Niall Ferguson (pronounced “Neil”) is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University as well as the William Ziegler Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. He is also currently the Philippe Roman Chair in History and International Affairs at the London School of Economics. In 2008, Ferguson published The Ascent Of Money which provided a brilliant survey of how the world of finance tangled itself into such an unfathomable mess. The book served as the basis for PBS’s Emmy Award-winning documentary series of the same name.
Ferguson’s latest work (his eleventh book no less) is entitled Civilization: The West And The West, and it examines what Ferguson calls the most “interesting question” of our day: “Why, beginning around 1500, did a few small polities on the western end of the Eurasian landmass come to dominate the rest of the world?” He attributes this divergence to the West’s development of six “killer apps” largely missing elsewhere in the world: competition, science, democracy, medicine, consumerism and the work ethic. The Globe And Mail recently sat down with Ferguson for an in-depth interview about Civilization, and among other topics they asked him for his thoughts on the Occupy Wall Street movement. He answered, “It’s a variant of the populism you get after a major economic crisis – more of the 1870s variety than the 1930s, because it’s not such a severe crisis. And it has two forms: the right-wing Tea Party and the left-wing OWS. The latter has one valid point: American society has become significantly more unequal than it was in the 1970s. But Wall Street isn’t the sole cause. The reason income stagnated is not the wickedness of Wall Street. It’s that globalization reduces massively the returns to unskilled labour. That’s the big story OWS is not getting. And blaming it all on financial institutions misses the almost equal responsibility of political elites. The epicentre, the mortgage market, was rigged by interventions that horribly backfired. So the anger is legitimate, but it’s been channelled simplistically into narrow demonization.”
To read the complete interview be sure to visit The Globe And Mail. Civilization is in book stores now, and you can pick up your own copy online (as well as read the first several pages) at Amazon. A related documentary Civilization: Is the West History? was broadcast as a six part series on Britain’s Channel 4 in March and April of 2011, and I’ve attached the first of several clips of the series below. You can watch the documentary in its entirety by CLICKING HERE. You can also follow Niall on his website at NiallFerguson.com.