Category Archives: Adam Smith

A Lottery Is a Taxation Upon All the Fools in Creation

William Petty? Henry Fielding? Adam Smith? Camillo Benso? James Wolcott? Marshall McLuhan? Roger Jones? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The winners of a recent lottery jackpot split more than one billion dollars. Yet the probability of a lucky lottery strike is smaller than an unlucky lightning strike. Economists, mathematicians, and wits have made sardonic remarks like the following:

  • A lottery is tax on stupidity.
  • The lottery is a tax on fools.
  • Lotteries are a tax on the mathematically challenged.

Who you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Finding the earliest instances of this sentiment is difficult because expressions are variable. QI has located an example in the 1662 document “A Treatise of Taxes and Contributions” by the prominent English economist Sir William Petty. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Now in the way of Lottery men do also tax themselves in the general, though out of hopes of Advantage in particular: A Lottery therefore is properly a Tax upon unfortunate self-conceited fools; men that have good opinion of their own luckiness, or that have believed some Fortune-teller or Astrologer, who had promised them great success about the time and place of the Lottery, lying Southwest perhaps from the place where the destiny was read.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1662, Title: A treatise of taxes and contributions shewing the nature and measures of [brace] crown-lands, assessments, customs, poll-moneys, lotteries, benevolence, penalties, monopolies, offices, tythes, raising of coins, harth-money, excize, &c., Author: Sir William Petty (1623-1687), Chapter VIII: Of Lotteries, Quote Page 46, Publisher: Printed for N. Brooke, London. (Early English Books Online)

As Soon as Government Management Begins It Upsets the Natural Equilibrium of Industrial Relations

Adam Smith? Everett Dean Martin? Apocryphal?

adamsmith03Dear Quote Investigator: Multiple books and websites attribute the following quotation to the influential economic thinker Adam Smith, but I think the ascription is incorrect:

As soon as government management begins it upsets the natural equilibrium of industrial relations, and each interference only requires further bureaucratic control until the end is the tyranny of the totalitarian state.

Usually these words are assigned to the landmark 1775 text “The Wealth of Nations”, but I have carefully searched electronic copies of this work and concluded that the quote is absent. Furthermore, the vocabulary in the passage is chronologically incongruous. The word “totalitarian” first entered the English language only in the 1920s, and that is more than 130 years after the death of Adam Smith in 1790. Could you trace this quote to identify its true origin?

Quote Investigator: Thanks to the questioner for the perceptive analysis accompanying the query. The passage above was not written by Adam Smith. It first appeared in a 1939 essay by Everett Dean Martin who was a Professor of Social Philosophy at Claremont Colleges in California. The statement was Martin’s summary analysis of Adam Smith’s economic philosophy. Martin used his own words, and he did not claim that he was quoting Smith.

Martin’s paper was presented at the Annual Convention of the Investment Banker’s Association of America in 1939 and then was published in the November issue of the journal “Investment Banking” under the title “Social Philosophies at War”. The following passage occurred shortly before the quotation in the essay and indicated the topic: 1

Adam Smith, whose book, “The Wealth of Nations,” was written the same year as our Declaration of Independence, pointed out the moral and economic significance of Locke’s political philosophy. Individual responsibility is the very goal and meaning of free government. There must be no bureaucratic management of affairs which men had best decide for themselves.

The following excerpt from Martin’s paper included the passage being traced:

He held that not only is government incompetent to regulate by decree or by grant the affairs of individuals, but its meddling inevitably results in putting a premium on inefficiency. As soon as government management begins it upsets the natural equilibrium of industrial relations, and each interference only requires further bureaucratic control until the end is the tyranny of the totalitarian state.

The final sentence above was later reassigned directly to Adam Smith. This misattribution has been widely disseminated, and today it is present in several quotation databases.

Here are additional comments and selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1939 November, Investment Banking, Volume 10, “Social Philosophies at War” by Everett Dean Martin, Start Page 10, Quote Page 12 and 13, Published by Investment Bankers’ Association of America, Chicago, Illinois. (Verified with scans; Great thanks to Dennis Lien and the University of Minnesota library system)