Harvard Prof Niall Ferguson Apologizes for Economic Gay Bashing

Harvard Professor Niall Ferguson is apologizing after remarks he made that the economic philosophies of John Maynard Keynes are flawed because Keynes was gay and not uninterested in procreation or future generations.

FA reports:

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.

It gets worse.

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.

This takes gay-bashing to new heights. It even perversely pins the full weight of the financial crisis on the gay community and the barren.

Ferguson apologized yesterday on his blog, calling the remarks "stupid" and "insensitive":

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.

But I should not have suggested – in an off-the-cuff response that was not part of my presentation – that Keynes was indifferent to the long run because he had no children, nor that he had no children because he was gay. This was doubly stupid. First, it is obvious that people who do not have children also care about future generations. Second, I had forgotten that Keynes’s wife Lydia miscarried.

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. As those who know me and my work are well aware, I detest all prejudice, sexual or otherwise.

Andrew Sullivan speaks in Ferguson's defense:

I am obviously an interested party to this. I’ve known Niall as a friend since we studied history together at Oxford. This has not deterred me from criticizing his public arguments on the merits, so I’m not a suck-up. But I have known the man closely for many years – even read Corinthians at his recent wedding – and have never seen or heard or felt an iota of homophobia from him. He has supported me in all aspects of my life – and embraced my husband and my marriage. He said a horribly offensive thing – yes, it profoundly offended me – but he has responded swiftly with an unqualified apology. He cannot unsay something ugly. But he has done everything short of that. I am biased, but that closes the matter for me.

And one other small thing: if he really believed gay men had no interest in future generations, why would he have asked me, a gay man with HIV, to be the godfather to one of his sons? And why would I have accepted?

But has Ferguson been linking Keynes' policies to his sexual orientation for years? Cambridge Professor and economist Michael Kitson and other critics point out that he has.


  1. Bangin' Hot Somali Tamale! says

    Ferguson, on the other hand, is so concerned about the future that he runs around inseminating any vadge he can pin down.

  2. Mike Ryan says

    Individuals who speak out with bigotry like this are doing so (1) for immediate publicity, which is quickly followed by (2) the “Please accept my apology…” statement – and he is in no way sincere. The a**hat wouldn’t have made the statement in the first place if he didn’t actually believe what he was saying.

    To prevent the loss of his job, his reputation, his friends and associates he is willing to brush away his deep seeded bigotry – but it is still there. Privately he is screaming his head off over those dam gays.

    His apology is not accepted. The man should lose his Harvard position. He will then be free to speak the truth about his hated of the gay community.

  3. ratbastard says

    All joking and outrage aside:

    1) John Maynard Keynes was an effete, over privileged member of a ruling class during the twilight of empire. Those of his demographic also became notorious for becoming agents of communist Russia, some I suppose because they were blackmailed, others because they were amoral, narcissistic sociopaths.

    2) Keynesian economics is SERIOUSLY flawed. Much of our current almost un-fixable structural problems are directly related to Keynesian economics.

  4. Jeff Atwood says

    Ferguson has 3 children from a prior marriage; he doesn’t consider divorce “selfish”? Also, being a godparent is ceremonial. Why would someone make a famous, influential person a god father? To curry favor maybe? Finally, no matter how long you may know someone, their innate bigotry could surface at any time.

  5. Sullivan's Tedium says

    @Sullivan: Why? Because you both can derive value from your mutual social relationship, and that value has more social utility for each of you respectively than being consistent in your personal philosophies.

    But Ferguson is still a bigot.

  6. Nancy Reagan's Hairdresser says

    Harvard and the Tisch family should disavow him. Andrew should remember that just because Ferguson asked Andrew to read Corinthians at one of his weddings doesn’t necessarily mean Niall thinks of Andrew as anything other than a Poodle.

  7. ratbastard says

    Oh, and by the way, I don’t really know anything about history OR economics, even though Keynesian policy just pulled my chestnuts out of the fire.

  8. Money Back Guarantee says

    Jonah Lehrer may’ve been a liar, but at least he did say anything bigoted. Any word about where to get a refund for ‘The Ascent of Money’ yet?

  9. ratbastard says

    Oh, and by the way, I don’t really know anything about history OR economics, even though Keynesian policy just pulled my chestnuts out of the fire.

    Posted by: ratbastard | May 5, 2013 11:25:12 AM


    Not true, and I didn’t write the above post.

  10. will says

    This is sad. I read the first few chapters of his book “Civilization” (taking us throught the ancients, Middle Ages, and Renaissance), and I recognize he has a wonderful grasp of the arc of human history along with a clean, lucid prose style. I have to remind myself that scholars are as susceptible to petty-minded prejudice as anybody else. But I do respect Andrew Sullivan and can forgive Niall based on his personal testament.

    As gay people, we HAVE to forgive the occasional lapse of homophobia in otherwise non-homophobic persons. We have a tendency to be extremely intolerant ourselves. I trust Andrew’s character assessment and have to keep in check my own desires to pounce on anybody speaking ill of us.

  11. Mayo Scandalou says

    When someone shows you who they are, believe them. The first time.

    Run, Somali girl, run. Before the brown-eyed devil does you wrong like he did the last wife.

  12. Brian says

    I don’t know if he’s antigay, but I do know he does not belong at a place like Harvard, or any other serious academic institution. Ferguson has a very rigid world view, and it colors everything he says or does. I know rick/ratbastard etc will say that liberal professors do the same thing, but it’s not the same. Ferguson starts at his conclusion and works backwards, deciding which field he’ll explore to prove his point, and cherrypicking the facts to get from point A to his foregone conclusion.

    I also don’t know why he’s stepped into the economic theory arena. He’s clearly way over his head, has been predicting calamity for years and has been spectacularly wrong. You can have different theories if they’re well researched, like Milton Friedman for example, but you can’t make a career out of bashing Keynesian economics, which is really just mainstream economics at this point, with so little knowledge of the subject. And I think that’s why he went off on Keynes’s personal life. he doesn’t know the subject, is too lazy to actually do any research to prove a point, so he resorts to silly namecalling. He belongs at Liberty University, not Harvard.

  13. says

    that’s odd – most of my LGBT and queer friends are more concerned about the environment than out hetero counterparts.

    aint it the Right Wing, who keep having tonnes of kids, that don’t seem to give a whit about not only economic stability, but environmental issues? oh yeah.

  14. Randy says

    Looks like he had his “Mel Gibson moment.” Remember when Gibson got drunk and was arrested for drunk driving? He launched in to an anti-semitic diatribe about the jews controlling everything. He apologized later.

    That’s all fine. But sort of person even thinks jews control the world, even when drunk? It means he thinks about it all the time. Same thing here — what sort of person even thinks that because Keynes was gay we should dismiss his theories. They may be flawed theories for all I know, but they are certainly not flawed because his bisexuality had anything to do with it.

    He said all that stuff during a Q&A session when he was off script. he wasn’t even drunk. At best, he could say he was nervous or distracted. When that happens to me, I sometimes get my facts wrong, I ro say something rather silly. But I don’t go off os something I have never said or thought of previously.

    When you go on auto pilot, it’s the auto pilot stuff that comes out.

  15. Jerry says

    If his apology is good enough for Andrew Sullivan its good enough for me. Dont destroy supporters for saying something stupid. Spend your energy on the REAL a$$holes out there, people. There are plenty of worthy adversaries.

  16. Alma Mater Fokker says

    New personal record for Andrew Sullivan. He got all the way to the final word of the second sentence without reminding everyone that he went to Oxford. Congratulations, Andrew! On both counts!

  17. Chris says

    Isn’t pro-creating in a world of 7 billion, that can only comfortably accommodate 2 – 3 billion, worse than not adding another number to that figure? If anything a person in this day and age that doesn’t procreate probably cares more about the world than one who does.

  18. says

    “I’m not a suck-up” says Patient Less Than Zero — a creature who has made his entire career out of sucking up.

    For more about John Maynard Keynes and his set put Derek Jarman’s “Wittgenstein” on your Netflix queque. It’s Derek’s second-to-last-film and he was going bind at the time.

    But not so blind as to be unable to deal with Bloomsbury, or any aspect of the Truth about human relations.

    Yilda plays Lady Ottoline Morel in it.

  19. Caliban says

    He said it because on some level he believes it. The comparison with being drunk is apt; alcohol just removes the filters, it doesn’t create the thought.

    All of us have at one time or the other said something that had a connotation we didn’t intend. But what Ferguson said isn’t a matter of interpretation, he said it directly- deep down all gay men are nihilists. Pretty f*cked up, Andrew Sullivan’s tap-dancing aside.

  20. jamal49 says

    Dear Andrew Sullivan, the reason is because you ARE a suck-up. For the record, Andrew, this is not the first time I have heard Keynes’ still relevant economic theories dismissed by conservatives and pseudo-intellectuals like Niall Ferguson because Keynes was gay, or so we assume.

    All the major conservative think-tanks, those that you have sucked up to in the past, have ALWAYS added the “gay caveat” to their dismissals of Keynes’ economic theories.

    Andrew, it doesn’t matter that you’re godfather to Mr. Ferguson’s child or recited Corinthians at his wedding or whatever personal connection you have with him.

    He said what he did because he BELIEVED it and no amount of “mea culpa” or backtracking is going to excuse his petty, tiresome, irksome homophobia.

    Let us not forget, Andrew, that you support the Log Cabin Republicans, who are notorious for sucking-up to their conservative, Republicans masters.

    So, Andrew, here’s a suggestion: sit down and shut up.

  21. Anony6 says

    Oh of course the Ronald Reagan loving Andrew Sullivan would come prancing to Ferguson’s defense. I am tired of apologist like Andrew Sullivan.

    Also, Ferguson’s apology did not address the crux of his problematic statements; that gays are selfish and do not care about the future. Ferguson only apologized for suggesting that childless people are gay, and that childless people do not care about the future. He never apologized for suggesting gays, with or without children, selfishly do not care about the future. Essentially, Ferguson gave a non-apology.

  22. Paul R says

    Sullivan definitely sounds like a suck-up, and the comments about Keynes were definitely stupid and poorly worded. But I would agree that lots of people, gay or straight, don’t care about the future. I do all the “right” things (solar, recycling, no car, etc.), but it sometimes seems kind of pointless given what terrible leaders this overpopulated world suffers under. Call me effete, but I wouldn’t want to be around in 100 years and I would never have kids suffer through the future.

  23. ratbastard says


    Do you want extensive social services, cheap goods, cheap labor? A military big enough to do their job and then some? Then yes, we need exponential growth. It’s the reason we allow tens of millions of ‘poor’ migrants who have lots of children into the country. It’s the reason European welfare states [sorry, social democracies] must import millions of ‘guest workers’ and immigrants.

    Keynesianism, the Austrian School, both seriously flawed.

  24. says

    Dear Andrew Sullivan,
    Difficult as it may be to accept this incident is not all about you.
    It is not even all about your exclusive clique of self admiring and self nominated intellectuals.
    Ferguson said some bigoted grossly pointed immature remarks. He needs to wake up into a new century.
    Your apologia however gives him a pass because of your social connection.
    There was an alternative for you; you could have exercised some integrity and simply condemned the bitter bile of Ferguson.
    You didn’t.
    You had the opportunity, you failed.
    In the face of a journalistic test you flunked.

  25. Bill says

    @Randy: The anti-semitic tirade that came out of Mel Gibson’s alcohol-ridden brain was possibly due to all the anti-semitic rubbish he must have heard while growing up and when visiting his parents. Gibson’s father was notoriously anti-semitic, plus being a Holocaust denier.

    I doubt if Niall Ferguson has a similar excuse.

  26. Betty Treacle says

    I could find much better uses for his mouth than what he’s currently using it for.

    Because all he deserves is to be objectified and the subject of sexual jokes, rather than to be taken seriously as an academic.

  27. Brian says


    Rather than continue to say that Keynesian economics is “seriously flawed”, how about enlightening us with some of those serious flaws. And your paean to population growth made no sense at all. How do you know that population growth will cause cheaper goods and more social services? It will undeniably result in higher prices for some goods, commodities with fixed supplies for example like oil, and will likely result in higher prices for semifixed commodities like food. And it will result in lower prices for other stuff only if the people being born produce more than they consume. It’s far better economically speaking to boost productivity of the existing population rather than expand the population. And having more people for armies just cancels itself out, as each country puts more soldiers on the battlefield to kill one another. Again not very compelling.

  28. says

    So, in summary, Niall has suggested that he personally believes (both now and in the past) that people who have no children are more prone to advance and support economic theories that hurt the future children and grandchildren of the world.

    I’m sorry, I guess I don’t see why he needs to now be lynched. Can someone maybe break it down for me further?

  29. TampaZeke says

    I hate to break it to Andrew Sullivan but Ferguson’s homophobia is typical. Most homophobes have close gay friends and coworkers. Homophobes always believe that THEIR gays are the exception to the rule. All other gays are a big ole bundle of stereotypes, but THEIR gays are different.

    I’ve never met a raging homophobe who didn’t claim to have close gay friends and family.

    Sorry Andrew but to Ferguson you are nothing more than the gay version of a house n*****.

  30. TampaZeke says

    @A CONSERVATIVE TEACHER, Niall said that “effete” men who are assumed to be gay, in spite of being married, are selfish and don’t care about future generations. If you can’t see the problem with that then no one is going to be able to explain it to you. Even if his point was that childless people are selfish and don’t care about future generations it would still be astonishingly offensive its is assumptions. But it isn’t surprising coming from a political mindset that is almost entirely invested in selfishness and lack of foresight.

  31. Caliban says

    @A Conservative Teacher

    First of all, “lynch”? Stop being such a f*cking drama queen.

    Second, he isn’t just some Joe Schmoe doing an impromptu man-on-the-street interview, he’s a history professor giving a presentation at a conference so presumably what he says is carefully prepared and considered. He’s lecturing as an expert, someone with intellectual heft. Granted, his “controversial” comments only came out during the Q&A session but he was in an academic mindset and his answers reflected perhaps unconscious but deeply held beliefs about gay people, that (most of us) being childless we have a “f*ck you” attitude toward the environment and future generations, that having procreated he has a superior interest in human sustainability.

    As a side-note, that is far from my own experience. For example, Evangelicals pumping out kids to carry on their world-view are far more selfish than gay men could ever hope to be. Many have an inherent belief that as the earth was created by God He will take care of it so ecology is unnecessary. Their main concern is perpetuating an ideology, not mankind itself.

  32. JG says

    Will: We are individuals, not to be told “how to be” by someone else. You can take a “hard look” at whatever you like. We are not sheep regardless of our sexuality. We are not lemmings for your cause.

  33. stranded says

    Even if I were to give him a pass on this, having the odious Andrew Sullivan backing him up (with a nod to Corinthians no less) only makes me loathe him more. It’s not just what Ferguson said, but the idea that some people, whether they’re gay, straight or whatever, aren’t fully human if they don’t have or want children. Just looking for excuses to judge whole swaths of humanity and demonstrate their smug superiority. The apology doesn’t even begin to question how his wrongness might be a trend and long-view personal failing, only a way of saying he’s still all-knowingly infallible in his self-involved worldview.

  34. Bernie says

    sorry, I have little sympathy or empathy for this professor with or without an apology….if you are a Harvard professor, one should have some decency and be able to think quantitatively that being gay and unable to procreate has NOTHING to do with economics…….hope this professor goes back to school and learn about human sexuality

  35. duane says

    I first got acquainted with Andrew Sullivan by watching him on Bill Mahar’s show Politically Incorrect in the 1990s. Back then Sullivan could always be counted on to make disparaging remarks about the gay community that line up perfectly with Ferguson’s attack on Keynes. That’s how Sully got to be a “serious” pundit. By engaging in the same sort of anti-gay bigotry as his straight counterparts. He’s just not a credible character witness at all.

    But I do love that line about reading Corinthians at Ferguson’s wedding. Was this at his second wedding, when he married his mistress?

  36. Jack Black says

    It was not a simple slip of the tongue. It was an attempt to make an argument for his position using a bigoted stereotype as his evidence. He doesn’t strike me as the kind of person to make thoughtless statements, and the stereotype of the gay as selfish and narcissistic is not a new one. His apology rings hollow.

  37. parkrunner says

    Sullivan’s an ass for using his, “I was the hostess to Hitler and Maria’s dinner soirees, so there.”. It’s as if he’s saying, “I’m gay and still thinks he’s the cat’s meow. So should you!”. Sullivan’s bitter and dirty conservative past hasn’t been completely masked by his current self righteous “gay writer with a husband” persona, dragging his poor spouse to public events and wagging his butt plug laden fat ass in front of perplexed paparazzi as if to prove he was always the gay darling of his generation.
    Who cares what this dickless blowhard has to say anyway?

  38. Keith says

    Ferguson should be ashamed. He is using a prejudiced trope of the right to make a ad hominem attack on a very clever man Mr keynes. He is as ignorant about Keynes as he is about history and economics.

    Keynes was bi sexual and did want children but his wife was unable to have children and miscarried. He also had extensive ideas about the future and human welfare; Ferguson is totally mischaracterising keynes economic views. If he knew more about the manhe is attacking he would know that he was talking nonsense.

  39. V-8 says

    he looks like this professor I had an incredible love affair with while in grad school (from a different department)…. sooooo pretty….. sigh…

  40. Just_a_guy says

    I now think less of Andrew Sullivan and Harvard. This Ferguson guy is way out of line. I agree with JFT that Sullivan — however occasionally safe — failed to call a clear foul.

    Also, this Ferguson fellow seems a sorry excuse for an academic. If I were at Harvard, I’d be writing complaint letters to some deans, wondering why they pay a pointless tool like Ferguson a salary. Sorry, Ferguson, but I’d be watching to see if you deserve the axe, sucka. More to the pint, Ferguson, why the fiddlesticks do you hate gay people?! And, no, Sullivan’s too-kind words and your non-apology don’t absolve you. Sullivan has just too-nicely shown he’s too nice to you. Meanwhile, you’ve broadcast to the world your private disrespect for people born to fall in love primarily with their own gender.

    Not impressed, Ferguson.

  41. Just_a_guy says

    Also, I’m thoroughly unconvinced by Ferguson’s supposed logic. !The “logic” is so bad that Ferguson seems the sort of person that leads gay youth to commit suicide–because of course they’re not able to ever really contribute, per Ferguson’s “logic.” Except Ferguson’s logic is totally bonk. And he disrespects the gay men who for millennia have built the academic sphere to serve the common good. Ferguson is the mistaken one for simply squandering his academic position for no demonstrable common good.

  42. Jon says

    This guy should not be representing Harvard or having invites to speak to any group in America. He is a BIGOT and Harvard should remove him from his post. Andrew Sullivan is a complete fool in most things he is given a forum to speak about but this one Tops It!

  43. Drew says

    Golly gee, why would Andrew Sullivan ever prefer his established worldview to a rational assessment of the facts? It’s not as if his entire blog is—oh. Right. Never mind.

  44. andy says

    While it’s nice Andrew Sullivan is defending his friend and father of his god son, he comes off as entirely biased in his defence because he isn’t taking Ferguson to task for attacking an ideologically-opposed economics rival using a personal character attack where there is no evidence of influence. And this isn’t the first time. http://www.theatlanticwire.com/business/2013/05/niall-fergusons-history-john-maynard-keynes-gayness/64885/

    Sullivan’s piece instead turns to apologists crap while completely letting Ferguson off the hook with a slap on the wrist.

  45. Warren Paine says

    This is what passes for an “intellectual” today. All you need is a haughty British accent and act like you know all. Now we all know the truth about Niall Ferguson. He is an ignorant pompous ass and a homophobe to boot.

  46. rik99 says

    What is it with British “intellectuals”? Ferguson, like his fellow countryman John Derbyshire (goggle “the talk nonblack version john derbyshire” to see the hate) are unreconstructed bigots of the worst kind. In Dante’s inferno, they would occupy circle eight of hell, put there (like Ulysses) for immoral misuse of intellectual gifts; i.e. their skills as writers and social status as leaders.
    Sorry, I don’t believe Ferguson’s non-apology and agree with @UFFDA that (1) Ferguson wouldn’t have made the statement in the first place if he didn’t actually believe what he was saying and (2) Ferguson has simply repeated what he has said and written before. Ugh!!

  47. EchtKultig says

    “When someone shows you who they are, believe them. The first time.”

    Exactly. He’s a bigot, but a clever one because he finds blowhard Sullivan to be a useful member of his cadre of backslappers. Probably scored him points in getting a big job at Harvard: “oh he’s conservative, but clearly not bigoted.” LOL. He gets carried away at an academic conference and speaks what he really believes. Oops.

    There are more “closet homophobes” in academia that you might expect. Though of course, Harvard professors are less likely to be homophobic than pipe fitters. Furthermore Harvard sometimes hires these sort of “provocative” conservatives to fight the charge that academia is a liberal echo chamber.

  48. EchtKultig says

    “New personal record for Andrew Sullivan. He got all the way to the final word of the second sentence without reminding everyone that he went to Oxford.”

    Thank you! LMAO! Best bit of Sullivanian since Gawker lampooned his “New York City is tearing me apart” sad sack ramblings.

  49. Rrhain says

    Why, Sully? Simple: You’re a suck-up. He doesn’t have a problem with *you.* He has a problem with gay people. That’s why he has been trotting out the “Keynes was gay” idea for *years.* This was not the first time he said it. And yet here you are, claiming that you’ve never heard him say anything like that.

    There are a few possibilities for that:

    1) You’re lying.
    2) You weren’t paying attention.
    3) He doesn’t really consider you that much of a friend and treats you differently when you’re not around.

    That isn’t an exhaustive list and neither are the options mutually exclusive.

  50. DannyEastVillage says

    After all these years Sullivan just can’t seem to dig himself out of that hole of homophobia he thinks his becoming a Democrat remedied. He may be America’s most consistently visible self-hating gay man–since all those “christian’ preachers generally drop out of sight after they’re exposed.

    Meanwhile, Ferguson–well, since words do not carry the odor of filth and rot I can’t think of anything appropriate to say about him.

  51. Miguel R. says

    When the right wingers finally have to face how deeply wrong they are, they always resort to petty, mean-spirited, small-minded name calling. That is just their M.O. So it isn’t at all surprising that now that we are suddenly finding out that Keynes (and Krugman) were right all along, that the austerity hacks had to misrepresent data to make their case, that the intellectually bankrupt Ferguson are resorting to homophobia. Because of course they are. Shame on Harvard for ever hiring this tool. (And not because of his ideology. Because his scholarship is intellectually dishonest.)

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