Niall Ferguson's Blooper
At a recent investment conference,
Following the usual script, but at a much faster clip, an uproar ensued on Twitter and in various blogs. Ferguson quickly offered an apology that rivaled
Part of Ferguson's bad luck was to recycle an ancient jibe that too many people were too ignorant to know was old hat. Polite people didn't refer to homosexuality much in public until relatively recently, so the barbs were usually aimed at Keynes' childlessness. For instance, legendary economist Joseph Schumpeter wrote that Keynes "was childless and his philosophy of life was essentially a short-run philosophy."
This claim didn't solely come from gay-bashers and right-wingers. For instance,
Still, I understand why Ferguson's comment aroused ire. It sounded like he was trying to discredit a widely accepted idea -- Keynesianism -- by throwing dirt on that idea's author. Worse, it trafficked in the now utterly verboten practice of ascribing any negative connotation whatsoever to homosexuality.
"In one fell swoop," economics writer James Pethokoukis observed, "Ferguson managed to clumsily and unexpectedly -- and unnecessarily -- merge current policy debates about same-sex marriage and parenting with arguments over the proper level of fiscal austerity when economies stumble. Not an easy trick."
Still, I'd really like some clarity about what the rules are now. Because I could swear that spelunking into the hidden caves of peoples' personal lives to shed light -- or cast aspersions -- on their public personas and preferred policies is the height of scholarship and wisdom these days. "The personal is political" is what my feminist professors taught me in college.
Isn't the core of diversity mania the idea that there is some irreducible, ineluctable essence to being male or female, gay or straight, black or white?
And if childlessness is never relevant, politicians and pundits must immediately stop prefacing their opinions with "as a mother" or "as a grandparent," etc.
At least when it comes to the approved boogeymen, not only are their private views on race, religion, sex and morality fair game for scorn and ridicule, they're invitations to glibly snarky speculation about their relevance. If that's not the case, then someone better tell columnists like
I remember when then-New Yorker writer
Other than breaking some politically incorrect taboos, it seems to me Ferguson's real mistake was confusing biographical relevance for policy relevance. Keynes' sexuality, morals and background are relevant to understanding the man. But they aren't necessarily relevant to his ideas.
Our culture is so obsessed with authenticity and hypocrisy, we think ideas are inextricably bound to the lifestyles of their authors. If it was revealed that
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Niall Ferguson's Blooper | Politics
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