Michael Lewis, the author of Moneyball, Liar's Poker, and The Blind Side gave the commencement address at Princeton University on Sunday. He spoke eloquently about the role of luck and privilege. He then described a behavioural experiment where subjects were divided into random groups of 3 and one of the three was randomly appointed to be the "team leader," though the title came with no additional duties. The teams were then given a moral problem to discuss. After 30 minutes they were given a plate of 4 cookies. The experiment found that the randomly assigned team leader felt entitled too, and took, the extra cookie.
This experiment helps to explain Wall Street bonuses and CEO pay, and I'm sure lots of other human behavior. But it also is relevant to new graduates of Princeton University. In a general sort of way you have been appointed the leader of the group. Your appointment may not be entirely arbitrary. But you must sense its arbitrary aspect: you are the lucky few. Lucky in your parents, lucky in your country, lucky that a place like Princeton exists that can take in lucky people, introduce them to other lucky people, and increase their chances of becoming even luckier. Lucky that you live in the richest society the world has ever seen, in a time when no one actually expects you to sacrifice your interests to anything. All of you have been faced with the extra cookie. All of you will be faced with many more of them. In time you will find it easy to assume that you deserve the extra cookie. For all I know, you may. But you'll be happier, and the world will be better off, if you at least pretend that you don't.