“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.
* 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.