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The Media

January 2013

Herb Stein's law

by James Bowman

On the fiscal cliff and Herb Stein's tautology, “If something can’t go on forever, it won’t.”

Towards the end of his life, I got to know the late Herb Stein, the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under Presidents Nixon and Ford, and I now regret never having asked him for the definitive version of what has come to be known as Herb Stein’s Law. Google tells me that the law is: “If something can’t go on forever, it will stop,” but I like to think that Herb would have preferred what seems to me the more rhetorically satisfying version, whose provenance I cannot now recall: “If something can’t go on forever, it won’t.” Either way, what amounts to a simple tautology has shown again and again its power to strike through the vaporous fogs of public debate to astound us with the force of revelation—although, as I write, it appears not yet to have done so, except in a few odd corners out of the way of the dominant media, in the case of that now legendary precipice, the “fiscal cliff.& ...

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James Bowman is the author of Honor: A History (Encounter Books).


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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 31 January 2013, on page 65

Copyright © 2014 The New Criterion | www.newcriterion.com

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