What Wrong with Harvard’s Professors?
Policy + Politics

What Wrong with Harvard’s Professors?


No, this is not another indictment of economists Reinhart and Rogoff and the errors that allegedly set in motion a global austerity tsunami.  This is about another Harvard star—Niall Ferguson, the historian and contributor to The Daily Beast who is adored by conservatives for his support of capitalism and western values. 

Last Thursday, Ferguson lost some of his disciples after blurting out a comment about British economist John Maynard Keynes.  Financial Advisor magazine first reported that Ferguson described Keynes as an “effete” member of society who was more likely to discuss poetry with his wife than procreate.  He was implying that people—even economists!—who have no children don’t care about the future.

To his credit, Ferguson didn’t hesitate to offer an “Unqualified Apology.”   He wrote in his blog:

I had been asked to comment on Keynes’s famous observation “In the long run we are all dead.” The point I had made in my presentation was that in the long run our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are alive, and will have to deal with the consequences of our economic actions.

But I should not have suggested – in an off-the-cuff response that was not part of my presentation – that Keynes was indifferent to the long run because he had no children, nor that he had no children because he was gay. This was doubly stupid. First, it is obvious that people who do not have children also care about future generations. Second, I had forgotten that Keynes’s wife Lydia miscarried.

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.

Well, that’s something.  But isn’t it astonishing how easily slips of the tongue reveal deep-seeded prejudice.  Last Friday Dick Harpootlian, former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party took a shot at Republican Governor Nikki Haley, an Indian American.  He told a crowd to “send Nikki Haley back to wherever the hell she came from.” Peter Beinart, columnist for The Daily Beast, said, “If Dick Harpootlian were a Republican, liberals would be jumping over one another to call him a bigot.” 

We can roll a long list of gaffes, some more egregious than others.  But Yale University did it for us with its notable quotes of 2012:  Here are a few from their list that prove, “In the long run we are all dead.”

1.  “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what--who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims.”
— Mitt Romney, remarks at private fundraiser, Boca Raton, Florida, May 17

2. “I went to a number of women’s groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks?’ and they brought us whole binders full of women.”
-— Mitt Romney, second presidential debate, Hempstead, New York, Oct. 16

3. “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.”
— Barack Obama, remarks at campaign appearance, Roanoke, Virginia, July 13

4. 6. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
— Missouri Republican senatorial candidate Todd Akin, KTVI-TV interview, Aug. 19

5. You hit a reset button for the fall campaign--everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again.”
— Romney senior campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom, CNN interview, March 21