UPDATED: May 4, 2013 at 1:58 p.m.
When Niall Ferguson found himself behind the podium of a recent conference of over 500 financial advisors and investors, he took the opportunity to make remarks that proved insulting to Keynesian economics, gay people, childless adults, and most reasonable bystanders, all in one fell swoop.
According to a report in Financial Advisor, Ferguson explained one of the twentieth century's most influential economic theories as a product of Keynes' sexual orientation and childlessness. Keynes' ideas were not forward thinking, Ferguson allegedly said, because the economist was gay, "effete," and did not care much for traditional heterosexual reproduction. As such, the History professor implied, Keynes was not concerned with the implications of his favored economic policies for future generations. Unsurprisingly, the room reportedly fell silent at the comment. (Our jaws dropped in a similar manner.)
Ferguson's knack for provocative comments frequently lands him in tussles with fellow intellectuals and the media alike. And he's been known to take a "sorry, not sorry" approach to most of these situations.
This time, however, Ferguson recognized his blunder, calling his comments "as stupid as they were insensitive," in an e-mail statement to The Crimson, which he also posted on his personal blog.
Ferguson's full statement is included below:
During a recent question-and-answer session at a conference in California, I made comments about John Maynard Keynes that were as stupid as they were insensitive.
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.