Can’t Somebody Bring Me a One-Handed Economist?

Harry Truman? David Boyd Chase? Ben Turner? Charles E. Wilson? Charles Frederick Carter? Edwin C. Johnson? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Economists, lawyers, scientists, and other experts often provide tentative and inconclusive advice to clients. These wily advisers avoid definitive statements and employ locutions such as: on the one hand, but on the other hand. Here are four comical phrases describing the decisive advisers desired by clients:

  • One-handed economist
  • One-armed lawyer
  • One-armed tax man
  • An expert with only one hand

U.S. President Harry Truman apparently wished for a one-handed economist. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest published evidence of this family of quips located by QI appeared in the “Pittsburgh Post-Gazette” of Pennsylvania in 1951. The joke was told by a tax expert who was relaying the words of an anonymous businessman. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

David Boyd Chase, the New York tax consultant, told the Pittsburgh Advertising Club about an executive who was interviewing a number of tax experts for a job with his company. He informed Mr. Chase: “We want a one-armed tax man. Every time we ask one of these experts if an item is deductible, he says, ‘Oh, sure, but on the other hand—’ We want one who has no other hand.”

Harry Truman was the President between 1945 and 1953; hence, this type of quip was circulating while he was in office; however, QI and other researchers have not yet found solidly-dated contemporary evidence indicating that Truman employed the joke. On the other hand, a 1974 citation and later testimony did attribute the two phrases “one-handed economist” and “one-armed economist” to Truman. See details further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Can’t Somebody Bring Me a One-Handed Economist?


  1. 1951 November 27, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburghesque by Charles F. Danver, Quote Page 23, Column 1, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)