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.
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.
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.