Last May, Harvard economic historian Niall Ferguson stepped on a cultural landmine. He joked that sainted liberal economist John Maynard Keynes supported deficit spending because he was gay. Spoken by an “effete” childless homosexual, Keynes’s famous bon mot “In the long run, we are all dead” takes on a special meaning, Ferguson mused. Why not live — and spend — for today?
As I wrote at the time, Ferguson’s mistake was to have missed the fact that the statute of limitations had expired on such observations, never mind that — unfair to Keynes or not — the thought had been utterly mainstream not long before. Conservative intellectual historian Gertrude Himmelfarb and left-wing economic journalist William Greider both speculated similarly. In his 1946 obituary of Keynes, no less than Joseph Schumpeter wrote that Keynes “was childless and his philosophy of life was essentially a short-run philosophy.”