Saturday, January 19, 2013

More on the Holland Principle

You'll Remember the Holland Principle--the one about the govt as an insurance company with the army, or perhaps the other way round.  I had traced it back to a (ref to) an article by a certain Michael Holland, along about 2003.  Paul Krugman, most often cited as the source (but who disavows original authorship) weighed in with customary celerity:
Someone should have asked me. Peter Fisher, undersecretary of the Treasury, in 2002. 
But follow the comments after Krugman's remark and you'll find that he seems to have repeated in 2001 something he didn't hear until a year later--a chronology which seems to invite further inquiry.  Down at comment #22 in the same thread, Holland weighs in:
This is Holland. The quip is one I used in a talk explaining the federal budgeting process to academics on the six federal advisory committees for the Department of Energy's Office of Science.
Since science policy and domestic finance policy circles don't overlap, I wouldn't have heard it from Peter Fisher. He wouldn't have heard it from me. 
So, simultaneous discovery, like Leibniz/Newton or Jevons/Walras/Menger.   In a separate email, Holland elaborates:
I started off as a program examiner at OMB in 1999.  I used to get invited to give talks to the Department of Energy Office of Science advisory committees (e.g., High Energy Physics Advisory Panel, Nuclear Science Advisory Panel, etc.) explaining how the R and D budgets were formulated.  You’ve got to do something to make budget talks amusing, thus the quip.  ...

I do remember seeing the quote attributed to a Bush Administration Treasury official several years after I had been using it, so I don’t doubt Krugman’s attribution to Peter Fisher.  I can’t imagine the quote is original to either of us.  Just stare at a pie chart of the federal budget long enough.I did get called on the carpet by OSTP’s Chief of Staff when my quote appeared in Science. Non-political staff in Executive Office agencies are not supposed get themselves quoted in the press – even inadvertently. 
And in another, Holland adds:
Some quips must have their own motive force and regenerate themselves with some frequency.
And finally:
A 40 min talk on physics and the budget process demands a joke. I only had one. I still only have one.
 Okay, but I'd say he has two.


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