Sunday, May 05, 2013

What's wrong with Niall Ferguson

I have had a low opinion of Niall Ferguson ever since 2003, when he was academic hitman for the pro-Iraqi invasion interests. Following his most recent creepy outburst, Juan Cole has explained just what's wrong with the man better than I could:
Harvard historian Niall Ferguson apologized Saturday for having said that economist John Maynard Keyes did not care about future generations because he was gay and had no children.
The question I want to raise here is the over-all logic of Ferguson’s underlying reasoning. What makes him continually make embarrassing and simple errors of fact, as with his attack on Obama last summer, which Newsweek did not bother to fact-check before publication.
I would argue that the reason that conservatives like Ferguson hate Keynes is that Keynes demonstrated conclusively that when the economy goes into a deep recession or depression, the only way to get back out of it is for the government to increase spending. ... Paul Krugman once wondered, after the 2008 meltdown, why so many academic and professional economists are so anti-Keynesian, given the impressive record of correct prediction attendant on the Keynsian enterprise. I am more cynical. I don’t have to guess. I think some, or many, are corrupted by the big money that flows from upholding the independent role of capital and from belittling government efforts.
Ferguson’s outrageous polemic is an example of the ad hominem fallacy. Instead of demonstrating that Keynes’s theory is faulty (which no one has yet done), Ferguson attempted to smear Keynes and deprive him of standing in intellectual debate by calling him a deviant...
Why does conservatism even have the implicit category of the deviant lurking in the back of its collective mind?
Contemporary Conservatism erects a social hierarchy, with wealthy heterosexual Westerners (and their compradors) at the top, and other groups queuing behind them from below. The wealthy Western heterosexuals are autonomous wealth-creators, constantly dragged down by the foolish impulse to regulate inherent in the government, which in any case represents the unwashed hoi polloi.
Ferguson’s remarks come on top of another conservative Harvard scandal, as a 2010 paper by economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff , which argued that deficit spending by governments hurt growth. ...
Ferguson is so tied to the demonstrably false Reinhart-Rogoff paper that he continues to defend it even after its own authors are backpedaling furiously, and continues to attack Paul Krugman, whose papers won him a Nobel prize; they noticeably lack glaring excel spreadsheet errors. (Excel? Seriously?)
The hierarchies are not only economic or rooted in style of life. Ferguson’s Western triumphalism is well-known. I was at a conference where his comments about the (perfectly nice) Oxford Islamic Center was brought up, and he shouted, “They’re in Oxford!” Ferguson thinks it was a good thing for Oxford graduates to run, and loot, Muslim countries at gunpoint during the past two centuries, but is appalled that Muslim intellectuals might turn up for peaceful academic discussions in the old college town. [emphasis SM] He was all for the Iraq War and only carped that it couldn’t be successful unless the US committed to run Iraq for decades. Presumably this is because Iraqis (Muslims after all) are juveniles that need the firm adult Western hand. The Conservative fascination with reviving a long dead and impracticable Empire is just one more manifestation of a desire for social hierarchy. The imperial masters are on top.
The creation of social hierarchies, with people with ‘good’ attributes on top and others seen as somehow incomplete or deformed, is central to contemporary conservative social thought. Christians (or, in some versions, Christians and/or secularists)? Good. Heterosexuals? Good. Muslims and gays? distinctly inferior. Moreover, the government is the mechanism whereby the second-class citizens can engineer changes in regulations that rein in the alleged money-makers, and so it is intrinsically problematic and should be crippled as much as possible.
Ferguson is a smart guy and may have done some good work along the line. But he can't be trusted.

2 comments:

  1. That is not conservative thinking. That is just stupid thinking.

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  2. Anonymous12:13 a.m.

    "I would argue that the reason that conservatives like Ferguson hate Keynes is that Keynes demonstrated conclusively that when the economy goes into a deep recession or depression, the only way to get back out of it is for the government to increase spending..."


    The only way? That is factually wrong.
    What about the recession/depression of 1920-21?

    http://www.fee.org/the_freeman/detail/the-depression-youve-never-heard-of-1920-1921#axzz2jS7ksqZR

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