Niall Ferguson’s history with Keynes

By Felix Salmon
May 7, 2013

Brad DeLong has found a 1995 article by Niall Ferguson which pretty much puts the lie to Ferguson’s claim about his take on John Maynard Keynes. Here’s what Ferguson now says:

My disagreements with Keynes’s economic philosophy have never had anything to do with his sexual orientation. It is simply false to suggest, as I did, that his approach to economic policy was inspired by any aspect of his personal life.

And here’s what he wrote in 1995:

Research in German archives shows that Keynes’s critique of the Versailles Treaty was based on anything but dispassionate economic analysis. Few, if any, of its readers can have appreciated how far the ideas contained in The Economic Consequences of the Peace — the book which made him a celebrity — were actually inspired by members of the German peace delegation at the Versailles conference. Still fewer knew that their appeal to him owed as much to his homosexuality as to his Germanophilia.

Ferguson writes that “the attraction Keynes felt” for the German representative Carl Melchior “strongly influenced his judgment”, and adds for good measure that “those familiar with Bloomsbury will appreciate why Keynes fell so hard for the representative of an enemy power”. Here’s the whole thing:

This is a slightly different argument, of course, to the idiotic remarks Ferguson made at a conference in California last week, where he said that Keynes didn’t care about future generations because he was gay and didn’t have children. If those remarks were, in Ferguson’s own words, “doubly stupid”, then maybe his Spectator article is maybe only singly stupid. Except it was carefully written, edited, and committed to print: Ferguson can’t claim that his article was merely a regrettable “off-the-cuff” error.

At first blush, Ferguson’s apology is full and unqualified. But in light of this and other information, it seems that Ferguson has rather more to apologize for than a single verbal response to a question from Paul McCulley. Either Ferguson still believes today what he wrote in 1995, or else he has changed his mind and now believes that what he wrote back then is “simply false”. It’s about time he clears this up.

Update: It seems we can’t take Ferguson’s apology at face value after all. In an ill-tempered letter written to the Harvard Crimson, Ferguson says that he can’t be prejudiced because he has a Somalian wife and a gay friend; says that “the strong attraction Keynes felt for the German banker Carl Melchior undoubtedly played a part in shaping Keynes’ views on the Treaty of Versailles and its aftermath”; and adds that Keynes and the other members of the Bloomsbury Group “had no doubt at all that sexual orientation had a significance beyond the narrow confines of the bedroom, and that intellectual life and emotional life were intertwined”. I guess it’s not “simply false” after all to suggest that Keynes’s approach to economic policy was inspired by any aspect of his personal life.

Comments
8 comments so far

Ferguson is simply a liar. Apparently, it occurred to him after his latest homophobic smear of Keynes, that some of the ultra-rich patrons who are his real source of income might be gay themselves, or have gay children or gay friends. In that case, the blatant homophobia that had served him so well in England almost 20 years ago might not be his smartest course today. Hence his utterly insincere and self-serving “apology.”

Posted by Paulgottlieb | Report as abusive

Come now, Felix. It’s obvious, his latest retraction was nothing but a PR fix. He can’t take back what he really feels inside. I don’t see the point of chasing him down and having him answer questions, when he’s just going to lie.

Posted by GRRR | Report as abusive

Well said. The guy is a moron. Move on.

Posted by QCIC | Report as abusive

Maybe someone should look at Ferguson’s economic ideas in the context of christian dogma or homophobia. Maybe that will explain why he’s been consistently equal parts wrong and arrogant for the last 10yrs…

Posted by CDN_Rebel | Report as abusive

He’s jumped the shark. Roger Ailes beckons.

Posted by crocodilechuck | Report as abusive

“It’s about time he clears this up.”

He cleared it up in his “apology” published yesterday in the Harvard Crimson, where he argues, again, that Keynes being gay for Germany motivated Keynes’s economic policies.

Ferguson was always an execrable scholar but an extremely talented bullsh*t artist. Now that he fears for his reputation, he’s awful at both.

Posted by Aaronson | Report as abusive

“It’s about time he clears this up.”

He cleared it up in his “apology” published yesterday in the Harvard Crimson, where he argues, again, that Keynes being gay for Germany motivated Keynes’s economic policies.

Ferguson was always an execrable scholar but an extremely talented b.s. artist. Now that he fears for his reputation, he’s awful at both.

Posted by Aaronson | Report as abusive

Is the author gay? I don’t see the reason for attacking ferguson. Not that I like/dislike ferguson, but he just says a faggot mixes between his feelings and his thoughts, what’s wrong with that unless u r gay and ur feelings got hurt.

Posted by moe7 | Report as abusive
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