Like Casper the ghost, Niall Ferguson is not only white. He is also very, very adorable.

by Andrew Gelman on May 8, 2013 · 13 comments

in Academia

poof

I don’t want this to be a regular feature but I wanted to briefly comment on Ferguson’s open letter regarding the Keynes-was-a-ballet-and-poetry-loving-poof remarks he made the other day at that conference of financial advisors. (I’m posting this one early in the morning, and lots of new posts are surely coming on more important topics, so I’m burying it as much as possible.)

Ferguson reiterates that his remarks were “stupid.” The question then arises: He’s a smart guy, how did he end up saying such stupid things? Ferguson has a history of saying high-profile stupid things, and they always seem to be when he’s trying to make some sort of political point.

I’m still going with my theory that Ferguson misjudged his audience; he thought they’d appreciate an anti-Keynes remark, maybe he even thought they were the kind of crowd that would enjoy cracks about gay people who like ballet and poetry. No go.

Again, I’m not trying to nail the guy to the cross for this. We all make mistakes; in fact, we all make mistakes, of some sort, repeatedly. It’s just interesting to think about what made him say this stuff in the first place. He’s not any kind of “gay-basher” (in his words), but he still thought this sort of thing would work. So maybe he was trying a bit too hard to please the crowd. He should remember that, however entertaining he is as a speaker, however good he looks on TV, his ultimate qualifications come from his historical research.

Perhaps the case interests me so much because Ferguson, like me, is an academic researcher who likes to speak to popular audiences.

P.S. In case you’re wondering, yes this post has political science content and is appropriate for the Monkey Cage. One topic we cover from time to time is the relation between academic researchers and politics.

P.P.S. More here from Willam Black, including this amazing bit that Ferguson wrote about Paul Krugman:

His inability to debate a question without insulting his opponent suggests some kind of deep insecurity perhaps the result of a childhood trauma.

Black makes another good point:

Ferguson loves counterfactuals, so let’s try this counterfactual. What if Ferguson had made the obvious, stupid claim that people who are childless do not carry about future generations? We know that he despises Keynes and Krugman (in the same talk he archly referred to Krugman as his “arch-enemy”) and that both are childless. Ferguson could have claimed that Keynes and Krugman were indifferent to the lives of future generations because they were childless. How would the audience have reacted to such a claim?

The perhaps 25% of the audience who were childless would have stared at him like he was an idiot who had gone out of his way to insult them. The Americans in the audience would have thought first of themselves if they were childless, then of their relatives and close friends who were childless, then of George Washington, and finally of Jesus. . . .

P.P.P.S. For those who don’t get the title of this post, see here.

{ 13 comments }

Jymn May 8, 2013 at 8:42 am

This post reeks of indecision and academic pointlessness. Gelman tells us Ferguson made a mistake and we all ‘mistakes’ so… So what? Because Fergy and Gelly are both adorable and are permitted, unlike the rest of us, to make repeated mistakes. Or something like that. Gelman tells us Ferguson isn’t stupid but like Gelman, Ferguson says stupid things. At least Niall says stupid things; Gelman writes pointless things. I’d rather have the former.

Andrew Gelman May 8, 2013 at 8:46 am

Jymn:

I think you missed the point of this post. Everyone makes mistakes, not just Ferguson or me. My interest was in exploring why Ferguson said this particular thing which he himself thought was stupid. I suspect he made the original stupid statement as part of a failed attempt to please his crowd by slurring Keynes.

Total May 8, 2013 at 9:13 am

Or, because he’s a homophobe and he thought the audience would like a few gay-bashing jokes. Seems like a simpler explanation.

Andrew Gelman May 8, 2013 at 9:18 am

Total:

I’m guessing he thought his audience would enjoy some Keynes bashing of any sort.

Ronan Fitzgerald May 8, 2013 at 9:22 am

Casper wasn’t necessarily racially white, that’s just the way ghosts manifest themselves. Caspers race was never explictly stated

Andrew Gelman May 8, 2013 at 9:42 am

Ronan:

Indeed. As Niall Ferguson wrote in his essay, Why My Comparing Obama to Felix the Cat Is Not Racist, “Felix the cartoon character was a black cat, not an African-American cat.”

Ronan Fitzgerald May 8, 2013 at 10:30 am

I’m beginning to worry about his upcoming Kissinger bio

Tracy Lightcap May 8, 2013 at 12:15 pm

Oh, God. He isn’t, is he? Are we to be spared nothing?

Ronan Fitzgerald May 8, 2013 at 7:31 pm

He’s been given access to K’s files and blessings by the man himself, apparently.
I hope this isn’t rude (and feel free to push back if it is) but..I’ve had your torture book on my amazon wish list or the past year, and it still hasn’t dropped below 40 euro..when’s the goddamn paperback coming out! (it looks pretty fascinating)

Geoff G May 10, 2013 at 9:53 am

If there’s such a thing as a body spinning in a grave, we can look forward to the day when Christopher Hitchens’ burial site is the largest source of alternative energy in the world. Maybe they can use it to power the Hadron Supercollider.

Wonks Anonymous May 8, 2013 at 2:29 pm

As stated on the Simpsons, Casper is clearly the ghost of Richie Rich.

cajunjoe May 8, 2013 at 10:57 am

“Everyone makes mistakes.” Well that ‘excuse’ can be used by everyone from Judas to Bill Clinton. Rather than it being the exception, we are defined by our mistakes as much as by our more ‘thoughtful’ words and actions. Judging a person by the one, but not the other, is hagiography.

MikeM May 8, 2013 at 10:45 pm

We are defined not by our mistakes but by the way we deal with the mistakes we make.

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