I Don’t Care Who Writes a Nation’s Laws . . . If I Can Write Its Economic Textbooks

Paul Samuelson? Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun? Percy Bysshe Shelley? Mary Shelley? Sylvia Nasar?

Question for Quote Investigator: The cultural impact of economic thought has been enormous. Apparently, a famous economist once said something like this:

I don’t care who writes a nation’s laws if I can write its economic textbooks.

Would you please help me to identify this economist and find a citation?

Reply from Quote Investigator: Nobel-Prize winning economist Paul Samuelson published the perennially popular textbook “Economics” beginning in 1948. Twenty editions have appeared during subsequent decades.

In 1990 Samuelson wrote the foreword to “The Principles of Economics Course: A Handbook for Instructors”, and he employed the quotation. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[ref] 1990, The Principles of Economics Course: A Handbook for Instructors, Edited by Phillip Saunders and William B. Walstad, Section: Foreword by Paul A Samuelson, Date: October 1988, Quote Page ix, McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, New York. (Verified with scans) [/ref]

“Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the World.” It was a poet who said that, exercising occupational license. Some sage, it may have been I, declared in similar vein: “I don’t care who writes a nation’s laws—or crafts its advanced treaties—if I can write its economic textbooks.” The first lick is the privileged one, impinging on the beginner’s tabula rasa at its most impressionable state.

Paul Samuelson’s phrasing was humorously tentative, but QI believes that he deserves credit for the remark under examination. When Samuelson crafted his remark he was deliberately alluding to a family of previous remarks about the powerful cultural influence of music and poetry.

In 1704 Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun published “An Account of a Conversation Concerning a Right Regulation of Governments for the Common Good of Mankind”, and he attributed a pertinent remark about music to an anonymous wise man. This remark used the same template as Samuelson’s comment:[ref] 1704, An Account of a Conversation Concerning a Right Regulation of Governments for the Common Good of Mankind: In a Letter to the Marquiss of Montrose, the Earls of Rothes, Roxburg, and Hadington, from London the 1st of December, 1703, Author: Andrew Fletcher, Quote Page 10, Printed in the Year 1704 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]

. . . a very wise man . . . believed if a man were permitted to make all the Ballads, he need not care who should make the Laws of a Nation. And we find that most of the antient Legislators thought they could not well reform the manners of any City without the help of a Lyric, and sometimes of a Dramatic Poet.

Additional detailed information is available in the Quote Investigator article on the Medium website which is available here.

Exit mobile version