Jonah Goldberg on economist Niall Ferguson's recent assertion that John Maynard Keynes' homosexuality may have had something to do with his economic theory:
At an investment conference last week, Harvard historian Niall Ferguson created a huge mess for himself. He glibly speculated that maybe because economist John Maynard Keynes was a childless, “effete” homosexual, he embraced a doctrine that favored immediate economic gratification. Keynes’s bon mot “in the long run, we are all dead” takes on new meaning when you realize he didn’t have kids to worry about.
Following the usual script, but at a much faster clip, an uproar ensued on Twitter and on various blogs. Ferguson quickly offered an apology that rivaled John Cleese’s in A Fish Called Wanda in its abjectness. It was all over before the mob could get their pots of oil to full boil.
Part of Ferguson’s bad luck was to recycle an ancient jibe that many people were too ignorant to know was old hat. Polite people didn’t refer to homosexuality much in public until relatively recently, so the barbs were usually aimed at Keynes’s childlessness. For instance, legendary economist Joseph Schumpeter wrote that Keynes “was childless and his philosophy of life was essentially a short-run philosophy.”
I'm no fan of Keynesian economic theory-- it seems to me to be a short-sighted empowerment of government and elites, and very dangerous in the long run. Milton Friedman makes more sense. But I do believe that it is unwise to put too much stock in the influence of a man's personal life on his professional opinions. Individual people are complex, and often defy cursory analysis.
That said, I believe that it is important to understand that the predilections of large groups of individuals can have a lot to do with social and political policy advocated by those groups. Politically, men are different from women, as a group, and the rich are different from the poor, Christians from atheists, Americans from Saudis, etc.
Homosexuality entails some quite specific consequences. Biases, you might say. Passionate concern for one's own fecundity and biological posterity is not one of them.
Ferguson's points are important to consider, even if they're a bit overdrawn. Thoughtfully reflecting on the large-scale consequences of the biases that homosexuality (and heterosexuality) impose on public policy is perfectly appropriate, and wise, especially if you have tenure.