Monday, September 8, 2014

You can do a lot of good if you don't worry about who gets the credit

Shane Greenstein's' piece on false claims of credit for inventing email got me thinking about the larger question of attributing and claiming credit (especially after I initially mis-identified Shane as his co-blogger JG who shared the post to G+...).  Often, accomplishments have many parents. (And sometimes someone who helps disseminate the news is mistakenly credited as its source.)

Market design in particular is an outward facing part of economics, and much of what needs to be accomplished requires economists to play a helping role. So I've always liked the sentiment in the title of this post, whose origins turn out to be (fittingly) hard to attribute. Quote Investigator looks into it and finds many early origins and variations.

[1] A man may do an immense deal of good, if he does not care who gets the credit for it.

[2] This was the opportunity for a man who likes to do a good thing in accordance with the noble maxim … “Never mind who gets the credit.”

[3] The way to get things done is not to mind who gets the credit of doing them.

[4] There is no limit to what a man can do who does not care who gains the credit for it.

"These sayings are certainly not identical, but they are closely interlinked thematically. Quotation number [1] appeared in a diary entry from the year 1863 in which the words were recorded as spoken by a Jesuit Priest named Father Strickland. This is the earliest citation located by QI.
In 1896 the text of [2] was published, and the phrase “Never mind who gets the credit” was dubbed the noble maxim of Edward Everett Hale.
In 1905 quotation [3] was published, and the words were attributed to Benjamin Jowett who was a theologian and classical scholar at Oxford University. But one of the author’s who made this attribution decided it was flawed, and in a later book he reassigned credit for the saying from Jowett to a “Jesuit Father”. This is probably a reference to Father Strickland. This maxim is the same as quote [A] given by the questioner above.
Expression [4] was used by Charles Edward Montague in 1906, but he did not claim coinage of the phrase. He said it was the favorite saying of his friend and colleague the journalist William T. Arnold. But Montague did not credit Arnold as originator either. He left the attribution anonymous by using the locution “someone has said”.
In 1922 Montague published a close variant of saying [4], “There is no limit to what a man can do so long as he does not care a straw who gets the credit”, in his book “Disenchantment”. For this reason he is sometimes cited in modern texts and databases.
Finally, quotation [B] which is similar to [4] appeared in the 1980s on a small plaque atop the desk in the Oval Office of the White House during the Presidency of Ronald Reagan."

[B] There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is a reasonable chance that the quote's original author did not get tenure.