I've heard it used in a religious contexts along the lines of

They invent the problem which they claim to solve.

I know it's also common in marketing, where if I try to sell you a pen, I ask you to sign your name, then offer to sell you the pen.

It's like creating the problem, so that you can then offer your solution.

  • 1
    In this clip they use vertical integration to describe a similar situation, one in which a company manufactures diarrhea-inducing junk food only to then sell the afflicted a diarrhea medicine: m.youtube.com/watch?v=ZZ7oht6TD9c. But their use of this term deviates somewhat from its normal meaning.
    – DyingIsFun
    Jun 14, 2016 at 3:52
  • A reference to Ya Got Trouble would work in some places. From The Music Man.
    – Phil Sweet
    Jun 20, 2016 at 14:25
  • You're not the problem-solver; you're the instigator.
    – user180089
    Jul 18, 2016 at 18:01

3 Answers 3


One expression that may be relevant is "setting fire to [something] just so you can put it out." A concrete example of this expression appears in "Setting Fire Okeh; Putting It Out ...?" in the [Salt Lake City, Utah] Deseret News (August 24, 1945):

LOS ANGELES —(AP)—The federal grand jury returned an indictment today charging that Ossie Gordon Wynns, 24, a Tulare, Calif., forestry service fire guard, deliberately set a disastrous forest fire just to show that he could put it out.

Instead, the fire got out of hand and burned over 1300 acres of Sequoia National Park forest land, the indictment charged.

Supposedly, in the bad old days of the mid-20th century, traveling vacuum-cleaner salesman used a similar tactic, unexpectedly throwing a handful of dirt on a homeowner's carpet so that they could then demonstrate how effectively the machine they were selling could clean up the mess. That might be described as "throwing dirt on the carpet so you can vacuum it up."


John Kenneth Galbraith is reported to have invented the term "revised-sequence markets" to describe this phenomenon in the context of economics. As stated in the linked article

...to put it more simply, they invent the problem to sell the solution.

The usage here, though, may be more narrowly applicable to business than to your need.


Have a look at problem reaction solution and hegelian principle.

Creating a problem, thus creating a reaction and then providing the solution constitute the essence of those two terms.

You can say they follow the hegelian principle or the problem reaction solution principle.

  • 1
    Neither of these is close. PRS (which seems born of the fever dreams of right-wing conspiracy theorists) means creating a crisis and advocating a solution to advance a pre-determined agenda by a means that would be unpopular in the absence of the crisis. The Hegelian principle is that a thesis (a motivating idea) begets its antithesis (the opposite of the thesis in reaction) and their collision produces a new thesis (the synthesis), and the cycle can begin anew.
    – deadrat
    Jun 14, 2016 at 5:46

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