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)