The Glasgow-born academic, who was addressing the tenth annual Aletgris Strategic Investors’ Conference in California, reportedly told the audience it was “only logical” that Keynes would take the “selfish” world view he had because he was an “effete” member of society.
But last night Professor Ferguson told Scotland on Sunday his remarks were “as stupid as they were insensitive”. He said: “The point I had made in my presentation was that, in the long run, our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren 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, or that he had no children because he was gay.
“This was doubly stupid. First, 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. I detest all prejudice, sexual or otherwise.”
Prof Ferguson, the Laurence A Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and author of The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die, made his controversial remarks while responding to question about Keynes’s philosophy of self-interest versus those of Edmund Burke, who believed there was social contract among the living, as well as the deceased.
He then went on to say that Keynes had none because he was homosexual and was married to a ballerina, with whom he probably talked about poetry rather than procreated.
Tom French, of the Equality Network, said: “If Niall Ferguson is seriously suggesting that being gay precludes you from being a good economist, then clearly that kind of homophobic prejudice has no place in the 21st century.”