Who Put Words in Keynes’ Mouth?

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.

John Maynard Keynes is famous for saying “The market can stay irrational longer than you can remain solvent.” He’s also famous for quipping at a dinner party to someone who criticized him for contradicting himself, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” Jason Zweig follows up:

There’s just one problem with both these quotations: No one can point to a primary source proving that Keynes ever uttered them.

In an e-mail in 2003, Keynes’ most authoritative biographer, Lord Robert Skidelsky, told investment advisor William Bernstein that he believed they were “both apocryphal.” This week I asked another renowned expert on Keynes, Donald Moggridge of the University of Toronto, if he could identify the source of either of the oft-quoted remarks. “The simple answer,” Prof. Moggridge replied by e-mail, “is there is no evidence.”

These two quotes, which really need to exist even if Keynes didn’t utter them, join loads of others that apparently never got said either. Like this one and this one, for example. Zweig has offered ten dollars each to anyone who can find a primary reference for the Keynes quotes, but I’m willing to concede right now that he’ll probably be able to hang on to his sawbucks. I’m more interested in something else: who made up the quotes? As a social phenomenon, that’s really more intriguing. Someone, somewhere, invented these quotes, and they sounded so much like Keynes that they’ve been almost universally accepted ever since. Who knows? Maybe they were accepted even by Keynes himself. One of the linked quotes above is from Everett Dirksen, who was alive while he was being misquoted all over the place but just never bothered to correct the record. So this could go back a long way.

Anyway, fine: Keynes didn’t say this. So who made up the story?

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Or at least we hope. It’s fall fundraising time, and we’re trying to raise $250,000 to help fund Mother Jones’ journalism during a shorter than normal three-week push.

If you’re reading this, a fundraising pitch at the bottom of an article, you must find our team’s reporting valuable and we hope you’ll consider supporting it with a donation of any amount right now if you can.

It’s really that simple. But if you’d like to read a bit more, our membership lead, Brian Hiatt, has a post for you highlighting some of our newsroom's impressive, impactful work of late—including two big investigations in just one day and covering voting rights the way it needs to be done—that we hope you'll agree is worth supporting.

payment methods

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Or at least we hope. It’s fall fundraising time, and we’re trying to raise $250,000 to help fund Mother Jones’ journalism during a shorter than normal three-week push.

If you’re reading this, a fundraising pitch at the bottom of an article, you must find our team’s reporting valuable and we hope you’ll consider supporting it with a donation of any amount right now if you can.

It’s really that simple. But if you’d like to read a bit more, our membership lead, Brian Hiatt, has a post for you highlighting some of our newsroom's impressive, impactful work of late—including two big investigations in just one day and covering voting rights the way it needs to be done—that we hope you’ll agree is worth supporting.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate