Harvard Professor Apologizes for Anti-Gay Keynes Comments

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
May 4 2013 4:16 PM

Niall Ferguson Apologizes for Anti-Gay Comments Regarding John Maynard Keynes

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Niall Ferguson at the 37th Annual International Emmy Awards on November 23, 2009, where a series he wrote and hosted won for best documentary

Photo by STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images

Famous Harvard history professor Niall Ferguson issued what he characterized as “an unqualified apology” for saying economist John Maynard Keynes didn’t care about the future because he was childless and gay. In a statement posted on his website, Ferguson said his comments “were as stupid as they were insensitive.”

Ferguson was speaking at an investment conference in California on Thursday when he was asked about Keynes' famous observation that “in the long run we are all dead.” Ferguson disagrees with that idea because “in the long run our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are alive, and will have to deal with the consequences of our economic actions,” he said in his statement. But during the presentation, he went further.

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Financial Advisor’s Tom Kostigen paraphrased Ferguson’s reply at the conference:

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. The audience went quiet at the remark. Some attendees later said they found the remarks offensive.

Ferguson then went on to say that “it's only logical that Keynes would take this selfish world view because he was an ‘effete’ member of society,” according to Kostigen’s account.

In his statement, Ferguson said his words were “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.”

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.