintelligent design. Whenever I do, though, I generally sober up and feel pretty rotten about having been so crass. I’m not delivering apologies because people caught me being a jackass. I try, within the best of my ability, to catch myself.

    Agreed: Ferguson’s attack on Keynes as being gay (true or not: many gay people married and had kids back then) is not his worst crime, here. It’s misrepresenting everything Keynes stood for. Farmers in the Dust Bowl were turning that region into an American Sahara, because declining crop prices forced them to plant more crops in a marginally arable region. The market would have let them overfarm, starve, die, and leave. The ecology of the area would have been destroyed forever. Keynes argued that the suffering of people right here and right now justifies government intervention, which saved lives and saved the land besides. (For now.)

    So, Keynes was wrong because he focused on immediate suffering instead of long-term suffering, and wrong because he may have been gay (gays loathe kids, ya know, they want all children to grow up in misery), thereby a fool who hates the present because he hates the future. Or himself. Or adorable newborn puppies. Or whatever.

    Aargh. The circular logic of people like Ferguson makes my brain have pimples. I suspect it’s why their, ahem, logic has such sway with bright but ambition-focused people like politicians. It makes absolutely no sense, it’s akin to Catholic dogmatic disputes in 1515. The arguments are so arcane that outsiders fear they actually mean something. Reducto ad absurdium (to use the second of two Latin phrases I know); it must be true, because it’s too crazy to be false.

    "We expect better from Harvard professors." I don’t. You don’t. What’s meant is "we demand better from supposedly qualified experts." And we do.

    It’s nice to be reminded that the best/brightest are wasting their lives much more than I. I’ve screwed up royally and hurt many people. The B&Bs intentionally hurt far more people, far more seriously. Making me look like an amateur. For which I am grateful. Thank you, shithead cognisanti!

  2. @JMF – See the update: Keynes was at least bi.

    I really don’t understand Ferguson. He had quite a lot of money, he was well respected, and well connected. Conservatives really liked him because his work [i]was[/i] conservative. But liberals still respected him because he did good work. And then rather suddenly, he decided to cash it all in for money. This happened around the same time his first marriage ended. So maybe its all some midlife crisis. Regardless, I feel for the guy. But he is now having a very negative effect on the world.

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