The Golden Rule: Whoever Has the Gold Makes the Rules

Wizard of Id? Jafar? Brant Parker? Johnny Hart? Dick Boland? Jack Caprio? Jesse Jackson? Anonymous?

gold07Dear Quote Investigator: The Golden Rule is a famous ethical principle that can be stated as follows:

Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

Several different lampoons and parodies have been constructed based on this moral directive. I am interested in the origin of the following spoof version:

The person who has the gold makes the rules.

Do you know who crafted this mordant remark?

Quote Investigator: In 1964 the comic strip “Wizard of Id” was launched with Johnny Hart as the primary writer and Brant Parker as the primary illustrator. On May 3, 1965 a four-panel strip presenting the satirical golden rule was published in “The Dallas Morning News” and many other newspapers. 1

In the first panel the diminutive tyrannical King character addressed his subjects from the balcony of his castle and emphasized the need for “peace and harmony”. In the second panel the King continued by stating “We must all live by The Golden Rule”. This caused some confusion in the third panel because his listeners were uncertain about the nature of The Golden Rule. In the fourth panel the troubadour character delivered the explanatory punchline. Boldface has been added to excerpts:

Whoever has the gold makes the rules.

This comic strip contained the earliest evidence of the joke located by QI.

This article continues with additional details and selected citations in chronological order.

The two final panels of the strip included the redefined rule:

goldenwizard10The construction of the “Wizard of Id” syndicated comic strip was a synergistic enterprise with multiple participants. The website of “John Hart Studios” has posted an article that included a short description of the process: 2

Parker and Hart collaborated for over 30 years on Wizard of Id, with Brant illustrating and Johnny Hart developing gags along with his B.C. writing team, Dick Boland and Jack Caprio. From his studio in Virginia, Brant would send his illustrations via fax. The two would spend hours on the phone, often reworking the gag for optimum hilarity.

The passage above suggests that it would be difficult to ascribe the quip to a single individual.

In December 1965 a sports columnist named Ben Henkey complained that the money from television advertisers was negatively distorting the broadcast of football games. For example, a television commercial had recently pre-empted the video transmission of an important play. In addition, the desire of broadcasters to closely track the action on the field had caused the inadvertent relaying of off-color remarks made by coaches and owners about the officiating. Yet, Henkey expected the problems to continue, and he presented a slightly rephrased comical version of The Golden Rule: 3

The Golden Rule applies: He who has the gold makes the rules.

In 1969 a newspaper column focused on the real estate business printed an instance of the joke: 4

Realtors like cute saying: The K.I.S.S. system for training new employes — Keep It Simple, Stupid … The Golden Rule of Lending Money — he who has the gold makes the rules.

In 1972 a columnist called “The Plainsman” in Lubbock, Texas published a version of the saying: 5

Them as has the gold makes the rules!

In 1982 an executive working on an economic development plan in North Carolina referred to the quip: 6

Referring to the complexities of the financing arrangements and the need for dozens of documents, Peet said, “It all comes down to the Golden Rule. They got the gold; they make the rules.”

In 1988 the political activist Jesse Jackson highlighted the distinction between the traditional meaning of The Golden Rule and the parodic interpretation: 7

His guiding principle is, “We support the Golden Rule, not he who’s got the gold makes the rule,” Jackson said.

In 1992 the animated movie “Aladdin” from Disney Studios was released. A malevolent character named Jafar spoke a version of the quip to the main character Aladdin: 8

[Jafar disguised as an old man and fellow prisoner of Aladdin]

Jafar: You’ve heard of the golden rule, haven’t you? Whoever has the gold makes the rules.

In conclusion, QI believes that this joke can be credited to the team who crafted the “Wizard of Id” comic strip on May 3, 1965. Johnny Hart was the main gag writer in 1965 though others provided some suggestions and material.

Image Notes: Picture of gold bullion from istara at Pixabay. Picture of the golden mask of Tutankhamun from Sriom at Pixabay. Two panels of the “Wizard of Id” comic strip employed according to Fair Use principles of: commentary, scholarship, and research.

(Great thanks to Fred Shapiro whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Many thanks to George S. Cole who in 1999 identified the “Wizard of Id” comic strip containing the quip within a 1969 compilation titled “The King Is a Fink!” and shared his knowledge via a mailing list. Special thanks to top researcher Barry Popik whose exploration further constrained the time period of the joke to 1967 or earlier. Also, thanks to Samantha Pugh who pointed out the occurrence of the saying in the 1992 movie Aladdin. Additional thanks to the discussants on the Wombats mailing list.)

Notes:

  1. 1965 May 3, Dallas Morning News, Comic Strip Name: Wizard of Id, Comic Strip Authors: Parker and Hart (Brant Parker and Johnny Hart), Section 2, Quote Page 9, Dallas, Texas. (GenealogyBank)
  2. Website: John Hart Studios, Article title: Remembering Brant: Brant Parker, Date on website: (No date is listed; The article included the statement “Brant Parker passed away in April of 2007” which provided a lower bound on the date), Website description: Information about John Hart Studios in Nineveh, New York. The studio creates B.C, Wizard of Id, and Dogs of C-Kennel. (Accessed johnhartstudios.com on January 11, 2015) link
  3. 1965 December 7, Alton Evening Telegraph, Columnist: Ben Henkey, Quote Page B-4, Column 1, Alton, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1969 October 5, The Seattle Times (Seattle Daily Times), Odd Parcels by Alf Collins, Quote Page A-4, Column 1, Seattle, Washington. (GenealogyBank)
  5. 1972 January 13, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, The Plainsman, Quote Page 5-D, Column 1, Lubbock, Texas. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1982 October 5, Greensboro Daily News, Hotel Commitment Firm in High Pont by Lawrence Spohn (High Point Bureau), Quote Page B1, Column 2, Greensboro, North Carolina. (GenealogyBank)
  7. 1988 January 1, Boston Herald, Jackson takes issue with Duke’s leadership style by Wayne Woodlief and Andrew Miga, Start Page 1, Quote Page 4, Column 5, Boston, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)
  8. YouTube video, Title: Aladdin meets old man Jafar, Uploaded on December 4, 2009, Uploaded by: yidaki, (Quotation starts at 0 minute 40 seconds of 1 minutes 10 seconds) (This video is an excerpt from the 1992 animated movie Aladdin) (Accessed on youtube.com on January 12, 2015) link