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.

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  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