Sunday, 5 May 2013

Blue Steel

Niall Ferguson’s latest outburst makes for an interesting intellectual experiment; what kind of drivel will do the most damage to a fella’s position as one of the most “influential people in the world”:

Is it (1) making short-term economic forecasts that turn out to be profoundly and fundamentally wrong and in the process convey a deep misunderstanding of the economy?

Or (2) proposing a retrogressive flat tax that would work on the basis of raising indirect taxation i.e. ones that disproportionately hit lower earners, to fund tax cuts on wealth and incomes that would disproportionately benefit the rich?

Mebbe its (3) misrepresenting evidence in the aggressive support of an extreme political agenda?

Or finally (4) using references to someone’s sexual orientation to explain the supposed limitations of their thinking?

Actually, its (5) none of the above.

Professor Ferguson, after all, has good hair, is a charismatic communicator and can rock the blue steel. That his articles frequently read like they're dashed off using pithy prose instead of analysis is by the by; he gives good quote.

Even better, he takes clear, polemical lines making him easy to understand and a useful talking head. So again, he gives good quote.

Then there are all his academic and class based honours; the elite university professorships, the fellowships and so on that reassure us that he is indeed a credible communicator (give or take (1), (3) and (4) above, (2) being open to debate I guess) or why else would he be getting interviewed at Davos?

Because he gives good quote innit; he says what the rich and powerful want to hear and looks cool staring thoughtfully into the distance on that history series you got as a Christmas box set. So while the Keynes outburst leaves him sounding even more like the kind of muttering, mentalist reasonable people cross roads to avoid, Fergusson is too convenient and too useful to have his supposed “credibility” seriously questioned by any commissioning editors anywhere really; they've developed too much of vested interest in him to reflect on what he says let alone rethinking paying him to appear on next week’s show.

One last thing I find funny are the repeated references to Eric Hobsbawm thinking Fergusson was quite the fella as if smearing a dead Marxist’s reputation over right wing Ferguson somehow legitimises the latter. Any Hobsbawm stuff I've read (notably the Jazz Scene and the Fabians reconsidered), always left me thinking he was a ragingly arrogant snob.

A May 9th P.S. and so it begins. Following Professor Fergusson’s unqualified apology about his stupid comment, his open letter on the subject takes a different tack wherein the fool repositions himself as the victim of evil forces; “one of the things I learnt from my stupidity last week is that those who seek to demonize error, rather than forgive it, are among the most insidious enemies of academic freedom.”

Even better, as the post allows comments and with the idiot magnets* cranked up to 11, what follows Professor Stupid’s “wise” words will presumably make his case for him meaning any time he's asked about it in future he can quickly acknowledge his mistake, then spend much more time going on about all the nasty things people said. Bish, bash bosh, job’s a good ‘un, lets move on/back to trotting out the usual mendacious, pro-elite tosh he makes such a good living from.

All feels like something Kerry Katona would do except her mea culpa would be via Hello/a Lorraine Kelly interview. Plus, she’s got a better economic forecasting track record than Professor Stupid.

* © Charlie Brooker

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