Buddy, Can You Spare A Dime?
"Tell me, where now are all those great doctors and masters with whom you were well acquainted while they were alive and immersed in learning? Now others fill their places, and I know not whether they ever think of them. In their lifetime they seemed to be someone, and now they are not spoken of" -
Professor Niall Ferguson, the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and self-described 'fully paid-up member of the neo-imperialist gang', is the subject of an interview in the print version of today's 'Sunday Times'. The subject is, of all things, his personal finances.
Asked the question "How much did you earn last year?", he replies,
"I will take the Fifth Amendment on that if I can. It was north of seven figures, but not by much. Suffice to say that in Britain I would be embarrassed that it was so much, and in the US I would be embarrassed that it would be so little".
He is then asked, "What is the most lucrative work you have ever done?".
"It would probably have to be the consulting and advising work I have done for investment banks and hedge funds. In the glory days of 2006, demand for a historical financial perspective was very high and there was a point where it was not impossible for me to get 100,000 US dollars for a one hour speech at some extravagant hedge fund manager conference in an exotic location".
100,000 bucks an hour- good work if you can get it ...
A quick scan of previous posts reveals records of Professor Ferguson having addressed two separate Morgan Stanley investment conferences in 2006; one in Lyford Cay, the other in Cap d' Antibes. One wonders whether the staid chaps at Morgan Stanley would appreciate being described as 'extravagant'. If they were, then, well, when the keynote speaker's getting $100,000 an hour you might as well push the boat out.
I once described Professor Ferguson as 'Scotland's Malcolm Gladwell'; it seems the analogy may have been more than apt.
But it's not 2006 any more, alas. The weekly gig at the 'Sunday Telegraph' seems to have gone by the wayside, and even although there's a new book and TV show out, it may be the case of any port in a storm.
Such as 'The Daily Mail'.
'The Daily Mail's' 'souvenir edition' of November 6 2008 celebrating the election of Barack Obama contained an editorial entitled 'Prejudice crushed by the march of history'. Its author was - you guessed it - Professor Niall Ferguson. Any American readers I might have who are of Irish extraction or who hail from the South might find it well worth reading in full.
In it he writes,
"Not long after this marathon campaign got under way nearly two years ago, I became one of John McCain's foreign policy advisers. At that time, he struck me as ideally suited to the job of president.
With America preoccupied by terrorist threats and foreign wars, he combined first-hand military experience and gritty personal integrity.
If national security had remained the dominant issue in this election year, I might have stayed on board.
But when the facts change, you have to be ready to change your mind; and the facts changed dramatically when the financial crisis that originated last year in the sub-prime mortgage market blew up into a full-scale panic this September and October.
Economics, John McCain was frank enough to admit in an unguarded moment, is not his strong suit. It turned out not to be his party's strong suit either.
Not since the early Seventies - perhaps not since the early Thirties - has the U.S. experienced a financial crisis of this magnitude. It is a crisis that calls for an entirely different set of skills from those John McCain evinced in this campaign.
While McCain was impulsive, his opponent was cool. While McCain was irascible, his opponent was calm.
And while McCain made the single worst decision of his political career - choosing the lightweight Sarah Palin as his running mate - his opponent was collected.
In all three presidential debates, as the public mood shifted from economic anxiety to outright panic, the two candidates diverged. The more edgy McCain became, the more centred Obama became.
In a crisis like this, we need three things from a new president. We need an inaugural address as inspiring as Franklin Roosevelt's in 1933. We need a temperament that doesn't overheat under pressure.
And we need disciplined, focused organisation, to ensure that the new administration does not bungle its first 100 days the way Bill Clinton bungled his in 1993.
In this campaign, which has combined soaring oratory with superhuman sang-froid and faultless management, Obama has shown he has all three qualities. McCain's went missing in action. "
That the pool of talent around the Republican Party is now so small that the Republican candidate for President of the United States should select as an adviser a Glaswegian imperialist whose principal residence is in Oxfordshire speaks much for the tragedies that now beset the GOP; Dutch Reagan would have shown Ferguson the door without a second thought.
But his miraculous conversion to Obama's 'superhuman sang-froid' just at a time when having been connected to the Republican Party could be the crappiest of all possible career moves for a prominent public intellectual brings to mind what is perhaps an ignoble and uncharitable thought - the one articulated by J. M. Barrie, in Act II of 'What Every Woman Knows'.