Thursday, March 8, 2012

Things Best Said By Others

If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.
--Stein's Law, first pronounced in the 1980s
This proposition, arising first in a discussion of the balance-of-payments deficit, is a response to those who think that if something cannot go on forever, steps must be taken to stop it--even to stop it at once.

Three percent exceeds 2 percent by 50 percent, not by 1 percent.
--Edward Denison, in conversation, about 1960
An obvious point, but one that is important--and commonly overlooked--in discussions of economic growth.

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
--T.S. Eliot, The Rock, 1934

Thus, prediction of whether or not the capitalist order will survive is, in part, a matter of terminology.
--Joseph Shumpeter, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1945

Capitalism survived its crisis and went on to great successes. But the capitalism that survived and succeeded was not the capitalism of 1929.
--Herbert Stein, The Triumph of the Adaptive Society, 1989

This joint entry is a reminder that terms like "capitalism," "socialism," "liberalism," "conservatism," "welfare state," and "free market" have to be defined if they are to be used in intelligent discussion. The required definitions are missing most of the time.

Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn't the work he is supposed to be doing.
--Humorist Robert Benchley, quoted in The Algonquin Wits, 1968
This comes to mind frequently when I am emptying the dishwasher or engaging in a similar activity.


  1. They're all more relevant today than ever, especially Eliot and Denison.

  2. Yup, and Stein's law is one of the most basic I apply to analyses. Lao Tzu said basically the same thing centuries earlier: “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”


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