Category Archive 'Niall Ferguson'

12 Jun 2018

“A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad President Builds an Empire”

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Niall Ferguson points out that the supposedly oh-so-smart people just don’t get it. Trump is winning.

To most highly educated people I know, President Trump is a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad president.

For two years, the people with at least two university degrees (PALTUDs) have been gnashing their teeth about Trump’s every utterance and move. To the foreign policy experts, he is a bull in a china shop, trampling the “rules-based international order” underfoot. To the economics establishment, he is a human wrecking ball, smashing more than a half-century of consensus that free trade really works better than protectionism.

A striking feature of all this dire commentary is how wrong it has been so far. …

Despite all the trade war talk, the US economy is at full employment, the dollar is rallying, the stock market is up 30 percent since Trump’s election, and the only countries in any trouble are the usual suspects with their usual problems (e.g., Turkey).

It is not that Trump is an underrated genius, nor for that matter an idiot savant. It is just that his intuitive, instinctive, impulsive way of operating, familiar to those who have done business with him, is exposing some basic flaws in the conceptual framework of the PALTUDs. …

Think of the world as a three-empire system. It is dominated by the United States, China, and Europe, in that order. Each empire is evolving in a different direction. The American empire, having experienced overextension in Afghanistan and Iraq, has not retreated into isolation. Its latest step down the road to empire is domestic. …

All the accompanying symptoms of the transition from republic to empire are already visible. The plebs despise the elites. An old and noble senatorial order personified by John McCain is dying. A cultural civil war rages on social media, the modern-day forum, with all civility cast aside and character assassination a daily occurrence. The president-emperor dominates public discourse by issuing 280-character edicts, picking fights with football players, and arbitrarily pardoning convicted criminals.

Meanwhile, the Chinese empire becomes ever more centralized, ever more invasive of its citizens’ privacy, and ever more overt in its overseas expansion. The Western world regards Xi Jinping as an almighty potentate. Few observers appreciate the acute sense of weakness that has motivated his tightening grip on party and state and his surveillance of his own people. Few see the risks of imperial ventures such as the Belt and Road Initiative, which is drawing Chinese investment into economically unpromising and strategically dangerous locations.

The weakest of the three empires is the European Union. True, its central institutions in Brussels have the power to impose rules, fines, and taxes on the biggest American and Chinese corporations. But Europe lacks tech giants of its own. Its navies, armies, and air forces have melted away, so that it can scarcely defend its frontiers from penniless migrants, never mind hostile invaders. And the political consensus on which it has been based for the past 60 years —between social democrats and moderate conservatives in every member state — is crumbling under a nationalist-populist assault.

The logic of Trumpism is simply to bully the other empires, exploiting the fact that they are both weaker than the United States, in order to extract concessions and claim victories. The Chinese sincerely fear a trade war and will end up buying a very large amount of American produce in order to avoid one. The Europeans dare not stand up to Trump over his Iran sanctions and secretly agree with him about China, and so are reduced to impotent seething (Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany) or sycophancy (President Emmanuel Macron of France, until last week’s G-7 summit). If they unite against him, he brings up Russia and divides them again.

To the PALTUDs, who remain so certain of their intellectual superiority to the president, all this is incomprehensible. They will continue to find fault with Trump’s every success, nitpicking their way through the small print, failing to realize that in the imperial transition such details cease to matter.

11 May 2013

Media Flits Freak Out Over Ferguson Remark

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Maynard Keynes saying: “Hello, Sailor!” to Duncan Grant


Michael Cook
described the hair-pulling, fingernails-clawing, Hell-hath-no-fury media reaction to a comment on Keynes’ economics by Niall Ferguson.

Conservative economic historian and media star Niall Ferguson touched a raw nerve this week with the gay lobby. He was addressing a gabfest of millionaire investors in California when he made an unscripted remark. It ran something like this:

“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.”

This is about 40 words.

The response was as immediate and impassioned as North Korea’s threats to turn its southern neighbour into “a sea of flames”.

The media artillery barrage moved in stages from simple outrage at the implication that gays were indifferent to future generations, to repudiations of Ferguson’s immediate and forthright apology, to sneers at his economic competence (the tail end of his “awesome arc of insanity”, according to Paul Krugman in the New York Times).

It culminated in the full Monty, a 7,800 word review by a professor at University of Missouri-Kansas City of Ferguson’s degeneracy, his dishonesty, his economic incompetence, his political conservatism, his documented homophobia dating back to 1995, and so much, much more.

The firepower lobbed onto Ferguson would have made Kim Jong-un proud.

But what exactly was the problem with what Ferguson said? Parsing his words – as reported by a very indignant reporter – he implied four things:

1. Keynes’s ideas were flawed. This is widely accepted by many economists today, certainly by those of a neoclassical bent. In fact, he was probably invited to the speak at the conference to dump on the Keynesian-inspired stimulus of which the Obama Administration is so proud.

2. Keynes was gay and not interested in children. There’s no disputing that Keynes was a homosexual, or at least a bi-sexual. He married at 42 and had no surviving children from his marriage to the Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova. Whether or not his heart melted at the thought of the pitter-patter of little feet is largely surmise.

3. Our care for the future comes through utility derived from our descendants. This is a standard economic assumption. Economists assume that everyone is selfish and only cares about his private consumption. In models of economies over time they assume that we care about the welfare of our children, our children’s children, and so on. Is this reasonable? Evolutionary biologists will tell you that it is. And it is reasonable from a Darwinian point of view to ask whether a homosexual economist would have as much interest in the welfare of future generations as an economist with a large family.

As British journalist Brendan O’Neill pointed out, there is one sense in which Keynes cared deeply about future generations. He was a fervent eugenicist and served as the director of the Eugenics Society in Britain from 1937 to 1944. None of the Ferguson’s critics mentioned this.

4. Keynes’s ideas were influenced by his sexual orientation. This point also cannot be known definitively, but it is hardly homophobic. Why wouldn’t our sexual orientation (whatever it is) influence how we think about the world? We all see and interpret the world around us through a theoretical lens.

In fact, politics at the moment is dominated by the notion of sexual orientation. Positions on big issues like the nature of marriage, on the limits of discrimination, on the role of government in enforcing human rights, on free speech are bound to be influenced by sexual orientation. Why should economic theories be exempt from the subtle influence of sexual orientation and sexual behaviour?

No, the vehemence of the reaction to Ferguson’s remarks has little to do with what he said. The real problem is the hyper-sensitivity of the gay community to the least slight.

The enormity of the reaction by the Hominterm’s representatives and allies in the media to Niall Ferguson’s basically conventional observation on the limited perspective associated with the culture of sexual perversity reveals just how much the truth stings.

The homosexual subculture has always had a recognizable air of sadness, of bitterness and melancholy associated with the knowing choice of futility, of perversity, of rejection of normal life and ordinary morality. Homosexuals have always partied furiously, plunging determinedly into the pursuit of sensual pleasure, precisely because they understand how limited a period of time they actually have.

Now, with political victory, with official patronage, protection, and formal certification that vice is even more privileged than virtue, within their grasp, a comment like Ferguson’s rudely breaks the spell of fantasy and self-delusion and spoils all the fun they have been having.

Hat tip to Maggie Gallagher.

30 Jul 2010

A House Divided Felt Round the World

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Rep. Barney F. Bourbon

Richard Fernandez identifies the international aspects of the thesis of Angelo Codevilla’s recent important essay.

Niall Ferguson is touring Australia warning that the end of American dominance may be imminent and sudden. Somehow the ideas in Codevilla’s essay are popping up everywhere, whether people have read it or not. Ferguson describes how rapidly empires can fall.

    The Bourbon monarchy in France passed from triumph to terror with astonishing rapidity. The sun set on the British Empire almost as suddenly. The Suez crisis in 1956 proved that Britain could not act in defiance of the US in the Middle East, setting the seal on the end of empire.

But those things happen only to the denizens of history. People who live in the today usually think they are different. So despite evidence of dramatic change, people who have spent their whole lives among the policy certainties of the postwar period find it difficult to accept they may have to build a world of their own from first principles. Ferguson asks his audience: “what would you do in a world without America? Has the question even crossed your mind?”

Australia’s post-war foreign policy has been, in essence, to be a committed ally of the US. But what if the sudden waning of American power that I fear brings to an abrupt end the era of US hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region? Are we ready for such a dramatic change in the global balance of power? Judging by what I have heard here since I arrived last Friday, the answer is no. Australians are simply not thinking about such things.

But if the Australians are not thinking about it, the Chinese are certainly preparing for it. The Wall Street Journal recently noted that Beijing objected to the right of US naval vessels to exercise in the Yellow Sea, despite the fact that they are international waters. At least they used to be. Waters are only international if kept so by a powerful navy committed to the freedom of the seas. People sometimes forget that treaties reflect realities rather than create them, no matter what the European Union may think. …

[Caroline Glick observes that] “[j]ust as US bureaucrats, journalists, politicians and domestic policy wonks tend to combine forces to perpetuate and expand the sclerotic and increasingly bankrupt welfare state, so their foreign policy counterparts tend to collaborate to perpetuate failed foreign policy paradigms that have become writs of faith for American and Western elites.” In other words, when it comes down to funding politics or funding defense, fund politics. Ferguson made the same point more starkly: “it is quite likely that the US could be spending more on interest payments than on defense within the next decade.”

If the love of money is the root of all evil, the lack of it is the cause of the fall of empires. Ferguson gave some examples:

    Think of Spain in the 17th century: already by 1543 nearly two-thirds of ordinary revenue was going on interest on the juros, the loans by which the Habsburg monarchy financed itself.

    Or think of France in the 18th century: between 1751 and 1788, the eve of Revolution, interest and amortisation payments rose from just over a quarter of tax revenue to 62 per cent.

    Finally, consider Britain in the 20th century. Its real problems came after 1945, when a substantial proportion of its now immense debt burden was in foreign hands. Of the pound stg. 21 billion national debt at the end of the war, about pound stg. 3.4bn was owed to foreign creditors, equivalent to about a third of gross domestic product.

    Alarm bells should therefore be ringing very loudly indeed in Washington, as the US contemplates a deficit for 2010 of more than $US1.47 trillion ($1.64 trillion), about 10 per cent of GDP, for the second year running.

But alarm bells aren’t ringing in Washington. The entire alarm system has been disabled, disconnected, perhaps scrapped. Anyone who wants to turn it back on will have to root through the dumpster to see if any usable parts can still be retrieved. No better symptom of the absence of alarms is the genuine astonishment of Charles Rangel that it is illegal to break the law. Almost as a matter of course he concealed hundreds of thousands of dollars in income, used Congressional letterhead to solicit donations for private causes, took four rent controlled apartments for himself. Innocently. He probably didn’t think he was doing anything wrong. Things had been so sweet, so long that even after he was offered the chance to negotiate his way out of 13 separate violations of House rules and federal statutes he simply refused to believe it was happening.

Like Brecht’s fictional Atlantean who “the night the seas rushed in … still bellowed for their slaves,” the members of what Codevilla called the “ruling class” can’t believe it is happening. They still want their last dollar, their last perk. Literally, no matter what. “Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank caused a scene when he demanded a $1 senior discount on his ferry fare to Fire Island’s popular gay haunt, The Pines, last Friday. Frank was turned down by ticket clerks at the dock in Sayville because he didn’t have the required Suffolk County Senior Citizens ID. A witness reports, ‘Frank made such a drama over the senior rate that I contemplated offering him the dollar to cool down the situation.’”

The worst thing about the ferry incident is the possibility that if the witness had really offered Frank the dollar he might actually have taken it. Automatically; out of conditioning, like a Pavlovian dog. The culture in which the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee rose to power is one in which it is OK to blithely borrow more money than the entire defense budget can service and yet refuse to spend one whole dollar of his own money. The ethos of that world can be captured in one phrase: “don’t you know who I am?”


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