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:
â€œFerguson 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 â€˜poetryâ€™ rather than procreated.â€
This is about 40 words.
The response was as immediate and impassioned as North Koreaâ€™s threats to turn its southern neighbour into â€œa sea of flamesâ€.
The media artillery barrage moved in stages from simple outrage at the implication that gays were indifferent to future generations, to repudiations of Fergusonâ€™s immediate and forthright apology, to sneers at his economic competence (the tail end of his â€œawesome arc of insanityâ€, 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 Fergusonâ€™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 â€“ as reported by a very indignant reporter â€“ he implied four things:
1. Keynesâ€™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 childrenâ€™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 Oâ€™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 Fergusonâ€™s critics mentioned this.
4. Keynesâ€™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 Fergusonâ€™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.