The Trouble with Ben Stein

A few weeks ago I said here I wasn’t going to read econo-talkshow host Ben Stein’s NY Times columns any more. They are anecdotal arguments from pseudo-authority rife with pandering and half-cooked conspiracy theories. In other words, they are just plain silly.

And then, much to my dismay, I stumbled into reading his weekend NY Times on how hedge fund traders run the world. Don’t even get me started on his nutty anecdote that Dealbreaker dissects here, or the unsupported claim that corporate earnings drive the market on a 1:1 basis. but the rest of the piece was no better.

Particularly egregious, at least to me, was the implicit claim that the capital markets are there in large part to help people save for old age. No they’re not, and if regulators or governments ever decided to enforce that particular view we would likely have a market crash. The market are there to provide liquidity. Period. And if by doing that people are able buy stock and bonds in companies whose value appreciate, that’s great. But markets whose core notion is wealth accumulation for individual savers, and markets whose main object is liquidity creation, are very, very different things, as even a lapsed economist Mr. Stein should know.

Why does the NY Times continue to run this drivel? Fine, people are talking about it, but it’s embarrassingly bad stuff. Couldn’t the Times run, you know, random stuff pecked out by cockatoos or something?


  1. Paul, he has a name, a profile and a gimmick. Name recognition drives readership in the Times and being in the Times supports name recognition. Not a bad gig – for him.
    And I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn that it’s been recently determined that media isn’t simply about the Passionate Pursuit of the Truth 😉

  2. I’m convinced I keep getting lured in by Stein’s headlines. Once you trudge past the latest above-the-fold Gretchen Morgenstern revelation of the evil corporation, the headlines on Stein’s columns seem downright alluring on page 2. Suckers me in everytime.

  3. Blane Burns says:

    Business exists to make a profit. Right? Anything less is called a failure. Charity exists for humanitarian reasons although many of those are also about profit; at least for the directors of the charities. As a footnote here, never attend a church whose minister lives in a fine home and drives an expensive car…the same applies to charities. Politicians should not get rich from their service. That should already have occured for them and the service is about giving back. That was the idea when the US government was formed anyway. Sadly, they forgot. There is nothing trustworthy about any venture involving humans. This includes journalism. I see everybody has an ax to grind. Human beings are not ants or bees. Socialism never works for humans. Never believe that lie. We cannot abide it. The rule of life: Adapt or die. Today, everything is about money. No law was ever passed that didn’t make somebody a mint. Not a one….

  4. Consider this: your blog entries about him (at least 4 over the last month or so) are the only reason I’m aware he even has an NYT column.
    Just ignore him. Don’t post about him anymore.

  5. PS. Krugman is just as bad. Dowd too. Brooks is lame. Frank Rich – terrible. They all suck. The NYT opinion pages and columnists are crap. Big deal.

  6. You folks are jealous he’s a movie star :)
    Business reporting itself has become so degraded it consists of “anecdotal arguments from pseudo-authority rife with pandering” to corporate PR.
    If one can report, for example, slide’s “500m valuation” on an investment with a liquidation preference, how is this any different, especially since it’s clearly an opinion piece?

  7. Who else could go from “Bueller? Bueller?” to having a NY Times column?

  8. Mr. Stein is a conservative. The NYT is a liberal paper. Mr. Stein makes ignorant comments. The NYT makes conservatives look stupid, and thus reinforces their own “smartness,” by giving Mr. Stein a platform to make stupid remarks.
    Eh? Eh? Eh?

  9. Dude, you still read the Times? There’s a far better paper a little north of where you live, the LA times, the best city paper in the country (the WSJ is the best paper). I will say though that the editorial sections of all these papers are horrible across the board, with the only difference being that the WSJ opinion section is not as horrible as the NYT. It’s understandable however, if anybody were to write anything truly interesting, it’s bound to piss somebody off and the paper would be constantly criticized and hurt their bottom line. Ever since newspapers became bigger businesses, anybody with half a mind to be the next Mencken has long since been driven out of the newsroom. If you want interesting, well-thought out opinion, that’s what blogs are for. :)

  10. blueoysterjoe says:

    Stuart is absolutely right. As maddening as it is, Ben Stein has a column because he is a celebrity. People see his face and say, “Oh, I know him,” and they buy papers.
    And Ben Stein isn’t the only one.
    Dunno. I am never entirely sure why anyone buys the New York Times anymore, unless they live in New York? Have too much money? Own the paper?
    Dunno. It’s a silly paper with a serious font.

  11. Roscoe Telleman says:

    It should be duly noted that Ben Stein’s movie was to be released in February. Suddenly it’s in April. This, I believe, because they knew that in a Super Tuesday month, not even the Stein followers would pay any attention.