Keynesian Economics: The Gay Science?
Niall Ferguson certainly thought so in 1995. Donald Markwell, author of Donald Markwell (2006), "John Maynard Keynes and International Relations: Economic Paths to War and Peace", emails me a copy of Niall Ferguson's 1995 Spectator article, with its claim that Keynes's belief in "the ideas contained in The Economic Consequences of the Peace" "owed as much to his homosexuality as to his Germanophilia…" for "there is no question that the attraction Keynes felt for [Carl Melchior] strongly influenced his judgment…"
But that is not what he says today:
My disagreements with Keynes’s economic philosophy have never had anything to do with his sexual orientation. It is simply false to suggest, as I did, that his approach to economic policy was inspired by any aspect of his personal life.
Niall Ferguson (1995), "'Let Germany Keep Its Nerve…'", The Spectator (April 22):
Keynes's critique of the
19951919 Versailles Treaty was based on anything but dispassionate economic analysis. Few, if any of its readers can have appreciated how far the ideas contained in The Economic Consequences of the Peace… were actually inspired by members of the German peace delegation…. Still fewer knew that their appeal to him owed as much to his homosexuality as to his Germanophilia….
[A] series of meetings with Carl Melchior, one of the German representatives at the armistice and peace negotiations, added a vital emotional development to his position.
Melchior was a partner in the Hamburg bank M.M. Warburg & Co.--'a very small man', as Keynes described him, 'exquisitely clan, very well and neatly dressed, with a high stiff collar…. The line where his hair ended bound his face and forehead in a very sharply defined and rather noble cure. His eyes gleam…, with extraordinary sorrow.'
It is not too much to infer from these emotive phrases some kind of sexual attraction. After all, this was a time in Keynes's life of considerable homosexual activity: a bizarrely meticulous list of sexual encounters from 1915 suggests that he had at least eight male partners in 1911 (including 'lift boy of Vauxhall'), four in 1912, nine in 1913, five in 1914, and seven in 1915….
Granted, there is no evidence that this love was in any physical sense consummated; and it seems highly unlikely from what we know of the straitlaced (albeit unmarried) Melchior that it could have been. The most that happened, according to Keynes, was that they 'pressed hands' after one early tete-a-tete; had a econ demoting a deux in a rather shabby bedroom; and were able on a later occasion to 'lunch together openly, like any other couple.'
Yet there is no question that the attraction Keynes felt for his strongly influenced his judgment….
All this sheds revealing light on Keynes's later views on inflation Those who see Keynesianism as, at root, an inflationary doctrine will not perhaps be surprised; just as those familiar with Bloomsbury will appreciate why Keynes fell so hard for the representative of an enemy power. Only those--like Robert Skidelsky--who seek to rescue his reputation and a monetary theorist may find Keynes's conduct less easy to account for.
Let Germany keep its nerve.pdf
The full Ferguson apology:
An Unqualified Apology: During a recent question-and-answer session at a conference in California, I made comments about John Maynard Keynes that were as stupid as they were insensitive.
I had been asked to comment on Keynes’s famous observation “In the long run we are all dead.” The point I had made in my presentation was that in the long run our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are alive, and will have to deal with the consequences of our economic actions.
But 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. This was 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.
My disagreements with Keynes’s economic philosophy have never had anything to do with his sexual orientation. It is simply false to suggest, as I did, that his approach to economic policy was inspired by any aspect of his personal life. As those who know me and my work are well aware, I detest all prejudice, sexual or otherwise.
My colleagues, students, and friends – straight and gay – have every right to be disappointed in me, as I am in myself. To them, and to everyone who heard my remarks at the conference or has read them since, I deeply and unreservedly apologize.