You Cannot Push On a String (Or a Rope)

John Maynard Keynes? George Patton? Samuel Harries Daddow? ‎Benjamin Bannan? Henry Smith? S. H. Monell? Thomas Brackett Reed? Thomas Alan Goldsborough? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A brilliant figure of speech has been employed to describe the performance of a futile or counter-productive task. Here are two versions:

(1) You cannot push on a string.
(2) It’s not wise to try to push a rope.

This saying has been attributed to the prominent economist John Maynard Keynes and U.S. General George S. Patton. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: John Maynard Keynes died in 1946, and the saying was attributed to him in 1970; hence, evidence for this linkage is weak. There is substantive evidence that George Patton employed this saying by 1942, but it was already in circulation.

The earliest match located by QI appeared in the 1866 book “Coal, Iron, and Oil; Or, The Practical American Miner” by Samuel Harries Daddow and ‎Benjamin Bannan. A section discussed two strategies to achieve proper ventilation within a underground mine. One may attempt to push air into a mine or draw air out of a mine. Only the second strategy was practical. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

The effect, therefore, of forcing air through a long series of intricate passages is to increase its density and friction in proportion to the pressure applied and the length of the column. To a limited extent this may be done by the expenditure of sufficient power, but this may be compared to the attempt to push a rope instead of pulling it. Whether the ordinary blowing-fan or blowing-cylinder be used, the difficulties are the same: therefore this mode must be condemned.

But when the same power is reversed, and the fan or cylinders are made to draw or suck the air instead of pushing it, the effect is reversed, and the natural or atmospheric pressure becomes an active agent instead of a repellant force . . .

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading You Cannot Push On a String (Or a Rope)

Notes:

  1. 1866, Coal, Iron, and Oil; Or, The Practical American Miner by Samuel Harries Daddow and ‎Benjamin Bannan, Chapter 23: Scientific and Practical Mining, Section: Ventilation of Mines, Quote Page 439, Published by Benjamin Bannan, Pottsville, Pennsylvania. (Google Books Full View) link

It’s Easier To Fool People Than To Convince Them That They’ve Been Fooled

Mark Twain? Baltasar Gracian? John Maynard Keynes? Norman Angell? Joreth? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: An energetic liar can confuse, mislead, and deceive people. Yet, in many cases, that same liar is unable to reverse the deception. Hoodwinked people embrace their misperceptions. Here is a pertinent adage:

It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.

Mark Twain has received credit for this statement, but I have been unable to find a citation, and I have become skeptical. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) authored this remark. The earliest close match known to QI appeared in a tweet from @Joreth on January 10, 2011. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“It’s easier to fool ppl than to convince them that they’ve been fooled” ~Mark Twain #skeptic #atheist #skepticism

Thematically related statements have a long history, and Twain did express similar sentiments in 1906 as shown further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading It’s Easier To Fool People Than To Convince Them That They’ve Been Fooled

Notes:

  1. Tweet, From: Joreth @Joreth, Time: 7:47 AM, Date: January 10, 2011, Text: It’s easier to fool ppl than… (Accessed on twitter.com on December 23, 2020) link

It Is Easier to Bamboozle People Than It Is To Unbamboozle Them

John Maynard Keynes? Norman Angell? Carter Field? Lionel Robbins? Malcolm W. Bingay? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: With time and effort it is possible to bamboozle people, i.e., to fool or mislead them. Unfortunately, this process of deception can be so thorough that it is impossible to debamboozle them, i.e., to convince them of the truth. I think the prominent economist John Maynard Keynes said something like this. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: John Maynard Keynes did employ an expression of this type, but he was specifically referring to the thoughts and actions of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson who was a participant in the Paris Peace Conference at the end of World War I.

World leaders met in the Palace of Versailles after Germany signed an armistice agreement. French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, and Wilson were the most powerful figures. Keynes believed that the demands placed upon Germany by the triumphant leaders were too onerous. He feared that Germany’s economy would collapse and harm all the countries in the region.

Initially, Wilson also believed that provisions in the Treaty of Versailles were too harsh. Yet, during the months of negotiation other leaders convinced Wilson to support the treaty. Keynes published in 1919 “The Economic Consequences of the Peace” which criticized the accord and included the following passage. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

To his horror, Mr. Lloyd George, desiring at the last moment all the moderation he dared, discovered that he could not in five days persuade the President of error in what it had taken five months to prove to him to be just and right. After all, it was harder to de-bamboozle this old Presbyterian than it had been to bamboozle him; for the former involved his belief in and respect for himself.

The terms to “debamboozle” and to “unbamboozle” have been used as synonyms. Also, both terms have been hyphenated sometimes: “de-bamboozle” and “un-bamboozle”.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading It Is Easier to Bamboozle People Than It Is To Unbamboozle Them

Notes:

  1. 1919, The Economic Consequences of the Peace by John Maynard Keynes, (Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge), Chapter 3: The Conference, Quote Page 50, Macmillan and Company, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Owe Your Banker £1,000 and You Are at His Mercy; Owe Him £1 Million and the Position Is Reversed

John Maynard Keynes? Paul Bareau? John Paul Getty? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The relationship between bankers and borrowers is symbiotic and occasionally counter-intuitive. Here is a pertinent adage:

If you owe the bank $100, that’s your problem; if you owe the bank $100 million, that’s the bank’s problem.

The prominent economist John Maynard Keynes apparently made a similar remark using pounds sterling instead of dollars. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match known to QI occurred in a memo that Keynes circulated to the British War Cabinet in 1945; however, the attribution was anonymous. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

On such conditions, by cunning and kindness, we have persuaded the outside world to lend us upwards of the prodigious total of £3,000 million. The very size of these sterling debts is itself a protection. The old saying holds. Owe your banker £1,000 and you are at his mercy; owe him £1 million and the position is reversed.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Owe Your Banker £1,000 and You Are at His Mercy; Owe Him £1 Million and the Position Is Reversed

Notes:

  1. 1979, The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes: Volume 24: Activities 1944-1946: The Transition to Peace, Edited by Donald Moggridge, Section: Overseas Financial Policy in Stage III (Revised memorandum circulated to British War Cabinet on May 15, 1945), Start Page 256, Quote Page 258, Macmillan and Cambridge University Press, New York, For the Royal Economic Society. (Verified with hardcopy)

Education Is the Inculcation of the Incomprehensible Into the Ignorant by the Incompetent

John Maynard Keynes? Josiah Stamp? Ernest Brown? Anonymous?

university07Dear Quote Investigator: The most outrageous quotation about education that I have ever heard has been attributed to the famous economist John Maynard Keynes. Here are three versions:

1) Education is the inculcation of the incomprehensible into the ignorant by the incompetent.

2) Education: the inculcation of the incomprehensible into the indifferent by the incompetent.

3) Education is the inculcation of the incomprehensible into the indolent by the inept.

Recently, I encountered an attribution of this alliterative remark to Josiah Stamp who was an industrialist, an economist, and a director of the Bank of England. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a book titled “Ideals of a Student” by Sir Josiah Stamp. The preface was dated September 1933, and Stamp wrote that the section containing the quotation was based on a commencement address he delivered “at Toronto this year”. Stamp was probably referring to the University of Toronto. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

What is the position of education in all this? Well, its place in this scheme ought to be easily visible to all of us. The time has gone by when we can say that education is “the inculcation of the incomprehensible into the ignorant by the incompetent.” Now upon us students is the responsibility: for these complexities of economic life require certain qualities of judgment.

Stamp used quotation marks to signal that the expression was already in circulation; hence, he appeared to disclaim authorship. He also expressed disagreement with the statement. Nevertheless, in the following years his name was firmly attached to the saying.

The connection to John Maynard Keynes was established by 1962 when the diplomat Abba Eban wrote an article stating that he heard the saying from Keynes at Cambridge during the 1930s. The detailed citation for this article is given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Education Is the Inculcation of the Incomprehensible Into the Ignorant by the Incompetent

Notes:

  1. 1933, Ideals of a Student by Sir Josiah Stamp, Chapter 2: On the Democratic Hope, Quote Page 53, Published by E. Benn, London. (The preface was dated September 1933 and in the preface Josiah Stamp stated that chapter 2 was based on a commencement address he delivered “at Toronto this year”, i.e., at the University of Toronto in 1933) (Verified with scans; great thanks to Stephen Goranson and the Duke University library system)

My Only Regret Is That I Have Not Drunk More Champagne In My Life

John Maynard Keynes? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Quotations that were supposedly spoken by famous people shortly before death are notoriously unreliable. I heard that the prominent economist John Maynard Keynes on his deathbed was asked whether he had any regrets, and he said something like:

I should have drunk more champagne.
I only wish I had drunk more champagne.
My only regret in life is that I did not drink more champagne.
My only regret is that I have not drunk more champagne in my life.

Is one of these quotations accurate, and when was it said?

Quote Investigator: There is evidence that Keynes made a remark similar to this, but he was not speaking from his deathbed. Keynes attended King’s College, a constituent college of the University of Cambridge in England. He maintained a strong connection to the College throughout his life. For many years he was a lecturer in economics at Cambridge, and he also acted as Bursar for King’s College.

After the death of Keynes in 1946 a memoir was prepared by direction of the Council of King’s College and was published in 1949. This memoir included an instance of the quotation: 1

His own leisure was admirably as it was variously employed: in inspecting his pigs; in attending a sale of pictures; in perusing (unlike some bibliophiles) a minor Elizabethan poet, his latest acquisition; in listening to a piano recital, recumbent in a box of the theatre he had built; in gossip and good talk and a glass of wine. ‘My only regret’, he said at the close of a College feast, ‘is that I have not drunk more champagne in my life.’ And so it was that he knew what leisure could give and desired that all should share the gift.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading My Only Regret Is That I Have Not Drunk More Champagne In My Life

Notes:

  1. 1949, John Maynard Keynes, 1883-1946, Fellow and Bursar, (A memoir prepared by direction of the Council of King’s College, Cambridge University, England), Quote Page 37, Printed at the University Press, Cambridge, Printed for King’s College, Cambridge University, Great Britain. (Verified on paper)

The Market Can Remain Irrational Longer Than You Can Remain Solvent

John Maynard Keynes? A. Gary Shilling? Harold R. Evensky? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The gyrations of financial markets can be startling. You may have unassailable information indicating that a stock is overpriced or underpriced, but you can still lose money because the market price may not accurately reflect the underlying verities for years. Here is a pertinent adage:

The market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.

This saying is often attributed to the famous economist John Maynard Keynes, but I have never seen a solid citation. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1986 “The Advertiser” newspaper of Montgomery, Alabama reported on a presentation given by an influential financial advisor named Gary Shilling. Keynes was not mentioned when the aphorism was employed by Shilling. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

A. Gary Shilling, twice named Wall Street’s top economist in a poll conducted by Institutional Investor magazine, told more than 100 guests in an AmSouth Bank meeting room that the investment situation has completely reversed itself . . .

He also warned that “markets can remain irrational a lot longer than you and I can remain solvent.”

The next earliest evidence for this saying appeared in a column by A. Gary Shilling in “Forbes” magazine in February 1993: 2

Above all, in 1993 remember this: Markets can remain irrational a lot longer than you and I can remain solvent.

Currently, Shilling is the leading candidate for coiner of this adage. John Maynard Keynes died 1946. He received credit for the adage by 1999. This long delay means the evidence supporting the Keynes attribution is very weak.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Market Can Remain Irrational Longer Than You Can Remain Solvent

Notes:

  1. 1986 December 3, The Advertiser (The Montgomery Advertiser), Economist Advises Change In Investment Strategy by Coke Ellington (Advertiser Business Editor), Quote Page 4B, Column 3, Montgomery, Alabama. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1993 February 15, Forbes, Scoreboard by A. Gary Shilling, Page 236, Volume 151, Issue 4, Forbes Inc., New York. (ProQuest)

There Is Nothing So Disastrous As a Rational Investment Policy In an Irrational World

John Maynard Keynes? Milton Friedman? A. Gary Shilling? Albert J. Hettinger, Jr.? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Forbes magazine has a fascinating searchable database called “Thoughts On The Business of Life” that contains “more than 10,000 quotes.” The following saying interests me, but the database doesn’t appear to include citations so I am not sure if it is accurate [MKFQ]:

There is nothing so disastrous as a rational investment policy in an irrational world.

— John Maynard Keynes

Can you find out when and where Keynes said this?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence QI has located for this saying is dated 1963. It appeared in the book “A Monetary History of the United States 1867-1960” by Milton Friedman and Anna Jacobson Schwartz, but the words were not written by Friedman or Schwartz. Near the end of the volume a commentary by Albert J. Hettinger, Jr. was appended and the following passage was included [AHMK]:

And Lord Keynes, here a “decision maker,” told the 1931 annual meeting of the investment trust of which he was chairman: “I have reluctantly reached the conclusion that nothing is more suicidal than a rational investment policy in an irrational world” (quoted from memory, without verification of exact phraseology).

So Hettinger in 1963 presented a quotation that he attributed to Keynes speaking in 1931. But Hettinger explicitly disclaimed knowledge of the precise wording used by Keynes. Later writers used a different phrasing that replaced “more suicidal than” with “so disastrous as” to yield the most common modern version of the saying.

Keynes died in 1946. Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading There Is Nothing So Disastrous As a Rational Investment Policy In an Irrational World

When the Facts Change, I Change My Mind. What Do You Do, Sir?

John Maynard Keynes? Paul Samuelson? Winston Churchill? Joan Robinson? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: John Maynard Keynes was an enormously influential economist, but some of his detractors complained that the opinions he expressed tended to change over the years. Once during a high-profile government hearing a critic accused him of being inconsistent, and Keynes reportedly answered with one of the following:

When events change, I change my mind. What do you do?

When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?

When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?

When someone persuades me that I am wrong, I change my mind. What do you do?

Because there are so many different versions of this rejoinder I was hoping you might determine if any of them is real. Is there any truth to this anecdote?

Quote Investigator: No direct evidence that Keynes made a comment of this type has been located by QI or other researchers. The earliest statement found by QI that fits this template was not spoken by Keynes but by another prominent individual in the same field, Paul Samuelson who was awarded the 1970 Nobel Prize in economics. He was well-known to students for creating a best-selling economics textbook.

On December 20, 1970 he was interviewed by a panel on the television program “Meet the Press.” The transcript of the show was published the next day in the “Daily Labor Report” from the Bureau of National Affairs, Washington. Austin Kiplinger of Kiplinger Publications asked Samuelson about inflation. Boldface has been added to excerpts [PSDR]:

KIPLINGER: Returning to this matter of how much inflation we can absorb effectively, you may remember that Dr. Sumner Schlicter at Harvard shocked, I guess, the American Public after World War II when he said some inflation was not only inevitable but perhaps also desirable to promote growth. My question is do you agree with that general assessment and if so, how much should we have and how much is acceptable?

DR. SAMUELSON: I do agree with it and I suffer for expressing my agreement. Different editions of my textbook have been quoted. In the first edition I said a five percent rate is tolerable. Then I worked it down to three percent and then down to two percent and the AP carried a wire “Author Should Make Up His Mind.” Well when events change, I change my mind. What do you do?

Intriguingly, in 1978 Samuelson used a version of this expression again, and this time he credited the words to Keynes. His statement was reported in the Wall Street Journal in an article by Lindley H. Clark Jr. [PSWJ]:

Paul Samuelson, the Nobel laureate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, recalled that John Maynard Keynes once was challenged for altering his position on some economic issue. “When my information changes,” he remembered that Keynes had said, “I change my mind. What do you do?”

It is possible that Samuelson was consciously or unconsciously echoing a remark of Keynes when he spoke in 1970, but there is no compelling support for this because he did not credit Keynes during the television interview.

Here are some additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading When the Facts Change, I Change My Mind. What Do You Do, Sir?

Capitalism: The Nastiest of Men for the Nastiest of Motives Will Somehow Work for the Benefit of All

John Maynard Keynes? E. A. G. Robinson? Fictional? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Many times I have seen the following quote attributed to John Maynard Keynes:

Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.

I cannot find a source. Also, I do not believe that Lord Keynes would ever say “most wickedest”. (I have seen the quote without the two “most”s.) It’s a pretty well-turned phrase though, so somebody must have said it. I thought maybe Shaw had something like this but have come up blank there, too. Someone from the Muckraker Era? Lincoln Steffens? Upton Sinclair? Anyway, Doctor, would you look into this?

Quote Investigator: Note, QI researches sayings that embody a variety of different viewpoints. This interesting quote has engaged the curiosity of many people. There is another similar maxim attributed to Keynes:

Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of all.

This variant using the word “nastiest” appeared before the instance using the word “wickedest”, and QI believes that the “wickedest” version was created by modifying the earlier statement. This blog post will primarily trace the first variant that uses the word “nastiest”.

The earliest known attribution of the saying to Keynes was found by the outstanding researcher Ken Hirsch who shared his knowledge via Wikiquote [WJK]. The words appeared in 1951 in the book “Christianity and Human Relations in Industry” within a discussion of free markets and “the doctrine of the hidden hand” [CHR]:

… as J. M. Keynes used to put it, ‘the astonishing belief that the nastiest motives of the nastiest men somehow or other work for the best results in the best of all possible worlds’.

The subphrase “the best results in the best of all possible worlds” alludes to Voltaire’s satirical character Dr. Pangloss and his philosophy in “Candide”. Indeed, the entire statement credited to Keynes has a satirical edge. However, Keynes died in 1946 and this statement has not been found in his writings.

QI has located a similar remark that appeared a decade earlier in 1941 in a book written by a close colleague of Keynes named E. A. G. Robinson (Edward Austin Gossage Robinson) titled “Monopoly” [ERM]:

The great merit of the capitalist system, it has been said, is that it succeeds in using the nastiest motives of nasty people for the ultimate benefit of society.

Robinson did not attribute this description of the capitalist system to Keynes; instead, he used the locution “it has been said”. Hence there is no clear attribution beyond Robinson himself.

Robinson worked with Keynes, and it is possible that he heard the phrase from Keynes. Alternatively, Keynes may have read the phrase in Robinson’s book and repeated it to someone else. But there is no direct evidence for either of these conjectures. It is commonplace for quotations to be reassigned to individuals of greater prominence. Thus, it is possible that Robinson’s quote was slightly altered and then simply reattributed to Keynes who was a famous economist in 1951 as he is today.

Here are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Capitalism: The Nastiest of Men for the Nastiest of Motives Will Somehow Work for the Benefit of All