The Shamefulness of Niall Ferguson

08/23/2012 10:09 am ET | Updated Oct 23, 2012

The current Newsweek cover story, "Hit the Road, Barack: Why We Need a New President," is now stirring public attention because of its false allegations, such as its allegation that Obamacare (the "Affordable Care Act" or ACA) will add $1.2 trillion to the federal debt during the next ten years, when the Congressional Budget Office estimated that it will instead subtract $210 billion from the debt during that time.

Ferguson's exact statement there was "The CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation now estimate that the insurance coverage provisions of the ACA will have a net cost of close to $1.2 trillion over the 2012-2022 period," but that was not actually an estimate of ACA's effect upon the federal debt, such as he was pretending. It was purely an estimate of the internal net cost of ACA itself, and ignored the ACA's impact upon other federal expenditures and incomes. In order to update the estimate of the ACA's total effect upon the federal debt, the CBO would have needed to re-calculate (as footnote 4 in the March 2012 "Updated Estimates of the Insurance Coverage Provisions of the Affordable Care Act" put it) "the provisions of the ACA unrelated to insurance coverage, most of which involve ongoing programs or revenue streams, separating the portion of the updated projections for those programs or revenue streams that is attributable to the ACA from the portion that would have existed under prior law," which "is very difficult," and for this reason "that estimate of the overall budgetary impact of the ACA has not been updated." That earlier "estimate of the overall budgetary impact," on its "Table 1," "Net Increase or Decrease in the Deficit," "February 2011 Estimates," covering the ten-year period "2012-2021," which was the latest estimate as of the time that Ferguson was writing, and is still the latest, was/is "-210," meaning a reduction in the federal debt of $210 billion. This was the latest available estimate of the net effect that Obamacare will have upon the federal debt during the ten-year period. It appears on page 2 of "CBO's Analysis of the Major Health Care Legislation Enacted in March 2010," which was dated "March 30, 2011." It might be a bit hard to find, but it's the kind of thing that the author of the cover story in Newsweek is expected to do, and that the editors in such a major "news" medium are expected to check for and verify before publishing, especially for a story emblazoned on such a magazine's front cover. After all: Many voters will largely oppose or support Obamacare on the basis of its projected impact upon the federal debt, so the spreading of such a falsehood before the election is very important, not minor, which is also why this falsehood feeds into the myths that are promoted on the Australian-British-American Rupert Murdoch's Fox News Channel, and elsewhere.

This type of deceit (or else "convenient" ignorance) on the part of the British-now-American Ferguson is nothing new, but publicly pointing such things out about him does nothing to harm his career, because he has always been in service to the international aristocracy, such as to the British and subsequently American patrons of his boss in this instance, Tina Brown, the current Editor-in-Chief of Newsweek and The Daily Beast. A few examples will now be cited regarding this deeper problem.

On 19 June 2006, a lengthy commentary by Johann Hari appeared in Britain's Independent, headlined "The Truth? Our Empire Killed Millions. A Reply to Niall Ferguson." Ferguson was at the time a Cambridge University educated professor teaching at (simultaneously) Harvard, Oxford, and Stanford, and the world's leading apologist for both the British and the American empires. Columnist Hari ripped his work to shreds, specifically citing Ferguson's benign portrayal of Britain's treatment of India during the 1800's. "When I criticised Ferguson for dedicating almost as much space in his revisionist history of Empire to the slaughter of 29 million people as he gives to a description of a statue of the Prince of Wales, ... he responded primarily with personal abuse." Hari described a famine that Britain had brought on to teach the Indian populace they had to work harder. "One colonial administrator, Sir Richard Temple, ... began to conduct experiments to see how little food Indians could survive on, noting coldly in his book when 'strapping fine fellows' were reduced to 'little more than animated skeletons.' ... In the average British labour camp that Temple was ordered to set up, inmates were given fewer daily calories than if they had ended up in Buchenwald eighty years later ... The British ... insisted that the Indian peasants carry on shipping out grain for global markets, and enforced this policy with guns ... This meant, as the serious historian Professor Mike Davis [a history professor at U. Cal., Irvine, and author of the 2001 Late Victorian Holocausts] has noted, 'London was eating India's bread' at the height of a famine. They even stepped up taxes on the starving and insulted them as 'indolent' and 'unused to work.' And that's not all. Lord Lytton ordered that all relief operations would be punishable by imprisonment." Furthermore, though Hari didn't mention it, Winston Churchill continued in the deplorable British colonial tradition. Despite Churchill's greatness in opposing passionately Hitler's anti-Semitism and Hitler's drive to place the whole world under a new Holy German Empire or "Third Reich," Churchill failed to recognize the evils which his own nation's aristocracy, the British aristocracy, were perpetrating upon their colonial subjects. Not only was Churchill evil as regards Mahatma Gandhi (as is well known), but earlier, when president of Britain's Air Council, in 1919, Churchill wrote, "I am strongly in favor of using poisonous gas against uncivilized tribes." Saddam Hussein would have heartily approved. (More of Churchill's bigotry was quoted in Britain's Guardian on 27 November 2002 under the title "The Churchill You Didn't Know.") The public image of Britain's colonial administration is shaped far more by Harvard's professor Ferguson, than by U. Cal. Irvine's professor Davis, or by the actual history.

Dr. Ferguson's imperialistic lust has been exposed in the 19 July 2007 New York Review of Books, under the headline "The Question of Empire: By Niall Ferguson, Reply by William Dalrymple." No one possessed more "credentials" than Ferguson, and no one was less worthy to be considered an "expert" on anything than he. So much for scholarship. Ferguson was here exposed as an ardent 2003 Iraq-invasion supporter ("The proper role of an Imperial America is to establish these [democratic] institutions where they are lacking, if necessary by military force") who in 2007 denied that he ever had been anything of the sort.

Dr. Ferguson didn't think so highly of Churchill's anti-fascism; only Churchill's imperialism appealed to him. Ferguson's 2006 The War of the World: History's Age of Hatred, presented World Wars I & II as not two wars but one single war, fought over issues of race, in which the leaders of Germany, Italy, Japan, and other fascist leaders, were viewed as having been no worse than the leaders of the democratic Allies. That's scholarly "objectivity." A British fascist would naturally tend to think that way: fascists don't like democracies.

Ferguson's inaugural essay as a Newsweek columnist, on 13 February 2011, was emblazoned with a photo of Ferguson on the magazine's front cover and headlined there "Egypt: How Obama Blew It" and was headlined at The Daily Beast, "Niall Ferguson Blasts Obama's Foreign Policy," but was subsequently re-titled "Wanted: A Grand Strategy for America," because the original headlines were too embarrassing to use in the archives, after the disaster that he predicted there failed to come. Ferguson opened by asserting that Obama had no strategic sense, and closed by attacking Obama for having said in 2009, "America and Islam are not [mutually] exclusive and need not be in competition," and Ferguson went on to say, "Those lines will come back to haunt Obama if, as cannot be ruled out, the ultimate beneficiary of his bungling in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood." Ferguson was waving the same bloody shirt that Fox News was: the fear that Obama's having permitted Egypt's dictator Hosni Mubarak to be ousted by the popular revolution that had just occurred in Egypt might produce an Iranian-type theocracy in Egypt (which has not happened). In other words: Ferguson wanted a U.S. military invasion of Egypt, if necessary, to prop up Egypt's dictator; he was calling for something even worse than Obama's policy at the time of supporting both the regime and the anti-regime protesters: an unwavering U.S. commitment to fascist dictators (such as Mubarak), which would have turned the entire Muslim world even more against America than it already was.

In a democracy, people that espouse such views are supposed to be only on the margins, not mainstream and at the top of the major news media. The fact that Ferguson is not marginal is a sobering indication that we ought to question the extent to which this country remains a democracy.

PS: In an earlier commentary, I reported on a similar problem regarding Fareed Zakaria, and predicted "He'll be back soon," but did not expect that his suspension for plagiarism would be less than the thirty days that CNN/Time announced. It turned out to have been for only ten days. On August 20th, The Huffington Post headlined "Fareed Zakaria on Plagiarism Scandal: 'This Has Been a Tough Week'," about that day's puffery article on the already-restored Zakaria in The New York Times, and pointedly closed by noting: "Zakaria strongly denied that any assistant or intern wrote his work, and said that his mistake came from mixing up different notes from different sources. That account does not quite explain how the plagiarized paragraph was so closely aligned with its original source, nor how it was unattributed to the writer, Jill Lepore." Though the article in the New York Times accepted without challenge the statements by Zakaria, and even said that what he had done wasn't really plagiarism at all, it obviously was plagiarism, which wasn't really in question in the case, and the only real question about the plagiarism was whether he did it himself, or whether a "research assistant" (ghostwriter) did it for him. Since Zakaria says that no "research assistant" did it, he necessarily implies that he did it himself. He seems to prefer that the public think that he mistakenly plagiarized (as if that were even possible), than that he uses ghost-writer(s). To judge by his abbreviated suspension, capped by this puff-piece about it in The New York Times, that seems to have turned out to be a wise decision. Like my commentary had said, "Zakaria knows the way the world works." He ought to write a book about it someday, but unfortunately his career would end if he did, so it's unlikely to happen.