Niall Ferguson’s offensive remarks on Keynes – unmitigated sycophancy

4 May, 2013 at 17:29 | Posted in Varia | 8 Comments

Harvard professor and famous historian Niall Ferguson reportedly made some bizarre and offensive remarks about economist John Maynard Keynes at an investment conference yesterday.

According to financial writer Tom Kostigen, the editor at large of Private Wealth and Financial Advisor magazines, Ferguson made two startling suggestions about Keynes at the Tenth Annual Altegris Conference in Carlsbad, California:

Keynes’ economic philosophy, Ferguson reportedly suggested, was the result of Keynes not caring about future generations.
Keynes didn’t care about future generations, Ferguson reportedly suggested, because Keynes was gay and did not have children.

Dan Jamieson at Investment News, also reported the remarks.

Specifically, Kostigen reported the following:

[I]n front of a group of more than 500 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. …

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. Apparently, in Ferguson’s world, if you are gay or childless, you cannot care about future generations nor society.

Not surprisingly, Kostigen’s report has already drawn considerable attention to, and criticism of, Ferguson. We have reached out to Professor Ferguson for comment. We will update this article when we hear from him.

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.

Business Insider


  1. As Niall Ferguson puffed on his fag,
    He sighed, this fame and fortune is getting to be a drag,
    Each time I open my mouth,
    I reveal that my intelligence has always hung south,
    Oh and Bi the way, Keynes just laughs (he, he)

  2. He apologizes

  3. It is funny that countries like the USA says they follow Keynes teaching when in fact they run deficits irregardless of the business cycle (save in goods times what is that?) ie quantitative easing in perpetuity. Fiat money and thefting central bankers is the new norm!

    • Can you please refer to some material where Keynes promotes balanced government budget in long run and “save” in good times.

  4. “Keynes’s famous philosophy of self-interest”? Huh?

  5. Niall Fergusson is just another reactionary tendentious hack. There are plenty of others in Uk who’ve popped out of the woodwork post Thatcher/1979, the farmer/philosopher Roger Scruton etc etc. The more obscure think tank wonks debasing our political discourse in UK are another case in point.
    Bertrand Russell was quoted as saying that debate with Keynes was like “taking ones (intellectual) life in ones hands”. I suspect that any debate between moral (and any other category u can think of) pygmy Niall and JMK would be pitifully one-sided. I would happily have paid to watch.

  6. As an addendum I must admit that I am, in academic terms an economic ignoramus. However there are questions I would like to ask Niall Ferguson :- eg
    What was Margaret Thatchers economic miracle ? How did Uk contrive to have all the downsides of being a petrocurrency during N/Sea oil boom whilst achieving a hollowing out of our residual industrial base. The Big Bang. The creaking infrastructure that has now been privatised but should have been rebuilt even before the 1980s. Fergusson’s abiding sin is that his work IMO is turgid and dull (whether or not with footnotes). At least Andrew Roberts can be amusing – viz his hatchet job on nincompoop Lord Mountbatten in “Eminent Churchillians”

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