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.