Niall Ferguson, meet John Maynard Keynes

Scottish pop historian Niall was tropistically drawn to America, home of the neoconservative politics he favours. Admittedly there was also the small matter of about $5,000,000 he makes every year teaching at Harvard, writing books and speaking at conferences.

It was one of the latter that got him into a spot of trouble the other day. Ferguson was asked to comment on Keynes’s astute observation ‘in the long run we are all dead’, and one would think nothing could be easier.

One possible answer could have been that Keynesian economics, centred as they are on an activist state running up huge debts, saddles all subsequent generations with a ruinous burden. In support one could be tempted to mention that the current federal debt in the States equals about $100,000 for every American – and growing every day. Moreover, the funds feeding Social Security and Medicare are hopelessly bankrupt. This admirable tendency is bearing much poisonous fruit now, but the toxic seeds were planted by Roosevelt’s New Deal, largely inspired by Keynes.

If one so wished, one could also make a snide comment about the militant leftist atheism of the Bloomsbury set, of which Keynes was a paid-up member. Attendant to that is inevitable solipsism: not only is there no afterlife for an individual but, as far as he is concerned, all life stops, or might as well stop, after his death. Generations to come? No one cares about those. It was a Bloomsbury article of faith.

Actually, one could also think of many other perfectly reasonable responses to that query. The one Ferguson chose was weak. Keynes, he explained, was a childless homosexual. Therefore he neither had nor could have children, which influenced his economic ideas. He simply had no sense of posterity.

This response was indeed weak. But it wasn’t indefensible – and the subsequent outcry made some sort of defence necessary. Niall couldn’t just ignore his prissy critics; he has that $5,000,000 a year to protect. One possible reply could be quoting the great Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter who tended to refer to Keynesian economics as ‘childless vision’. Schumpeter, however, didn’t mention the ‘h’ word – he was specifically prophesying the kind of problems we have now, those adumbrated by Keynes.

However, whenever the ‘h’ word is nowadays used in any other than a laudatory context, the wrathful god of PC rescinds any right to self-defence. Nothing short of a snivelling apology will be accepted, and that’s what Ferguson proffered with emetic alacrity.

He apologised ‘unreservedly’ for his ‘stupid and tactless remarks’. ‘It is simply false to suggest, as I did, that his approach to economic policy was inspired by any aspect of his personal life.’ ‘First, it is obvious that people who do not have children also care about future generations. Second,’ grovelled Ferguson, ‘I had forgotten that Keynes’s wife Lydia miscarried.’’

I actually don’t think that Ferguson’s original remarks, though not particularly clever, were as stupid and tactless as all that. His apology, however, is both idiotic and cowardly.

Of course people who have no children for whatever reason, be it their sexual proclivity, medical problems or personal choice, may still care about future generations. But this would be simply an academic construct devoid of any visceral, physiological involvement. By the same token, a chap who rents a flat and one who owns a house may both defend the idea of private property. However it’s hard not to think that the house owner just may be a bit more fervent in mounting his defence.

True enough, Keynes had a Russian wife. He acquired her at a time when the GPU, as the KGB/FSB then was, was assigning whores as wives, mistresses but in fact watchers to Western left-leaning intellectuals. Incidentally, one of such ladies was Baroness Budberg, Nick Clegg’s Russian ancestor of whom he’s self-admittedly proud. H.G. Wells, Louis Aragon, Romain Rolland, Bruce Lockhart were among many lucky recipients of such sexual overseers, with GPU compliments.

Keynes too drew the long straw in the athletic shape of the ballerina Lydia Lopokova. Now how irrelevant is that?

Niall is a big boy, so surely he must realise that Lydia could have been impregnated by a man other than her husband. Also it’s entirely possible for partners in a ‘lavender marriage’ to go against their instincts and actually produce a child by the traditional method. James I, for one, begat Charles I while sending pornographic love letters to the Duke of Buckingham.

This happens even in our blasé time, and back in the 1920s, when homosexuality was still regarded as a perversion, it happened routinely for respectability’s sake. For example, Keynes’s Bloomsbury friends Harold Nicholson and Vita Sackville-West, both homosexual, had two children. That didn’t prevent Vita from having an affair with Virginia Woolf any more than Lydia prevented Keynes from having one with Lytton Strachey.

‘My disagreements with Keynes’s economic philosophy,’ pleads Ferguson, ‘have never had anything to do with his sexual orientation.’ This part of the apology is even more disingenuous than the rest, though it may appear straightforward to the uninitiated.

You see, neocons, such as Ferguson, have a complex relationship with Keynesian economics. On the one hand, the ‘conservative’ part of their self-description demands that they make anti-Keynesian noises. On the other hand, their Trotskyist temperament makes them advocate non-stop quasi-colonial aggression. This can only be waged by an extremely powerful state, and Keynesian economics does empower the state at the expense of the individual.

That’s why leading neocons, and these days they are considerably less bright than they used to be, are perfectly capable of extolling in the same sentence the virtues of the welfare state and free markets. Even Irving Kristol, who was cleverer than today’s lot, saw nothing incongruous in ‘the conservative welfare state.’

Such intellectual, and at base moral, muddle is typical of neocon writers. That’s what Ferguson should really be apologising for, not for his inane but harmless remarks. But hey, the lad has two families to support.

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