Posts Tagged ‘Niall Ferguson’

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Niall Ferguson, Harvard’s incorrectly political ignorant gay-bashing bloviating right-wing infotainment war-crimes-apologist historian, finally gets something right.

In explaining the “fight isn’t going as planned” for Hillary Clinton, Ferguson writes:

Last week, Clinton’s supporters seized on new economic data from the Census Bureau showing that median household income rose by more than 5 percent in real terms last year. Poverty is down. So is the number of Americans without health insurance. So is unemployment.

All this seems like grist to the mill of a campaign that essentially promises continuity. Yet there is a problem. Take another look at those figures for inflation-adjusted median household income. Yes, it was $56,500 last year, up from $53,700 the year before. But back in 1999 it was $57,909. In other words, it’s been a round trip — and a very bumpy one indeed — since Clinton’s husband was in the White House.

Telling Americans that they are nearly back to where they were 17 years ago and then expecting them to be grateful looks like a losing strategy. When two thirds of Americans — and even higher percentage of older white voters — say the country is on the wrong track, they are not (as Democrats claim) in denial about the Obama administration’s achievements. They are saying that the country is on a circular track, and has been since this century began.

Not surprising given his track record, Ferguson gets the rest wrong—arguing, for example, that one kind of stimulus (Trump’s proposed tax cuts for the wealthy) will work while the other kind of stimulus (Clinton’s government expenditures on infrastructure) won’t.

But his major observation about the failure of the Clinton strategy—that “Telling Americans that they are nearly back to where they were 17 years ago and then expecting them to be grateful”—is substantially correct.

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Apparently, the British public [ht: ja] are generally proud of their country’s role in subjecting the world to colonialism and the British Empire, according to a new poll: 44 percent were proud of Britain’s history of colonialism, while only 21 percent regretted that it happened. 23 percent held neither view.

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The same poll also asked about whether the British Empire was a good thing or a bad thing: 43 percent said it was good, while only 19 percent said it was bad. Twenty-five percent responded that it was “neither.”

I suppose the results are not surprising if, in fact, as the author of the article observes, the “British Empire is not widely taught in detail in British schools.” Therefore, British schoolchildren don’t learn about the numerous atrocities committed in creating and maintaining the empire—such as the Boer concentration camps, the Amritsar massacre, the partitioning of India, the Mau Mau uprising, and the famines in India.

What little they and their parents do learn probably comes from the likes of Niall Ferguson, the author of the 2003 book Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World (on which a television series of the same name, starring Ferguson, was based).

Ferguson actually attempts to come up with an answer to the question, was the empire good or bad? And, no surprise, Harvard’s incorrectly political ignorant gay-bashing bloviating right-wing infotainment war-crimes-apologist historian’s answer is the British empire was a good thing:

Many charges can of course be levelled against the British Empire. I do not claim, as Lord Curzon did, that “the British Empire is under Providence the greatest instrument for good that the world has seen”; nor, as General Smuts claimed, that it was “the widest system of organised human freedom which has ever existed in human history”. The Empire was never so altruistic. In the 18th century the British were as zealous in the acquisition and exploitation of slaves as they were subsequently zealous in trying to stamp slavery out; and for much longer they practised a form of racial discrimination and segregation that we today consider abhorrent. When imperial authority was challenged – in India in 1857, in Jamaica in 1831 or 1865, in South Africa in 1899 – the British response was brutal. When famine struck (Ireland in the 1840s, India in the 1870s) their response was negligent, in some measure positively culpable.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that no organisation in history has done more to promote the free movement of goods, capital and labour than the British Empire in the 19th and early 20th centuries. And no organisation has done more to impose Western norms of law, order and governance around the world. For much (though certainly not all) of its history, the British Empire acted as an agency for relatively incorrupt government. Prima facie, there therefore seems a plausible case that empire enhanced global welfare – in other words, was a Good Thing.

I suppose the best one can say is, Ferguson understands the brutality of the empire striking back. But, in the name of “global welfare,” his argument suggests he would join forty-plus percent of the British public and be on the side of the empire striking again.

Niall Ferguson, Harvard’s incorrectly political ignorant gay-bashing bloviating right-wing infotainment historian, has now revealed himself to be an apologist for a man who should have long ago been prosecuted for war crimes.

According to Ferguson, writing in the Wall Street Journal, Henry Kissinger (at least in the first half of his career) was an idealist, who “exalted the role of human freedom, choice and agency in shaping the world.” Moreover, Ferguson concludes, “nearly a half-century later, Henry Kissinger’s idealistic analysis still applies.”

While Ferguson does admit that Kissinger’s career was controversial, and that some (such as Christopher Hitchens) have accused him of “war crimes and crimes against humanity,” he never mentions what those crimes were. So, let’s help him.

Here’s a short list (from Omer Aziz):

  1. Sabotaging U.S. government diplomacy to end the Vietnam War
  2. Pursuing an illegal War in Cambodia
  3. Complicity in Pakistan’s genocide in Bangladesh
  4. Aiding the violent overthrow of Salvador Allende’s government in Chile
  5. Abandoning the Iraqi Kurds
  6. Giving the U.S.’s blessings to Indonesian strongman Suharto’s invasion of East Timor
  7. Doing nothing after learning about plans to overthrow Archbishop Makarios in Cyprus and later Turkey’s planned invasion of the island

That’s the list of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by “idealist” Kissinger for which Ferguson now seems to want to serve as an apologist.

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Niall Ferguson, Harvard’s ignorant gay-bashing bloviating right-wing infotainment historian, has also adopted a novel epistemology.

Ferguson has been complaining about the “smear campaign” adopted by people who have identified his factual mistakes, such as his use of nominal instead of real-wage statistics. He refers to the phenomenon, which “as with political correctness. . .originated in the US, as “correct politicalness.”

As Jonathan Chait [ht: sm] explains,

Perhaps the most enduring contribution of Ferguson’s column will be the novel epistemology it proposes. Ferguson calls his beliefs “irrefutable.” As he puts it, “Almost no one seriously claims that Obama’s second term has been a success. As for the UK economy, the Keynesians’ doom-mongering now looks laughable. All these people have got left is phoney fact-checking: correct politicalness.” Traditional reasoning uses facts to build toward conclusions. Wages rose under austerity, therefore austerity has succeeded; Obama’s health-care plan increases the deficit, therefore Obama has failed. Ferguson is suggesting that we invert the process. Since David Cameron is irrefutably good, and Obama irrefutably bad, Ferguson should be free to make any factual statement on behalf of the former and against the latter without being hounded by “fact-checkers.”

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Is there something that’s been added to the water at Harvard?

I ask because the standards being set by some of Harvard’s most famous professors these days are reaching new lows.

First, we had the spectacle of Larry Summers being forced to remove his name from the list of nominees for chair of the Federal Reserve.

Then, we have Greg Mankiw, who spends his time disseminating whatever views his anti-government Republican-water-carrying friends (such as Martin Feldstein, Casey Mulligan, and John Cochrane) come up with .

Finally, we are witnesses to the embarrassment of Niall Ferguson (here and here) and Ken Rogoff [pdf] playing public gotcha with Paul Krugman.

And people really believe Harvard stands at the pinnacle of the intellectual meritocracy in the United States?

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Niall Ferguson, Harvard’s ignorant gay-bashing bloviating right-wing infotainment historian, continues to reveal his profound scholarly ignorance.

Ferguson continues to display his ignorance because he seizes on the Congressional Budget Office’s latest (September 2013) deficit and debt projections and, while noting the dramatic rise from just one year ago, fails to explain why.

True, the federal deficit has fallen to about 4% of GDP this year from its 10% peak in 2009. The bad news is that, even as discretionary expenditure has been slashed, spending on entitlements has continued to rise—and will rise inexorably in the coming years, driving the deficit back up above 6% by 2038.

A very striking feature of the latest CBO report is how much worse it is than last year’s. A year ago, the CBO’s extended baseline series for the federal debt in public hands projected a figure of 52% of GDP by 2038. That figure has very nearly doubled to 100%. A year ago the debt was supposed to glide down to zero by the 2070s. This year’s long-run projection for 2076 is above 200%.

Leave aside the silliness of taking any forecast to the 2070s seriously, it is still the case (a) that the federal deficit is currently falling and not rising and (b) that this year’s projections are much higher going forward than the CBO projected last year.*

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The question is, why? As it turns out, the CBO does offer an explanation, which it buries on page 103:

The very large change between this year and last year in projected federal debt stems primarily from changes in tax law that have sharply reduced future revenues.

In other words, the CBO has (as it must, by law) incorporated the provisions of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012—which made most of the lower tax rates that had been due to expire at the end of 2012 permanent—and projected them forward.

That’s what Ferguson fails to understand or explain to his readers, which is why he can blithely refer to a “debt explosion” in his version of the War of the Worlds.

*The difference is an extraordinary 48 points, from a forecast of a debt-to-GDP ratio in 2038 of 52 percent last year to a ratio of 100 percent in this year’s projection.

Obama Summers

Barack Obama will name former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, Japan’s Nikkei newspaper reported today.

This is the same Summers who, back in 1997 (when he was the deputy Treasury secretary under Robert Rubin, whom he would succeed as Treasury secretary in 1999), was playing the End Game of financial deregulation with Timothy Geitner and the “Financial Leaders Group.”

And the Summers who, as undersecretary of the Treasury, helped Andrei Shleifer [pdf] obtain grants to “reform” the Russian economy and make investments for personal gain, and who was forced to resign from Harvard’s presidency because of financial conflict of interest questions concerning his relationship with Shleifer.

The Summers who, while president of Harvard, forced Cornel West to leave but hired Harvard’s ignorant gay-bashing bloviating right-wing infotainment historian Niall Ferguson.

And, finally, the same Summers whose consulting position with Citigroup and many other financial institutions would create, if not actual conflicts of financial interest, at least the appearance of such conflicts if he were appointed as head of the Federal Reserve.

Only in America—coming up on the fifth anniversary of Lehman Brothers’ spectacular failure, in the wake of the most severe financial crash since the First Great Depression—would such a nomination be even a possibility.

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According to Ashok RaoHarvard’s ignorant gay-bashing bloviating right-wing infotainment historian got this one very wrong.

But the data actually collected by Michael E. Porter and Jan W. Rivkin (paywall), based on a survey of nearly 10,000 Harvard Business School alumni about their experiences with location decisions involving the United States, are in fact revealing. In contrast to what we hear on a regular basis from corporations and business lobbyists (which I then hear repeated on a regular basis by students and friends), lower taxes are NOT high on the list of reasons for moving offices and plants outside the United States. Instead, the top 5 reasons are lower wage rates (by a wide margin) and then proximity to customers, better access to skilled labor, higher productivity of labor, and faster-growing markets.

Now, corporations will lobby for anything they can get (including lower tax rates) but, in the end, that’s not the main reason they choose to relocate activities from the United States to other countries. The bottom line: the goal, as always, is higher profits.

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Harvard has received quite a battering in recent months.

After the student cheating scandal (and the accompanying investigation scandal), we’ve witnessed the Reinhart-Rogoff error-ridden scandal followed by the Ferguson gay-bashing scandal.

Now, we have the scandal of Jason Richwine’s doctoral dissertation.

All of these scandals involve the production and dissemination of knowledge, and what fascinates me (and a friend with whom I’ve been discussing these issues) is the wide array of arguments that are offered in order to preserve the idea that what happens at Harvard is in fact (to use Louis Althusser’s term) a “knowledge-effect.”*

Consider Zack Beauchamp’s investigation of l’affaire Richwine.

First, of course, Richwine’s dissertation on the genetic intellectual inferiority of immigrants from Latin America must have been legitimate knowledge-work because it was done through the Kennedy School at Harvard and we know that’s a “very serious” place, that has produced “outstanding scholars,” with “kind,” knowledgeable professors (like George Borjas, Richard Zeckhauser, and Christopher “Sandy” Jencks) who, of course, are engaged in their own first-rate knowledge-work.

Second, Richwine successfully went through the “normal” steps for achieving a doctoral degree: courses, comps, prospectus defense, dissertation research, and a dissertation defense. And we all know that each of those steps guarantees that knowledge-work is being done and that, in the end, new knowledge has been created.

Third, Richwine used high-quality (for economists, that is) statistical methods, which are considered impeccable, and therefore the work is unassailable in terms of its economic model. It certainly looks like knowledge, because it is produced by a knowledge-producing machine we call statistics and the econometrician says the work was carefully done and that, in itself, suggests the integrity and validity of the work. And, of course, the statistical techniques and economic model are somehow considered independent of the “other stuff”—the race and IQ connections—such that they stand on their own as criteria of knowledge-production.

So, there we have it, all the pieces that make Richwine’s dissertation resemble of piece of knowledge, to display the appropriate knowledge-effect.

And yet. Richwine is now the Heritage Foundation’s former Senior Policy Analyst in Empirical Studies, because it was politically inconvenient to leave him in his post. But Richwine still has his Ph.D. from Harvard.

While the rest of us are left wondering what it is that constitutes the knowledge-effect that serves as the basis of much contemporary work in the social sciences—which, in the name of “good science,” metes out its rewards and punishments to thousands of scholars whose work is measured according to the scholarly standards set by the Harvards of the world; and which determines the fate of millions of Americans through the public policies suggested by the “best and brightest” whose work is taken as knowledge by think tanks and legislators in Washington.

 

*The knowledge-effect, for those not familiar with the term, was Althusser’s way (e.g., in Reading Capital) of making sense of what Marx called the “mode of appropriation of the world peculiar to knowledge.” Althusser begins with the important distinction between the real-concrete (the real object) and the thought-concrete (the object of knowledge), which is the basis of his critique of all forms of empiricism. He then argues that the criteria for producing knowledge—the knowledge-effect—are internal to the practices of each particular scientific discourse. In this manner, Althusser shifted the terms of discussion, clearly indebted to Foucault’s focus on “epistemes,” from the presumption of an original ground of knowledge (related in one way or another to some real object) to the contemporary mechanisms within specific knowledge practices whereby knowledges are produced and recognized as so many knowledge-effects.

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Niall Ferguson, Harvard’s gay-bashing bloviating right-wing infotainment historian, has also revealed his profound scholarly ignorance.

Ferguson is ignorant because he doesn’t understand that Keynes’s quip, “In the long run we are all dead,” was a critique of the “classical” (including neoclassical) focus on the “long run,” in which all markets have adjusted and full employment is secured. That was and remains the excuse not to do anything to boost employment in the short run. It’s the reason Keynes argued that “The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs.”

Ferguson also displays his scholarly ignorance by failing to mention the fact that the childless, gay Keynes he mocked actually did write an essay about the long run, ironically titled (at least from the perspective of Niall Ferguson) “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren.”

Apparently, Ferguson did apologize for his gay-bashing comments. But he should also issue an apology for his profound ignorance of Keynes’s writings.