William Faulkner, Political Economist

The feller you trust aint necessarily the one you never knowed to do nothing untrustable: it’s the one you have seen from experience that he knows exactly when being untrustable will pay a net profit and when it will pay a loss.

—William Faulkner
—The Mansion (Volume 3 of the Snopes Trilogy)

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9 Responses to “William Faulkner, Political Economist”


  1. 1 1 Harold

    Not sure I agree entirely, although I sympathise with the sentiment. I think a lot depends by the meaning of trust.
    The free dictionary says “Firm belief in the integrity, ability, or character of a person or thing;” This is clearly a lot more than simply believing what someone says.

    Take some examples. Children often lie. It is not so much because they have calculated profit an loss, it is because they hope and expect the external world will fit in with their intentions. As we grow up we get a better idea of how the external world will react.

    The pathological liar will lie whatever the consequence. Not necessarily any calculation there.

    Then there are those that calculate as Faulkner’s character observes.

    I see no reason to necessarily believe what any of them says more than the other, but I would trust the latter the least.

  2. 2 2 Ken B

    Clinton’s record shows being untrustable has always paid. Per Faulkner, it should continue unabated.

  3. 3 3 nobody.really

    The pathological liar will lie whatever the consequence. Not necessarily any calculation there.

    “You know that riddle where there are two people, one who always lies, and one who always tells the truth? Donald Trump is both those people at once.” John Oliver, Last Week Tonight (August 14, 2016).

  4. 4 4 Zazooba

    Sounds like Adam Smith.

    You trust A to do x when doing x profits A. And you don’t trust A to do x when doing x harms A.

    It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

  5. 5 5 Zazooba

    Is there another level to Faulkner’s book?

    IIRC, the Snopes books are about how money-grubbing northerners were moving into the South and destroying its culture. So, its not surprising that economically rational Snopes would always look to his own profit and that others would react to this by only trusting him to do things that profited him.

    But, is Faulkner contrasting this with an alternative? What is the alternative? Are there any ways in which the alternative may be superior? Are there downsides to Snopes’s rational and impersonal calculations? To put it another way, is there more to life and culture than economic calculation?

  6. 6 6 Khodge

    I like it. The only actionable problem with applying this to politics or, for that matter, any group process, is getting a plurality to agree with your perspective.

  7. 7 7 Maznak

    You “trust” him to be rational and predictable, is all. Unlike say lunatics, religious fanatics, messianic types etc.

  8. 8 8 iceman

    “Americans like their bullsh!t right out in the open where they can get a good strong whiff of it. That’s why they elected and re-elected Bill Clinton. Because everybody knows that politicians are full of sh!t. Dole tried to hide it. Dole said ‘I’m a plain and honest man’…bullsh!t! Nobody believes that. Clinton came right out and said ‘Hey everybody, I’m completely full of sh!t and how d’ya like that!’ And people said ‘You know what? At least he’s honest! At least he’s honest about being completely full of sh!t.’”

    - George Carlin, “You Are All Diseased”

  9. 9 9 Richard D.

    Faulkner sounds like my favorite curmudgeon, H.L. Mencken –

    “It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth
    when you know you would lie, were you in his place.”

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