Ben Stein Watch: September 30, 2007

I’m a uniter, not a divider. I’m a lover, not a fighter. I don’t like to engage

in the politics of personal destruction. But as Jonathan Landman might say,

we have to stop Ben Stein from writing for the Times. Right now. And so, by

popular demand, the first weekly Ben Stein Watch.

Stein uses his

column this week to ask a question: "Is It Responsible to Shun Military

Contractors?". Stein is a believer that investing isn’t just about money:

I certainly believe in socially responsible investing for myself. I sold

my tobacco shares long ago. (They have done fantastically well since then,

but I don’t regret my decision.)

Unfortunately, Stein doesn’t tell us why he sold his tobacco shares. So we’re

going to just have to take a wild guess: maybe it’s because cigarettes kill


Yet somehow Stein just can’t comprehend why some socially responsible investors

don’t want to invest in arms manufacturers. "I don’t understand this

whole attitude," he writes. "Maybe someone can explain it to me."

Here, Ben, let me try, in words of one syllable:

Guns and bombs kill people.

Oh, damn, "people" is two syllables.

But let me rewind, to the very first sentence of Stein’s column:

Henry Blodget should have started out as a writer.

I might point Stein to the second sentence of Blodget’s wikipedia


Blodget received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University and began

his career as a freelance journalist and was a proofreader for Harper’s


Sigh. But then again, we’re talking here about a man who can’t even quote himself

accurately. Last

week, he wrote this:

This famous equation, MV = PT, had long been thought to explain everything,

and maybe it did. But why, then, if M rose and V and T showed only modest

growth, if any, didn’t P rise? (Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?)

Stein, of course, is the man who played the economics teacher in Ferris Bueller’s

Day Off. "Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?" is funny when it comes from Brad

DeLong, attacking

Stein. But the thing is, Stein’s character never actually says it in the


Stein finishes up his column seemingly asking the SEC to regulate everything

that absolutely anybody might conceivably invest in. He doesn’t claim that this

massive expansion of regulatory responsibilities would do any good,

mind you; he just ends his column, cryptically enough, by saying that "the

ladder of law should have no top and no bottom." It’s a Bob Dylan lyric

which Stein obviously loves, since this is the second time this year he’s trundled

it out.

So here’s my idea. Since Stein clearly isn’t being featured in the business

section on the grounds of his economic expertise, he’s obviously got this gig

on the grounds of his celebrity status. Maybe the Times has no desire to replace

Stein with someone (like DeLong, say) who actually knows what he’s talking about

– what they want is a writer who’s vaguely familiar with economic concepts

but who’s also something of a household name. My suggestion: Bob Dylan.

Update: Of course, the column came out in September,

not October (which was in my original headline). Thanks to Mark

Thoma for catching the cock-up.

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