Harvard history professor and author Niall Ferguson said Saturday he was sorry for his "stupid and insensitive" remarks that British economist John Maynard Keynes did not care about future generations because he was childless and gay.
"During a recent question-and-answer session at a conference in California, I made comments about John Maynard Keynes that were as stupid as they were insensitive," Ferguson said Saturday in a statement posted on his website.
The historian offered "an unqualified apology" after his remarks were portrayed by some bloggers and financial reporters as suggesting that Keynes's economic philosophy was influenced by his homosexuality.
Keynes, an influential 20th century economist known for promoting government spending as a way to make up for lagging demand in a down economy, died in 1946.
Financial Advisor's Tom Kostigen paraphrased the Harvard professor's remarks, saying, "John Maynard Keynes' economic philosophy was flawed and he didn't care about future generations because he was gay and didn't have children."
Keynes was open about his affairs with men, and kept separate diaries carrying records of his sexual encounters until 1915.
"I had been asked to comment on Keynes's famous observation 'In the long run we are all dead.' The point I had made in my presentation was that in the long run our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are alive, and will have to deal with the consequences of our economic actions," Ferguson wrote in his apology.
Ferguson said he should not have suggested "in an off-the-cuff response that was not part of my presentation" that Keynes was indifferent to the long run because he had no children, nor that he had no children because he was gay. "This was doubly stupid," he wrote. "First, it is obvious that people who do not have children also care about future generations. Second, I had forgotten that Keynes's wife Lydia miscarried."
Kostigen added that Ferguson had said that Keynes had married a ballerina. "Ferguson asked the audience how many children Keynes had. He explained that Keynes had none because he was a homosexual and was married to a ballerina, with whom he likely talked of 'poetry' rather than procreated." He went on to say that Ferguson had also said "it's only logical that Keynes would take this selfish worldview because he was an 'effete' member of society… Apparently, in Ferguson's world, if you are gay or childless, you cannot care about future generations nor society."
Ferguson said in his apology he was not anti-gay. "My disagreements with Keynes's economic philosophy have never had anything to do with his sexual orientation," the Harvard professor wrote. "It is simply false to suggest, as I did, that his approach to economic policy was inspired by any aspect of his personal life. As those who know me and my work are well aware, I detest all prejudice, sexual or otherwise."
Ferguson concluded by saying that his colleagues – "students, and friends, straight and gay" – have "every right to be disappointed in me, as I am in myself. To them, and to everyone who heard my remarks at the conference or has read them since, I deeply and unreservedly apologize."