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Risk in Attributing Authorship to Quotes

Some time back, in a letter to the editor, I attributed authorship of the famous quote “It is better to be vaguely right than precisely wrong” to J M Keynes. I did it on the basis of what I read somewhere in the 30 volumes of Keynes’ writings and also in other articles by noted economists. On reading Janos Kornai’s memoirs, By Force of Thought, I discovered the real author of that quote is Wildon Carr, a British economist. Here is what Kornai says in footnote 11 of chapter 14 of his memoirs (p 408): “I came across this saying in a paper where the author mistakenly ascribed it to Keynes, but the credit actually belongs to Wildon Carr. See Shove, 1942, p 323”. I then read Shove’s article where the reference is made to this quote in ‘The Place of Marshall’s Principles in the Development of Economic Theory’, The Economic Journal, Vol 52, No 208 (December 1942) where he writes: “Not all of us are content to act on the late Prof Wildon Carr’s admirable motto (which might well have been Marshall’s), ‘It is better to be vaguely right than precisely wrong’”.

This is not the only case; such mix-up in authorship attribution happens all the time, even in the writings of famous social scientists and literary fi gures and one must be circumspect while using quotes.

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