A Nation Cannot Tax Itself into Prosperity…

A Nation Cannot Tax Itself into Prosperity…

“I con­tend that for  a nation to try to tax itself into pros­per­i­ty is like a man stand­ing in a buck­et and try­ing to lift him­self up by the han­dle.” Did Churchill say this? Can’t find it in your bible. Hope he did! —A.R., New York City

 The first words were “We con­tend…” but indeed he did—and he liked that “buck­et” crack so much that he used it five times. The first two appear­ances are in Robert Rhodes James, ed., Win­ston S. Churchill: His Com­plete Speech­es 1897-1963 (New York, Bowk­er, 1974, 8 vols.)…

It is the the­o­ry of the Pro­tec­tion­ist that imports are an evil. He thinks that if you shut out the for­eign import­ed man­u­fac­tured goods you will make these goods your­selves, in addi­tion to the goods which you make now, includ­ing those goods which we make to exchange for the for­eign goods that come in. If a man can believe that he can believe any­thing. (Laugh­ter.) We Free-traders say it is not true. To think you can make a man rich­er by putting on a tax is like a man think­ing that he can stand in a buck­et and lift him­self up by the han­dle. (Laugh­ter and cheers.) —Churchill, Free Trade Hall, Man­ches­ter, 19 Feb­ru­ary 1904, Com­plete Speech­es I: 261

To all ques­tions and com­plaints his Majesty’s Min­is­ters have a sin­gle answer, ‘Send us back to office for sev­en more years,’ they cry, ‘and we will shut out the for­eign dev­ils and the goods the for­eign dev­ils make.’ What a pro­gramme for the 20th cen­tu­ry! What an appeal to a civ­i­lized nation! What a new year’s greet­ing to mankind! (Loud cheers.) I am proud of the part I took in oppos­ing the Gov­ern­ment, that a coun­try which tries to tax itself into pros­per­i­ty is like a man stand­ing in a buck­et and endeav­our­ing to lift him­self up by the han­dle. (Loud laughter.)—Churchill, Town Hall, Malmes­bury, 18 Decem­ber 1904, Com­plete Speech­es I: 398.*

Now this was too good a line not to retread. But the edi­tor in Churchill couldn’t resist improv­ing it:

The doc­trines that by keep­ing out for­eign goods more wealth, and con­se­quent­ly more employ­ment, will be cre­at­ed at home, are either true or they are not true. We con­tend that they are not true. We con­tend that for a nation to try to tax itself into pros­per­i­ty is like a man stand­ing in a buck­et and try­ing to lift him­self up by the han­dle. —Churchill, Why I am a Free Trad­er (Lon­don: 1905); reprint­ed in Stead, Com­ing Men on Com­ing Ques­tions (Lon­don: 1905; and Michael Wolff, ed., Col­lect­ed Essays of Sir Win­ston Churchill (Lon­don, 1975, 4 vols.) II 23.

In 1906 Churchill brought out his first book of speech­es, For Free Trade (Lon­don: Arthur Humphreys, 1906; Sacra­men­to: Churchilliana Co., 1977, 68). This con­tains the word­ing above, in which a few super­flu­ous com­mas were edit­ed out, prob­a­bly by WSC.

The ver­sion report­ed in Churchill by Him­self is para­phrased. The last ver­sion above (from For Free Trade) will replace it in the new edi­tion, Churchill in His Own Words.

 

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* The Com­plete Speech­es uses the phrase “Aliens Gov­ern­ment,” which I sus­pect is a typo; there was an Aliens Bill but not an Aliens Gov­ern­ment; I have cho­sen to drop “Aliens” from the report­ed quote.

 

 

 

 

 

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