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Request[AMA Request] A Current White South African Farmer

Mar 1st 2018 by Tall_Rassman • 25 Questions • 359 Points

Hi everyone! I am Niall Ferguson. I am the Milbank Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a senior fellow of the Center for European Studies, Harvard, where I served for twelve years as the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History. I am also a visiting professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing, and the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation Distinguished Scholar at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC. I have written fifteen books, including The Pity of War, The House of Rothschild, Empire, Civilization and Kissinger, 1923-1968: The Idealist, which won the Council on Foreign Relations Arthur Ross Prize. I am an award-making filmmaker, too, having won an international Emmy for my PBS series The Ascent of Money. In addition to writing a weekly column for the Sunday Times (London) and the Boston Globe, I am the founder and managing director of Greenmantle LLC, an advisory firm. I also serve on the board of Affiliated Managers Group. My new book, The Square and the Tower, was published in the U.S. in January.

Proof: https://i.redd.it/3chnemwo7ni01.jpg

You can find me online here:

EDIT: And that's it folks. It's 11:02am in Stanford and I have to get back to my day job. Thanks to all of you for really great questions. My RSI is now killing me, but it was fun!

Q:

My white South African parents sold their farm about two years ago because they saw this coming. My dad used to live in Zimbabwe and recognised the pattern. They are now happily living in Europe but feel like their country turned on them.

A:

In your recent interview with Sam Harris, you seemed to sidestep criticisms of Kissinger by saying that if he's a war criminal, then so is Obama, etc. Since this is not a political question but a legal one, and since many of us are perfectly willing to follow you on your point about Obama, what is an actual substantive argument for your lenient stance on Kissinger's actions?


Q:

Thank you for sharing. I am very interested to know about their experiences. Did they encounter a lot of hostility before they opted to sell? Was there a specific point where they just decided to get out.

A:

I haven't begun writing vol. II, so I wasn't side-stepping Sam's question, just making sure I didn't preempt myself. My argument is for consistency. My hunch is that either there are a lot of war criminals who have led the State Department / U.S. government or none, depending on your definition. What seems highly implausible to me is that there is only one, and that is Kissinger. Remember, the main basis for this claim is a really shoddy little book by my old friend Chris Hitchens. He was many things, but a lawyer wasn't one of them.


Q:

What is the weirdest thing you discovered in your research?

A:

The strange truth about the Illuminati. After all the crazy conspiracy theories, it was really gripping to read about this weird little South German sect of radical Enlightenment thinkers in the 1770s who thought they could infiltrate the Freemasons and undermine Roman Catholicism.


Q:

Can we expect some of he highlights in your new book?

A:

And that's it folks. It's 11:02am in Stanford and I have to get back to my day job. Thanks to all of you for really great questions. My RSI is now killing me, but it was fun!


Q:

It seems like so many of our problems and the rapid rise in political and ideological polarization in 2018 comes from a real lack of History in education. How can we make this a priority (in the west, I suppose) and give historians some confidence again?

Thanks!

A:

I agree 100%. But academic history has to earn public respect, and most history departments seem intent on doing the opposite. That is why I am hosting a conference on Applied History at Stanford tomorrow.


Q:

With Dodd-Frank repeal or revision an increasing possibility, do you have any thoughts on the value of that legislation? It's hard to find reliably sensible commentary amid the political debate where reps on both sides may be pandering towards special interests in their arguments.

A:

I am writing an update to the Ascent of Money which will tear into Dodd-Frank as a really badly designed mess that didn't address more than a tenth of the causes of the financial crisis. Should be out in September.


Q:

Who’s been the most influential historian in your career? Most overrated? Most underrated?

And why is Cambridge better than Oxford?

A:
  1. A.J.P. Taylor. He could write.
  2. Richard J. Evans.
  3. Maurice Cowling. With Oxford it was like marriage. With Cambridge it was a passionate affair.

Q:

Thank you for doing the AMA! I wrote a term paper on The Pity of War in college and thoroughly enjoyed your challenges to the conventional wisdom about WWI—I’ve even read the book a second time independent of any course work.

Do you consider yourself to be a historical contrarian? If so, at what point in your education and/ or career do you think you realized this? What do you think has led you to view many historical events and phenomena differently from other historians and commentators?

A:

Worth reading / seeing The History Boys by Alan Bennett on this. I was always taught to challenge conventional wisdom when writing history essays. Otherwise, why bother? So the conventional wisdom on the First World War was just sitting there waiting to be challenged: that the war was a tragedy, but somehow inevitable. The Pity of War is a direct assault on that. Probably teaching the subject at Oxford pushed me further along the contrarian path. Students would come in with essays that said the same old thing, and my job was to ask: "Are you sure about that? What if Britain had simply stayed out?"


Q:

Hi Niall,

You defend Kissingers alleged war crimes by pointing to the crimes of other secretaries of state. Aren't you dodging the question of whether or not Kissinger himself committed war crimes in Indochina?

A:

Read volume II. First I need to write it. The book will at least have a consistent definition of "war crimes."


Q:

Do you think Facebooks power and reach has peaked?

A:

It's getting close. But we're not quite there yet. "Short Facebook" will be an epic trade for whoever times it right.


Q:

What advice do you have for the younger historians attempting to take this route as their passion and careers?

A:

Read, read, read. Learn as many tricky languages as you can. And choose a PhD subject that a) can illuminate some present problem b) is technically difficult so you have minimal competition.


Q:

When I was a post-doc at Oxford, I was told by the landlady that you used to live in the flat that I rented from her. She said that you had gone through some bad break up or something at the time and got lots of flowers and also that her husband agreed with you about monetary policy. Did you have a good time living there despite the apparently horrible break up? And any advice for a young academic just starting his first tenure-track job?

A:

I have happy memories of Oxford in those days, despite the inevitable romantic ups and downs of my twenties. And if we're thinking of the same flat, it was a lovely flat! My advice is to expect romantic ups and downs. Post-docs and early-stage academics are at the bottom of the food-chain and very few boy- and girlfriends understand how hard you have to work and how little you get paid!


Q:

Hey Niall, thanks for the AMA. Huge fan here!

Do you know about stablecoins (crypto)? What do you think about them?

Thanks!

A:

I think a stablecoin may be an example of oxymoron. Price stability is itself a kind of fantasy. Changes in prices are vital signals to all economic actors. Why should the average of all price changes be zero percent? Whatever standard you pick, be it gold, bitcoin or something else, its relationship to all tradable goods and services will not be static over the short or medium run. The example of the C19th gold standard shows that.


Q:

Will China become the second superpower in our lifetime? I'm 28 years old.

I'm a big fan of all your work. Wish you appeared in news interviews recently more often!

A:

It's already happened. The question is: Can it get to be #1 before you're my age (53)?


Q:

Hi Niall, just got introduced to your work on Sam Harris podcast and I've got a few books in the mail as a result of it. Cheers to that.

As a result of the congressional deadlock of this decade and increasing unpopularity of the American congress, do you think we'll see a major shift in the structure of American politics in our lifetime? Will America ever shift away from the deeply unpopular two parties and is there a historical precedent for that?

And I guess tying that all together, do you think major political change can happen in a prosperous country without a war or major economic disaster?

A:

Can a new party ever arise in the US? History says yes and I expect to see it in my lifetime. The Independents are out there. They just lack leadership and resources. The good news is that change can come without war, though it generally needs an economic shock to happen. The better news is that we've already had both. I think Trump may prove to be a gateway to the kind of change many of us would welcome. I think that's more likely than the "American Tyranny" scenario of Tim Snyder et al.


Q:

Hi Niall, thanks for doing this!

Where are you putting your own investment money to work today? Bonds? Stocks? Real estate? EM? ETFs? And why?

A:

Now they want free investment advice on Reddit! Seriously, you have to have diversification at a time like this. Big inflection point in markets, probably further hits to bonds and stocks are coming. So all of the above except ETFs.


Q:

On the immigration front, you have Japan, whose birth rate is as low as some European nations, yet decided it would rather shrink its population than open itself to more immigration and with it the risk of losing its identity. Do you think Japan’s policy is suicidal or could it be a model for countries in Europe?

A:

In effect, Hungary is going down the Japanese road, Germany is taking the opposite course. These may prove to be alternative methods of suicide. The way to happiness is to have five children. People in wealthy countries can afford this. They should get on with it.


Q:

In a previous answer, you said you believe the benefits of the British Empire outweighed its costs for a long time. Can you talk more about this? Benefits/costs for whom?

A:

For humanity. The argument is there in Empire, as well as in other works (The Cash Nexus, Colossus, Civilization -- also War of the World). I have a paper that I never published that pulls the economics together, but I decided it was futile as the post-colonial types aren't interested in quantifying welfare or considering counterfactuals (which you have to do).


Q:

Hi Niall, many thanks for doing this AMA.

What do you think will cause the next recession? (In the UK)

A:

The Fed. Or the People's Bank of China.


Q:

Hi Niall What historians/historical works have shaped your historical thinking?

A:

And that's it folks. It's 11:02am in Stanford and I have to get back to my day job. Thanks to all of you for really great questions. My RSI is now killing me, but it was fun.


Q:

Niall! Former history undergrad here. (USMA '99.) I really enjoyed The Pity of War and felt it was very sound; I also really really enjoyed The Ascent of Money, especially the part about insurance and nationalizing the risk pool. What would you change about the U.S. healthcare/health insurance system if you were in charge? And what realistic changes do you think we should shoot for?

A:

The whole system is a ghastly mess. Insurance based on employment makes no sense, it's a complete anomaly. But revolutionary change won't work. So we need to use technology (including blockchain) to disintermediate or at least weaken the rent-seekers (the big insurers) and cost-raisers (big pharma).


Q:

What have you previously written about that you have since changed your mind about?

Love your work by the way.

A:

I got the US macro trends wrong in 2009-10. I quite quickly corrected myself, but wrote a couple of pieces that were wrong about the direction of interest rates and inflation, and my enemies will never let me forget it, nor will they ever acknowledge how quickly and openly I changed my mind.


Q:

Hello Niall. I really enjoyed your biography on Kissinger. How’s volume two coming along?

A:

Research is 85% done. Book should be done inside three years. But it's an historiographical Everest in terms of the volume of material, not to mention the harsh climate at the top. The conventional wisdom on Kissinger (that he is an evil war criminal) is an article of religious faith for a generation of liberals.


Q:

Hi Niall,

Im a big fan of your work and it’s great to see you here spending your time answering questions.

What do you make of the UKs Brexit strategy or lack thereof? If you were in charge of negotiations what level of engagement would you like to see with the EU. Or are you in favour of dropping out to WTO rules.

A:

I've written a lot on this for the UK Sunday Times / Boston Globe. I was against Brexit, but I see why people voted for it. The ultimate relationship is probably going to be Swiss-style, but without Schengen. The transition will need to be protracted, however, as leaving the Single Market will be costly. Going to WTO rules would be an economic hammer blow, as those who advocate must be aware. Pursuing "hard" Brexit is the shortest road available to a Corbyn government.


Q:

In the modern political context, and maybe drawing on your knowledge of some historical examples, how exactly can a government or society counter negative social engineering and radical ideas in a free and open society without trampling over first amendment rights?

A lot of people recently will accuse people who have conservative views of being Russian trolls. I guess my question is, in the hypothetical case that say a huge surge in conservative views was an act of some sort of foreign influence, how could a government or power counter it ethically? How can you counter division and radical ideas from the governmental level (as is often discussed with recent events) without trampling over free speech?

A:

Regulation of all political advertising exists for TV and newspapers. It didn't exist for the Internet in 2016. That needs to change. If those ads had said words to the effect of "Sponsored by the Russians," they would have been far less effective.


Q:

Hey Niall. I always read your books because they provide two things: a personal touch to go with the information (I like how you start your sections with someone involved in the history's perspective, maybe through a letter, and go from there) and always a clear argument to be mulled over while reading.

Sometimes, though, I read your books and am overwhelmed by the amount of info. How do you recommend readers of history go about tackling history books? Read first and last chapter's first, read intro and conclusion chapter sections first, read first and last sentence of paragraphs first, or go straight through like a novel?

Hopefully this makes it up there.

A:

Great question. Most people who are close to my kids in age have concentration issues because of all the messages, emails, alerts in their lives. So a bit of mental fitness helps: get your brain to read faster and in a more focused way -- like taking your head to the gym. Then read ruthlessly. If it's boring, skim. Read intro, then conclusion, then dip. If it's good, you'll get drawn in. If it's not so good, you can be done inside half an hour and know all you need to know. A total lack of respect for authors is important. The truth is that most books don't deserve more than half an hour of your life.