The Trouble with Socialism Is Socialism; the Trouble with Capitalism is Capitalists

William F. Buckley Jr.? William Schlamm? Winston Churchill? Herbert Hoover?

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Dear Quote Investigator: I have heard a humorous saying that compares two major economic systems:

The problem with socialism is socialism. The problem with capitalism is capitalists.

These words have been attributed to conservative commentator William F Buckley Jr. and British statesman Winston Churchill. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in a profile of William F Buckley Jr. published in “Esquire” magazine in 1961. Buckley believed that socialism was a flawed economic system, but he also found fault with individual capitalists. He felt that the magazine he founded called “National Review” deserved greater financial support from business people, and he blamed “just plain stinginess”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Mr. Buckley paused a moment, then quoted an adage someone had told him that he felt summed up the problem: “The trouble with socialism is socialism; the trouble with capitalism is capitalists.”

This instance used the word “trouble” instead of “problem”. The context indicated that Buckley was not claiming credit for the expression. During the following decades he employed it multiple times, and in 1978 he ascribed the words to William Schlamm (Willi Schlamm), a European journalist who had worked with Buckley in the early years of the “National Review”.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

QI has also examined a remark ascribed to Herbert Hoover that partially overlapped with the saying under examination:

The only trouble with capitalism is capitalists; they’re too damned greedy.

One of Hoover’s family friends asserted that he spoke the words above sometime between 1929 and 1933. The concise statement about capitalism was published and in circulation by 1935 as shown by an article in “The Oxnard Daily Courier” of Oxnard, California: 2

Harold G. Moulton, president of the Brookings Institute, is no radical. He may be taken with some seriousness, therefore, when he says that “the trouble with capitalism is the capitalists.”

In 1961 Buckley used the full expression as noted previously. In 1966 he included the saying in his syndicated newspaper column and credited an unnamed observer: 3

“The trouble with socialism,” a European observer once remarked, “is socialism. The trouble with capitalism is capitalists.”

In 1976 a book about speech making titled “Roles Speakers Play” by James C. Humes attributed the remark to Winston Churchill. However, no citation was given, and Churchill had died in 1965, so QI considers this weak evidence: 4

Churchill once said, “The trouble with socialism is socialism but I say the trouble with capitalism is capitalists.”

In 1978 Buckley used the saying again in his newspaper column, and this time he credited the journalist William Schlamm: 5

Mr. William Schlamm, long-since departed these shores to return to his native Europe, once remarked in disgust, “The trouble with socialism is socialism. The trouble with capitalism is capitalists.”

In 1987 “Uncommon Sense: The World’s Fullest Compendium of Wisdom” by Joseph Telushkin attributed the words to Churchill: 6

The problem with socialism is socialism. The problem with capitalism is capitalists.
Winston Churchill

In 2010 the columnist Jonah Goldberg who is a Senior Editor at “National Review” discussed the saying: 7

Five years ago this week, my former boss William F. Buckley started a column thusly:

“Every ten years I quote the same adage from the late Austrian analyst Willi Schlamm, and I hope that ten years from now someone will remember to quote it in my memory. It goes, ‘The trouble with socialism is socialism. The trouble with capitalism is capitalists.'”

In conclusion, William F. Buckley Jr. used the expression, and he helped to popularize it beginning in 1961, but he disclaimed credit. By 1978 he was ascribing the words to William Schlamm. QI believes that Schlamm is the top candidate for coiner of the adage. Currently, the evidence linking Winston Churchill to the statement appeared too late and is weak.

Image Notes: Bull and bear illustration from geralt at Pixabay. Public domain illustration of red flag from Wikimedia Commons which acknowledged: Wereon and original PNG by Nikodemos.

(Great thanks to Alex Marklew whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. The inquiry also caused QI to examine the overlapping quotation attributed to Herbert Hoover.)

Notes:

  1. 1961 January 1, Esquire: The Magazine for Men, Volume 55, Number 1, William F. Buckley, Jr.: Portrait of a Complainer by Dan Wakefield, Start Page 49, Quote Page 50, Column 1, Esquire Inc., New York. (Verified on microfilm)
  2. 1935 November 16, The Oxnard Daily Courier, Capitalist Danger, Quote Page 2, Column 1, Oxnard, California. (NewspaperArchive)
  3. 1966 July 5, The Daily Courier, On the Right by William F. Buckley Jr., Quote Page 14, Column 4, Connellsville, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1976, Roles Speakers Play by James C. Humes, Quote Page 99, Harper & Row, New York. (Verified on paper)
  5. 1978 May 16, New Castle News On the right: New York is generous to a fault — bankruptcy by William F. Buckley Jr., Quote Page 4, Column 3, New Castle, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1987, Uncommon Sense: The World’s Fullest Compendium of Wisdom by Joseph Telushkin, Quote Page 173, Shapolsky Publishers, New York. (Google Books Preview)
  7. 2010 April 25, The Anniston Star, In Their Opinion: Capitalism vs. capitalists by Jonah Goldberg, Quote Page 2B, Column 3, Anniston, Alabama, (Newspapers_com)