Fact Check

Measure for Measure

Tony Blair describes a simple way to take the measure of a country.

Published Sept. 18, 2006


Claim:   UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "A simple way to take measure of a country is to look at how many want in and how many want out."

Status:   Multiple:

  • Blair uttered (at least a version of) the quote now attributed to him:   True.
  • Blair was the first person to do so:   False.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2006]

The Measure of a Country

In case we find ourselves starting to believe all the anti-American sentiment and negativity about our government and its policies, we should remember Tony Blair's words to his own people.

During a recent interview Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great Britain was quoted giving the following answer to one his parliament members as to why he believes so much in America and its President. And does he think they are on the right track?

Blair's reply — "A simple way to take measure of a country is to look at ... how many want in ... and how many want to get out."

Variations:   In October 2006 a variation composed of the basic e-mail with this following bit of text tacked onto the end of it began appearing in the snopes.com inbox:

Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you:

1. Jesus Christ
2. The American G. I.

One died for your soul, the other for your freedom.

The addendum about Jesus Christ and American G.I.s was the work of an unknown Internet forwarder who was moved to pen that bit — Prime Minister Blair never voiced any version of it.

Origins:   The terrorist attacks of September 11 brought home to many the realization that, no matter what its own citizens think of it, beyond its own borders, the U.S. is not universally loved. This is a harsh realization to

have to make one's peace with. Some look to lessen its sting by grasping at statements made by non-Americans that tend to confirm the enmity is limited to a rabid few, with the majority of the world's citizens continuing to regard the U.S. as the ideal nation and as a force for good. Because the Tony Blair quote offers support for that perception, it has been seized upon by those looking for this type of reassurance.

Tony Blair, the United Kingdom's Prime Minister since 1997, is a charismatic and articulate speaker who moves easily on the world's stage. He is known for an ability to strike to the heart of complex situations with a few well-chosen words. It is therefore unsurprising the "simple way to take measure of a country" observation found its way to him or that he is now believed to have coined it.

Blair did indeed utter a version of the adage now laid at his feet, even if it was worded and arranged a bit differently. In January 2003, during his address to British ambassadors in London, he said:

First, we should remain the closest ally of the US, and as allies influence them to continue broadening their agenda. We are the ally of the US not because they are powerful, but because we share their values. I am not surprised by anti-Americanism; but it is a foolish indulgence. For all their faults and all nations have them, the US are a force for good; they have liberal and democratic traditions of which any nation can be proud. I sometimes think it is a good rule of thumb to ask of a country: are people trying to get into it or out of it? It's not a bad guide to what sort of country it is.

While the PM's remarks are not an exact match for the wording now attributed to him, the substance of the two is the same. However, that substance had been given voice to before by various people. Blair was far from the first to offer the observation about judging a country's worth by looking at how many are trying to get in and how many are trying to get out.

In 1992, the rejoinder's central idea was expressed by political commentator George Will, when he suggested it as a "gate test" indicator:

Most of all, America passes the critical gate test. Open the gate and see where people go — in or out. This is still the country people flock to.

Political writer Timothy Garton Ash put it to use in 1994 in the journal Foreign Affairs:

The third dimension of power has to do with the overall attractiveness of a particular society, culture and way of life. Its crudest measure is the number of people inside a country who want to get out compared to the number outside who want to get in. (One might call this the Statue of Liberty test.)

In 1996, it was posted online to a number of newsgroups as:

One of the best indicators of what makes a country great is the number of people who want to get out compared to the number who want to get in. On that scale, America is on the top of the list.

No doubt countless others have over the years worked versions of this appraisal of a country's worth into their public utterances. Yet we need not chronicle its every manifestation to settle the question about Tony Blair having being the author of it — he wasn't.

Barbara "the blairfaced truth" Mikkelson

Last updated:   17 November 2006

  Sources Sources:

    Porter, Phil   "George Will Says Anger at Politics Should Spur Change."

    The Columbus Dispatch.   29 April 1992   (p. B4).

    The Guardian.   "Full Text: Tony Blair's Speech."

    7 January 2003.

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