Sunday, May 5, 2013

Niall Ferguson And Gay People

So Niall Ferguson got himself into some hot water recently.  The noted Harvard "historian" has been often hailed as of late as some sort of new Gibbon.  While he is styled, and styles himself, as some sort of above-the-fray great thinker, he really isn't.  He's a committed conservative ideologue who worked for John McCain in 2008 and writes things that claim the the policies of the GOP "is our only hope."  A less cultured man than myself might even go so far to say his is a partisan, such a dreaded word to even mutter in the BipartisanThink world of Newsweek.  Oh yeah, Newsweek doesn't exist anymore because of publishing stuff like this.

Ferguson got in trouble because while trying to explain why we need more austerity he also wanted to make some points about why he disagrees with the economic theories of John Maynard Keynes.  He said that Keynes shouldn't be listened too because he was gay and didn't have any children:
Speaking at the Tenth Annual Altegris Conference in Carlsbad, Calif., in front of a group of more than 500 financial advisors and investors, Ferguson responded to a question about Keynes' famous philosophy of self-interest versus the economic philosophy of Edmund Burke, who believed there was a social contract among the living, as well as the dead. Ferguson asked the audience how many children Keynes had. He 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. The audience went quiet at the remark. Some attendees later said they found the remarks offensive.
Yeah he said this.  He also graced us with the following wisdom:
Ferguson, who is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, and author of The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die, says it's only logical that Keynes would take this selfish worldview because he was an "effete" member of society.
These sorts of bigoted, homophobic remarks produced a bit of an outrage.  To his credit, he issued a major apology. Guess that's how it works, you roll out the hateful remarks and then walk it back with an statement of apology.  Oh yeah Niall worked in American presidential politics so that is exactly how it works.  

Andrew Sullivan wrote a big piece where he vouches for Niall as a good guy, whose been fighting the good fight when it comes to gay rights.  Also he's been fighting the good fight by being buddies with Andrew.  They've been close since reading history together back in Oxford in 1983.  My main take away from this is that elite British universities spend way to much time focusing on debating skills and not nearly enough on everything else.  I'm sure Niall or Andrew could out write or out argue me with one hand tied behind their back, but who cares?  If all this intelligence leads to flogging the Iraq War or saying that if a person is gay they have nothing to contribute to the social sciences, it's not very useful, in fact it's destructive.

So is Ferguson guilty of being a homophobic bigot?  I don't know, make up your own mind.  But I charge Ferguson with an academic crime far worse than being just another bigot or person who dislikes gay people.  I charge him with the crime of wasting his mind.  He could be writing real history, good history, history that can help us navigate the confounding world we live in.  Instead he spends his days cranking out yet more austerian junk science with the occasional gay bashing thrown in.  Also getting photos taken of himself for magazine pieces to make him look like quite the hansom devil.  Wow Niall, we are all real impressed. Indeed, Niall gave away the game in the qualified apology he issued, titled "An Unqualified Apology" where he writes:
I had been asked to comment on Keynes’s famous observation “In the long run we are all dead.” The point I had made in my presentation was that in the long run our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are alive, and will have to deal with the consequences of our economic actions. 
Paul Krugman points out that this quote is itself taken out of context, and Niall, despite being some sort of supposed genius actually misses the entirety of Keynes' argument. 

If Niall really does want to atone for his intellectual sins, good for him.  But the road to his redemption lies not in apologizing for when he called Keynes a sissy, it lies in him doing some hard thinking.

Or not.  Anyway, all I'd say to Niall is "And you, you're just lucky Barbara Tuchman isn't here."

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