Ferguson’s fury: Harvard historian decries female welfare recipients
Another panel, another group of rich guys talking about income inequality in America.
That seemed to be a running theme of the Milken Global Conference by the time Tuesday afternoon rolled around in Los Angeles – particularly when the well-known and notably tart Harvard historian Niall Ferguson took to the stage to decry single welfare moms as lazy drags on society.
Ferguson was responding to comments made by Jeff Greene, the billionaire real estate investor and Democrat who lost (badly) a 2010 bid to represent Florida in the Senate.
Greene recalled a single mother with five children he met on the campaign trail. She was fat (“over 300 lbs”) and depended on a welfare check of just over $600 to put food on the table for her kids, once numbering five. But one kid died in a gang fight, another was locked up and two others were involved in gangs and the drug trade, Greene recalled.
“She could barely take care of herself, much less her kids,” he said, resigned to the idea that this unnamed woman would never work or even attempt to work, much less wean herself off welfare.
While Greene was busy commenting on how society needed to change for the sake of those kids and other members of the future workforce, Ferguson cut him short.
Why, he wondered, was Greene letting this lady off the hook? Why doesn’t she get up off her fat lazy butt and get a job?!, he demanded, with his Scottish brogue in full Braveheart mode.
“Taking from the successful and giving from the unsuccessful” was what Ferguson ran away from during his dark days in subsidy-heavy Europe, he said, bemoaning his now-shattered American dream.
Not only is he not getting paid enough as a Harvard professor, Ferguson said, but the U.S. is on a dangerous path toward European-ness.
“The solutions have to come from us,” he proclaimed passionately, “the private sector and philanthropy.”
Loud applause ensued from the Wall Street-friendly crowd, most of whom paid several thousand dollars for a conference ticket.
Another panelist, the conservative American Enterprise Institute’s Charles Murray, endorsed everything that Ferguson said. Murray also took pains to emphasize that some of America’s major cultural problems could be solved if more people would get married, stay married and raise kids in two-parent households.
As Greene sat by looking slightly shell shocked by the attack on welfare moms and Murray kept pretending he was on the set of “Pleasantville,” the moderator, Harold Ford Jr., and another panelist, Steve Rattner, attempted to offer some counterpoints to Ferguson’s tirade on the overabundance of U.S. government spending.
“It isn’t obvious to me that cutting welfare is going to solve our problems,” Rattner said.
Rattner, a former advisor to the U.S. Treasury Department on the auto bailouts, noted that without government funding, things like the U.S. space program and land grants would not have gotten off the ground.
But Global Conference attendees were not moved.
“I love that Niall Ferguson – what a great guy,” said one grey-haired fellow attending a later panel. “He really knows what he’s talking about.”
His table full of dark-suited Fergy fans heartily agreed.