Boetcker, Not Lincoln: A Belated Homage to an Unknown Wordsmith

Normally, most of what most of us academics say passes by in silence, but not, apparently, when it appears on the PBS News Hour with Jim Lehrer.  My eight minutes of fame came when I was interviewed by Paul Salman for my views on the distribution of income and wealth.

In my closing remarks, I quoted Abraham Lincoln for the wonderful statement that “You can’t make the poor rich by making the rich poor.”  Many listeners wrote back to me and said that I had elevated Mr. Lincoln, who already receives a lot of credit, at the expense of one William J. H. Boetcker, a conservative minister who used words to this effect in connection with a selection of quotations from Lincoln.

In my instance, I heard the quotation orally and never checked it for attribution.  But Boetcker deserves full credit, and belatedly I give it to him here.  And credit is indeed the right word, because the sentiments remain sound regardless of who said the words.

The modern efforts to level-up have failed, and will continue to do so.  I shall write more about the merits (and less about Mr. Boetcker) in my next Defining Ideas column.

  1. Adam Freedman
    C

     It was a brilliant performance nonetheless.  Bravo Richard!

    I note that the interviewer described you as “libertarian law professor Richard Epstein,” which is fine as far as it goes, but I wonder whether he would introduce, say, Cass Sunstein as a “liberal law professor.”  Somehow I doubt it.  It would just be plain old “professor Sunstein.”

  2. ME Lovatt

     I always liked that video of Margaret Thatcher going at it in the House of Commons over income inequality: 

    “[H]e would rather have the poor poorer, provided that the rich were less rich. That is the Liberal policy.”

  3. Capt. Aubrey

    I too thought that “libertarian” tag line at the end was pregnant with meaning – the only sort of pregnancy I think should be aborted. He might as well have said, “right-wing, eccentric, non mainstream, just in case you were persuaded by any of the arguments” but the good news is more and more people I know are persuaded.

  4. Pseudodionysius

    Richard, will they introduce a standing 8 count and 3 knockdown rule for your next appearance?

  5. Adam Freedman
    C
    Capt. Aubrey: I too thought that “libertarian” tag line at the end was pregnant with meaning – the only sort of pregnancy I think should be aborted. He might as well have said, “right-wing, eccentric, non mainstream, just in case you were persuaded by any of the arguments” but the good news is more and more people I know are persuaded. · Oct 27 at 10:23am

    Glad I wasn’t the only one struck by that!

  6. Pseudodionysius
    Adam Freedman

    Capt. Aubrey: I too thought that “libertarian” tag line at the end was pregnant with meaning – the only sort of pregnancy I think should be aborted. He might as well have said, “right-wing, eccentric, non mainstream, just in case you were persuaded by any of the arguments” but the good news is more and more people I know are persuaded. · Oct 27 at 10:23am

    Glad I wasn’t the only one struck by that! · Oct 27 at 10:42am

    It was said in the intonation of Jabba the Hut warning Bobo Fett not to fall for those law professor Jedi mind tricks.

  7. liberal jim

    The increasing concentration of wealth is a problem and an indication of government interference in the market.  I wonder why no one bothers to point out that the growth of government has been accompanied by a greater concentration of wealth.  As you pointed out income inequality is a good thing, but income mobility is equally important.   Government action restricts mobility which leads to an increase in the concentration of wealth.  Hayek understood that people who have become rich will often times try to restrict free market principles in order to reduce the risk of them losing their wealth.  The idea that this may be occurring in the US at the present time seems to escape many on the right.  Big government favors the wealthy which explains why limousine liberals are quick to embrace it.   The answer to the problem of the concentration of wealth is smaller not larger government.

  8. Casey

    Hey Mr. Salman, I got a note!

       Roses are red, Violets are blue

       Please excuse Epstein, He had the asian flu.

          - Epstein’s Mother

  9. Andrew Alain

    That was an excellent interview, but you did let one slip by you. When it was pointed out that we had very high marginal rates and very high growth, you correctly pointed out that there were lots of loopholes so little of that tax was actually paid. Good so far, but all that growth really happened because Europe had just immolated itself. It is pretty hard to not to be generating lots of wealth when you are the only industrialized nation left standing. One would also note that very high magical rates probably contributed to the double dip during the latter part of the Great Depression. That government spent its revenues more efficiently back in the fifties may be so, but it isn’t a ver compelling (or Libertarian) argument for the prosperity of the post war era.