For those who didn’t read Ben Bernanke’s Commencement Address to The Boston College School of Law on May 22, I would like to highlight a few passages. I found the passages below informative and telling; I will let them speak for themselves, and might refer back to them in future posts.
The entire speech can be found here:
“Instead, I’d like to offer a few thoughts today about the inherent unpredictability of our individual lives and how one might go about dealing with that reality. As an economist and policymaker, I have plenty of experience in trying to foretell the future, because policy decisions inevitably involve projections of how alternative policy choices will influence the future course of the economy. The Federal Reserve, therefore, devotes substantial resources to economic forecasting. Likewise, individual investors and businesses have strong financial incentives to try to anticipate how the economy will evolve. With so much at stake, you will not be surprised to know that, over the years, many very smart people have applied the most sophisticated statistical and modeling tools available to try to better divine the economic future. But the results, unfortunately, have more often than not been underwhelming. Like weather forecasters, economic forecasters must deal with a system that is extraordinarily complex, that is subject to random shocks, and about which our data and understanding will always be imperfect. In some ways, predicting the economy is even more difficult than forecasting the weather, because an economy is not made up of molecules whose behavior is subject to the laws of physics, but rather of human beings who are themselves thinking about the future and whose behavior may be influenced by the forecasts that they or others make. To be sure, historical relationships and regularities can help economists, as well as weather forecasters, gain some insight into the future, but these must be used with considerable caution and healthy skepticism.”
“The financial crisis that began in August 2007 is the most severe since the Great Depression, and it has been the principal cause of the global recession that began last fall. Battling that crisis and trying to mitigate its effect on the U.S. and global economies has dominated my waking hours now for some 21 months. My colleagues at the Fed and I have been called on to take many tough decisions, including adopting extraordinary and unprecedented policy measures to address the crisis.”
“At the same time, because I appreciate the role of chance and contingency in human events, I try to be appropriately realistic about my own capabilities. I know there is much that I don’t know. I consequently try to be attentive to all points of view, to work collaboratively, and to involve as many smart people in policy decisions as possible. Fortunately, my colleagues and the staff at the Federal Reserve are outstanding. And indeed, many of them have demonstrated their own breadth and flexibility, moving well beyond their previous training and experience to tackle a wide range of novel and daunting issues, usually with great success.”
“You are lucky also to be living and studying in the United States. There is a lot of pessimistic talk now about the future of America’s economy and its role in the world. Such talk accompanies every period of economic weakness. The United States endured a decade-long Great Depression and returned to prosperity and global leadership. When I graduated from college in 1975, and from graduate school in 1979, the economy was sputtering, gas prices and inflation were high, and pessimism–malaise, President Carter called it–was rampant. The U.S. economy subsequently entered more than two decades of growth and prosperity. The economy will recover–it has too many fundamental strengths to be kept down for too long–and the mood will brighten.”
SPX at 908.7 as this post is written