No Keynes Please, We’re Straight

May 4, 2013
Posted by Jay Livingston

Hard money, a strong currency, Spartan-like austerity, concern that inflation will weaken the dollar.  It’s not just that the conservative analysis of the crisis has been wrong or that the conservative solutions have been disastrous (even the Austerians in Europe have had second thoughts). It’s not just that the last few years have provided much support for the Keynesian view and little for its opponents.  But until now, I never saw the connection between right-wing economics and right-wing reaction to social issues.

Then Niall Ferguson made it all clear. Never mind that the Keynesians were right and Ferguson and other conservatives wrong in predictions about inflation and interest rates.  Keynes was wrong, says Ferguson. Why? Because Keynes was gay.

According to a report in Financial Advisor,
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.
I think that homophobia as a term is often inaccurate.  Gay bashers don’t fear homosexuality so much just dislike it.  But Ferguson’s ad hominem (ad homo-hominem?) argument is changing my mind. Why else would he bring up poetry and ballet as at all relevant to economic theories?
Ferguson says U.S. laws and institutions have become degenerate.
It’s the classic language of a brittle machismo.

I don’t know if anyone has looked at the linguistics of economics, but I would expect that conservatives turn to this strength-vs-degeneracy language mostly for policies that bring suffering to others – the unemployed and others with little economic or political power.
Throughout his remarks, Ferguson referred to his “friends” in high places.
For policies like bank bailouts that benefit these friends – investors, traders, banksters – these same economists may choose a different set of metaphors.

UPDATE, 8:00 p.m.: Ferguson has posted a sincere “unqualified apology” (here).  Still, the thoughts he expressed and the words he used in the speech were his own.  Maybe he was drunk. He says his remarks were “of the cuff.” Whatever. It’s clear that he was not being thoughtful or careful about what he was saying. But that’s the Freudian point – and you don’t have to be much of a Freudian to see it.  It takes some effort to keep unconscious, unacceptable ideas and impulses in check.  When the conscious, the thoughtful and careful monitor, relaxes or is distracted, those untoward ideas come spilling out like an ugly oil slick. 

UPDATE 2: May 5, 8:30 a.m. Ferguson’s off-the-cuff comments came in response to a question about Keynes’s line that “in the long run, we’re all dead.”  Paul Krugman points out that Ferguson’s response, aside from its other sins, distorts the point Keynes was making when he used it.

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