Niall Ferguson, fully Niall Campbell Douglas Ferguson

Ferguson, fully Niall Campbell Douglas Ferguson

British Historian, Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford

Author Quotes

It?s our generation that is witnessing the end of Western predominance. The average American used to be more than 20 times richer than the average Chinese. Now it?s just five times, and soon it will be 2.5 times.

But there was another story which was not new to me. I?d always understood its importance. This was the story of the German Jews and their predicament. I was gripped by the most important and certainly the most perplexing tragedy of modern history, which was the tragedy of the Jews. The Jews?tremendously successful, not only in economic life, but also in cultural life, the standard-bearers of modernity in the arts and in political innovations of the modern period, and of course the ultimate victims of the backlash against it in the 1930s and ?40s. That really started my interest in German-Jewish history,? he continues. ?And it wasn?t long after finishing my book, Paper and Iron, in which the Warburgs were central figures, that I was asked to look at the Rothschild archives, with a view to writing a substantial work on the history of the Rothschilds. It was an opportunity I seized with both hands, and I spent five years practically living in the Rothschild archives in London, with visits to important stuff in Russia and Frankfurt. By the time I was done, I think I was about as deeply immersed in German-Jewish history as it?s possible for a non-Jew to be; after all, it was ironic that somebody with my background was asked to write this book.

I opted for history after reading War and Peace. "What is the power that moves nations?" I always remember that quote.

It's all very well for us to sit here in the west with our high incomes and cushy lives, and say it's immoral to violate the sovereignty of another state. But if the effect of that is to bring people in that country economic and political freedom, to raise their standard of living, to increase their life expectancy, then don't rule it out.

By 1982 I was a young Thatcherite. The Thatcherite position had a lot in common with the Sex Pistols' position in 1977: it was a rebellion against the stuffy corporatism of the 70s.

I sent off an article making that point, and it came back with a referee?s report from one of the grand old men of German economic history, denouncing the very notion that an historian could ask a what-if question. I thought about this damning report, and I decided that he was wrong, and in a sense Virtual History was born at that moment. My feeling was, and I?m still very committed to the notion, that we need to ask this stuff. We can?t duck these questions. There?s a reluctance among mainstream historians to engage what seems to me a philosophically irrefutable point: that if we?re going to propose anything of a causal nature, we?ve got to make explicit the counterfactual that statement implies. I think it?s almost fraudulent not to make your counterfactual explicit. You?re cheating your readers and your students. If you really do think that, let?s say, the Fed was responsible for the Great Depression, then you have to show how a different monetary policy would have avoided it.

It's great to see countries like China and India lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty by essentially copying Western ways of doing things.

Civilization is partly about restraining the male of the species from engaging in the violence of the hunter-gatherer period. But it doesn't take an awful lot to unleash it. Bridgend on a Saturday night has its temporary inflatable hospitals for the stabbings and glassings.

I think that it is important to be gregarious, and that friendships are not just a leisure pursuit, that they are an integral part of what it is to be human, and one does better work if one has a circle of friends that is active.

It's not surprising so many people end up with credit-card debts. Saving for your retirement and buying a house are difficult things, and we don't educate people about them at all.

Consider this: the US economy created 2.4 million jobs in the three years beginning in June 2009. In the same period, 3.3 million Americans were awarded disabled worker benefits. The percentage of working-age Americans collecting disability insurance has risen from below three percent in 1990 to six percent. Unemployment is being concealed ? and rendered permanent ? in ways all too familiar to Europeans. Able bodied people are classified as disabled and never work again.

I think the rise of quantitative econometrics and a highly mathematical approach to risk management was the obverse of a decline in interest in financial history.

I've become a transatlantic human being - six months here with my family and six months in Harvard. I abuse caffeine on the way out and alcohol on the way in.

Consider? the question of peacekeeping. It has become abundantly clear that the United States is not capable of effective peacekeeping?that is to say, constabulary duties.

I was born quite a pessimistic person. When I'm driving I constantly visualize the person in the other car doing something really stupid and killing me. I keep as safe a distance as I can.

My fundamental tenets are concerned with freedom of the individual; the market isn't perfect, but it's the best available way of allocating resources.

For some economists, the right time to tighten monetary policy is always never. But there are dangers in procrastination. Having blinked once, both the Fed and the PBOC may soon have a credibility problem. The longer they wait, the frothier asset markets become (stocks in the U.S. and big city housing in China are both up around 20% this year). That may perhaps advance recovery through the "portfolio channel"; it also advances inequality by favoring those with the biggest portfolios. And enriching the rich is not the stated policy objective of either the American Democratic Party or the Chinese Communist Party. Meanwhile, the more monetary policy is regarded as "the only game in town," the less pressure there is on politicians to think seriously about either fiscal or structural reforms. Finally, if monetary policy is too loose for too long, history suggests it can increase the probability of a disorderly asset-price crash. It is not hard to imagine such a scenario in a China that has acquired American levels of leverage, plus a bunch of shaky shadow banks. With Europe emerging only slowly from the euro's near-death experience, the rest of the world must watch nervously to see what policy makers in Washington and Beijing decide to do. One thing is already clear from the wobble in global bond markets this summer, which exposed the vulnerability of emerging markets with large current account deficits: If Beijing and Washington try to exit at the same time, the global economy could take a big hit. Coordination and sequencing are therefore essential. These will become all the more vital if China's leaders are in earnest?as is rumored in Beijing ahead of this month's Third Plenum?about liberalizing their financial sector and capital account, steps that can only increase Sino-American economic interdependence. The Chimerican couple need to go to rehab soon?but separately.

I was never a very convincing social conservative, and always avoided associating myself with that part of the broader conservative movement.

My lament and refrain in those distant days was, ?Why does America ignore British history? Why does nobody here talk about 1920, and Britain?s experiences in Baghdad?? Remember what Churchill said: ?At present we are paying eight millions a year for the privilege of sitting on an ungrateful volcano out of which we will in no circumstances get anything worth having.? It was a revelation to me that Americans were so parochial. I must say I came here no doubt with all kinds of illusions, but I was still surprised. I think that what happened is that people said, ?Well, this guy is in favor of empire (which empire they don?t say), so therefore he must be in favor of the war.? What I did say was that the United States should use its power more aggressively to get rid of rogue regimes and failed states, but the notion that that had any role to play in 2003 is absurd.

Had Britain stood aside?even for a matter of weeks?continental Europe could therefore have been transformed into something not wholly unlike the European Union we know today?but without the massive contraction in British overseas power entailed by the fighting of two world wars. Perhaps too the complete collapse of Russia into the horrors of civil war and Bolshevism might have been averted.?And there plainly would not have been that great incursion of American financial and military power into European affairs which effectively marked the end of British financial predominance in the world. Granted, there might still have been Fascism in Europe in the 1920s; but it would have been in France rather than Germany that radical nationalists would have sounded most persuasive.

I would say I'm a 19th-century liberal, possibly even an 18th-century one.

Nineteen percent of the world?s population today ? Westerners ? own two-thirds of its wealth.

History is not politically correct. Many on the left therefore struggle with its findings.

I, the British Empire began as a primarily economic phenomenon, its growth powered by commerce and consumerism. The demand for sugar drew merchants to the Caribbean. British were not the first Empire builders. They were IMERIAL IMMITATORS!

Once I got to Washington in 2003, I realized from the "Beltway" perspective that Iraq was just a shadow on the cave wall. They were amazingly ill-informed about the country itself. I asked someone in the US treasury department about their model for the Iraqi economy after Saddam, and she replied: "Post-Communist Poland." I found it terrifyingly naive.

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Ferguson, fully Niall Campbell Douglas Ferguson
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British Historian, Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford