Being fact-checked is not very fun. Good fact-checkers have a preternatural inclination toward pedantry, and sometimes will address you in a prosecutorial tone. That is their job and the adversarial tone is even more important than the actual facts they correct. In my experience, seeing your name on the cover of a magazine will take you far in the journey toward believing your own bullshit. It is human to do so, and fact-checkers serve as a valuable check to prevent writers from lapsing into the kind of arrogant laziness which breeds plagiarism and the manufacture of facts. The fact-checker (and the copy-editor too actually) is a dam against you embarrassing yourself, or worse, being so arrogant that don’t even realize you’ve embarrassed yourself. Put differently, a culture of fact-checking, of honesty, is as important as the actual fact-checking.

This week, Newsweek came under an onslaught of criticism for publishing a cover story titled “Hit the road, Barack: Why we need a new president.” (See image.) Written by conservative historian Niall Ferguson, a Harvard professor who served as an adviser to the John McCain campaign in 2008, the story is a litany of complaints against Obama, blasting him for his poor economic stewardship, fiscal irresponsibility, broken promises, and foreign policy weakness.

The problem?  The article is riddled with so many errors and misrepresentations that it prompted scores of corrections and complaints from other publications, including a full fact-check from rival magazine, The Atlantic

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Turning Western

In his book Civilization, Harvard professor Niall Ferguson has an interesting chapter on how Japan started adopting Western modes of dress during the late 19th century. One of the first men to wear a coat and tie, interestingly, was Crown Prince Hirohito, who would later lead a war with the Axis powers against Great Britain and other countries. 

Pictured above: Hirohito with the then Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII). Both are pictured in immaculately tailored white ties and tails, which were specially made for them by Henry Poole on Savile Row. Hirohito was originally measured for his clothes while he was on a ship near Gibraltar. The measurements were then cabled back to Poole, so they could have a Western wardrobe ready for him upon his arrival. 

Hirohito presumably liked his clothes. Over the next few years, he put in an enormous number of orders – commissioning dinner suits, lounge suits, military uniforms, morning coats, and embroidered waistcoats. He even bought a three-piece golfing suit, which we hope was made out of the most British cloth of all: tweed. 

Poole actually dressed many heads of state at the time – everyone from the last Emperor of Ethiopia to the last Tsar of Russia. Their most devoted customer, Jitendra Narayan – who was the Maharaja of Cooch Behar – supposedly commissioned over a thousand suits in his lifetime. Ferguson writes: “In every case, the aim was the same: to be as well dressed as the perfect English gentleman – and ‘costumes of the world’ be damned.”

Like the Roman Empire in the early fifth century, Europe has allowed its defenses to crumble. As its wealth has grown, so its military prowess has shrunk, along with its self-belief. It has grown decadent in its shopping malls and sports stadiums. At the same time, it has opened its gates to outsiders who have coveted its wealth without renouncing their ancestral faith.
—  Niall Ferguson
Niall Ferguson: The 6 killer apps of prosperity

Let’s talk about billions. Let’s talk about past and future billions. We know that about 106 billion people have ever lived. And we know that most of them are dead. And we also know that most of them live or lived in Asia. And we also know that most of them were or are very poor – did not live for very long. Let’s talk about billions. Let’s talk about the 195,000 billion dollars of wealth in the world today. We know that most of that wealth was made after the year 1800. And we know that most of it is currently owned by people we might call Westerners: Europeans, North Americans, Australasians. 19 percent of the world’s population today, Westerners own two-thirds of its wealth.

Economic historians call this “The Great Divergence.” And this slide here is the best simplification of the Great Divergence story I can offer you. It’s basically two ratios of per capita GDP, per capita gross domestic product, so average income. One, the red line, is the ratio of British to Indian per capita income. And the blue line is the ratio of American to Chinese. And this chart goes back to 1500. And you can see here that there’s an exponential Great Divergence. They start off pretty close together. In fact, in 1500, the average Chinese was richer than the average North American. When you get to the 1970s, which is where this chart ends, the average Briton is more than 10 times richer than the average Indian. And that’s allowing for differences in the cost of living. It’s based on purchasing power parity. The average American is nearly 20 times richer than the average Chinese by the 1970s.

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Truth in the Age of Niallism

Here are three facts about how the 10-year budget outlook has changed in the past year: 1) the fiscal cliff deal raised $600 billion in new revenue; 2) the sequester, if left in place, cut $1.2 trillion; 3) the CBO revised its projection for federal healthcare spending down by $600 billion.

Harvard historian Niall Ferguson has a counterfactual take. Here’s how he described how our debt trajectory changed the past year:

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%. In this devastating reassessment, a crucial role is played here by the more realistic growth assumptions used this year.”

This isn't a difference of opinion. It’s incorrect. But it’s incorrect for reasons that will escape casual readers.

Read more.

Happy Birthday, Niall Ferguson

He’s 47 today.  The well-known historian and author of, e.g., The Ascent of Money and Empire, is a bit like me in some ways: we’re both Scottish-born (though he prefers to describe himself as British); we’re almost exactly the same age (he’s 5 weeks younger); we live and work in the United States.  On the other hand, he’s posher than me; he’s more conservative than I am (e.g., he’s fallen out with Paul Krugman, whom I like and I generally agree with); he’s published 14 books to my zero (a published monograph is the closest I’ve come).  Oh yes, and he teaches at Harvard while I teach at St. John Fisher College.  If you’re not from Western New York you’ve likely heard of one of these fine institutions. :-)

Here he is on The Colbert Report from a couple of years ago.  Judge for yourself.

  • On Multiculturalism
  • Stuart Hall
  • BBC Radio 4 | Thinking Allowed

Stuart Hall | Interview on multiculturalism 

Thinking Allowed, BBC Radio 4, March 2011

“I’m not surprised that identity has become a political question, but I’m in despair, and also ironic, about the actual forms that takes…I mean St George’s Day, can you imagine? I think those are pretty ridiculous. But, at the same time, globalisation has greatly overplayed the decline of the nation state and national culture. These two things work hand in hand, so the question of, well, ‘what are we attached to?’, especially for a society which has constructed its history to suggest that, you know, these are special people - they came out of the North Sea already tolerant, liberal, open-minded, addicted to freedom etcetera. It’s horrendous distortion of what the national history has been, as our story, which is going on right now. We’re about to teach a version of it that says the only thing is really that we did come out of the sea civilized. I think all of that is not amusing at all. A difficult and dangerous preoccupation, and its a preoccupation that Paul Gilroy called ’[postcolonial] melancholia’ a kind of mourning for a lost object, and its an unrequitable mourning because it’s not going to come back in that form.”


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Niall Ferguson: By 2021 There Could Be A Restored Middle Eastern Caliphate.

Niall Ferguson spoke with The Telegraph about what he believes the world may look like 10-years from now, in 2021.

Key points:

  • China will be the largest economy in the world by 2021
  • No guarantees the euro will still exist
  • The U.S. could europeanize itself, or it could revitalize itself
  • Tiny possibility we get western-style democracies in the Middle East
  • More alarming to think about a “restored caliphate”
  • Germany’s love of European integration under threat
What the Spaniards had failed to understand is that the value of precious metal is not absolute. Money is worth only what someone else is willing to give you for it. An increase in its supply will not make a society richer, though it may enrich the government that monopolizes the production of money. Other things being equal, monetary expansion will merely make prices higher.
—  Niall Ferguson | The Ascent of Money
Watch on

At the 12:30 mark of this interview, Niall Ferguson says we didn’t identify a single error in his Newsweek cover story. You be the judge.

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. It is obvious that people who do not have children also care about future generations.
—  Harvard history professor and author Niall Ferguson • Apologizing for remarks he reportedly made during a conference in Carlsbad, California on Thursday. Ferguson, 49, while discussing famed early-20th century economist John Maynard Keynes, suggested he supported government spending during recessions because he was gay, and had no children, thus caring less for future generations. He’s apologized for that, though in that rather hedging way that so characterizes public figures’ apologies — he also didn’t back away from his central claim, that the influential economist cared little for the long run. source
The linguistic gymnastics this textbook is going through are ridiculous
  1. Livingstone failed completely in establishing a British colony

  2. So he was sad and wanted to reclaim his old fame and glory

  3. So he decided to use popular anti-slavery sentiments to get back into British favor

  4. But no wait he was totes sincerely “galvanized by the sight of human suffering” you guys!

  5. And he was totes not racist you guys!

  6. Except he was sad again because he was “forced” to rely on slavers for supplies.

  7. This is definitely not suspicious. He was definitely not racist. Even though he was a power- and fame-hungry imperialist who had no regard for the ruin he was bringing upon native peoples and cultures, and even though he thought Christianity was far superior to the “superstitious” beliefs of “savages.”

  8. For real though?

  9. Niall Ferguson is an asshole. That is really all you need to know.

  10. Well that and also, surprise, Livingstone was very very racist.

What Are We Blaming On the Gays Today?

Turtle-brained fuckwit Niall Ferguson, an economic historian at Harvard and right-wing mouthpiece, has a novel new take on why Keynesian economic theory is garbage. Since the world recently learned that the destructive austerity policies major countries keep adopting came from two other Harvard professors who couldn’t work an Excel spreadsheet, Ferguson took the stage at a conference and countered with an argument that amounted to: “John Maynard Keynes was a huge fag.

Damn gays! First they ruined marriage for all of us by wanting to get married, and now we find out they want to take out the entire world economy with unrestrained stimulus spending. Is there no end to the gays’ treachery?


Dutiful Servant of Money and Power, Niall Ferguson

There are few people in public life more pompous, moronic, and downright willfully misleading than Niall Ferguson, who made headlines this week for the patently false depiction of the Affordable Care Act in his cover rant in Newsweek (also known as Tina Brown’s A-list party scrapbook). The reaction against his drivel has mercifully been swift and harsh (thanks in large part to Paul Krugman’s speedy fact-check of Ferguson’s reasoning). My favorite prescription was offered by Brad DeLong:

Fire his ass. Fire his ass from Newsweek, and the Daily Beast. Convene a committee at Harvard to examine whether he has the moral character to teach at a university. There is a limit, somewhere. And Ferguson has gone beyond it.

James Fallows also aired his displeasure with Harvard for continuing to employ a dimwit so obviously unqualified to teach undergraduates, let alone supervise MA and PhD theses:

A tenured professor of history at my undergraduate alma mater has written a cover story for Daily Beast/Newsweek that is so careless and unconvincing that I wonder how he will presume to sit in judgment of the next set of student papers he has to grade.

It really is a shame that Ferguson occupies such a high perch in the mainstream of American academia and press. I am young enough to remember public debates among intellectuals of considerable heft in the news dailies and on television. You only have to pick up a copy of one of Ferguson’s books or, better yet, visit the online shrine he’s built for himself to see what a fraud he really is. 

For a pretty excellent distillation of his half-baked, bigoted ideas, see Pankaj Mishra’s review in the LRB.

En 1687, Isaac Newton publicó sus ‘Principia’. Tres años más tarde, su amigo John Locke publicaba su segundo 'Tratado sobre el gobierno civil’. Si algo vino a diferenciar a Occidente de Oriente fue la muy distinta medida que aquel nuevo y profundo conocimiento fue sistemáticamente estudiado y aplicado.
—  Niall Ferguson, “Civilización: Occidente y el resto”
Paris and the fall of Rome, by Niall Ferguson - The Boston Globe
Like the Roman Empire in the early fifth century, Europe has allowed its defenses to crumble.

I do not know enough about the fifth century to be able to quote Romans who described each new act of barbarism as unprecedented, even when it had happened multiple times before; or who issued pious calls for solidarity after the fall of Rome, even when standing together in fact meant falling together; or who issued empty threats of pitiless revenge, even when all they intended to do was to strike a melodramatic pose.

I do know that 21st-century Europe has only itself to blame for the mess it is now in. For surely nowhere in the world has devoted more resources to the study of history than modern Europe. When I went up to Oxford more than 30 years ago, it was taken for granted that in the first term of my first year I would study Gibbon. It did no good. We learned nothing that mattered. Indeed, we learned a lot of nonsense to the effect that nationalism was a bad thing, nation-states worse, and empires the worst things of all.

“Romans before the fall,” wrote Ward-Perkins in his “Fall of Rome,” “were as certain as we are today that their world would continue for ever substantially unchanged. They were wrong. We would be wise not to repeat their complacency.”

Poor, poor Paris. Killed by complacency.