By Jon Hilsenrath
Everyone wants to psychoanalyze Ben Bernanke these days. Does he want another term as chairman of the Federal Reserve? Is he preparing to walk off into the sunset when his current term ends next January? What is his secret motive for skipping the Fed’s annual retreat in Jackson Hole, Wyoming this year?
- Associated Press
- Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke leads the processional out of Princeton University Chapel after giving a commencement address there Sunday.
In that vein, his unusually personal and wistful commencement address atPrinceton University Sunday afternoon is sure to be closely scrutinized for hidden meaning. But let’s leave the psychobabble to unqualified bond traders and take the speech for what it is: His best graduation address as a public official.
Mr. Bernanke — a former Princeton economics professor — has delivered his share of clunkers before, such as a 2008 address to Harvard students about inflation, which was panned in the Harvard Crimson.
Others have been thoughtful but wound up rather dry, such as a recent talk on innovation and the economy’s long-run growth prospects at Bard College at Simon Rock.
This one clearly came from his gut. It put on display Ben Bernanke as comedian…
“The poet Robert Burns once said something about the best-laid plans of mice and men ganging aft agley, whatever “agley” means.”
.. includes some touching personal reflections…
“I hope that as you develop your own definition of success, you will be able to do so, if you wish, with a close companion on your journey…the two of you will have a long trip together, I hope, and you will need each other’s support and sympathy more times than you can count. Speaking as somebody who has been happily married for 35 years, I can’t imagine any choice more consequential for a lifelong journey than the choice of a traveling companion.”
… thoughtful insight into how Washington works …
“I have always liked Lily Tomlin’s line, in paraphrase: “I try to be cynical, but I just can’t keep up.” We all feel that way sometime. Actually, having been in Washington now for almost 11 years, as I mentioned, I feel that way quite a bit. Ultimately, though, cynicism is a poor substitute for critical thought and constructive action. Sure, interests and money and ideology all matter, as you learned in political science. But my experience is that most of our politicians and policymakers are trying to do the right thing, according to their own views and consciences, most of the time. 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.”
… an honest assessment of the state of his own field …
“Economics is a highly sophisticated field of thought that is superb at explaining to policymakers precisely why the choices they made in the past were wrong. About the future, not so much. However, 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. This insight covers at least 90 percent of proposed economic policies.”
… advice that every college graduate needs …
“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.”
…and this bit that will warm any parent’s heart …
“Call your mom and dad once in a while. 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.”
As far as his plans for the future, the Journal has reported on a number of occasions that his friends and former colleagues believe he doesn’t want another term.