According to the Adam Smith institute (and numerous other pages):

Milton Friedman used to say that nothing was so permanent as a temporary government programme.

Did he actually say this? And if so, was he the origin for this quip?

  • Related: history.stackexchange.com/questions/63851/… May 7, 2021 at 20:52
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    DV because it's not apparent why you think Friedman didn't say this. Knowing his work in general and his (libertarian) political stance in general it's entirely plausible. May 8, 2021 at 0:30
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    @Fizz fancy catchphrases are often misattributed to famous people, i.e. see the Albert Einstein tag. May 8, 2021 at 1:28
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    @Fizz since when does this SE require a reason for not knowing something? Most (maybe all) questions I ask here I don't think the opposite is true of the claim I'm asking about, I'm just not sure, and want help finding valid evidence to know one way or another
    – TCooper
    May 14, 2021 at 0:12

2 Answers 2


This appears to be true

Tyranny of the Status Quo, by Milton Friedman and Rose D. Friedman, 1984, Pg. 115:

Each recession has produced government spending programs supposedly as a temporary device to create jobs. But nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program. Those programs have typically moved into high gear only after the economy was on the road to recovery. In the process, they have established an interested constituency that has lobbied for their continuation, thereby contributing to the upward trend in government spending.

  • There's no reference to the source in the Good Reads link May 7, 2021 at 16:35
  • @JonathanReez I added another source
    – Joe W
    May 7, 2021 at 16:39
  • Thanks, updated your answer with the full quote. Though I'm still interested in knowing whether or not Friedman invented this quote or took it from somewhere else. May 7, 2021 at 16:46
  • @JonathanReez I think it could be a bit hard to prove or disprove that someone said it before he did or not.
    – Joe W
    May 7, 2021 at 17:20
  • @JonathanReez: unless a source claims Friedman actually came up with this idea (before anyone else), investigating nearly similar ones is OT here. Your own questions regarding priority might be suitable to ask on economics SE or politics SE. May 8, 2021 at 1:43

@JoeW correctly pointed out that Milton Friedman did use that phrase. However he wasn't the first to use it. According to Google's book search, the oldest example that I could find is from the "Royal United Service Institution Journal" from 1888:

I fear they will verify Lord Palmerston's saying, that nothing is so permanent as a temporary appointment, not improbably our grand-children, visiting the Cape on pleasure or on business, will see this astounding, this everlasting memento, of our foresight.

This was written in the context of "temporarily" placing muzzle-loaded guns instead of breech-loaded guns at Naval Base Simon's Town in South Africa. It was attributed to Lord Palmerston but I can't find further proof so its likely to be apocryphal, given that this journal was published more than 20 years after his death.

Coincidentally, another journal from 1888 contains an early example of a complaint over a "temporary" government tax:

We see how frequently the irony of events has upset the most promising schemes of economy, how the income tax, originally considered a temporary war tax, has, since the majority of voters do not pay it, become a permanent tax and also the varying fortunes of the new sinking fund.

The last part refers to the British sinking fund:

The fund received whatever surplus occurred in the national Budget each year. However, the problem was that the fund was rarely given any priority in Government strategy. The result of this was that the funds were often raided by the Treasury when they needed funds quickly.

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    I guess the question is was he the first one to say exactly that or did others say something similar first? The quotes you mention seem to be similar but not an exact match.
    – Joe W
    May 7, 2021 at 22:10
  • @JoeW question is around who said something close first May 8, 2021 at 1:28
  • Well if you want to know if something similar was said before I am guessing you can find other examples further back in history as well as I don't really think this was a new idea even a few hundred years ago.
    – Joe W
    May 8, 2021 at 3:08
  • @JoeW The quote in the question seems to be paraphrasing Friedman. So we don't have an exact phrase attributed to him, and it doesn't make sense to distinguish between exact wording and similar statements.
    – Barmar
    May 8, 2021 at 18:23
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    @JoeW Which is precisely what this answer shows. This is an idea that has been passed along for many years, and Friedman was simply applying it in a specific case.
    – Barmar
    May 8, 2021 at 19:25

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