Being gay and childless led economist John Maynard Keynes to push short-term-oriented economic policy, asserted British commentator Niall Ferguson over the weekend. After a Twitter spasm of ire, Ferguson apologized pretty thoroughly.
For one thing, Keynes and his wife reportedly lost a child to miscarriage. For another thing, Keynes’ “in the long run, we’re all dead,” line doesn’t quite have the “Eat, Drink, and Be Merry, for Tomorrow we Die” sense Ferguson assigned to it (and which I had previously understood it to mean).
While Ferguson was wrong, it’s not wrong to posit a link from a thinker’s sexuality and family values to his or her economics and politics. These things are often intertwined.
Wendell Berry wrote on it very well in his essay, “Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community.” Joseph Schumpeter discussed it well in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy:
In order to realize what all this means for the efficiency of the capitalist engine of production we need only recall that the family and the family home used to be the mainspring of the typically bourgeois kind of profit motive.
Liberal writer Jeet Heer also says the two are intertwined:
What is the connection between Keynes the great lover and Keynes the great economist? To answer it, we have to acknowledge that economics is not a morally neutral science but rather is intimately connected with questions about what we want from life , including the type of sex we want to have.
Yes, sexuality is tied up with economics and politics. Keynes understood this. “Sex Problems are Political, Keynes Holds” — that was the headline after a speech the economist gave.
Keynes argued the “economic problem” could be “solved” if we “control population.”
How sex and economics relate is complex. It’s a good topic to discuss. But, Prof. Ferguson, let’s start by getting our facts straight.