For a while now, Forbes magazine, ironically adopting an old Marxist insult, has been calling itself a “capitalist tool”. That title now seems to have passed to Niall Ferguson, historian, promoter of “progressive imperialism”, would-be eminence grise to Western power, and a raging bag of neuroses, famous for comparing Barack Obama to Felix the Cat (“he’s lucky and he’s black”), for being an all-round cheerful chappie — “life is long, and revenge is a dish that tastes best cold. I’m very unforgiving,” he told an interviewer — and now, for blaming the recession on the gays.
Actually, one gay in particular — John Maynard Keynes. In remarks at some obscure conference in Calfornia, Ferguson argued that Keynes’ economic philosophy was driven by the fact he had had no children, and was thus unconcerned about future generations. “He married a ballerina and they sat around talking about poetry,” he told an audience that reportedly became quieter and quieter. Ferguson was making some point about Keynes’ remark that “in the long run we are all dead”, saying that the long run involved his children and his children’s children, etc, but oh ho not for John Maynard …
Ferguson’s point was wilfully obtuse, since Keynes was gently mocking the increasingly formalised neo-classical economics, which had started to project equilibrium conditions into purely mathematical durations — stretching towards infinity — which rather seemed to miss the point of a theory of material production. Ferguson knows this, but he is becoming increasingly frustrated by the failure of austerity economics to yield better results than even the low-grade pump-priming of the US. And it’s making him crazy.
That’s been doubled by the fact his hopes of becoming a Kissinger-type to the US neocon Right was stymied by, of all people, a black half-Kenyan ex-leftist. Born in Glasgow, Ferguson spent a few years in Kenya as a child, soaking up a late imperial glow in cossetted white communities. The fact the grandchild of someone interned, and tortured, for alleged Mau-Mau sympathies now occupies the White House is more than he can bear.
The gay-civilisation-wrecker slur on Keynes is a right-wing staple, it turns out, and its about as textbook as return of the repressed as you could want. For those who see free-market economics as somehow expressing virtue, the idea that we can consciously manage an economy in macro terms is, well, against nature, since it suggests our lives and identities are to some degree a cultural and social product, not some ursprung of nature, passed down in bloodlines.
Since this latter conception of things is just about dead, the Right is increasingly unable not to resort to insult, hysteria and identity-panic. Ferguson’s contribution to the traditional morality he advocates was to cheat on his wife with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, get her pregnant, and then leave his wife — and three children under the age of 10 — to be with his new partner in the US. His defence? His kids would be better off without him, because he would be so unhappy were he not pursuing his destiny, that he’d be a bad father. No doubt. That whole passage is in a grimly hilarious interview in The Guardian.
The resulting storm has been so great that even Ferguson has realised he’d gone too far, and has now, unusually for him, apologised. But it’s another strike against a man so unpopular that several people compile running logs of his contradictory remarks and poor predictions, and watch his auto-destruction with glee.
The coup de grace: Keynes and wife tried for a child but miscarried. Irrelevant to the actual argument, but just shows Ferguson’s a crappy historian.