Sexualising Keynes: Not just about Niall Ferguson

British historian Niall Ferguson recently made some very stupid claims about Maynard Keynes: that Keynes’ sexuality and childlessness led him to ignore the long-run consequences of deficit spending.

Ferguson, who started off as a historian of finance but who has more recently become something of a celebrity writer and presenter on the purported decline of Western Civ and All That, has apologised and recognised his remarks were dumb as well as offensive.

But there’s something more at play here than Ferguson’s ill judged comments.

Dillon Tatum nails it at Salon:

Austerity, as a policy issue, is increasingly characterized by a sexual politics that aims to depoliticize and legitimate arguments for anti-interventionist economic policies. Not only does this carry with it enormous consequences for the practice of scholarly inquiry, it also makes for a poor science of political economy.

Read the whole thing here.

Update: Another commentary from Michael Roberts.

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12 responses to “Sexualising Keynes: Not just about Niall Ferguson”

  1. Golly Gosh

    The irony is that Ferguson has got in trouble for doing something that is on the front page of the identity politics and cultural studies playbook.

    The unique perspectives and transformational horizons of marginalized identities, anyone 😉

    But more seriously, what matters is whether the neo-Keynesians or the market monetarists or the austerians etc are right or wrong. All else is just a side show. Happily, many macro economists are upfront about saying we just don’t know. Perhaps in part because they are to some extent reduced to making educated guess based on a limited data set, exasperated economists of all persuasions spend a lot of time flinging mud at each other. Ferguson is no Robinson Crusoe.

  2. paul burns

    First, there’s this:

    So far as I understand it, this idea of good government being small government goes way back to Thomas Jefferson, I think. At least, that appears to have been the Jeffersonian ideal. [cf. Gordon S. Wood, Empire of Liberty, and various other works by various authors on the early American Republic.] Apart from the Royal Navy, its probably also applicable to 18C Britain, etc. From what I can work out in the Anglosphere, and that’s all this pop-celebrity historian Ferguson is talking about, Government grew, to meet its increasing responsibilities. Something, in this obnoxious lecture, he seems to have missed entirely. I don’t know about his books, I haven’t yet put time aside to read them though [sighs] I suppose I must some day.
    (If pop-celebrity historian sounds insulting, its meant to be, but its not my invention.)
    I suppose identity politics had to find its way into the current economic debate about austerity v. stimulus eventually. my view of identity politics goes along the lines of “Michelangelo was gay,” to which the response is “So what?”

  3. Sceptic

    Supporters of small government invariably want VERY BIG government when it comes to defense spending and industry welfare.

  4. Terry

    Sorry to do this Mark, but it striking to juxtapose this post to the one before. It seems to be a textbook example of what riles Helen Razer so much: getting very worked up about a statement that a well known public figure made at some otherwise quite obscure boozy after-dinner function somewhere.

    While Ferguson’s remarks are pretty self-evidently daft – for one thing Keynes was bisexual; for another he had expected to become a father but his wife miscarried – it would seem odd to try to completely exclude questions of sexuality from people’s writings. A lot of books about Michel Foucault would have to be pulped, for example. And Raymond Williams certainly thought that the sexual libertarianism of the Bloomsbury Group, of which Keynes was an key part, was important to understanding what they wrote and thought, and Williams was hardly from the Freud-Lacan tradition.

    The piece from Salon was hardly a compelling argument. The author seemed to be saying “As a gay man, I am offended by Ferguson and I am offended by austerity”. To which one can say, “Ok, so …”. The attempt to link Niall Ferguson and Barack Obama was a long bow by anyone’s standards. and if he is offended by politicians bringing examples back to families, he will need to avoid coming to Australia, where Julia Gillard and Wayne swan would be offending him on an almost daily basis.

  5. Joe Blow

    Supporters of small government invariably want VERY BIG government when it comes to defense spending and industry welfare.

    Seeing that most small government types think that the only justification for having government at all is to protect our rights ( real ones – not made up ones ) then it is obvious that a major part of government spending would be on defence and policing. Your bit about corporate welfare is just bs.
    Note: Liberal party supporters are not supporters of small government. Smaller maybe, but not ‘small’

  6. Golly Gosh

    Terry @4:

    “The piece from Salon was hardly a compelling argument.”

    Actually it was a rubbish argument. This is simply embarrassing:

    In the first place, such a language can have stifling effects in the production of scholarly knowledge about political economy.

    Absolute nonsense. Such language is no more stifling than the great anti-austerian Paul Krugman’s almost daily bellicose rants against the Austerians and what he terms the Very Serious People.

    Far from stifling debate, Ferguson’s faux pas has given the enemies of austerity a club to bash them with in the polemical sideshow. But the silly antics of all players that make up the sideshow will have no material impact on economic scholarship.

    ps my comments are now going direct to moderation. Can this problem be fixed thanks or if I’ve done something wrong, pls let me know and I’ll cease commenting on this blog. Thanks folks.

  7. Sceptic

    Joe B. Car industry, steel industry, private health industry subsidies to name a few.

  8. Mark

    I’m not worked up Terry. Just found the Salon argument interesting.

  9. Katz

    Ferguson has already eaten major humble pie over this brainfart.

    The takeaway message is to give no credence to “celebrity historians” until they apologise. In their apologies, “celebrity historians” tend to be indistinguishable from pedestrian historians.

  10. Terry

    Four years of economics in a G8 university and never once did the question of Keynes being gay come up.

    Four years later, in a more cultural studies oriented department, the only thing you needed to know about Keynes was that he was gay. Knowing about the multiplier effect or the paradox of thrift was completely irrelevant.

    An interesting duality to ponder?

  11. Jason Wilson

    Actually, Terry, the insinuations about the relationship between Keynes’s sexuality and his ideas are a venerable tradition on the right, going back at least as far as Schumpeter.

    This is not an idle gaffe, it’s a long-standing meme, and its origins aren’t in cultural studies, but among right wing economists and intellectuals.

  12. alfred venison

    it seems pop historians have learned nothing & forgotten nothing on the road from jewish physics to homosexual economics. -a.v.