Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke addressed Princeton University graduates Sunday. In remarks titled “The Ten Suggestions,” he counseled the new grads to remain grateful for the advantageous circumstances of their lives.
“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,” Bernanke said. “The only way for even a putative meritocracy to hope to pass ethical muster, to be considered fair, is if those who are the luckiest in all of those respects also have the greatest responsibility to work hard, to contribute to the betterment of the world, and to share their luck with others. 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’ (Luke 12:48, New Revised Standard Version Bible). Kind of grading on the curve, you might say.”
Seemingly as soon as those words left Bernanke’s mouth, journalists started speculating about the extent to which that statement reveals Bernanke as one who favors heavy taxation of rich Americans.
“You'd be hard pressed, for instance, to find a more eloquent justification for progressive taxation,” The Atlantic’s Jordan Weissmann wrote. “(I guess you could interpret that as an exhortation to donate to charity … but come on). Coming from another speaker, that passage wouldn't be too remarkable. Coming from the world's most powerful central banker, it's pretty refreshing.”
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman blogged, “As soon as you portray the choice that way, you’ve introduced a strong presumption in favor of redistribution. After all, if you should happen to end up as a member of the top 1 percent, an extra dollar at the margin won’t mean a lot to you; but if you should happen to end up as a member of, say, the bottom quintile, an extra dollar could make a lot of difference. So you should, other things equal, favor a system of progressive taxation and generous aid to the poor and unlucky.”
Jamshid Ghazi Askar is a graduate of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School and member of the Utah State Bar. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 801-236-6051.