Mr. Sensitive

June 18, 2013

Niall Ferguson is Bill O’Reilly Now

Filed under: Uncategorized — lbej @ 14:42

Niall Ferguson is the Harvard professor and Republican political consultant whose deceptive and error-filled Newsweek cover story bashing President Obama pissed me off last fall.  I saw him on CNBC this morning lamenting the stifling American business climate–while the Dow hovered near its all-time highs, of course–and I wondered what he’s been up to since he crapped on his credibility for Mitt and Paul.  More crapping, apparently.

At a conference in California last month, Ferguson made the assertion that influential economist John Maynard Keyes didn’t care about the long-run impacts of his economic policies because he was childless and gay.  Reporter Tom Kostigen wrote that “Ferguson asked the audience how many children Keynes had. He explained that Keynes had none because he was a homosexual and was married to a ballerina, with whom he likely talked of ‘poetry’ rather than procreated.”  As you might imagine, this was not well-received.  Ferguson apologized ‘unreservedly,’ and some folks have moved on (CNBC) while others have not.  I think it’s much ado about nothing–not because Ferguson’s comments aren’t significant, but because he isn’t.

Niall Ferguson is simply not the man he once was.  He was a respected historian, and as such, he depended on intellectual rigor and integrity for his status and his salary.  Now he is a media personality, a creature of celebrity shock-and-awe, and as such, depends upon his ability to give his found audience (social and political conservatives) what it expects.  He depends upon the approval of his audience for his fame and fortune now, and he’s not stupid; he knows who’s listening, what they want to hear, and what they’re willing to pay to hear it from someone with his credentials and reputation.  So there’s no point in asking if he believes the homophobic nonsense he spouted.  In fact, there’s no point in asking what he believes, if anything, about anything.  He is and will be what his audience expects him to be.  Envy him for his success or pity him for his captivity, but don’t think of him as more or less than what he is: a well-compensated cipher.  What Niall Ferguson says now has nothing to do with him and everything to do with his audience.

In this case, it seems Ferguson misjudged his audience (investment analysts and managers).  Kostigen reported that the crowd fell silent when the remarks were made–certainly not the reaction a professional rabble-rouser like Ferguson wants.




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