Why I Think DeLong Is Wrong About Niall Ferguson’s Motives

Brad DeLong comments on the motivations behind Niall Ferguson’s hacktacular Newsweek piece about Obama:

My impression was that at Ferguson’s level of this–not at mine–there are many, many more groups of people that want you to come speak than you could possibly accept and still get anything done, and so you reject every invitation to travel and speak that comes along unless it (a) advances your broader personal intellectual agenda, or (b) comes with so much money attached that you would feel guilty and like a foolish schmuck for turning it down. Niall’s current feel-guilty-and-like-a-foolish-schmuck level appears to be $50K.

But it is, IMHO, highly, highly unlikely that he is crafting his print message in order to try to raise that level from $50K to $100K.

More important, chopping off 2/3 of a sentence from a CBO report so that you can claim it says something very different than it actually says is not a way to boost your feel-guilty-and-like-a-foolish-schmuck level.

It’s a way to get your peers to shift from saying “he is highly entertaining and has a definite point of view that will wake you up” to “he will tell you some things that just aren’t so: you can use your money better on somebody else”.

Contrary to what Stephen Marche says, this kind of misrepresentation is not a good career move on Ferguson’s part–not even with the shortest-run speaking-fee-maximization definition of “career”…

I disagree. The few people who would both care about the misrepresentation and actually know enough about Ferguson’s dishonesty are not going to be the ones paying to hear him speak. His target audience overlaps significantly with the same group of people who think Thomas Friedman provides important insights into the world around us (I just threw up in my mouth writing that last bit). If they’re aware of this screw up at all, they’ll just think Ferguson’s ‘the guy who took on Krugman.’ Given that his target audience trends neo-con/conservative, they will *like* that. In other words:

1) Write some BS.
2) Pick a fight with a prominent New York Times liberal.
3) $$$!!

It’s just the highbrow version of what Ann Coulter does.

And I have to agree with the other replies: academic biologists aren’t the only ones who sometimes hear the siren call of big money.

Of course, driven to stupidity by ideological blindness and evil aren’t mutually exclusive options….

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2 Responses to Why I Think DeLong Is Wrong About Niall Ferguson’s Motives

  1. kewball says:

    I first stumbled across jackass Ferguson on BBC where he was spouting total idiocy yet BBC had set him up with a recurring gig. Thus it is clear that “…this kind of misrepresentation is not a good career move on Ferguson’s part…” doesn’t apply to BBC. Speaking of highbrow, whose brows are more arched than these?

  2. Pingback: And If You’re Lucky, You Can Get Him to Headline Your Conference For Only $75,000 | Mike the Mad Biologist

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