It’s in the look they give you down their nose

I’m not a fan of the Atlantic, but this fact check of Niall Ferguson is on the money. My favorite is Ferguson’s complaint that “The country’s largest banks are at least $50 billion short of meeting new capital requirements under the new “Basel III” accords governing bank capital adequacy” even though Basel III has not been enacted in the US yet and $50 billion short is very little in a world where the total assets of US banks runs well into the trillions. Alex Pareene describes it well

Then the Atlantic actually published a complete fact-check of Ferguson’s story, which is not really the sort of thing one respectable middlebrow general interest magazine usually does to another. But Niall Ferguson is so awful, the gloves come off!

Even Politico gets in on the act, critiquing Ferguson’s half-assed defense of himself:

Niall Ferguson, author of this week’s Newsweek cover story calling for Obama’s ousting, has returned fire on Paul Krugman — albeit in a ridiculous, misleading, ethically questionable way that completely misses the mark.

What makes Ferguson respectable? The Oxbridge accent and the fact that in certain corners of academia a few glitzy pseudo-intellectual best-sellers now mean a “prestigious” endowed chair. For shame.

53 replies
  1. 1
    Silver says:

    It’s just the accent. Call it the Andrew Sullivan effect.

  2. 2
    johnny driftless zone says:

    All part of decency’s jigsaw I suppose

  3. 3
    Corner Stone says:

    Alex Parenee describes it well

    I never knew he was French.

  4. 4
    Valdivia says:

    All those books on the Rothschilds. He has been living on the credit of that for a long long time. Like those one hit wonder bands, he is the equivalent in intellectual terms, but much worse since the bands don’t get a permanent spot in the Top 40.

  5. 5
  6. 6
    Leeds man says:

    The Oxbridge accent

    That, it is not. It’s an upper-crust Scottish accent with very little input from Oxbridge.

  7. 7
    JGabriel says:

    DougJ @ Top:

    What makes Ferguson respectable?

    I have no idea. To my mind, Ferguson has been completely discredited for a couple years now. I have no idea why people continue to give him podiums and prime column inches.

    Hopefully Ferguson’s latest salvo will equally discredit him among the mainstream publishers of books and periodicals, but I doubt it.


  8. 8
    DougJ says:

    @Leeds man:

    Whatever, I’m Irish-Catholic. I hate all you protestants.

  9. 9
    Corner Stone says:

    @DougJ: I’ve used that “Thanks!” with the exclamation mark too many times in internal communications to take that lying down, my friend.
    You’re going to pay for this. You’ll pay.

  10. 10
    Jim, Foolish Literalist says:

    I’d say even with it’s recent decline since they gave the keys to that fucking lunatic Michael Kelly, The Atlantic is still far better than Newsweek ever was, at least in my adult lifetime, and NW hasn’t just declined, it’s crapped its pants and is sitting in it. I didn’t read the whole article and I’m certainly not going to, but just from the extracts I’ve read it’s pretty clear that Ferguson has let his blind hatred of Obama overcome whatever intellect and character he has. And I wonder if Tina Brown is actually capable of being embarrassed.

  11. 11
    Mike in NC says:

    He has Romneyesque hair.

  12. 12
    mai naem says:

    The Wikipedia entry on him says he’s a good friend of Andrew Sullivan. If so, Sully ain’t very loyal. I’ve said it before, I can’t stand the Oxbridge accent and the cachet it carries with it. Ugh. They put the accent together with some five dollar words and voila! a permanent pundit spot in some American teevee show and some American print entity.

  13. 13
    Cap'n Magic says:

    Ferguson’s recent Reith Lectures on BBC Wold Service should have thoroughly embarassed Auntie Beeb-sadly, it didn’t. When he pronounced that the opposite of ‘fragile’ as ‘anti-fragile’ and that US citizens should have joined with the Tea Partv (vs. Occupy) it was clear to me that this Ph. D should be ignored at best-and spat upon at worst. The fact that even Sully decided to turn him into tiny Niall-burgers is all one needs to know about this Harvard-tentured Tory Toady.

  14. 14
    Nutella says:

    What makes Ferguson respectable?

    He’s a tall, handsome, credentialed, white man with a British accent who is extremely diligent about pushing Republican/Tory talking points. He is employed by Harvard, Oxford, and Stanford and published by Newsweek, NPR, BBC, etc.

    I’m just amazed that he’s finally getting pushback.

    And to repeat something from a dead thread below:

    Ferguson puts a pseudo-intellectual veneer on bog-standard Republic talking points.

    He’s now peddling swill about the horrors of public debt. We’re mortgaging our children’s future!

    He gave speeches in 2000 where he rather patronizingly explained to us peons how good public debt is and how silly and unserious anyone was who complained about the Bush tax cuts, etc. contributing to the deficit.

    Just like Ryan, he pushed deficits as a great economic strategy when they were Bush deficits and now shrieks about how awful those same deficits are when he can blame them on Obama.

  15. 15
    chris says:

    I just want to mention that I caught the XTC reference, and loved it.

    Don’t he realize this is Respectable Street?

  16. 16
    DougJ says:


    Great song, right?

  17. 17
    clayton says:

    @Corner Stone: Still waiting for your awesome blog!

  18. 18
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Leeds man:

    In the US, anyone with an upper-class British accent is assumed to be Oxbridge.

    Though doesn’t Ferguson hold some kind of chair at Cambridge?

  19. 19
    Anya says:

    Ferguson’s whole argument about the ACA shows that he doesn’t know the difference between deficit and cost. Isn’t that weird for a big shot credentialed professor?

  20. 20
    The Fat Kate Middleton says:

    @Leeds man: Absolutely. Furthermore, he makes me ashamed to be an Oxford alum. At least I didn’t attend Harvard.

  21. 21
    clayton says:

    @Mnemosyne: I’ve found that the Brits have done a good job of selling their accents. If I play some Eastender Banged up Abroad, they all claim to understand him. An American teacher right in front of them? Not so much.

  22. 22
    sfinny says:

    Have questioned Ferguson’s purpose for years based on his articles and books. But the whole Basel III 50 billion shortfall is ridiculous. When Basel III was first discussed, the industry cried foul because they were trillions short. Ever since the banks have been recapitalizing and or failing, so the 50 billion number is actually a great improvement. Not to mention that we still have time to meet the compliance deadlines.

  23. 23
    Pavonis says:


    I get the impression sometimes that in some of the Ivy League circles people like Niall Ferguson live in, the ability to make a clever argument is valued much more than the ability to make a true argument. From Brad DeLong:

    And his only excuse–now, it’s not an excuse for the lie, it’s a “I can lie cleverly” boast–is: “I very deliberately said ‘the insurance coverage provisions of the ACA’, not ‘the ACA'”

    I’ve met some undergrad kids at an Ivy League school who in all earnestness told me we had to get rid of all public education. They had some sophisticated argument about individual responsibility and liberty with references to Locke and whatnot completely forgetting that these are children we’re talking about, children who don’t have jobs or are financially independent. It’s the same attitude, “Look at how clever I am! I can turn shit into gold!”.

  24. 24
    DougJ says:


    Honestly 50 BILLION SHORT. How could he possibly be serious? That’s so close.

  25. 25
    sfinny says:

    @DougJ: Hey when the original estimate was 13 trillion, that looks pretty good.

  26. 26
    DougJ says:


    That’s what I mean. Why bring it up when it’s so close to compliance. It’s like complaining that someone left a 19.99% tip.

  27. 27
    sfinny says:

    @DougJ: OK, sorry about commenting on stuff that should be obvious. :-)

  28. 28
    Cacti says:

    In America, if you have a British accent, people will assume you have something intelligent to say.

    Ditto for wearing glasses and a bowtie. George Will has cashed in on that one for years.

  29. 29
    gelfling545 says:

    I, personally, am looking around for signs of Armageddon. The right wing’s pet historian gets his book pulled from publication and now Ferguson is getting slapped at from all corners of the internet. What has prompted this sudden, though slight, interest in accuracy? Very puzzling.

  30. 30
    DougJ says:


    Not complaining about you, I just can’t believe that Niall would think he was making a legitimate complaint.

  31. 31
    patroclus says:

    Basel III and the 9% rule for bank capital is no more a panacea than Basel I and the 8% rule for bank capital was. The implementation of the Basel Accords, in my view, is better described as a “work in process.” Since 1988, the bank regulators have begun implementing capital rules (which are, of course, not universally applied because of different GAAPs) and are getting better at it, but to say that that constitutes the be all and end all of bank regulation is to misunderstand all of the various regulatory tools, including capital regulation.

    Basel III has already been delayed several times and is currently scheduled for implementation early next year. But first, it needs to be implemented by statute/regulation in all Basel member countries (and in those countries which “subscribe” to Basel) and that process is taking a lot of time and has encountered a LOT of resistance. So, it’s questionable whether it will even be implemented next year. A mere $50 billion, as others have said, is not much of an aggregate shortfall, but the main issue re: Basel is the lack of a level regulatory playing field.

    Frankly, Ferguson doesn’t appear to really know what he is talking about here. The U.S. is certainly part of Basel, but it’s not like Obama can control it or the ability of member banks to raise capital. I think he failed miserably in his search for anti-Obama factoids by bringing Basel into it.

  32. 32


    Whatever, I’m Irish-Catholic.

    In which century did your relatives come to the US?

  33. 33
    mechwarrior online says:

    He’s from Harvard, what the fuck did you expect? Harvard has produced Romney, Bush the lesser, and most of Wall Street. You’d think we’d learn, but we don’t.

  34. 34
    Suzan says:


    I’ve got to comment after that terrific comeback that we’re all surprised.

    By anyone on the national scene who admits the mendacity found there in abundance.

    You’d have thought based on past history that they’d soon be before a firing squad, wouldn’t you?


  35. 35
    mk3872 says:

    @chris: Ditto. Although Generals & Majors is my favorite tune from that LP.

  36. 36
    RadioOne says:

    regarding your comment on the Atlantic, are there any good in print magazines left? My favorite magazine for a long time was Harper’s Weekly, but it was so bad I canceled my subscription a few months after Lewis Lapham retired.

  37. 37
    Corner Stone says:

    @clayton: Still waiting for you to choke to death on the strap on of your 15th client of the 3rd shift at whatever flophouse you’re chained to!

  38. 38
    Brandon says:

    So we can expect the President of Harvard to start publicly musing about his non-academic activities being an “embarrassment” to the institution and publicly question the rigor of his scholarly output any day now? And that will be immediately followed by an editorial in the WSJ titled, Ferguson makes all British/Anglo scholars look bad .

  39. 39
    James E. Powell says:


    He knows the difference. He is lying.

  40. 40
    BethanyAnne says:

    @Cacti: I’ve been watching Top Gear on Netflix for about 3 weeks. It’s fixed that assumption :)

  41. 41
    Right/Left = Impulse/Thoughtfulness says:

    “What makes Ferguson respectable?”

    Niall Ferguson is consistently wrong and that’s a requirement to be of good standing in The Village.

    And because Ferguson is wrong on epic scales it gives him the required Village cred to get a position at Harvard (ahem, thanks, Lawrence) and a cover page editorial in what years ago I considered a relatively respectable conservative weekly.

  42. 42
    Arclite says:

    Niall is a fcking foreigner. That’s why the Atlantic took the gloves off. Everyone loves furiner-bashing.

  43. 43
    jim filyaw says:

    niall ferguson: the rich man’s bryan fischer

  44. 44
    Paul in KY says:

    @DougJ: Bloody Fenian ;-)

  45. 45
    Paul in KY says:

    @Jim, Foolish Literalist: I was sorta happy when that fucking POS Kelly got blown up in Iraq.

  46. 46
    xian says:

    @JGabriel: Newsbeast had to balance its Mitt wimp cover.

  47. 47
    Rafer Janders says:

    Just to touch on something that keeps getting repeated here, there is really no such thing as a “British accent.” It’s like saying “a European accent”.

    There are English accents, Welsh accents and Scottish accents, and within those three national groups there are a further bewildering variety of accents based on class and/or region. To use the phrase “a British accent” implies that Hugh Grant and a Glasgow plumber sound the same, and they really, really don’t.

    (Note: yes, to analogize people do say “an American accent” when even within the US we have various regional accents, but I’d argue that there’s far more similarity in most Ameican speech than there is in speech within Britain).

  48. 48
    AHH onna Droid says:

    @RadioOne: Labor notes? Just kidding, labor publications are generally speaking terrible. The Florida state Fed (aflcio) does great work, but their newsletters SUCK.

    Americans United for the Separation of Church and State does great communications in print and on the web (

  49. 49
    burnspbesq says:

    The final, definitive word on Ferguson belongs to Brad DeLong:

    “Todd Akin has more defenders than this …”

  50. 50
    ThresherK says:

    More props for the XTC title.

    At some point, to my Yankee ears, unless we’re talking Cockney or Wiltshire (like Andy), any British accent just sounds smarter and more refined.

    (Yeah, I know I’m late. That’s what I get for being offline at night.)

  51. 51
    Cap'n Magic says:

    Niall’s just reprising the role of Comicus (at the 0;34 mark).

  52. 52
    Ben Cisco says:

    Do ye nae ken a Scottish accent when ye hear one?

  53. 53
    Rafer Janders says:

    @Ben Cisco:

    If it’s nae a Scottish accent, it’s crap.

    Och aye.

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