There’s blood in the streets…and Ben Stein is manning the barricades

January 29th, 2007 → 10:51 am @

I’ve already come clean about my man love for Ben Stein, especially as it relates to his column in the New York Times‘s Sunday business section. The current state of American capitalism has been depressed ol’ Ben as of late despite the fact that, as he often reminds us, he’s been incredibly lucky in life, love, and business.

His latest masterpiece (punnily titled “A Hard Rain That’s Falling on Capitalism,” and yes, there are Dylan references throughout) has Stein saying he “feels queasy” as the behavior of the country’s CEO’s. “These misdeeds and many, many more are hammer blows at the granite foundation of trust we built in the 1940s and ’50s. How long democratic capitalism can survive these blows before it gives in and gives birth to revolution or to an out-and-out aristocracy, I am not sure,” he writes. “Empires come and go. Economic systems come and go. There is no heavenly guarantee that capitalism will last forever as we know it. It’s built on man’s notion that he can trust his neighbor with his money, and that if the neighbor misbehaves, the law will chase him and catch him, and that the ladder of law has no top and no bottom, that even the nobles get properly handled (Bob Dylan again) once they have been caught. If that trust disappears — if the system is no longer a system for the ordinary citizen but only for the tough guys — how much longer can the miracle last?”

Yeow. Stein thinks that trust is disappearing. And it scares him. “Each day’s newspaper, it seems, brings more tidings of unrestrained selfishness and self-dealing and rafts of powerful people saying it’s good for us to be robbed if only we truly understood the system,” he says towards the end of the piece. “The problem is, we’re getting to understand it all too well. And there is no one in Washington — absolutely no one — to help.”

Let this sink in for a minute. Ben Stein — capitalism stooge, former Nixon speechwriter, longtime insider — is so disgusted as the state of our current economic system he fears for its future. And this is despite the fact that he’s done well enough to reach this epiphany while floating on his back in his Malibu pool.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Post Categories: Ben Stein & New York Times

Introducing the world’s best columnist

October 30th, 2006 → 12:07 pm @

Okay, I’m overstating things a bit; I was stymied in my efforts to come up with a headline that punned off of either “Ferris Bueller” or “Win Ben Stein’s Money.” So without further throatclearing: the New York Times‘s best columnist is not Paul Krugman or Tom Friedman or Maureen Dowd. It’s Ben Stein, who’s been quietly penning a column for the Sunday Business section titled “Everybody’s Money.”

I say quietly because Sunday is ugly stepdaughter of the Business department (although recent efforts to improve its quality have resulted in marked improvement). The people who cherish the Sunday Times — you know, the “she reads the Book Review, I do the crossword” people — are the liberal arts, self-styled intellectual types who want to read about books (even if they don’t read books), or want to be up-to-date on the arts world (even if they don’t actually go to museums). Business folk, on the other hand, are not reaching for a door stopper-sized paper on Sundays. They get their news during the actual work-week; that’s why the Wall Street Journal doesn’t even bother publishing on Sundays. (Its recent Saturday edition was created mainly to draw in more women readers.) A recent stilted effort to move the Times media coverage from Monday to Sunday died a quick death when the paper’s media writers staged a mini-revolt.

But I digress. Stein’s column — this week’s was about the total lack of shame in corporate America — isn’t so good because it’s well-written and easy to understand, although it’s both. Its strength lies in the fact that many of Stein’s columns seem to go against what you’d assume Stein’s views to be; a life-long Republican and former speech writer and lawyer in the Nixon administration could reasonably be assumed to be a deranged firebreather (think Pat Buchanan) or at least a reliable conservative (think William Safire). But a surprising number of Stein’s columns decry the greed (and stupidity) or corporate America. What’s more, Stein’s pieces seem more affable than angry. He’s not shouting from the treetops or preaching to the converted, which is the trap most opinion-mongers on both sides of the aisle fall into. He likes money. He likes being well off. But he doesn’t let that, or his political affiliation, blind him to the realities of our current economic environment.

So let me be the first to call for freeing Ben Stein from Sunday’s purgatory. Let’s move the man to the actual Op-Ed page! He’d certainly stand out. And that’d be a good thing.

(As an aside/addendum, Joe Nocera, who was poached from Fortune this past April, may very well be the Times‘s best on-staff columnist. I get why he’s in the paper’s Business section and not on the Op-Ed page…but why, in God’s name, is he relegated to Saturday, the least-read paper of the week? Anyone? Anyone?)

Post Categories: Ben Stein & Joe Nocera & New York Times