Tag Archives: William Jennings Bryan

It Is Difficult to Get a Man to Understand Something When His Salary Depends Upon His Not Understanding It

Upton Sinclair? H. L. Mencken? William Jennings Bryan? C. E. M. Joad? Christopher Matthews? Paul Krugman? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Financial incentives can compromise the critical faculties of an individual. Here are four versions of this insight:

  1. Never argue with a man whose job depends on not being convinced.
  2. It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.
  3. It can be very hard to understand something, when misunderstanding it is essential to your paycheck.
  4. It is rather pointless to argue with a man whose paycheck depends upon not knowing the right answer.

I think either muckraker Upton Sinclair or curmudgeon H. L. Mencken employed this expression. Would you please trace it?

Quote Investigator: Upton Sinclair ran for Governor of California in the 1930s, and the coverage he received from newspapers was unsympathetic. Yet, in 1934 some California papers published installments from his forthcoming book about the ill-fated campaign titled “I, Candidate for Governor, and How I Got Licked”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I used to say to our audiences: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1934 December 11, Oakland Tribune, I, Candidate for Governor and How I Got Licked by Upton Sinclair, Quote Page 19, Column 3, Oakland, California. (Newspapers_com)