Citation presented by Linda Bell,
Associate Professor of Economics
Well, I've been trying
in the last 90 seconds to invent an economist whoop without
any success, so my apologies. Congratulations to you all.
This is, as you know, a culmination, but it's also a beginning.
And I'd like to tell you how important it is that you have
this start, and what can be accomplished with learning.
I've had the great good fortune
to have had a varied career, always involved with writing
and words, but various kinds of words. If you look at its
progression, which almost looks like I'm going backwards-I
started by writing very academic things, mostly not in English,
that only a few people would read-I moved on to writing things
for a wider but still pretty rarified audience, and now I'm
writing for a fairly wide public. And at one level you might
say, gee, what's that all about? Why did I spend all these
early years worrying about strange diagrams, lots of Greek
letters and mathematics, when now I'm writing 700 words for
people who are intelligent but don't have that background?
The answer, which I hope is a moral for all of you, is that
it's actually the same thing, that while the details are different
there's a fundamental commonality.
There's a fundamental sort of rules
and ethics of what you should do with your education, what
you should do with what you've learned in school and beyond,
which is first, whatever it is you're worried about, learn
as much as you can. Try to understand, don't decide you know
what you want to believe and go with it, but learn as much
as you can. Try to understand, whether it's the details of
international trade theory or the subject that's the hottest
political debate of this week. The other is, after having
learned, and learning what other people think and what other
people have said, think for yourself.
It's the same thing in my mind to ask yourself, well, we have
a traditional explanation of international trade, is that
really the right story? Are we missing something? Which is
what I was doing when I was not much older than you are now.
Or to be asking, well, we have an official word about the
explanation for what we're doing in our domestic and foreign
policies, but are they telling the truth? Always, just think
We have, in these last few years it
has been a grim time for the country, and I'm not going to
get too political but let me just say that it seems to me
these last several years, a lot of people who should be doing
better have succumbed to a kind of willful ignorance, because
we were a nation that was shocked and horrified, because things
that we didn't think could happen had happened. Many people,
unfortunately too many people in positions of influence, too
many people in the public eye, succumbed to the temptation
to simplify, to say, OK, I just want to know that we're good
and the other people are bad. There are good guys and there
are bad guys, and we don't want to hear about the details.
There are bad guys, they are bad, I don't want to know about
the differences between them, I don't want to know about the
differences between them, I don't want to know what it is
that makes it possible for this to happen, and we are the
good guys and we're led by good guys and therefore I'm only
going to see good, and I'm not going to ask if some of those
people who say that they're the good guys are maybe not quite
so good after all. Are they actually telling the truth?
It's been a very sad period when
many people, in truth, said that if you asked hard questions,
if you looked at the complexities, if you question the motives
of those who claim to be speaking for the good guys, that
you are actually being a bad guy yourself, that it's actually
unpatriotic to think. We have gone through a long period,
at least it seems like a very long period to me, of willful
ignorance. But, not everyone did that. I had the enormous
good fortune to be expressing doubts, raising questions in
public, and for that it has not been fun, but I'm grateful
to have had the opportunity to do it. But many other people
did. When we look back at these last few years, I think that
we will regard the heroes-and there are many of them-as those
who didn't succumb to that temptation of willful ignorance,
who did say, wait a second, just because someone says moral
clarity and gives us a speech and tells us that we're the
bad guys and it's a bad thing to criticize, that that's the
truth. And it could start with the smallest things. You don't
have to be an expert. You don't have to know or have inside
sources or deep expertise. All you have to do is start by
saying all right, you just said something about the federal
budget. Well, it's not very hard for an ordinary citizen to
learn something about where the money comes from and where
it goes, and if you did that, and you are willing to follow
your own mind, your own conscience, you would have said, "That
man up there who just said he's our leader, he's also just
said that two minus one equals four, and that's not true,
and maybe some of the other things aren't true as well."
What does it take to be right?
What it takes is education. Not just formal education-although
you've just had a terrific formal education, so you're perfectly
positioned-and it takes a willingness to think. And it takes
courage, not physical courage, though that's always important,
but intellectual courage, the willingness to think for yourself.
And I hope that all of you will understand just what a wonderful
thing it is to be able to think for yourselves and stand up
for the great traditions of this nation. We are people who
always, from the beginning, did think for themselves.