Ben Bernanke spoke at Princeton’s graduation ceremony on Sunday, giving former students some surprisingly specific advice, including how to find a spouse and not to pay too much attention to economics.
"I am sure that, from this lectern, any number of distinguished spiritual leaders have ruminated on the lessons of the Ten Commandments", he began. "I don't have that kind of confidence, and, anyway, coveting your neighbor's ox or donkey is not the problem it used to be, so I thought I would use my few minutes today to make Ten Suggestions, or maybe just Ten Observations, about the world and your lives after Princeton." His speech can be read in full here, but here are some of the key points:
1. Scottish accents are incomprehensible, and don't plan too much:
"The poet Robert Burns once said something about the best-laid plans of mice and men ganging aft agley, whatever "agley" means."
2. Happiness is hard:
"If you are not happy with yourself, even the loftiest achievements won't bring you much satisfaction."
3. Cleverness is luck:
"A meritocracy is a system in which the people who are the luckiest in their health and genetic endowment; luckiest in terms of family support, encouragement, and, probably, income; luckiest in their educational and career opportunities; and luckiest in so many other ways difficult to enumerate--these are the folks who reap the largest rewards."
4. Effort deserves respect:
"I think most of us would agree that people who have, say, little formal schooling but labor honestly and diligently to help feed, clothe, and educate their families are deserving of greater respect -- and help, if necessary -- than many people who are superficially more successful. They're more fun to have a beer with, too. That's all that I know about sociology."
5) It's probably a mistake, not an evil plan:
"If you think that the bad or indifferent results that too often come out of Washington are due to base motives and bad intentions, you are giving politicians and policymakers way too much credit for being effective. Honest error in the face of complex and possibly intractable problems is a far more important source of bad results than are bad motives."
6) Economics is only really useful when fighting other economics:
"...careful economic analysis does have one important benefit, which is that it can help kill ideas that are completely logically inconsistent or wildly at variance with the data."
7) Money isn't everything, as long as you have it:
"If you are part of the lucky minority with the ability to choose, remember that money is a means, not an end."
8) Everyone fails/wears uniform:
"Nobody likes to fail but failure is an essential part of life and of learning. If your uniform isn't dirty, you haven't been in the game."
9) Physical beauty is actually much more important than we've been lead to think:
"Remember that physical beauty is evolution's way of assuring us that the other person doesn't have too many intestinal parasites."
10) I know you don't like your parents, but..
"A time will come when you will want your own grown-up, busy, hyper-successful children to call you. Also, remember who paid your tuition to Princeton."