Wednesday, January 30, 2013

An X with a Y

A while back I puzzled over the "the Holland principle"--the idea that the US “insurance company with an army,” or is it the other way round. Somebody pointed out that it may be a modern riff on Frederick the Great's Prussia—not a state with an army but an army with a state.

Today we have Matt Yglesias describing Amazon as “a charitable organization being run by elements of the investment community for the benefit of consumers.” and I'm beginning to wonder if we have here the beginning of a meme, on the theme of “an X that is really Y.” I'm remembering, for example, Samuel Butler saying that a chicken is just an egg's way of getting to another egg. Or my friend Nancy who declares that cake is just a delivery system for frosting.

I'm trying to play around with it myself but I don't think I have the chops. Barnes and Noble is a Starbucks that sells books (or offers them for sale, which is not quite the same thing).  A few years ago I might have said that the State Department is a high school band with a large dry cleaning bill. This morning I'm tempted to say that the CIA is an intelligence service with an army. Or that Homeland Security is a a police state with an Army. Or maybe—yes, that's the problem: these days, everything is an X with an army.

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