Oxford University Gazette

Encaenia 1998: Speeches by the Public Orator

Professor Sir JAMES MIRRLEES, FBA

Professor of Political Economy, University of Cambridge

Redit ad nos honorandus vir quem diu in nostris numerabamus, adhuc nostrum salutamus. nam viginti septem annos hic cathedram obtinebat, fisci et opum publicarum rationem nobis explicabat, disceptationes spinosissimas enodabat quibus continentur graves istae quaestiones quae ad vectigalia pertinent. et mehercle ni temporis angustiis interclusus essem civitates plurimas numerare possem quibus hic consilio subvenit saluberrimo. hoc autem aperte confitendum est: hic quem produco vectigalia et tributa, quae ceteris fere odio sunt, sibi expetivit elegit optavit; hic admiranda illa inventa excogitavit, quae ut sunt Anglico sermone haud ita facilia expositu, ita Latino et oratori et auditoribus in magnas angustias compulsis tenebras fere offunderent. ne videar igitur vobis, quaeso, omnino defecisse, si unam saltem bene propono quaestionem, explicationem quam hic, quo est acumine, repperit, prudentioribus linquo. primum ergo hoc sumamus: ii qui summam rerum administrant hoc in vectigalibus imponendis cordi habent, ut cives, alius alio plus minusve lucri laboribus suis consecuti, secundum vires suas quisque pensitent, quaestus autem quam maximus fiat. sed hic haeremus, nam quantum quisque laborando consequi et in commune conferre possit cuique quidem cognitum est, rei publicae fiscique gubernatoribus ignotum. quid igitur prohibebit ne cives pecuniae summam praetendant vera minorem, coactores ac vectigalia eludant? hic est qui calculum invenit abstrusiorem quo fretis licet rei publicae rectoribus sic vectigalia imponere ut universi quantum re vera possunt et laborent et se laborare fateantur: tum denique satisfieri rei publicae usui, tunc optime procedere tributorum stipendiorumque rationem.

Praesento computatorum principem, oeconomum summum, rei pecuniariae magistrum perfectissimum, Iacobum Mirrlees, Equitem Auratum, Academiae Britannicae Socium, Praemio Nobeliano nobilitatum, ut admittatur honoris causa ad gradum Doctoris in Litteris.

Admission by the Chancellor

Vir de Cancellarii deliciis, et de hac Academia et de fisco, optime merite, cuius praeclari labores et huic nostrae rei publicae et aliis plurimis conduxerunt, ego auctoritate mea et totius Universitatis admitto te ad gradum Doctoris in Litteris honoris causa.

Paraphrase

We welcome back for an honorary degree a man who was for many years one of us, and whom we still greet as ours. For twenty-seven years Sir James Mirrlees occupied an Oxford chair, lecturing on public finances and all the thorny questions that are connected with taxation. But for the constraints of time I could list many foreign governments to whom he acted as adviser. It is useless to disguise the fact that his preferred area of expertise has been one which is not the most popular with many people: that of revenues and taxation. It was here that he made those important theoretical advances which are by no means easy to describe even in English, and which in Latin, I fear, would plunge Orator and audience alike into a morass of perplexity. I hope it will not be thought too evasive if I leave a detailed exposition to more qualified pens and limit myself to a general statement of one of the problems. Let us assume that in their taxation policy the aim of governments is to ensure that all citizens, whatever their income, should pay according to their means; and also that the total sum raised should be as great as possible. But there is a difficulty. Each citizen knows his own earning power, but the taxing authority does not. What is to prevent the citizens from returning smaller figures? It was Sir James who devised the subtle calculations which make it possible for intelligent governments to pursue a policy which will result in each tax-payer both maximising his earning power and being fully taxed on it. That is the optimal position in this field.

I present a prince among calculators, a supreme economist, a perfect master of financial policy, Sir James Mirrlees FBA, Nobel Prizeman, for admission to the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters.

Admission by the Chancellor

You are a man of wide and great services: to this University and to HM Treasury, two institutions dear to my double cancellarian heart, and to this nation as well as to many others. Acting on my own authority and that of the whole University, I admit you to the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters.

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