A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeye's fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from March 23, 2009
“If it moves, tax it”

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan said: “Back then (before 1981—ed.), government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.” The remark has been widely quoted to describe government at all levels.

During World War II, the armed forces had a similarly constructed saying: “If it moves, salute it. If it doesn’t move, pick it up. If it’s too big to pick up, paint it.”

In 1952, there was this saying: “If it moves, control it; if you cannot control it, tax it, if you cannot tax it, subsidize it.”

In 1967, there was this saying: “If it moves, tax it; if you can’t tax it, control it; if you can’t control it, give it a million dollars.”

In the 1970s, New Orleans Mayor “Moon” Landrieu said this: “We tax everything that moves, and everything that stands still, and if it moves, we tax it again.”

It appears that Ronald Reagan’s 1986 quotation was many years in the making. A soccer adage (popularized in 1974) is “If it moves, kick it; if it doesn’t move, kick it until it does.”


Google Books
The Yale Book of Quotations
Edited by Fred R. Shapiro
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press
2006
Pg. 630:
Ronald W. Reagan
U.S. president, 1911-2004
“Back then [before 1981], government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”
Remarks to state chairs of National White House Conference on Small Business, 15 Aug. 1986

Google Books
The Reader’s Digest
By Wallace, De Witt, 1889-, DeWitt Wallace, Wallace, Lila Bell, Lila Bell Acheson Wallace
Published by The Reader’s Digest Association, 1945
Item notes: v. 46
Pg. 40:
1. If it moves, salute it. 2. If it doesn’t move, pick it up. 3. If it’s too big to pick up, paint it! — Contributed by George F. Willison.

Time magazine
Americana
Monday, Mar. 10, 1947
(...)
In Washington, at a V.F.W. meeting, U.S. Attorney General Tom Clark tried paraphrasing the old Army rule: “If it moves—salute it; if it doesn’t move—pick it up; if you can’t pick it up—paint it.” His new version for the returned veteran: “If it cries—change it; if it’s on wheels—buy it; if it is hollow—rent it.”

Google Books
Paper
By American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Institution of Electrical Engineers
Published by The Society, 1948
Item notes: nos. 1-2
“Well”, said the elder Congressman, “When in doubt, if it moves; tax it, if it moves quickly; regulate it, and if it doesn’t move at all; subsidize it.”

Google Books
Concrete
edited by Harvey Whipple
Published by Concrete-Cement Age Publishing Co., 1952
Item notes: v. 60
Pg. 12:
Warning against the type of candidate whose philosophy is: “If it moves, control it; if you can’t control it, tax it; if you can’t tax it, subsidize it.”

20 July 1952, Chicago (IL) Daily Tribune, “Chamber Gives Nine Point Test for Candidates” by Joseph Hearst, part 1, pg. 11:
[This type of candidate’s program may be reduced to simple terms: If it moves, control it; if you cannot control it, tax it, if you cannot tax it, subsidize it.]

30 April 1959, Benton Harbor (MI) News-Palladium:
States Find Answer To Shortages: If It Moves, Tax It!

Google Books
The Railway Clerk
By Brotherhood of Railway and Steamship Clerks, Freight Handlers, Express, and Station Employes
Published 1964
Item notes: v. 63
Pg. 20:
New directive rumored from Washington: “If it moves, control it. If you can’t control it, tax it. If you can’t tax it, give it a billion dollars.”

20 February 1967, Chicago (IL) Tribune, “Report from Washington” by Walter Trohan, pg. 4:
After all, the federal government operates pretty much In line with the quip: If it moves, tax it; if you can’t tax it, control it; if you can’t control it, give it a million dollars. It isn’t surprising that the money isn’t producing desired results.

11 June 1967, Chicago (IL) Tribune, “Washington Scrapbook” by Walter Trohan, pg. 29:
REP. GEORGE HANSEN [R., Idaho], who reports the new directive in Washington seems to be: “If it moves, control it. If you can’t control it, tax it. If you can’t tax it, give it a billion dollars,” received the following poem from a constituent:...

Google News Archive
7 April 1971, Deseret (UT) News, pg. A10, col. 1:
The Mayor of New Orleans summed up succinctly the plight of America’s cities when he said: “We’ve taxed everything that moves and everything that stands still. If it moves, we tax it again.”
(New Orleans Mayor Maurice Landrieu—ed.)

Google Books
The Party’s Over:
The Failure of Politics in America

By David S. Broder
New York, NY: Harper & Row
1972
Pg. 125:
“We tax everything that moves, and everything that stands still, and if it moves, we tax it again.”
(New Orleans Mayor Maurice “Moon” Landrieu—ed.)

8 May 1972, Chicago (IL) Tribune, section 1, pg. 18:
One gets the distinct impression that the motto of the Cook County Board these days is something along the lines of “if it moves, tax it.”

17 June 1979, Washington (DC) Post, “Mayors—WIthout Misery” by David S. Broder, pg. B7:
Moon Landrieu of New Orleans had a soliloquy about local tax burdens (”...and if it moves, we tax it again...") that became as famous as Edwin Booth’s reading of “To be or not to be...”

15 September 1979, Washington (DC) Post, “Nickel-and-Diming the City” by Sam Smith, pg. A15:
Lately, I have discovered a closet philosophy that is exercising a major force on the direction of government, but which attracts little attention. Reduced to its basic equations, it comes out something like this: If it moves, regulate it. If it doesn’t, tax it. And, if you can get away with it, do both.

29 June 1986, Galveston (TX) News:
If it moves, tax it. If it still moves, regulate it. If it stops moving, subsidize it.

7 March 2006, New York (NY) Sun, “Solving the Housing Crisis” by Randy Daniels, pg. 11, col. 2:
To understand the high-cost, low-income enigma that characterizes much of New York, a good starting point is Ronald Reagan’s memorable line, which William Weld recently quoted but misattributed. “If it moves,” Reagan would say, “they want to tax it. If it keeps moving, they want to regulate it. And when it finally stops moving, they want to subsidize it.” That’s a very good description of big government economic policy. A description, however, is not an explanation.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Military/Religion /Health • (47) Comments • Monday, March 23, 2009 • Permalink