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: In 1924 John Maynard Keynes published an essay titled “Investment Policy for Insurance Companies” in “The Nation and Athenaeum” of London. Keynes contended that an insurance company must employ an active investment policy. The company must maintain constant vigilance and revise preconceived ideas in response to changes in external situations.
Keynes penned a statement that partially matched the expression under examination. He suggested that a successful investor must be willing change an opinion when facts and circumstances change. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:1924 May 17, The Nation and Athenaeum, Investment Policy for Insurance Companies by J. M. Keynes (John Maynard Keynes), Start Page 226, Quote Page 226, Column 2, Publisher of The Nation and … Continue reading
Unfortunately, it is not possible to make oneself permanently secure by any policy of inaction whatever. The idea which some people seem to entertain that an active policy involves taking more risks than an inactive policy is exactly the opposite of the truth. The inactive investor who takes up an obstinate attitude about his holdings and refuses to change his opinion merely because facts and circumstances have changed is the one who in the long run comes to grievous loss.
Thus, Keynes expressed a similar idea, and he used comparable vocabulary, but his phrasing differed significantly. The existence of this passage highlights the possibility that there might be a closer match from Keynes that remains undiscovered.
QI thanks economist Dr. Neil Smith who located the citation above.
The earliest strong match found by QI was not from Keynes but from 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:1970 December 21, Daily Labor Report, Number 246, Page X-3, Column 1 and 2, Full Text Section, [Transcript of “Meet The Press”: NBC Radio and Television Program; December 20, 1970; … Continue reading
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.: 1978 October 13, Wall Street Journal, U.S. Monetary Troubles by Lindley H. Clark Jr., Page 22, New York. (ProQuest)
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?”
Apparently, Samuelson in 1970 and 1978 was echoing a thought from Keynes. Perhaps Samuelson encountered the 1924 passage in his readings. QI does not know.
Here are some additional selected citations in chronological order.
Continue reading When the Facts Change, I Change My Mind. What Do You Do, Sir?
|↑1||1924 May 17, The Nation and Athenaeum, Investment Policy for Insurance Companies by J. M. Keynes (John Maynard Keynes), Start Page 226, Quote Page 226, Column 2, Publisher of The Nation and Athenaeum, London. (Google Books Full View) link|
|↑2||1970 December 21, Daily Labor Report, Number 246, Page X-3, Column 1 and 2, Full Text Section, [Transcript of “Meet The Press”: NBC Radio and Television Program; December 20, 1970; Interview with Professor Paul A. Samuelson], Bureau of National Affairs, Inc.: Washington, D.C., Alexandria, Virginia. (Verified using scanned images from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Special thanks to the wonderfully helpful librarian at UA)|
|↑3||1978 October 13, Wall Street Journal, U.S. Monetary Troubles by Lindley H. Clark Jr., Page 22, New York. (ProQuest)|