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A letter from an alum about John Bogle ’51 and Philip Bell ’46 *56 and Burt Malkiel *64

February 26, 2004

Of Unions, Random Walks and Soft Hearts

This week's PAW articles (February 25, 2004) by Brett Tomlinson, "An old friendship: New again" and "Financial success possible: Just hold on," left me with two nagging thoughts. I could not help but detect some obvious links between the two stories, and the heart-warming story of mentor (Bell) and student (Bogle) surely deserves a more climactic ending.

The lost-and-found story certainly cries out for a creative generalization of Prof. Malkiel's efficient-market thesis to life outside the sanitized world of financial economics. To wit: you throw a towel over the map pages covering the equivalent of 30 miles, let your nimble fingers do the walking until you stumble on the location of your friends, and then hold! This approach is obviously as efficient and much less expensive than a professional people finder. 

What transpired at the reunion of Prof. Bell and Mr. Bogle, I humbly submit, also lends itself to a superb application of a principle enhanced by another Princeton luminary, Prof. Alan Blinder. To wit: do combine the values of hard-headed analysis and soft-hearted application of economics, happily cherished by the two illustrious Princetonians, in the cause of better economic policy in Africa. 

In this scheme, Mr. Bogle would create a small endowment, to be invested in Vanguard 500, and Prof. Bell would use the proceeds to re-engage in his lifelong mission of advocacy of better policy. The Vanguard extricating the Laggard out of a poverty trap is the kind of random act of kindness worthy of being dubbed, "Princeton economics in the world's service."

Berhanu Abegaz '77
Williamsburg, Va.

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