Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Holland Principle

Who first said that the US government is "an insurance company with an army"?  Paul Krugman often gets the credit, but he says it is  not original with him: "this isn't original" he wrote, invoking the principle on April 27, 2011.   Ezra Klein also gets credit; he  presented it alongside a lovely pie chart  on Feb. 14, 2011, but I find a (second-hand) reference back in 2007 crediting Krugman, so Krugman at least trumps Klein.   A polisci textbook (Jan. 1, 2010) credits it to "a Bush administration staff member."  

And   here's a ref dated April 5, 2004 crediting it to "OSTP's Mike Holland" as from Science in for 4/11/2003.   I haven't taken the time to track it all the way to JSTOR.   OSTP=Office of Science and Technology Policy?   "Mike Holland" would appear to be this guy,  whose Linkedin profile shows that he was at OSTP at the relevant point in time.

Recognizing that no quote is original, and that we can probably count on finding an earlier avatar on a clay pot in Sumer, I'd say that for a moment we ought to call it "The Holland Principle."  Yo Mike, okay with you?

Update:  Hoo ha, that didn't take long.   On the evidence, I would say we are so far back to Frederick von Schrötter, so I assume Hammurabi is in the crosshairs.  A more specific version of the Fisher quote (although unsourced) is here; although I'd have to say that "a gigantic insurance company with a sideline business in defense and homeland security"--is not nearly so euphonious as the revised form. But following the Stigler's Law, I still think we should call it "the Holland Principle."

Tedious Afterthought:  The comment thread at Thoma  includes some interesting backchatter on whether the Holland Principle, even if true, is A Good Thing or not.


Redwood Rhiadra said...

This is from commenter "Michael" over at Economists' View:

From Jonathan Gruber, "Public Finance and Public Policy," Chapter 12 (p. 319, 3rd edition):

"The dramatic shift in spending led economist Paul Krugman
to observe that 'loosely speaking, the post-cold-war federal government is a big pension fund that also happens to have an army.'2"

Footnote #2 is Krugman, Paul. “Outside the Box.” New York Times (July 11, 2001), p. A17.

Look's like Krugman's been this formulation it for quite some time...

Ken Houghton said...

Sadly, no Mr. Holland's Opus. Mark Thoma gets the answer from The Kroogman.