You’re probably more familiar with Ben Stein as a movie actor, but, believe it or not, he’s actually a moderately conservative economist–one definitely in the neo-liberal mold. So I was shocked by his last NY Times column: he sounded like a shrill librul.
First, he laments CEO salaries:
When I was a lad, the chief executive of a major public company was paid about 30 or 40 times what a line worker was paid. Now the multiple is about 180. What did they do in the executive suite to become so great? Upon what meat do they feed? Why, as we are being killed by foreign competition, do we need to pay our executives so much?
We have investigators looking into whether some corporations paid their executives with stock options whose strike price was retroactively determined to be the lowest price of the quarter, so that the options were “in the money” from Day One. After opening investigations into the remarkable timing of some of their own option grants, several companies restated their financial reports, which makes it straight-up fraud in my book. Not one person has been charged with any crime, while young black men and women who sell a tiny amount of drugs on a street corner do hard time. How can this be right?
We have immense corporations that cry the blues all day long about how their pension costs are ruining them and how they have to freeze pensions or lay off workers or end pensions altogether (can you say “Friendly Skies?”) and turn over the pension liabilities to the taxpayers. And the same corporations set aside many millions for the superpensions of the top executives.
Then excoriates credit-card Republicanism:
As I endlessly point out, taxes for the rich are lower than they have ever been in my lifetime. (To be fair, taxes for the nonrich taxes are very low as well.) And this is occurring as we accumulate government liabilities that will kill us in the long run. (And cutting spending will not work. Most federal and state spending is for items that are untouchable, like Medicare, education, the military — and, most cruelly of all, interest on the national debt. Every president promises to cut spending and not one of them does it unless a war comes to an end.)
We are mortgaging ourselves to foreigners on a scale that would make George Washington cry. Every day — every single day — we borrow a billion dollars from foreigners to buy petroleum from abroad, often from countries that hate us. We are the beggars of the world, financing our lavish lifestyle by selling our family heirlooms and by enslaving our progeny with the need to service the debt….
Finally, echoing what many liberals have been saying for the last few years, he asks if indebtedness–which will be paid for by those least able to do so–is what Americans should be risking their lives for:
Is this America, where far too many of the rich endlessly loot their stockholders and kick the employees in the teeth, the America that our soldiers in Ramadi and Kirkuk and Anbar Province and Afghanistan are fighting for? Is this America, where we will end up so far behind the financial eight ball we won’t be able to see because of mismanagement by both parties, the America that our men and women are losing limbs for, coming home in boxes for?
The Saturday before Memorial Day, I spoke at a gathering of widows and widowers, parents and children of men and women in uniform who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. The person who spoke before me was a beautiful woman named Joanna Wroblewski, whose husband of less than two years — after four years dating at Rutgers — had been killed in Iraq…
ARE we keeping the faith with Joanna Wroblewski? Are we keeping the faith with her husband? Are we maintaining an America that is not just a financial neighborhood, but also a brotherhood and a sisterhood worth losing your young husband for?
Is this still a community of the heart, or a looting opportunity? Will there even be a free America for Mrs. Wroblewski’s descendants, or will we be a colony of the people to whom we have sold our soul? Are we keeping the faith with this young widow? That is the question I ask about this beloved and glorious America for which her husband, Lt. John Thomas Wroblewski, died. If we are, we should be proud. If we are not, we’d better change, and soon.
While I think Stein is wrong about both parties mismanaging the budget–after all, Clinton, a Democrat left office with a surplus, not a deficit, unlike, erm, Little Lord Pontchartrain–you can’t expect an overnight conversion.
And remember: he’s a conservative.
Conservative to the point of being a Nixon appologist even. He had some rather scathing (and IMHO, hyperbolic) articles against Mark Felt when his identity was revealed a while back.
He was a speechwriter for Nixon and Ford.
Of course, Clinton had a Republican Congress to deal with. Personally, I like divided government. When one party controls the Presidency and both Houses of Congress, the result is what you see today: No accountability and no checks on spending. It was the same with the Democrats in 1994 when the Republicans took over. Things seem to work best when you have a Republican President and Democratic Congress or vice-versa, because for any legislation to pass there has to be broad bipartisan support.
Yes, I like divided government.
Orac, you’re got a tough sell ahead of you. You’re trying to imply that the same congress that has rubber-stamped Bush’s deficits kept Clinton from going on some sort of cocaine induced spending spree.
Sorry, not buying it. Go sell that **** somewhere else. Haven’t you figured out yet that no matter what they say, or what the conventional wisdom is, it’s the Republicans who are the party of big, intrusive government.
I like competent government, something the Republicans seem incapable of doing.
Actually, to be more accurate, it’s Republican presidents. Along came Reagan with supply-side economics, and he pushed the deficit to levels unheard of, except for world wars. Along came Bush I and Clinton, and things got better. Along comes Bush II, and here we go again.