The Genesis of the “Democracy or Concentrated Wealth” Quote


Without a doubt, the question I get asked the most, as the archivist of Brandeis’ papers, is where did he say ” You can have democracy or you can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but you cannot have both”? That quote has been kicking around for a few decades, but it really gained traction after Ralph Nader used it in a series of campaign speeches during his 2000 presidential campaign. I got tired of telling people I didn’t know the answer, so one day about 10 years ago, I resolved to read everything Brandeis wrote or spoke that was in our collection. I never did find it, but all that reading gave me a good idea as to where it came from. And a little extra research convinced me that I was right.

I have summarized my findings in an article that has been published in the latest issue of The Green Bag (16 Green Bag 251.) Titled “Democracy v. Concentrated Wealth: In Search of a Louis D. Brandeis Quote,” I give a history of all the early incarnations of the quote and a description of the man I believe Brandeis said those words (or more likely, very similar words) to. Since those words definitely never appeared in anything Brandeis wrote, I believe that this is the closest we will ever come to how they came about came about.

Now I just need to find out who actually made that quote about tax avoidance

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