Sunday, August 19, 2012

Niall, the British Empire is over. Accept it.


I have been known to tease a fellow blogger or two, but there is really only one writer who makes me truly mad, and that is British historian Niall Ferguson. I will explain exactly why he makes me so mad at the end of this post. First, though, I want to say a few words about Mr. Ferguson's cover story in Newsweek magazine, entitled "Hit the Road, Barack". I should note that it imposes a heavy psychic cost for me to do so, since it requires that I actually read Niall Ferguson. But the public duty to expose BS and promote truth and intellectual honesty overrides such selfish concerns.

First, Ferguson alleges that Barack Obama has broken a bunch of his campaign promises:
[T]he question confronting the country...is whether the winner [of the 2008 election] has delivered on his promises. And the sad truth is that he has not.. 
[Obama] promised to “build the roads and bridges, the electric grids, and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.” He promised to “restore science to its rightful place and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost.” And he promised to “transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.” Unfortunately the president’s scorecard on every single one of those bold pledges is pitiful.
First, I'll just quickly note that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act contained substantial funding for infrastructure. So Ferguson, when he says that Obama has not built infrastructure, is simply asserting something that is not true. In the parlance of my generation, he is "spouting BS".

Next, let's examine the hypocrisy of the critique. Paul Ryan, the man about whom Ferguson says many glowing things (almost ignoring Romney), has proposed to cut infrastructure spending fairly dramatically. So Niall Ferguson is criticizing Obama for not promoting infrastructure enough, even as he praises a man who wants to gut infrastructure. Does this make any sense? Only if you accept "Obama must be defeated" as an axiom, which Ferguson does. Otherwise, no.

Next, we come to a pair of enormous, glaring, bald-faced self-contradictions. First, in the following passage, Ferguson derides Obama's stimulus as ineffectual, and lambastes him for increasing the deficit:
By the end of this year, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), [the U.S. federal debt in public hands] will reach 70 percent of GDP. These figures significantly understate the debt problem, however. The ratio that matters is debt to revenue. That number has leapt upward from 165 percent in 2008 to 262 percent this year, according to figures from the International Monetary Fund. Among developed economies, only Ireland and Spain have seen a bigger deterioration. 
Not only did the initial fiscal stimulus fade after the sugar rush of 2009, but the president has done absolutely nothing to close the long-term gap between spending and revenue.
Yet scroll down, and we find Ferguson warning about the upcoming "fiscal cliff":
[B]arring some miracle, the country will hit a fiscal cliff on Jan. 1 as the Bush tax cuts expire and the first of $1.2 trillion of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts are imposed. The CBO estimates the net effect could be a 4 percent reduction in output.
Ferguson is criticizing Obama for allowing the "fiscal cliff" to happen. The fiscal cliff is a series of pre-arranged, automatic spending cuts and tax increases - in other words, things that will reduce the deficit. So Ferguson, who blasted Obama for increasing the deficit, is now blasting him for cutting the deficit.

Additionally, Ferguson warns that this pre-programmed austerity will cause GDP to contract. But if that's true, it must follow that deficits boost GDP - in other words, that stimulus works. I.e., the exact opposite of what Ferguson implies with his "sugar rush" comment and his many previous anti-stimulus writings. But Ferguson either fails to see this implication of his "fiscal cliff" critique, or else sees it and bulls right through it, refusing to sacrifice an Obama-bashing opportunity on the altar of self-consistency.

Backtracking a bit, we find Ferguson criticizing Obama on health care:
His much-vaunted health-care reform will not prevent spending on health programs growing from more than 5 percent of GDP today to almost 10 percent in 2037... the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 did nothing to address the core defects of the system[.]
I'm not sure where Ferguson gets his numbers. But surely he can't have failed to notice the health care cost slowdown that everyone is talking about, can he? Now, maybe Obamacare gets some credit for the cost slowdown and maybe it doesn't, but the slowing trend certainly makes Ferguson's portents of doom seem very three-years-ago.

Ferguson sprays out some more random irrelevant stuff, like the fact that China is going to overtake the U.S. in total GDP. He fails to note how impossible it would be to stop that from occurring; if every Chinese person were to get a job flipping burgers at McDonald's (at the U.S. minimum wage), China's total GDP would be bigger than ours. That's how many Chinese people there are. Ferguson expects Obama to work some magic to let us stay ahead of a country 4.5 times our size?

Then we come to Ferguson's criticism of Obama's foreign policy, which veers into absurdism that would make Monty Python proud:
Obama completely missed the revolutionary wave of Middle Eastern democracy—precisely the wave the neocons had hoped to trigger with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. When revolution broke out—first in Iran, then in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria—the president faced stark alternatives. He could try to catch the wave by lending his support to the youthful revolutionaries and trying to ride it in a direction advantageous to American interests. Or he could do nothing and let the forces of reaction prevail. 
In the case of Iran he did nothing, and the thugs of the Islamic Republic ruthlessly crushed the demonstrations. Ditto Syria. In Libya he was cajoled into intervening. In Egypt he tried to have it both ways, exhorting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to leave, then drawing back and recommending an “orderly transition.” The result was a foreign-policy debacle. 
So first, Ferguson credits Bush's invasion of Iraq with sparking the Arab Spring, and then he criticizes Obama for mishandling said Spring. Ferguson's mind - which I'm sure has an I.Q. above 17! - must be constantly confronting him with the scoreboard: zero new Middle Eastern democracies under Bush, three under Obama (four if Syria's rebellion succeeds), plus substantial democratic reforms in Morocco.

But Ferguson absolutely ties himself in knots with his attempts to turn that scoreboard upside down. Obama was cajoled into intervening in Libya! Egypt was somehow a failure! Let's not mention Tunisia! And let's conveniently forget the fact that Iraq is still not a functioning democracy! Oh, and Obama should have invaded Iran to support the Green Revolution (but drone strikes in Pakistan are illegal)!!!

But the most ludicrous moment in this foreign-policy farce comes when Ferguson says:
Remarkably the president polls relatively strongly on national security.
Oh geez, I wonder why. Maybe it's because, oh, I don't know, Obama killed Osama bin Laden, ended the stupid Iraq War, improved relations with most of our allies, and helped bring about three or more new democracies in the Middle East? Maybe that is why the people like President Barack on national security? Oh, no. Couldn't be. The American people must be fools! Blind, mistaken, misled fools!

...pant, pant...

OK, let me catch my breath...

Anyway, much of the rest of the article is devoted to a hagiography of Paul Ryan, which I will not touch on other than to mention that, surprise of surprises, Ferguson utterly ignores the deficit-ballooning aspects of Ryan's budget plan, repeating the - can I call it a lie? pretty please? - mantra that Ryan is a fiscal conservative and deficit-cutter.

So basically, what we have here is a pedestrian, poorly written, poorly-thought-out, self-contradictory, often counterfactual anti-Obama screed. But it is not enough for me to simply point this out. Instead, I want to examine why Niall Ferguson has thrown away the ancient Western traditions of logic and reason in a frenzy of partisan animus. I submit to you that Ferguson's true motivations are fairly transparent. Witness his ideal of what foreign policy should be:
Meanwhile, the fiscal train wreck has already initiated a process of steep cuts in the defense budget, at a time when it is very far from clear that the world has become a safer place—least of all in the Middle East
For me the president’s greatest failure has been not to think through the implications of...challenges to American power...(emphasis mine)
Niall Ferguson wants the United States to be an empire. An historian, Ferguson has always been enchanted with the British Empire of his forebears. He has also long been enchanted with the notion that the United States can and should become the successor to the British Empire, and that we Americans have been shirking our duty by pretending to be just another live-and-let-live nation-state. He seems to have been especially enchanted by that magic moment in 2003 and 2004, when it seemed that under George W. Bush and the neoconservatives, America was finally taking up the mantle of empire. The failure of the Iraqi adventure, and the collapse of popular support for similar adventures, must have felt to Niall Ferguson like something beautiful was being snatched from his hands.

Now, Ferguson hopes, under a Romney/Ryan (or Ryan/Romney?) presidency, America has a chance at completing the mission that George Bush started, and returning to its path to glory as British Empire II.

But - and this is why he makes me so angry - Niall Ferguson badly misunderstands my country. We are a Republic, not an Empire, and we always will be. We rejected the mantle of Anglo-Saxon world domination in the Philippines, again in Vietnam, and again in Iraq. And we will always reject it. We do not want to go forth and educate and enlighten the brown people at the point of our Tomahawk missiles, Mr. Ferguson. We want to invite them here, to live with us, to work for us and hire us, to marry our children, to become part of this country. Even, yes, to lead this country, as Barack Obama, for all his faults, has done. We do not want to conquer the world. We want to become the world.

The British Empire is over, Niall. It had its day. We can debate eternally how much good it did, but now it is done, and it is not coming back. Stop trying to screw up my Republic in your doomed effort to bring it back.

Update: Also see this excellent James Fallows takedown of Ferguson's atrocious piece.

Update 2: Also see Joe Weisenthal discuss Ferguson's disastrous attempts to analyze and predict the economy.

Update 3: And you really must read Matt O'Brien's epic fact-check of Ferguson's article.

Update 4: Here is a good roundup of Ferguson beatdowns from Joe Coscarelli, which unfortunately doesn't include mine, but does include contributions by Brad DeLong, Paul Krugman, and Matt Yglesias. Also see more from Ezra Klein and Mark Thoma.

Update 5: Niall Ferguson responds, mostly to Matt O'Brien. He does not mention me, nor does he address any of the points I make in this post.

Update 6: Here is Paul Krugman with a thoughtful discourse on Niall Ferguson's wrongness.

Update 7: Here is Dan Drezner with a fact-check of Ferguson's foreign policy claims.

123 comments:

  1. Eric Breitenstein8:32 PM

    A casual reading of these sentences makes it sound like Barack Obama was someone who came from a foreign land to lead the country, although I know that's not what you meant, "We want to invite them here, to live with us, to work for us and hire us, to marry our children, to become part of this country. Even, yes, to lead this country, as Barack Obama, for all his faults, has done."

    I second the sentiment, but please keep quiet about our Kenyan president. Wouldn't want the word to get out! (Joking).

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  2. Anonymous8:32 PM

    What kind of name is Niall anyway.

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    1. Irish. It refers to Niall of the fucking nine douchebag hostages.

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    2. Anonymous5:46 AM

      He is Scottish - Niall is a celtic first name and Ferguson is a very Scottish family name. Ireland has enough douchebags of its own.

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    3. Anonymous6:56 AM

      Did you guys know that he contributed an article to Bloomberg, after the Irish financial meltdown, and invited them to resurrect the Old Empire!

      [If you don't believe me, just go to Bloomberg and see under his name and articles published.]

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  3. Nial Ferguson is a scholar on the level of Bill Kristol and Bernard Lewis. In other words, he's a duplicitous chucklehead.

    http://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n21/pankaj-mishra/watch-this-man

    the book exemplifies a mood, at once swaggering, frustrated, vengeful and despairing, among men of a certain age, class and education on the Upper East Side and the West End.

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  4. Well said!

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  5. I loved the subtitle of the Newsweek piece "why we need a new President". What is this "we?" Isn't Niall British?

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  7. I repeat. Obama gets my vote if he pledges to pitch Tim Baby and replace him with Noah

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  8. Anonymous9:36 PM

    a naive person would criticize the President for not doing x or y things he promised...... 'hello everyone, we are in a world economical crisis' he did it great even with that thing against him.....
    GO OBAMA 2012!!!!!!!

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  9. Anonymous10:48 PM

    Great piece, though Ferguson is an almost embarrassingly easy target. Not sure which U.S. foreign policy you're referring to though. From its early and frequent interventions in its Latin American 'backyard' to its reconstruction of Europe and subsequent interventions across the world (including importantly its threats of intervention...check out a map of the U.S. Military presence worldwide), the U.S. is an empire, just of a different kind. If you don't want to civilize and control the brown people, then what was the School of the Americas and programs to be educate foreign elite at top U.S. universities, for openly ideological reasons? Why has the U.S. openly and consistently supported dictators and meddled in the elections of developing nations? The U.S. is a new kind of empire, an informal empire you could say, that was evolving in Britain but only really took shape in the U.S. You're spot on that Ferguson pines for the old British empire, but his beef with the U.S. isn't really that it's not an empire, but that it's not the empire of his wet private-school boy dreams.

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    1. Yes. I overlooked those important points, but I was going to point out that, while many of us (Mark Twain comes to mind) do reject American world domination and Empire, the main reasons we did that in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Iraq was that we were unwilling to hire enough soldiers to finish the job. Well, in fairness many Army officers during the Philippine Insurrection really were idealists who worked hard to build schools and a working court system, and there were sincere, idealistic men and women in Vietnam and Iraq who really, really tried to help. All three cases were initiated by Very Serious People who believe the rest of us Just Don't Understand How The World Works. Cuba, too. Why do they hate Castro so much? Because he upset their plans, especially for the Mob to run Havana as one big casino for Yankee tourists.

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  10. Noah, if Niall Ferguson was standing right next to you would you punch him in the face?

    Because I would, repeatedly too.

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    1. Anonymous10:25 AM

      I'd rather punch the editors of Newsweek for enabling him.

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    2. I don't believe there are editors at Newsweek, after doing a quick Google search.

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  11. Would you mind clarifying the part about democracies? The part I don't understand is when you said "zero new Middle Eastern democracies under Bush". What constitutes a democracy? I'm thinking of the various democratic revolutions between 1974 and 1990, and when the Iraqis saw successful elections for a prime minister and cabinet in 2006.

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    1. The Iraqis do not represent an emerging democracy, they represent a Shia takeover of a Sunni dictatorship. You know it and I know it. Whether Egypt and Libya do better is yet to be determined. But don't paint Bush as a success because he left a shaky "democracy" in Iraq.

      Also, Niall Ferguson and Newsweek are epic fails of the week.

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    2. Anonymous6:10 PM

      Absolutely. Nothing is more important than making sure Bush is never regarded as a success, even a qualified one.

      Also, we should keep lambasting the pre-Bush realpolitick idea of just dealing with whatever crappy dictator happened to be in power, 'cause the US doesn't deal with dictators. We should assume that the US always had the option of installing likable democracies in Korea, Vietnam, Latin America,etc.

      Oh, we should also pretend, I mean remember, that the Arab Spring is a thing of hope and joy, and that any turbulence on the way to a great democracy is just growing pains/cultural differences whatever. Similar shortcomings in Iraq are Bush's fault.

      On the other hand, if it turns out that the Arab Spring brings too much nastiness and chaos, we must correctly ascribe it to the neocon policies of Bush.

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  12. You do know that Ferguson is an historian, not an economist? He's wrong about lots of things, but it isn't really fair to have a go at him for getting the numbers wrong and failing to understand basic economic concepts.

    I rather think it is not so much the British Empire that Ferguson is mourning, but the stillborn European empire that he had expected to replace it.

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    1. Anonymous1:52 AM

      Being ironic? Ferguson certainly can't be excused on behalf of economic incompetence. Not as long as he likes to explicitly claim the opposite and to publicly intervene with a willfully distorted neoliberal interpretation.

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    2. So it's ok for him to get stuff wrong, because he's writing about a subject he knows nothing about? Wow! Low expectations city.

      BTW: he's a really crappy and dishonest historian.

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    3. If you're writing the cover story for a national newsmagazine, you have an obligation to get numbers and concepts right. Read up on them if you have to.

      And half of the problems that Noah cites aren't issues with economic concepts, they're consistency issues. Cutting the deficit right now is either a good idea or a bad idea - it's not both depending on which makes your argument sound better in this sentence.

      And Newsweek cover or not, Harvard professor or not, there's just some stuff people should be expected to know - like I expect people to know that China has over a billion people living in it, and that population impacts GDP, because those are both really obvious things.

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    4. I think tomorrow I'll sneak into a local operating room, in my best scrubs, commence to perform open heart surgery and finish by putting the heart in backwards. When they come to arrest me I'll greet them with my defense, "It's all good, fellas. No harm could possibly have been done here because, obviously, I am not a surgeon!"

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    5. Anonymous4:03 PM

      He shouldn't pontificate on economic matters if he is not qualified to do so.

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    6. Then why does he use 2008 instead of Bush's last budget, 2009, which took the hit from the recession?

      Because in 2009 when Bush left revenue was $3.6t and debt was still $13t before the stimulus. That's 276% debt to revenue, even with deflation cutting a trillion off the debt, that's higher than Obama's 262% after inheriting this horrible number.

      He's not only bad at economics, he's misusing history, lying about Bush's last budget.

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    7. He's also just completely wrong about history if he thinks we went to Iraq and Afghanistan with the expressed purpose of nation building.

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  13. Niall on the budget reminds of me of Stalin's famous dialectical argument that the state grew stronger as it withered away.
    Iraq as democracy? Real problem is that the Iraqi govt has had limited sovereignty due to de facto American protectorate

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  14. Anonymous12:39 AM

    By his own admission, this Fergusson is nothing but a slick academic turned professional pundit for wealthy Republican politicans in the US(where the money and the power is, remember?). He is nothing but prostituting himself intelectually. He'll be remembered as such. To fall in love so openly with a empty/ hypocritcal figure like Paul Ryan is speaking volumes about his discerning powers. The rest is simply BS. Well said. I hope he's ready to be a good loser. Again.

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  15. "Remarkably the president polls relatively strongly on national security, as if American voters aren't horrified by his passivity in Tunisia."

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    1. Who were we supposed to bomb in Tunisia? Why weren't we supposed to bomb in Libya? Why should we shut down elections in Egypt and enable them in Iran?

      Conservatives don't have the most consistent of positions.

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  16. "We rejected the mantle of Anglo-Saxon world domination in the Philippines, again in Vietnam, and again in Iraq. And we will always reject it."

    Noah, I respect you a lot as an economics blogger, but this claim is massively at odds with the facts.

    America is an Empire. It frequently engages in wars of imperialist aggression. The only difference between the US and the Brits is that the US prefers to create client states run by local strongmen, rather than explicitly taking over and directly ruling conquered countries.

    And what about the fact that large sections of the continental US were forcibly appropriated from Native Americans?

    What about the Mexican-American War? What about the Spanish-American War? What about Iran 1953?

    I'm sure you're aware there are many more examples of the US engaging in coups against democratically elected leaders of other countries, for the explicit purpose of extending US geopolitical interests.

    So what gives?

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    1. I'm not claiming America is saintly, or doesn't want to interfere in the affairs of other countries. I'm just drawing a distinction between empires, which conquer and rule territory, and other nation-states. I think it's a very important distinction; you may not.

      And of course, America was an empire in the days of the Mexican War. But it stabilized its borders eventually and became not-an-empire. The Philippines occupation was certainly imperial, as was the occupation of Japan. But there are no bright, hard distinctions here. In general, America does not like to conquer and rule other countries.

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    2. skeptonomist1:56 PM

      The US has not set out to establish a 19th-century-type empire, but it has controlled many places economically (e.g. South America) and has periodically embarked on chauvinistic spasms of military conquest. These conquests have not been permanent, maybe because they were not profitable. No one really is trying to set up empires like the Victorian one anymore.

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    3. Anonymous9:55 PM

      Hi, Noah.
      As a fellow UM graduate, I'm rooting for you, but everything points to America being an empire in the present. Michael Hudson said that the consistent trade deficit the US runs with the world is really a form of tribute from the provinces.
      Iraq was invaded because Saddam announced he would take alternate (to US) currencies for his oil. Libya, consistent exporter of violence and terrorism, was readily tolerated by the US until it announced the same thing, and then got the same result. The US is not exporting Democracy. It is acting more like the Mafia by trashing countries that refuse to accept our credit card.
      America's empire superseded Britain's because we have lower costs but similar benefits. If a country in the American Empire is sick, we almost never spend a lot of money on making it better by giving it infrastructure or schools, or by making everyone drink tea or take opium. We just move to its neighbor.
      If it walks like a duck and quacks, wishing won't make it a bunny rabbit.
      Other than that, I like your column. Thanks for reading Fergusson so I don't have to.

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    4. Just b/c Michael Hudson said it doesn't mean it's right. There was a good deal of discussion about this when Crooked Timber did its symposium on Graeber's 'Debt'. I think the anti-Hudson position won the argument.

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  17. Alan Goldhammer6:56 AM

    Well done! It's ironic that Ferguson is writing for a periodical that was bailed out by a Democrat (Sidney Harman, though I think the family is no longer providing funding for the magazine). Timely reading for me these days is Gibbon's 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' and Goethe's 'Faust.' If anyone has something light that can lift my weary spirits I would welcome those suggestions.

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    1. Barbara Tuchman's "The First Salute." She's a terrific writer, and this is a little-known story about how the Netherlands was an important agent in the Caribbean, why the British fleet wasn't in position to block the French from landing their troops in Chesapeake Bay, and Washington's epic march of most of the Continental Army from New York to Maryland to besiege Cornwallis in Yorktown. Really interesting, and made me feel good about America for a little while. She throws in a brief description of how the Low Countries various provinces almost defeated themselves in their struggle against the Habsburgs, too. Really interesting.

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  18. Anonymous7:05 AM

    I've commented on his Newsweek article elsewhere, and called him a freak Limey intellectual who lost his marbles (Oxford) and some how got Harvard to give him a job.

    Even FTN/Schieffer gave him precious time on Sun and it was not only disconcerting but outright dishonest! How can such a freak Limey get time on FTN or any other family programme on Sun morning?

    Is it because, like Tina Brown, he's a Limey accent or what?
    Even Charlie Rose gave him time on his prestigious programme, and I was totally disgusted with his self-righteous libertarian nonsense on historical developments on mainland China.

    You're absolutely right Niaal spent all his adult historical energy trying to resurrect Great Bfritannica!

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    1. Anonymous7:08 AM

      spelling: Britannica!

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  19. kharris8:30 AM

    "So Niall Ferguson is criticizing Obama for not promoting infrastructure enough, even as he praises a man who wants to gut infrastructure. Does this make any sense?"

    Yes, it makes sense. Not in a good way, but still... Allow me to play the dastardly Ferguson for a moment - "I observed that Obama promised government would be heavily involved in building infrastructure, then I lied by saying he had not made good. You can rightly call me a liar, but not a hypocrite. I never claimed that Obama SHOULD have involved government more heavily in building infrastructure, merely that he promised to do so. The fact that Ryan promises to cut infrastructure spending will be tested once he runs the country (assuming Romney does what his choice of running mate implies, leaving fiscal policy to Ryan)."

    I make this point because Ferguson is playing a particular game. He is making the tacit claim that the basis for choosing a president is not whether his management is adequate or his policies are more to the electorate's liking than those of his opponent, but rather whether he keeps his promises. This is a common standard for opposition politicians, whichever party may be in opposition, and is also common for the standard low-brow pundit. And there stands Ferguson, brow lowered. In fact, campaign promises can never all be kept, unless they are so vaguely stated as to represent no commitment at all.

    If we take this standard seriously, then a candidate who promises to run up the deficit by cutting taxes on the rich, overturn abortion rights, re-segregate schools and burn gays at the stake would be preferable to any incumbent there ever was, as long as this hypothetical candidate carried out his(her) promises.

    I'd guess Ferguson has applied this silly-ass standard either because he's just phoning it in - why bother with a reasonable argument when all he's doing is kissing his political masters back-sides? - or because he hasn't been able to think up a more pursuasive argument. I can't think of a third reason.

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    1. Anonymous6:19 PM

      Spending on infrastructure is not the same as actual infrastructure. And as a portion of the Stim it was not that great. We do not have a trillion in new roads and harbors.

      Is it really so misguided to judge a candidate at least partly by his faith to his campaign promises? If not, why even ask them what they will do? I understand that they react to events, but what about the post partisan, transparent, globally respected administration has come to pass?

      I see his administration as doggedly partisan, quite willing to lie and obstruct (see V. Jarrett on embassy attacks, or DOJ on Fast and Furious) and earning the contempt of foes and the mistrust of allies.

      I liked the guy in the campaign ads of 2008. I am glad I didn't believe the ads.

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  20. "Spouting BS"?

    You kids have gone soft. In my day it was "lying his ass off".

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    1. Indeed, we have gone soft.

      Delete
  21. "We do not want to go forth and educate and enlighten the brown people at the point of our Tomahawk missiles..."

    Really?? Were vietnam, iraq etc just unfortunate detours? With rare notable exception we do not want to go forth etc etc.

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    1. Really?? Were vietnam, iraq etc just unfortunate detours?

      Yep! Look at the popular opposition to those military misadventures. Our human losses in both conflicts were small by historical measures (and when compared to deaths from crime and auto accidents at home), and in Iraq, miniscule. The cost was nowhere near what the British Empire regularly sustained to fight its imperial wars. And yet popular pressure forced the end of both wars.

      Most Americans simply see very little value in conquering other places. There is a surge of nationalistic aggression at the start of these wars - "Our military can beat up your military!" - but it fades. America is no saint, and is clearly willing to interfere in the affairs of other countries and even kill people in other countries. But it is not an empire.

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    2. "The cost was nowhere near what the British Empire regularly sustained to fight its imperial wars."

      This is not correct.

      British military expenditure hovered around 2 - 3% of GDP for the period between the Napoleonic wars and WWI.

      See here:

      http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk/spending_chart_1800_1910UKp_12c1li011lcn_30t

      The two post-1820 spikes you see on that chart were the Crimean War (1853-1856) and the Second Boer War (1899-1902). Note that these are two major wars in a period of nearly 100 years and thus can hardly be considered "regular", especially compared with the regularity of American "non imperialistic" wars (Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War, Afghanistan, Iraq).

      A similar time series suggests the American "not empire" spends a somewhat greater proportion of GDP on war.

      http://www.google.co.uk/publicdata/explore?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&met_y=ms_mil_xpnd_gd_zs&idim=country:USA&dl=en&hl=en&q=american+military+expenditure

      Unfortunately I can't find a GDP% time series for the US going back to 1945, though I doubt it would average much lower than that of Britain 1820-1910.

      It is truly remarkable how much the US republic spends on maintaining its not-empire.

      "America is no saint, and is clearly willing to interfere in the affairs of other countries and even kill people in other countries. But it is not an empire."

      But surely this is a distinction without a difference? The American political and business elite uses American economic and military power to pursue what it considers to be its interests in a way directly analogous to the behaviour of the ruling elite of the United Kingdom in the nineteenth century. It uses slightly different tactics but in economic and political terms it is very similar.

      Patriotic fervour causes you to deny the simple truth that America is essentially the same as the British Empire was in how it behaves towards the rest of the world. It just uses slightly different tactics, has a slightly different ideology, and doesn't actually call itself an empire.

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    3. Anonymous3:24 PM

      The most important thing to realize is how much of this non-imperial, if you want, but imperialistic nonetheless, expensive violence is sanctioned by Democrats. The idea that Republicans are the party of war and imperialism and Democrats are the party of diplomacy and peace has just never, ever been more than a propaganda-induced daydream. Have any top Dems suggested cutting "defense" spending? Those drone strikes are expensive. Both parties are headed by warmongers and murderers. As for the implication that our current president is friendly to the brown, foreign people, you might note that under the Obama administration we have the highest deportation quota ever. http://blogs.ilw.com/deportationandremoval/2012/08/obamas-deportation-quotas-have-resulted-in-a-multi-billion-dollar-cost-to-the-american-taxpayer.html A nice nod there to private prisons, another institution that would be awesome to pin on Republicans but is really a BFF to both parties.

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    4. A pox on both houses! Ron Paul/Ralph Nader 2012! WOOHOO

      Delete
  22. Just heard off a mate of mine who did a PhD in Manchester (UK) that Niall Ferguson supposedly went bat sh*t crazy if anyone disobeyed the "Do Not Walk On The Grass" signs at Oxford.

    Draw from that what you will.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Anonymous9:52 AM

    Niall Ferg. is the biggest demagogue if I have ever seen one. Sadly he is extremely skillfull in parlaying his sonorous British accent into very effective public campaign on behalf of Paul Ryans of this world. Milton Freedman did it a generation ago. Then Austrains needed a Nobel winning economist to spread the message, today they use a historian - see what wonders British accent can do.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. N. Ferguson isn't quite as skillful as he thinks. Brad DeLong skewers and dissects:

      http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2012/08/more-lies-from-niall-ferguson.html


      Delete
    2. First, it's "Friedman" not "Freedman". Second, Milton Friedman, afaik, did not have a British (or Scottish) accent.

      Delete
  24. Minor quibble: "sugar rush" implies that fiscal stimulus works (thus the rush) but is nonetheless somehow bad for you. So I don't see exactly the self-contradiction you point to on that score.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So Niall says "we shouldn't do more stimulus because its effect is too short-lived, but we should keep deficit spending where it is, lest growth should falter"? Makes no sense, unless you think that growth right now is perfect, which he's already said he does not think.

      Delete
    2. It certainly makes no sense.

      Delete
  25. John D.10:35 AM

    Of course good ol' liberal PBS gave this RW ditz a platform to spew his BS about "civilization."

    ReplyDelete
  26. Almost right. Ferguson is certain the US already IS the old British Empire and is doomed to decline, for economic reasons that make sense mostly to him. Deeply expert on the old Empire, he long-ago determined that he can be famous and relevant by insisting that this history is repeating itself. It's not possible that the US will avoid the Empire's fate, you see, or that the future might be very different than the past that he knows so well. I appreciate his knowledge of history but ignore any lessons that he draws for today and tomorrow.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Anonymous11:10 AM

    You guys really crack me up. Instead of cogent dialogue that discusses or refutes Ferguson's points you would rather spend time with name calling and putting the author down. That is usually the sign of a weak positon, a weak mind, or both. I don't expect that anyone on this blog is going to spontaneously change parties but seriously....take a stand and defend it instead of trying to tear down the individual...

    I dislike posting as "anonymous" but that is all the system will let me do for the moment. - Capes

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope this critique is not aimed at yours truly...

      Delete
    2. I'm pleased to inform you that documenting that Ferguson's argument is full of untruths does "refute Ferguson's points".

      Delete
    3. Anonymous1:09 PM

      Noah, I don't agree with what you have written but I have no issues with you at all. But I do take exception to the "commenters" on here that prefer to vilify Ferguson rather than discuss the issues serve to only to weaken your case.I don't see the need to shoot the messenger just because of a dislike of what they've said. (I would say that in defense of you as much as him.)But to that end, it makes for a stronger argument to go after the issues instead of the person. Clearly I am not a fan of the President but it is one thing to be "pithy" and another to just lash out at the source of opposing views. I like honest candid conversation with people who disagree with my views and it is really hard to find these days without name calling and an immediate us/them mentality. There is middle ground to be found on both sides.... -Capes

      Delete
    4. Anonymous1:11 PM

      Thanks for the snide sarcasm Rootless. You only prove my point. -Capes

      Delete
    5. Anonymous,

      as someone who does not like the president you could have expressed an opinion on the issue, for example how you feel about Ferguson's misstatement of facts or his view of America's role in the world. Yet you chose to criticize the commenters for not commenting on the issue and instead attacking Ferguson. Hardly a good way to make your point.

      Delete
    6. Anonymous6:04 PM

      CA,
      Your argument is circular. I would love to express an opinion in an environment that is open to discussion and not prone to attack. But to ever have that happen I need to first point out that the environment is not open and is poised to kill the messenger instead of open to that real discussion. So my point...was exactly the point. When like minded people only speak to like minded people they miss half the picture. If all anyone here wants to do is attack Ferguson personally they aren't listening to anything else. Make sense? -Capes

      Delete
    7. I'm sorry, but what is this? Did you not read the post? All the crap Ferguson wrote was refuted. If you disagree, then show your argument. Standing at the sidelines saying how mean the commentators are is not an argument.

      Delete
    8. Richard11:04 PM

      Capes:

      Not really (makes sense). Niall Ferguson is inviting derision (what you call "personal attacks") because if he submitted his article as a paper, it wouldn't earn a "C" in a college Rhetoric class (yet he is a Harvard Prof, who we'd expect much better from). If you put together arguments as poorly as he (and try to mislead and lie, not even in a subtle manner, as he does), then expect to be derided as well. However, if you could actually put together a coherent argument supporting your side using factual data (which you haven't actually tried to do yet), I think you'd find the responses to be more reasonable, even from people who disagree with you.

      Delete
    9. Richard11:09 PM

      In other words, people are not suffering fools gladly (one particular fool, in any case), and I don't think they should, especially since the assumption is that Ferguson isn't an idiot (and thus is not making honest mistakes), so it has to be that he's mendacious and trying to mislead the ignorant/stupid. A practice which people have strong feelings about. For instance, I think it's disgusting.

      Delete
  28. Wonks Anonymous11:32 AM

    Who is this "we"? Most Americans seem to favor more restrictive immigration policy.

    I second the critique that America took a rather imperial stance in the Phillipines. We eventually gave it up, but the U.K also gave up most of its colonies. America is distinct from the British empire in that it mostly exterminated the natives whose lands it claimed (if largely inadvertently through disease).

    It's perfectly fair to criticize Niall for getting economics wrong, since he's an historian rather than economist he shouldn't be going beyond his expertise anyway.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm sorry, a clear majority of Americans think immigration is a good thing.
      http://www.gallup.com/poll/1660/immigration.aspx

      Niall also got the history wrong, as Bush handed off a 276% debt-to-revenue ratio, not a 165% as he presented. He chose the wrong year. That's a historical error, not a math one.

      Delete
  29. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Fergie has always been protean: he plays up his yob roots (see Ascent of Money), then fakes an upper class English accent to put down Americans, tells the Brit press how wonderful the US is and Americans how screwed up they are. And cribs his book titles from after Bronowksi and Clarke (as in “look at the company I’m in”).

    But the giveaway in his B’week piece was that only 3 people turned up when he gave a dinner speech on the economy in Washington. So here's the lesson:

    Never underestimate the wrath of a stood up Scot


    ReplyDelete
  31. Anonymous12:05 PM

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    ReplyDelete
  32. Anonymous1:10 PM

    Niall is clearly a nihilist.

    How else could one explain the bold faced falsehoods.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Anonymous1:24 PM

    I think you're making a bit of a leap in your logic here.

    It's true that Ferguson is a big fan of the British Empire. And it's true that he holds the neoconservative view that the US should export its values (including democracy) to other parts of the world. But there's nothing here to suggest that he'd want the US to become an Empire in the mold of the British Empire. A more interventionist foreign policy =/= Empire.

    There's plenty to criticise Niall Ferguson for by focussing on what he really is saying (indeed, you do it rather well earlier in the piece), rather rather than having to resort to putting words into his mouth.
    (full disclosure: I am British).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous2:26 PM

      to clarify: liberal interventionism =/= empire, in the way that most people understand the term 'empire' - i.e. ruling other countries.

      Delete
  34. Niall: "[B]arring some miracle, the country will hit a fiscal cliff on Jan. 1 as the Bush tax cuts expire and the first of $1.2 trillion of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts are imposed. The CBO estimates the net effect could be a 4 percent reduction in output."

    Noah: "Ferguson is criticizing Obama for allowing the "fiscal cliff" to happen. The fiscal cliff is a series of pre-arranged, automatic spending cuts and tax increases - in other words, things that will reduce the deficit. So Ferguson, who blasted Obama for increasing the deficit, is now blasting him for cutting the deficit."

    Aside from that particular piece of dishonesty, Niall is now taking a Keynesian line on the economy. Which, to be fair, the right does the minute that government spending on their causes is threatened.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Or anyone talks about raising taxes.

      Delete
  35. Anonymous3:53 PM

    Ferguson reminds me of David Irving, another British historian dwelling in a fantasy world.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Anonymous5:10 PM

    "Niall Ferguson badly misunderstands my country. We are a Republic, not an Empire, and we always will be."

    The USA managed to conquer a continent, subsume native peoples, suppress dissident localities, and dominate neighboring states all while rejecting imperialism?!?!

    Why do you think the colonists were so upset at the Quebec Acts that protected indian lands and catholic territories?

    ReplyDelete
  37. i had been posting this all day yesterday on TheDailyBeast.com yesterday...essentially it is past articles the Niall has written that contradict points in this current article...I am glad that people more educated than I have debunked him as well:

    i went back and read Nialls' past articles on TheDailyBeast.com and he has contradicted himself in so many ways on so many levels. here are just a few..(.since this board is so active, i will be posting this several times)

    "The fiscal arithmetic is stark—and it can’t be adequately addressed by spending cuts alone."--july 24, 2011

    "On July 19, a bipartisan “Gang of Six” senators proposed a compromise. But because it involves modest revenue hikes, it has little chance of making it through the antitax gantlet of the House. Even if it does, Americans should be concerned about the game of brinksmanship going on in Washington."--july 24, 2011

    "In any case, it’s manifestly untrue to claim that “Bush’s wars” are the principal cause of our current fiscal malaise. The defense budget last year was 4.7 percent of GDP (higher than at any time under Bush), but the cost of Social Security plus Medicare plus Medicaid was 10.3 percent."

    "It’s not America’s job to intervene in Syria."--June 28, 2012

    "Since the early 1970s, the Middle East has absorbed a disproportionate share of American resources. Particularly since 9/11, it has consumed the time of presidents like no other region of the world. Yet it is far from clear that this state of affairs should continue, for three good reasons." June 28, 2012

    "The very fact that the word 'default' now regularly appears in the same sentence as “United States” illustrates the folly of the House Republicans’ strategy. Who among us knowingly jeopardizes his own credit score? To risk doing so now, even as the economic agonies of Southern Europe illustrate the dangers of losing fiscal credibility, beggars belief."--july 24, 2011

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Please note that according to the USA's constitution we cannot default. Thus, advocates of default are committing treason.

      Delete
  38. Anonymous6:19 PM

    I think Ferguson's article says more about his own panic and desperation to be in with the Republicans than it says about the actual election. Ferguson's still preaching an interventionist neo-conservative view which explains the odd foreign policy tack despite the fact that Romney's pretty much abandoned that line, but it doesn't fit in with the austerity so he has to chuck in a mish-mash of half baked economics as well. Ferguson's looking increasingly out of his depth economically and out of touch politically.

    ReplyDelete
  39. Anonymous7:17 PM

    I have my own problems with Obama. His great failure has been to refuse to even investigate a single banker for fraud. Not even pushing loans on people known to be credit risks who could not possibly pay, insuring those loans with CDS contracts from AIG, and then selling them to rubes is considered wrong - and that's from the SEC Citigroup case still going. The SEC tried to settle that and close the case files, but the judge threw it out.

    What Obama has done is to run the White House as a protection arm for a criminal gang - no more - no less.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You do recognize the tension between saying they haven't even investigated a single banker and then talking about a specific case against bankers that they actually brought?

      There have been investigations. There have been settlements (and from big banks). There have been prosecutions, although not of big banks.

      What you mean is that you think there should have been more of all those things. Maybe you're right.

      Delete
  40. Thank god I'm not the only one who thinks Niall Ferguson is a hack! I've always been leery about criticizing him because he has very reputable credentials, but his political views have always caused me to cringe.

    Then I read his article this morning...became really angry with the man.

    Then I read noahpinion's blog...now my blood-pressure is down.

    Now I am going to smile and visit all those other links.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Isn't this much like your last post on Ohanian, another example of throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks, and another example of how conservatives argue? Decide on your goal and marshal all facts, or even non facts, to support it, because it is not about facts or arguments, but about achieving your goal, and when your goal is imperative, nothing else matters. I can't think of conservatives that don't operate this way.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Anonymous9:06 PM

    I had little knowledge of Ferguson until I watched him with my mouth agape on "Face the Nation" yesterday. He actually claimed Hispanics would vote for Romney because Paul Ryan is Catholic as if immigration was a non-issue not to mention conveniently forgetting that Biden is also a Catholic.

    The kicker though was he said that the abortion issue plays absolutely no role in election politics in this country now. Tell that to Rep. Akin!

    ReplyDelete
  43. As an Anglophile, I actually like the British. I do agree with you that Niall Ferguson's intellectual dishonesty in this instance against President Barack Obama is pretty bad. A vote for Romney and Ryan is a vote for unneeded austerity at a time when austerity would be disastrous.

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  44. Niall on the budget reminds of me of Stalin's famous dialectical argument that the state grew stronger as it withered away.
    US Universities for MS

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  45. I agree with everything you wrote here except that America remains a Republic: it has become an Empire of deceit whether we like that or not: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/08/20-1?print

    ReplyDelete
  46. I've always found Ferguson to be an inspiration. After all, if someone as incompetent, incoherent, and incomprehensibly bad at what he does can become a tenured professor at an Ivy League college then there is hope for lowly grad students everywhere.

    I've also always found Ferguson to be confirmation of my worst nightmares. After all, if someone as incompetent, incoherent, and incomprehensibly bad at what he does can become a tenured professor at an Ivy League college then the academic world is in much worse shape than its critics proclaim.

    Anyways, about a year ago Niall Ferguson did a tv series called "Civilization: Is the West History?" In response a blogger and grad student in history did his own little series, "Is Niall Ferguson History?" which showed why Ferguson is a terrible, terrible historian.

    http://ruinpunk.blogspot.com/2011/03/civilisation-is-niall-ferguson-history.html
    http://ruinpunk.blogspot.com/2011/03/is-niall-ferguson-history-part-two-your.html
    http://ruinpunk.blogspot.com/2011/03/is-niall-ferguson-history-part-three.html
    http://ruinpunk.blogspot.com/2011/03/is-niall-ferguson-history-part-four.html
    http://ruinpunk.blogspot.com/2011/04/is-niall-ferguson-history-part-five-how.html
    http://ruinpunk.blogspot.com/2011/04/is-niall-ferguson-history-part-six-all.html

    ReplyDelete
  47. I would question your idea that the US doesn't want to be/isn't an empire, given its continual history of interventions and disproportionately large military.

    I accept that people like you don't *want* it to be, but to be honest there are plenty of rednecks who do.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fair enough. Yes, I'm engaging in a bit of wishful thinking and idealization. But I think the historical record of the last century generally supports my argument that Americans don't want the country to be an empire.

      Delete
    2. Anonymous11:48 PM

      Now you're shifting the goal posts. Your original post says quite clearly that America (and ask anyone in Latin America if calling yourselves "America" doesn't reflect your imperialist mentality) is a republic, not an empire (as if these are mutually exclusive), not that most Americans don't want to conquer and rule other people. I agree with the latter, but most people don't determine U.S. foreign policy, and there are many historical forms of empire, which is why my earlier post argued the U.S. is a more fully modern, or one could say capitalist, form of empire, where direct rule is not the modal form. This was emerging in Britain, which combined the colonial form of empire (India) with the nascent capitalist form (Latin America).

      Delete
  48. With all due respect Noah, you're making the same errors that Niall made on the area of foreign policy.

    The withdrawal of US forces in Iraq was decided on by President Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, with an agreement that there will be further discussions of having a residual troop presence post-2008. That discussion occurred in President Obama's term, only for Maliki to rebuff the US by saying US troops wouldn't be immune from prosecution from Iraqi courts. It was for this reason that troops left Iraq, and the attacks by conservatives are disingenuous.

    It's also disingenuous of Niall (and other neocons) to suggest that the war in Iraq precipitated the Arab spring. But the Obama administration is being equally absurd in suggesting (via the Press Secretary) that his speech in Cairo was a contribution factor. Many foreign correspondents, Arabists and civilian experts (Richard Engel, Anthony Shadid) have explained that 9/11, the war on terror and especially the war in Iraq may have prolonged these revolutionary uprisings because the dictators convinced many of its citizens that without them, the country would revert to civil war and sectarianism as in Iraq.

    Niall is correct to point out that the Obama administration does not have an over-arching strategy to the Middle East the same way that previous administrations do. Their fumbling on Egypt was embarrassing (Biden saying Mubarak was not a dictator). Anti-American sentiment is at an all-time high (drone warfare, support for Bahraini and Saudi gov'ts, Iran sanctions), and Obama's signature success of killing Osama bin Laden should not be overshadowed by the disastrous counter-insurgency/nation building operation in Afghanistan (1300 American soldiers killed in the last four years; 37 killed in 2012 by Afghan police and soldiers alone!).

    We can both agree that Niall is full of it, but let's stop pretending there are no legitimate arguments to be made against the Obama administration.

    ReplyDelete
  49. Anonymous10:33 PM

    The only explanation I have for the abjectly embarassing blather from Prof. Ferguson is that he is a secret member of the Re-elect Barack Obama campaign

    ReplyDelete
  50. Anonymous5:38 AM

    Great, although as with many other commenters I can't help but wince at the last paragraph.

    But perhaps as a Limey myself, we are extra-sensitive to these earnest declarations of national pride, however much care you take to qualify it in the comments.

    If you take the long view, you can choose to see the western imperial project as a continuous one that incorporates both our shameful past and your less than glorious present - basically it's a parasite that consumed us and then moved on to the bigger and stronger host. Imperialism Mark II of course looks different because Imperialism Mark I has already happened, the world is a different place. Imperialism Mark II is what it looks like when the colonies colonize.

    I agree with you that Ferguson's lying is motivated by a need to celebrate this story while at the same time disguising it from the readers in the US who would instinctively reject it if they saw it for what it was.

    Enjoy the blog
    Cheers
    Greg

    ReplyDelete
  51. Anonymous9:32 AM

    Great post on Ferguson, and also glad to see you're grudgingly coming round to the unavoidable truth that the US is an imperial power. Look at the history of intervention and the globe-spanning network of military bases (the latter documented by Chalmers Johnson in The Sorrows of, er, Empire). As for most Americans not supporting imperial conquest - may well be, but from the outside there's no sign of a serious political movement that supports de-imperialisation, ie closing bases, bringing troops home etc.

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  52. Anonymous9:56 AM

    I'm sure by the American's not being imperialistic, you are referring to modern public opinion, because for most of our history we've been aggressively imperialistic, e.g. westward expansion a la manifest destiny, the Mexican War, the Spanish American War and the conquest of the Phillipeans, Cuba, Pacific military bases, Korea, Cold War puppet dictators, occupying Germany and Japan, etc.

    Ferguson's book Colossus actually argues that the American's who realize we have empires are the ones who disapprove of the fact, while those who bander patriotic denial actually support imperialistic adventures (Iraq, spreading democracy, etc.). I think he actually made a good point there, at least for Bush era American popular opinion. Plenty of (right wing) Americans want (or at least wanted) empire, they just don't see it as empire. His conclusion was in fact that America is an empire and that that could be a good thing, but his... interesting... value judgements aside he does a pretty good job writing about how America is imperialistic. I totally agree that his forays into neo-con politics are laughable, but he's actually pretty good as a pop historian telling the (historical) narrative of empire.

    p.s. love the blog subtitle!

    ReplyDelete
  53. I really don't think it's fair to lay the blame for Niall Ferguson on the British Empire (what's left of it) He left our shores, so he says, because our appreciation for his talents was inadequate

    If the US media and academia are suckers for an English or Scottish accent and a smooth line in patter, whose fault is that?

    ReplyDelete
  54. Anonymous8:01 PM

    It is easy to understand why Fergusson thinks that the US has imperial qualities and ambitions. For some reason Noah takes Vietnam and Iraq as evidence of it lacking such ambitions. I think the rest of the world interprets these events as evidence for the exact opposite.

    Fergusson is a right wing hack; a second rate thinker; but a decent writer. That he is a Professor at Harvard is a reflection of his political usefulness not the quality of his academic research. I feel like Harvard has a fair few of these on the books.

    ReplyDelete
  55. Love your post - Niall Ferguson is a bigot, a fantasist and a liar. His unequivocal pro-Empire stance is sick. I say that as someone from a country where 20% of the population was wiped out by starvation and disease in the 1800s thanks to the British Empire.

    Unfortunately though, there are some Americans who do agree with Niall on his imperialist tendencies - Dick Cheney, John Bolton, Donald Rumsfeld?? All of them believe in using American military might to go out there and take what they need from 'lesser' peoples. It's a different kind of imperialist concept to Niall's wet dream of British jingoism and jolly hockey sticks but it's still an imperialist vision.

    Otherwise though, yes, the average American has no truck with Empire or any mass statist enterprise that chokes off individualism. Even the Tea Party would agree with that.

    And for the person upthread who pointed out the weirdness of him saying 'we' in referring to the elections when he's British and can't vote: yes, in theory he is British. But in his tiny head, he is actually American. He doesn't want to inconvenience himself with applying for citizenship or any of that boring stuff. He just wants to have a bigger global platform for his views so hijacking American politics and masquerading as an expert is an easy way for him to do that.

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  56. Anonymous10:20 AM

    Would love to see you or any of Mother Krugman's little children turn the critical lens on Obama one of these days.

    The fact that you consider yourself critics, and come to the defense of the most powerful man in the world at the slightest drop of criticism from an opposing thinker is pretty weak.

    I like your blog, but it's hard to stomach how in the pocket you are for the Democratic party.

    A real thinker can smash idols...

    ReplyDelete
  57. 90% of all the problems in the world can be traced back to western imperialism. The rise of the US, arguably, broke the cycle of intervention, oppression, and upheaval. Niall Ferguson wants to return to it.

    ReplyDelete
  58. Anonymous5:54 PM

    I'm not sure it's fair to attribute most actions of people and leaders outside the United States to the President of the United States. If Obama "helped bring about three or more new democracies in the Middle East," did he also help bring about the corrupt re-election of Putin and the conviction of Pussy Riot? Did he help bring about Rafael Correa's crackdown on opposition media or Argentina's nationalization of a Spanish oil company? The impeachment of Paraguay's president?

    ReplyDelete
  59. "First, I'll just quickly note that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act contained substantial funding for infrastructure. So Ferguson, when he says that Obama has not built infrastructure, is simply asserting something that is not true. In the parlance of my generation, he is "spouting BS"."

    and in the parlance of my generation: you might want to do some more homework, kid.

    according to your wikipedia link, the arra spent $108 billion on infrastructure. that looks/sounds like a lot to the uneducated eye/ear, but since we need to spend $2.2 trillion on our infrastructure (http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/), ferguson's "Unfortunately the president’s scorecard on every single one of those bold pledges is pitiful" begins to look awfully close to the mark, even if he is an otherwise odious person.

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  60. Anonymous2:58 PM

    "helped bring about three or more new democracies in the Middle East"

    By supporting Hosni Mubarak? By supporting the crackdown on the Bahraini protests?

    ReplyDelete
  61. There seems to be a typical psychosis which is guiding few Brits. They want to be in their past shoe, that is to be identified today as a Super power for their previous position as an Imperial power.
    Now since they are not, so instead of humbly accepting this fact, they have gone desperate to pretend them-selfs as superpower in the eye of the world. And in the process they are running to toe the shoe of those American who have the tendency of flexing their muscle, so that world can perceive them, if not as a super power then at least as a closest ally of The Super Power.They want to be seen on the same podium as American(particularly when it comes to showcasing power to the world). For this purpose they have owned the role 'sycophantic Yes man' to the Americans. This happened with Tony Blair during Iraq war.

    What they have achieved in doing so, a loosened credibility in the eye of the world.Someone who is incapable of coming with an independent thought process but will go to lowest level of sycophancy to the toe line US policy, to get a vicarious happiness from the flexing of the American muscle. They have made them-selfs a laughing stock(read joker) in the eye of the world.

    My advice to British Foreign policy makers to humbly accept the fact that you are not the super power and world will not respect you for simply being the closest cousin of US. Get out of your past. Acquire an independent decision making capability and world will give you respect for both being a super power of the previous world and intelligent good boy of the current world.

    As for the Niall, I heard he want to get rid of his Brit citizenship because he don't find any intellectual depth in Britain. But definitely resorting to mendacity is not a way to gain intellectual depth in America or anywhere in the world.

    ReplyDelete
  62. Anonymous6:37 PM

    Naill is Rothschilds official biographer, or Baron Jacob Rothschilds confidante of the English Crowns Privy Council. The British Empire is still extant, it has just gone underground. The USA military and Israel military are its biggest fighting wing, having outsourced the defense of the Anglo-American reich to the USA taxpayers with an military of only 80k people in it. As the famous French writer and poet Belloc said, every Jew should be regarded as an Agent of the English empire. That is the reason Obama made a beeline right to the Queen of England and disgraced America by bowing to her. A good daily reading of the Daily Telegraph will disabuse any reader of the naive opinion that the British Empire has disappeared, it is just taken a new name , 'The New World Order'. Prince Charles is on the record as calling himself savior of the world.

    ReplyDelete
  63. William Burns8:44 AM

    Oh, for heaven's sake. Ferguson's a fool, but the idea that America isn't an empire is laughable. How many bases do we have around the world? Its true that we're not a territorial Empire in the sense the British Empire was, but that's not what Ferguson's advocating anyway.

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  64. My goodness, I have read so many terribly self-important statements in these comments. I only want to say that I have read a few rebuttals of MR. Ferguson's mysteriously cover-worthy article. I find yours to be informationally equal to any and side splittingly funny. My exact cup of tea...er...coffee.

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  65. Anonymous11:35 AM

    Just following up on the claim that Obama "helped bring about three or more new democracies in the Middle East." Is Obama also responsible for the riots that are now exploding throughout the Middle East, including in some of the alleged new democracies? Just to be clear, I don't think he is, but I also don't think he had much influence over--and certainly should not take credit for--the Arab Spring, whatever that was and whatever the results may turn out to be. Apart from rare direct military actions, US influence in foreign affairs is complicated and difficult to untangle and understand.

    ReplyDelete
  66. Anonymous8:37 PM

    I linked to your blog from a comment in a Glenn Greenwald article, so imagine my shock when I got to this line:

    "....We are a Republic, not an Empire, and we always will be."

    You must be well focused on your studies and not current events, which I suppose you should be, but still, who else besides yourself is included in the 'we' you refer to, because I don't know anyone who doesn't believe the US is an empire - and lots of believe it is becoming a very dangerous, if not (yet) evil, one.

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  67. Anonymous3:25 AM

    Nicely done. I'm British, can't stand the guy. He's a charlatan. How anyone like that can be a professor at Oxford and Harvard is beyond me.

    ReplyDelete
  68. Umm "British" historian Niall Ferguson? I thought when he moved to Harvard he was your problem...

    Do we have to take him back at some stage?

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  69. Anonymous7:10 PM

    its nice how you all give a shit who runs your country when it makes no difference in the end. and i think america are taking up britains mantle of 'worlds shittiest empire' quite spectacularly. our foreign policy is appauling, and we fund puppet governments (not all of which are democracies)around the world to do what we tell them so as best benefit the people living in america, rather than for thier own people. keep the cost of oil down, sell your natural resources at ludicrous cost, privatise public sectors to american conglomerates, blah blah blah. its pretty much what britain did, but the only people at the end of a tomohawk missile are the people running the countries, not the countries themselves. (and we dont advocate opium)

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  70. Anonymous4:03 PM

    Well, Niall seems to have jumped the shark a while ago.

    But he is correct that we already have an empire for all intents and purposes. Listen to Chalmers Johnson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfJNFSYFmZs&feature=player_embedded

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  71. This is awesome, except for the conclusion, where it seems to me that you give the US credit for eschewing imperialism because of its integrity and ideals. It would be more accurate to say that the US has found it more efficient to own countries than to formally rule them.

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