Harvard historian Niall Ferguson has apologized for remarks claiming John Maynard Keynes' theory of economics was doomed to failure because Keynes himself was gay and childless.
Financial writer Tom Kostigen, the editor at large of Private Wealth and Financial Advisor magazines, reported Ferguson's comments Friday on the Financial Advisor website:
Harvard Professor and author Niall Ferguson says John Maynard Keynes' economic philosophy was flawed and he didn't care about future generations because he was gay and didn't have children.
Kostigen writes that Ferguson, speaking in front of hundreds of financial advisers and investors at the Tenth Annual Altegris Conference in Carlsbad, Calif., broached the subject in response to a question comparing Keynes' theories and Edmund Burke's.
Burke had many children, Keynes had none, Ferguson reportedly said. And thus, Burke believed in a "social contract" that would endure for generations, while the childless, gay Keynes believed in a philosophy of self-interest.
Ferguson, "says it's only logical that Keynes would take this selfish worldview because he was an 'effete' member of society," Kostigen wrote. "Apparently, in Ferguson's world, if you are gay or childless, you cannot care about future generations nor society."
Kostigen went on to call Ferguson's comments "gay-bashing," "intellectually void," and "vulgar," saying they put "the full weight of the financial crisis on the gay community and the barren."
On Twitter, senior editor at InvestmentNews Dan Jamieson confirmed the comments:
Others, including Felix Salmon from Reuters, were quick to condemn them:
In 2012, Ferguson was roundly criticized for an article he wrote for Newsweek on President Barack Obama's administration. New York Times' columnist Paul Krugman called Ferguson's representation of the Affordable Care Act "unethical," at the time.
But he isn't the first to make such comments when it comes to Keynes' theories, according toBusiness Insider's Executive Editor Joe Weisenthal.
"A lot of people have this idea that Keynes didn't care about the future because of the famous line, 'in the long run, we're all dead,' which people take to mean that the only thing that matters is the short term."
But that line is taken out of context and the full quote says something entirely different, according to Weisenthal.
"In other words, [Keynes] is slamming economists for being sanguine about near-term troubles, merely because in the long term, stability and equilibrium will return," Weisenthal writes.
In the New Yorker's review of Robert Skidelsky's biography, "John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom," Louis Menand notes that Skidelsky "is wisely inconclusive in assessing the bearing of Keynes' sexuality on his economic views. Implicit in those views is a rather sharp distinction between public and private life, with private life given a nearly absolute priority."
Business Insider's Henry Blodget wrote that this might be the "first time we have heard a respectable academic tie another economist's beliefs to his or her personal situation rather than his or her research."
"Saying that Keynes' economic philosophy was based on him being childless," Blodget noted, "would be like saying that Ferguson's own economic philosophy is based on him being rich and famous and therefore not caring about the plight of poor unemployed people."
In Ferguson's apology, posted to his website Saturday, he wrote that the comments "were as stupid as they were insensitive:"
My disagreements with Keynes’s economic philosophy have never had anything to do with his sexual orientation. It is simply false to suggest, as I did, that his approach to economic policy was inspired by any aspect of his personal life. As those who know me and my work are well aware, I detest all prejudice, sexual or otherwise.
My colleagues, students, and friends – straight and gay – have every right to be disappointed in me, as I am in myself. To them, and to everyone who heard my remarks at the conference or has read them since, I deeply and unreservedly apologize.