Famous Misquotes

17 September 2009 at 4:33 pm 2 comments

| Peter Klein |

What are your favorite famous misquotes in social science? E.g., everybody knows Lord Acton’s dictum: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Except he actually wrote “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Likewise, Adam Smith didn’t say that the merchant is led “as if by an invisible hand” to promote an end not his intention; he said the merchant “is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand. . . .” And, to get to the really deep thinkers, Gordon Gekko didn’t say “greed is good,” but “greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. . . .” I love you, man!

On a related note, David Levy and Sandra Peart explain that Thomas Carlyle’s description of economics as the “dismal science” had nothing to do with Malthusian overpopulation. Carlyle actually despised the economists because they supported the emancipation of slaves and believed, in Levy and Peart’s words, “it was institutions, not race, that explained why some nations were rich and others poor.”

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Ephemera, Myths and Realities.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. gabrielrossman  |  17 September 2009 at 5:21 pm

    i’m a big fan of the apocryphal Lenin quote “the capitalists will sell us the rope we use to hang them” because it sums up my feelings about the implausibility of the Marxist assumption of elite collective action

  • 2. Rafe Champion  |  19 September 2009 at 5:29 pm

    “there is no such thing as society”, cited in criticism of Margaret Thatcher. Check the source (an interview for Women’s Own magazine) and you find that is just about the opposite of the point she was making, she was not promoting rampant individualism (no social relationships) but something like methodological individualism, with friends and families being the first line of defence to help people in trouble.

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