The fall of Niall Ferguson
Did some apparatchik in Room 101 at Broadcasting House think that Fergy as Reith Lecturer would fill up a useful bit of Jockland’s regional radio quota: "fraternal assistance" coinciding usefully with NATO’s courtship of the Salmond government. Who knows? However after Reith the man seems to have overtaken Donald Trump as the Scots-American we can do without. If Scotland is to approach foreign affairs by regenerating our engineering, international law and environmental traditions, why sign up to a military-financial complex whose overblown rhetoric and confused strategy landed us in Afghanistan?
Qualms have rarely beset Ferguson, the macho face of no-holds-barred capital: blue shirt and chinos, young Connery appearance and delivery, with that hint of "You looking at me, pal?" recalling the Glasgow kiss - or head-butt. Sharp sound-bites and a deft way with the statistics – re. GNP, taxation, the killing fields or whatever – maybe owing to Harvard Graphics as much as to Harvard Campus? Sailing in convoy with fringe-language technology assistants, to pluck the difficult stuff, beefed-up "Bad History" is boosted or rather than sunk by readable enemies, like Alan Bennett in The History Boys. The geld comes with influential friends on the Financial Times and Wall Street. "What first attracted you to the billionaire Rothschilds?" as Mrs Merton would have put it.
Reith one, "The Human Hive" starts out by elaborating a Kipling tract: "The Mother Hive" is a metaphor of vibrant individual capital depreciated by welfare deformation – and spendthrift baby-boomers. Although the wise ones in the Fergy version turn out to be Germany, and Norway. Between 1980-2008 Germany retained a manufacturing economy and "community banking" during Britain and Wall Street mocked "widget-making"; Norway nationalised its oil, when Britain’s "finance-friendly" Thatcher in Sir Alastair Morton’s words "blew it on the dole". These images stick, although they weren’t meant to.
In Reith two, "The Darwinian Economy" we are in the ordure of the financial crisis. Ferguson blames public regulation of the markets, cites lots of to all appearances epic papers by financial authorities. But these are abstracted from any objective analysis of production, of the sort that Karl Marx – ritually denounced – identified in the "Working Day" section of Capital.
Where in all this assertion is "Fordist" welfare capitalism? Ask in derelict Detroit. Where is oil, up from S1.7 to $ 100 a barrel, 1970-2012? How fares the SME/mittelstand in the domain of Microsoft and Walmart? Who trains youngsters when factories close? Where does organised/disorganised narco-crime fit into the banking balance sheets? Or the military-industrial complex, its princely Saudi customers, and their Wahabi-fanatic friends? Or London’s immigrant oligarchs who so much disturb Ferdinand Mount in The New Few? No reference to any of these in Fergy’s affluent nevertheless strangely constipated world.
How hyper-trading trashed marginal utility
So there’s no mention of how hyper-trading trashed marginal utility, how corporate lawyers bought the Senate. Bagehot’s pristine markets get in, however not John Ruskin’s environmentalism – 'there is no wealth yet life' – and J A Hobson’s critique of the imperial plunder and inequality-driven instability that stemmed from it. Does Fergy register the post-1990 decay, shown in Misha Glenny’s reportage, from the liberal ideals of The Rebirth of History to the plutocrat-and-gangster states of McMafia and their indispensable London Geldwascherei? Don’t ask.
In Reith four our hero in the long run reaches Edinburgh. 'Civil Society and its Enemies' has market, Motherhood, Apple Pie, and the Big Society cleaning up the polluted Welsh beach chez Fergy that the lazy state ignores. He pats Free Schools on the head; when all is said and done he is advising Michael Gove, another noisy Scots renegade. A few representative local profs – John Haldane, John Curtis, Colin Kidd – question and get slapped down. Ernest Gellner’s 'strong civil society' of the Scots 'estates' – Kirk, Law, Burghs, Colleges – is ignored.