BOSTON — Prominent Harvard history professor Niall Ferguson apologized Saturday for saying in a public speech that British economist John Maynard Keynes’ policies were too shortsighted because he was gay and did not have children.
“My disagreements with Keynes’ economic philosophy have never had anything to do with his sexual orientation,” Ferguson said in a statement posted on his website. “It is simply false to suggest, as I did, that his approach to economic policy was inspired by any aspect of his personal life.”
Ferguson made the remarks at the Altegris Strategic Investment Conference in Carlsbad, Calif., on Thursday. He was responding to a question about Keynes’ oft-quoted warning against thinking too far ahead while making economic policy: “In the long run we are all dead.”
Ferguson, who is also a Daily Beast contributor, said that children and grandchildren bear such “long-run” burdens of economic policies, which, he argued, Keynes did not understand.
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Keynes, who developed the theory that increasing government deficits stimulate a sluggish economy, is considered one of the most influential economists of the 20th century. His full quote is: “The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead.”
Ferguson’s initial remarks were reported by the website of Financial Advisor magazine and other online publications. Ferguson said he “deeply and unreservedly” apologized for them.
“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,” he said in a statement.
In his apology, Ferguson wrote: “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’ wife, Lydia, miscarried.”
Keynes was a member of the famed Bloomsbury Group, a group of writers, artists and intellectuals remembered as much for their complicated romantic entanglements as for their impact on 20th-century culture. Most of his sexual relationships were with men. However, in 1925 he startled his friends by marrying Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova. The two remained married until his death in 1946.
Ferguson, who was born in Scotland, is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and has written extensively on international history and economic history. He has married twice and has four children.
Harvard spokesman Kevin Galvin declined to comment.
Compiled from The Boston Globe, The Associated Press, The New York Times and staff reports.