Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke addressed Princeton grads this weekend, showing the lighter side to the man who's devoted the two decades of his life to complex economics.
See the highlights below:
Resisting the urge to talk about securities, Chairman Bernanke instead gave a few thoughts about life, happiness, and even romance. "A dozen years ago I was minding my own business teaching Economics 101 in Alexander Hall and trying to think of good excuses for avoiding faculty meetings," he said, referring to his tenure as a Princeton economics professor that lasted from 1985 to 2002. "Then I got a phone call …"
Bernanke left Princeton in 2002 to join the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, before becoming President George W. Bush's economic adviser in 2005, and later becoming Fed Chairman in 2006. He has said little in regards to his future at the Fed, and many speculate he may step down after his second term ends on January 31, 2014.
"My qualifications for making such suggestions, or observations, besides having kindly bee invited to speak today by President Tilghman, is the same as the reason that your obnoxious brother or sister got to go to bed later. I am older than you."
He then took time to lay out ten life lessons for the fresh Princeton grads — casual words of wisdom from one of the most powerful men in the world.
1. Life is Unpredictable:
"Life is amazingly unpredictable; any 22-year-old who thinks he or she knows where they will be in 10 years, much less 30, is simply lacking imagination … who wants to know the end of a story that's only in its early chapters? Don't be afraid to let the drama play out."
2. Focus On Being a Better Human Being:
"Whatever life may have in store for you, each of you has a grand, lifelong project, and that is the development of yourself as a human being … If you are not happy with yourself, even the loftiest achievements won't bring you much satisfaction."
3. Those Who Are Luckiest Also Have the Greatest Responsibility:
"As the Gospel of Luke says (and I am sure my rabbi will forgive me for quoting the New Testament in a good cause): 'From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded."
"Kind of grading on the curve, you might say."
4. Effort Matters:
"Those most worthy of admiration are those who have made the best use of their advantages or, alternatively, coped most courageously with their adversities. 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 I know about sociology."
5. On Politics:
"I have always liked Lily Tomlin's line, in paraphrase: 'I try to be cynical, but I just can't keep it up.'"
"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."
He then added, for all those aspiring Princeton politicians: "Public service isn't easy. But, in the end, if you are inclined in that direction, it is a worthy and challenging pursuit."
6. On Economics (He Couldn't Help Himself):
"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% of proposed economic policies."
7. Money Isn't Everything?:
Yes, even for the Chairman of the Federal Reserve...it's not all about the money.
"I'm not going to tell you that money doesn't matter, because you wouldn't believe me anyway. In fact, for too many people around the world, money is literally a life-or-death proposition. But if you are part of the lucky minority with the ability to choose, remember that money is a means, not an end. A career decision based only on money … is a recipe for unhappiness."
8. Don't Be Afraid to Fail:
"If your uniform isn't dirty, you haven't been in the game."
9. On Romance:
"… Remember that physical beauty is evolution's way of assuring us that the other person doesn't have too many intestinal parasites. Don't get me wrong, I am all for beauty, romance, and sexual attraction … but while important, those aren't the only things to look for in a partner."
10. Call Mom and Dad
"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 to Princeton."
Bernanke then concluded, triumphantly: "Congratulations, graduates. Give 'em hell!"