Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I found this funny...

Niall Ferguson is author of The Ascent of Money which I reviewed here and is airing on PBS in four 1-hour segments (and is a required text for my Money & Banking class). He also writes a periodic column for the Financial Times. What he wrote a few weeks ago was so bizarre that everyone said "huh?" and some quickly accused him of being a racist. He has responded to his critics by talking to his colleague Henry Louis Gates Jr. --the same Gates who shared a beer at the White House with the cop that arrested him--to find out if his weird remark was indeed offensive.

I reprint Paul Krugman's blog post today because it made me spew my coffee. I am thankful for lively open discussion among such PhDs:

I really had no intention of writing more about Niall Ferguson. Regular readers may recall that he wrote an article in the Financial Times that began,

President Barack Obama reminds me of Felix the Cat. One of the best-loved cartoon characters of the 1920s, Felix was not only black. He was also very, very lucky. And that pretty much sums up the 44th president of the US …

I asked, are there no editors?

But Professor Ferguson demands that I (and James Fallows) print his response:

As you both took exception to my comparison of the President with Felix the Cat, my favorite cartoon character, implying it was racist and recommending I consult Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., I have now done so. He has taken the trouble to consult others in the field of African-American Studies, including our colleague Lawrence D. Bobo, the W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences, and has written to me as follows:

“None of us thought of Felix as black, unlike some of the racially-questionable caricatures Disney used. Felix’s blackness, like Mickey’s and Minnie’s, was like a suit of clothes, not a skin color. … You are safe on this one.”

What can I say? While the Ferguson line was deeply offensive — everyone I know asked, “Did he really write that? Did the FT actually publish it?” — it never occurred to me that it had anything to do with the question of whether Felix the Cat was supposed to be African-American. The mind reels.

For the record, I don’t think that Professor Ferguson is a racist.

I think he’s a poseur.

I’m told that some of his straight historical work is very good. When it comes to economics, however, he hasn’t bothered to understand the basics, relying on snide comments and surface cleverness to convey the impression of wisdom. It’s all style, no comprehension of substance.

And this time he ended up choking on his own snark.

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