British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne Wiktor Dabkowski/ZumaPress

No Pain, No Gain for Britain?

The economic historian Niall Ferguson blames John Maynard Keynes for Labour’s defeat in the recent UK election. But Labour has been running away from Keynes for years, while the victorious Conservatives’ austerity policy, which Ferguson defends, turns out to have inflicted severe damage on the British economy.

LONDON – The economic historian Niall Ferguson reminds me of the late Oxford historian A.J.P. Taylor. Though Taylor maintained that he tried to tell the truth in his historical writing, he was quite ready to spin the facts for a good cause. Ferguson, too, is a wonderful historian – but equally ready to spin when he shifts into political gear.

Ferguson’s cause is American neo-conservatism, coupled with a relentless aversion to Keynes and Keynesians. His latest defense of fiscal austerity came immediately after the United Kingdom’s recent election, when he wrote in the Financial Times that, “Labour should blame Keynes for their defeat.”

Ferguson’s argument amounts to that of a brutal disciplinarian who claims vindication for his methods by pointing out that the victim is still alive. In pleading on behalf of British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, he points out that the UK economy grew by 2.6% last year (the “best performing of the G-7 economies”), but ignores the damage that Osborne inflicted on the economy en route to this recovery.

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