Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 25, 2009
By: Hilzoy

Dear Ben Stein ...

Ben Stein has a truly unbelievable column in today's NYT (h/t). You should stop reading this post right now, and after you've made sure that you won't get Diet Coke all over the keyboard once you start laughing, click through and read it.

For those of you who didn't take my advice: he starts by telling us a tale of woe. A woman he knows has an interest-only mortgage on a house that was worth $2.7 million when she paid for it, and costs her about $12,000 a month. She gets $20,000 a month in child support and alimony, half of which will stop this summer.

"She has a wealthy beau who pays her credit card bills and other incidentals, but she is thinking of telling him she is through with him. She has no savings and has refinanced her home repeatedly, always adding to indebtedness and then putting the money into a shop she owns that has never come close to earning a dime. Now she is up all night worrying about money. "Terrified," as she put it. She wanted me to tell her what to do."

Ben Stein has, he says, known this woman since she was a teenager. The time for financial advice was a long, long time ago, before the housing market went down and her chances to sell at a profit shrank dramatically, before the economy tanked and her prospects for gainful employment went glimmering. On the other hand, it's not entirely clear that someone who has, apparently, lived her whole life on someone else's dime, without asking herself whether this arrangement was sustainable until quite recently, would have listened.

Then there's Ben Stein's son:

"My handsome son, age 21, a student, has just married a lovely young woman, 20. You may have seen on television the pudgy, aging face of their sole means of support. (...)

I wish I could teach that work ethic to those close to me. I wish I could teach them that money is a scarce good, worth fighting for and protecting. But I very much fear that my son, more up-to-date than I am in almost every way, is more of a modern-day American than I am. To hustle and scuffle for a deal is something he cannot even imagine. To not be able to eat at any restaurant he feels like eating at is just not on his wavelength. Of course, that’s my fault. (I have learned that everything bad that happens anywhere is my fault.) And I hope to be able to leave him well enough provided for to ease his eventual transition into some form of self-sufficiency."

Ben: your friend has already made enough disastrous choices that she probably has few options that do not involve selling most of her worldly goods. But your son is a different story. Supporting him while he's a student is fine. Supporting him in such a way that "to not be able to eat at any restaurant he feels like eating at is just not on his wavelength" is a different story. That's not necessary, and it's no favor at all to your son.

I know whereof I speak. When I was a kid, I had no conception of money at all. It did not occur to me until some time in junior high that people took jobs for any reason other than because working was interesting, and because one should try to be of some use to the world. It never really occurred to me to wonder how my parents came to have a house, or clothes, or the money they gave me for my allowance.

However, I did know one thing: that to rely on my parents for things I could do myself, let alone to simply expect the world to somehow produce whatever I wanted, was somehow shameful. I was aware that there were kids who were spoiled -- I even knew some -- but I never particularly wanted to be one of them, however much I might have wanted this or that particular toy. It wasn't that I looked down on them or disliked them. It was that I was puzzled by something like their lack of self-respect. (This is, of course, how I put it now. Back then I would not have been able to say what bothered me about them. But something always did, and it wasn't something bad about them; more something sad.)

This way of thinking has always served me well. Where, I wonder, could I possibly have gotten it? Might there have been some, well, some adults who were in a position to have influenced my thinking when I was a child, and who might have given me this idea? Like, maybe, I don't know, my parents?

I don't want to say that everything is all Ben Stein's fault. His son is an adult, and adults are responsible for their actions. I do, however, think that saying "I wish I could teach that work ethic to those close to me" about your own children is a bit peculiar. Some people do manage to teach their children about the importance of fending for themselves. Luckily for me.

However, what's done is done. If I were Ben Stein, I think I'd revisit the nature of my support for my son. If the idea that he might not be able to eat out wherever he wants any time is alien to him, he either has very, very, very simple tastes or is getting way too much money. That should stop. Moreover, if I were backing any of my son's credit cards, or in any other way enabling him to rack up debt rather than living on a budget, I would stop that as well. I'd also figure out what I was prepared to do for him once he graduated, and make that very, very clear well in advance. Then I would stick to it. And "what I was prepared to do" would not be "support him and his wife indefinitely."

Of course, this is a lot easier if you've already taught your kids that self-respect requires self-reliance. In that case, given a modicum of luck, any arguments you have about money will go like this:

Parent: Wait, why didn't you tell me you needed money?

Kid: Um, er ... (shuffles feet and looks at floor.)

However, better late than never. You will be doing your son a favor. You'll know you're on your way if, the next time you write a sentence like "The age when money was a free good, available in unlimited quantities just for signing a note, may well be over", he looks at you, rolls his eyes, and says: "Money was free? Really? When exactly was that, Dad?"

And if, on reading a column like this one, your son asks you why you're focussing on someone who managed to get deep in debt while living in a $2.7 million dollar house and getting $240,000 a year in alimony and child support, and not on people who are poor or middle-class, then you can rest easy and congratulate yourself on a job well done.

Hilzoy 2:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (70)

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Comments

The rich are different than us as apparently money makes you stupid.

For some reason I'm also reminded of the parable of the grasshopper and the ant.

Posted by: Former Dan on January 25, 2009 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

I'm getting orders from the "get off my lawn" lobe to type the words "When I was their age..." and just rail on from there. But, no.

But... still, I really don't get it. I think maybe I'll go re-read Melville's 'The Confidence-Man".

Posted by: MattF on January 25, 2009 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

Stein is supporting a married child? Isn't that the very definition of bad parenting?

Posted by: masaccio on January 25, 2009 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

I don't really remember when I first tied the concept of working to paying for the stuff you need to live. But I remember quite well that in our house, mom and dad didn't talk money in front of us. We never had any idea how much dad earned because our parents told us it was none of our business. It was one of those things that was "impolite" to talk about, so they figured we didn't need to know.

The other thing I remember even better is that my parents made it clear to us that being wasteful was, well, just wrong. I'm sure that came from my dad's upbringing in the depression years and my mom's childhood during the war - scarcity was a normal condition for them growing up, and the concept of "waste not, want not" carried over into adulthood and then, into us. And it occurs to me that if we all were in the habit of looking upon wastefulness as something like a sin, we wouldn't be where we are right now, deeply in debt, many of us because we insisted on the biggest and most wasteful homes, cars, and lives.

Posted by: Jennifer on January 25, 2009 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

What Ben's son and friend lack is not necessarily work ethic, though I'm sure it gives Ben some sense of superiority to word it that way. What they lack is a sense of independence or self-reliance.

That said, in the case of the son, it wouldn't surprise me a bit if he grew up watching his father doing a few cameo roles or a game show, writing a few op-ed's, but spending most of his time on the golf course or hob-knobbing with nattering nabobs of negativism. Stein may think of that as hustling and scuffling for a deal. I would call it inspiration for his sadsack son and parasite friend.

Posted by: Danp on January 25, 2009 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

How is someone supposed to live on only $10,000 per month in alimony? I mean, maybe she can ACTUALLY WORK LIKE ANYONE ELSE IN THIS COUNTRY WITH HALF A BRAIN OR TWO HANDS!

I mean, HOLY SHIT! Are we really supposed to feel sorry for someone living in a GOD DAMN $2.2 MILLION MANSION WHO MIGHT HAVE TROUBLE WITH AN INTEREST-ONLY MORTGAGE?!?!

Well, here's the good news: there's a Sunday night soup kitchen at my church every week. I cook once a month, and will make sure that she receives at least one hot & healthy meal per week.

Man, it feels good to solve problems!

Posted by: rusrus on January 25, 2009 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

Um, excuse me? Ben Stein the global warming denier? His opinions are worth talking about why?

Posted by: rabbit on January 25, 2009 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

That was a tongue in cheek, satirical humor column, right? Perhaps Ben Stein is taking over Dear Abby's column with a "Dear Ben" financial advice column. Perhaps he should have advised his California friend to hang on to the lover who's paying her credit card bills until she can marry another gold mine. Or maybe she should go to a local vo-tech and learn plumbing.

Posted by: Goose on January 25, 2009 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

That poor woman! Whatever will she do?

Posted by: dontcallmefrancis on January 25, 2009 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

glad to see that the gold-digger will for the first time in her adult life have to shrink her expenditures.

I mean she's not willing to do what her benefactor does? She thinks she's worth more? In reality she's a prostitute who performs 'services' in order to live the life she thinks she's entitled to.

Schadenfreude.

Posted by: bruno on January 25, 2009 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

I know a guy who was born with money and imagined himself an "entrepreneur" because he always used his inherited money to run one unsuccessful business after another. And over the years, his fortune slowly dwindled as he sold one building after another, and even the business he was actively running was his first business success; just not successful enough to support his lifestyle. And now he owns no buildings and sold his one successful business last year because he had drained too much cash out of it and it couldn't pay its bills. And he's got nothing left and can't even make real money at his new job; which is the first real job he's ever had. I always warned him that this could happen, but he refused to even consider the possibility and insisted that he could make $10k a month easily working for someone else, even though he had never had a real job before. Needless to say, I'm very worried he's about to lose his expensive home, which he just refinanced last year.

Interestingly, he's a Republican and still insists that Bush was a very successful businessman before he went into politics. Their stories are far too similar. The only difference is that his family wasn't powerful enough to get him into politics. Yet all the same, he always believed that poor people just didn't work as hard as rich people like himself, and never listened to me when I told him to cut back on spending. Now, he's got nothing left and can't understand why. He always believed that making big bucks was easy, as long as you weren't lazy.

These people truly believe in magical thinking and refuse to contemplate the possibility that their wonderful lives might have had anything to do with luck. They're born on third base and imagine they hit a triple. That's how they can justify their egregious cold-heartedness towards helping those less fortunate. Life was so easy that they concluded that they must have done something to deserve it. Poor people don't really exist to them. They're just props to be talked about and object lessons of why laziness is bad. Poverty just isn't a reality to them. And now that it's finally hitting them, they lack the tools to explain it.

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on January 25, 2009 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

But I keep thinking of my friend in California, and what a perfect specimen of what we have become that she has become.

I don't know exactly what Ben Stein is trying to say here, but it sounds as if we have become a society of people who pull in a quarter of a million dollars a year annually, without doing anything for a living. I'd venture to say that this is not a representative description of "us".

Posted by: RSA on January 25, 2009 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

> Ben Stein the global warming denier?

If so, how could he understand, having built a life "lived ... on someone else's dime, without asking ... whether this arrangement was sustainable" -- that's the whole philosophy.

Catton ("Overshoot") calls'em "detritovores."

"You can never get enough of what you don't need."
-- Eric Hoffer

Posted by: Hank on January 25, 2009 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

The column had nothing to do with Stein's friend or son. The intent was to argue against government help for those in need.

Posted by: Bob on January 25, 2009 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

Or, as Tom Paine put it ("Rights of Man"):

Experience, in all ages, and in all countries, has demonstrated that it is impossible to control Nature in her distribution of mental powers. She gives them as she pleases. Whatever is the rule by which she, apparently to us, scatters them among mankind, that rule remains a secret to man. It would be as ridiculous to attempt to fix the hereditaryship of human beauty, as of wisdom. Whatever wisdom constituently is, it is like a seedless plant; it may be reared when it appears, but it cannot be voluntarily produced. There is always a sufficiency somewhere in the general mass of society for all purposes; but with respect to the parts of society, it is continually changing its place. It rises in one to-day, in another to-morrow, and has most probably visited in rotation every family of the earth, and again withdrawn....
...
Do we need a stronger evidence of the absurdity ... than is seen in the descendants of those men, in any line of life, who once were famous? Is there scarcely an instance in which there is not a total reverse of the character? It appears as if the tide of mental faculties flowed as far as it could in certain channels, and then forsook its course, and arose in others. How irrational then is the hereditary system, which establishes channels of power, in company with which wisdom refuses to flow! By continuing this absurdity, man is perpetually in contradiction with himself; he accepts, for a king, or a chief magistrate, or a legislator, a person whom he would not elect for a constable.

It appears to general observation, that revolutions create genius and talents; but those events do no more than bring them forward. There is existing in man, a mass of sense lying in a dormant state, and which, unless something excites it to action, will descend with him, in that condition, to the grave. As it is to the advantage of society that the whole of its faculties should be employed, the construction of government ought to be such as to bring forward, by a quiet and regular operation, all that extent of capacity which never fails to appear in revolutions.

This cannot take place in the insipid state of hereditary government, not only because it prevents, but because it operates to benumb. When the mind of a nation is bowed down by any political superstition in its government, such as hereditary succession is, it loses a considerable portion of its powers on all other subjects and objects.

-------------

Interpreted for today:

Support your public schools -- and the estate tax.

The descendants of rich people are no smarter than average, they're just richer.

The estate tax levels the chance for the brilliant -- who emerge equally from all levels of society as the genetic deck is reshuffled -- to emerge and do their best. This is what Paine meant.

Posted by: hank on January 25, 2009 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

My handsome son,

I can only assume that Ben Stein is married to some sort of supermodel..which would also be baffling along with the rest of that column.

His sadsack friend will just have to make due with her $10,000 a month in alimony, or $120,000 a year...and she still won't see a tax increase under Obama. I can't believe he wrote that expecting any reaction other than the figurative spit in the face.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on January 25, 2009 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

You also have to think that part of this is because kids receive abosutely no financial education. It should be mandatory that every person who graduates from high school has taken classes in financial planning and budgeting.

Posted by: mfw13 on January 25, 2009 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

I can feel a little bit of sympathy for him, despite his incessant BS pimping for destructive ideology. On one level he is saying, that being embedded in the plastic something for just being cute tinseltown culture makes the instilling of decent values an uphill battle. I see a little bit of this attitude of entitlement (to spending money and/or energy on a whim), in my own family (although to in no way this degree). When all their acquaintences and the entertainment media are reiforncing the entitlement mentality it is indeed a tough sell.

Posted by: bigTom on January 25, 2009 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

I have read in various places that Stein's bylined jobs alone gross him $500,000/year and have for at least 10 years. The guy has made $5 million since 1998 and hasn't put away enough to support his soon-to-be grandkids? Whassup with that?

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on January 25, 2009 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

%20,000 a month in child support?!

Why is it when the wealthy "get into trouble" they never actually have to suffer in any way. Michael Jackson goes broke, refinances his loan at the last minute and ends up once again well funded enough to live like a sultan untill he's spent his way through all of that. When is his scrawny ass finally going to end up on the street? that would happen to any average person who went bust.

We have to break this horrible vice of an aconomy that protects the weathy at all costs.

I don't work for a big company, but its not a small on, either. Of course, business is bad. Layoffs galore over the last year. 60 more people just went right before Christmas and more layoffs on the way. All drones. Not one person of a high level has been laid off. We just had a department meeting and had Obama's words thrown in our faces: we all have to be willing to suffer. So, we're told longer hours, harder work, and no raises this year. Someone raised his hand and saked

The wealthy in this country are picking th carcass clean. Untill that's stopped we will continue this decline.

Posted by: Saint Zak on January 25, 2009 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

Allan Snyder @ 4:01 p.m. Bingo! You get the prize, or rather Ben did: Alexandra Denman.

Aside: Ben's a funny guy, but this article of his is strange. Ben wants us all to believe everyone in America is like his friend or his son--a really myopic view.

Posted by: JayDenver on January 25, 2009 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

piss on this idiot. weary and tired of hearing from him for years now...

Posted by: effluvientOne on January 25, 2009 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

Cranky Observer: I find that figure very hard to believe. He writes an occasional op-ed in the NYTimes, contributes to Yahoo financial etc. Half a mil a year for free lance writing is next to impossible. He may have gotten some huge break one year and struck it rich, but even that seems unlikely. Is there a source you can cite?

Posted by: Bob on January 25, 2009 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

It should be mandatory that every person who graduates from high school has taken classes in financial planning and budgeting.

It is sufficient to give kids an allowance and to absolutely never, never give them money when they ask for it. They are forced to learn budgeting and saving to buy the things they want. This is how I and all my friends were raised.

The people I have met with no money sense are those whose parents gave them money on demand to buy toys, go to the movies, etc. Unfortunately, there was some stupid child-raising fad in recent years saying that allowances are bad.

Posted by: Walker on January 25, 2009 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

I guess the father-son talk at Ben's house went something like this:

"Stein? Stein? Stein? Stein?"

Posted by: lampwick on January 25, 2009 at 5:20 PM | PERMALINK

See, this post simply illustrates the difference between liberals and conservatives. Conservatives like Stein and his friends and family are tough manly bootstraps people who ask nothing of anyone else and live by a code of personal responsiblity. But liberals like Hilzoy are all, like, hey dad pay for my stuff.

Posted by: Mrs Tilton on January 25, 2009 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK

As stated above, Ben Stein's column is a strong argument for a stiff estate tax and making public education stronger.

Oddly I have been thinking about the impact of mommy and daddy's money on kids. If my wife and I end up with money rather than giving it to our kids I think I am going to find a good charity in need of funds. I love my children far more than Ben Stein loves his son.

Posted by: Ron Byers on January 25, 2009 at 5:24 PM | PERMALINK

Stein isn't complaining about his son's lack of work ethics and sense of entitlement. He's *bragging* about it. "Look at me! I can afford to support my son in style. And now his wife, too! I'm such a clever guy!"

Of course he's happy about the situation; he'll now have *two* people whose lives he can control. My own father nearly had a fit, when, at 16, I started cleaning apartments with my boyfriend, for money. He felt it reflected poorly on his manhood (bad enough that my mother worked and earned nearly twice as much as he did). But I was sick and tired of always having to be thankful for every ice-cream cone and every movie ticket. I didn't have an allowance; money was meted out on a "need" basis and he decided what I needed and didn't need. For the birds.

Posted by: exlibra on January 25, 2009 at 5:27 PM | PERMALINK

Boy, having Fox's financial expert as a friend sure was a plus for this woman, wasn't it?


Posted by: MrBenchley on January 25, 2009 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

I can only assume that Ben Stein is married to some sort of supermodel..which would also be baffling along with the rest of that column.

Stein's son is adopted. Stein shoots blanks... and not just intellectually.

Posted by: Roger Ailes on January 25, 2009 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

And what was his advice to this women?

Was it "MacDonalds is hiring"?

or is that just for "those people"

Posted by: jefft452 on January 25, 2009 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

I'm a rabid liberal. My dad was a true conservative who made it very clear to my brother and me that he would finance the best education he could afford and that we could qualify for, but the minute we graduated college, his funding ended and we were responsible for earning our own living. Aside from a couple of small loans, quickly repaid, he stuck to his guns and made us fend for ourselves, even if it meant living on Kraft mac and cheese, which I did for several years because I wanted a career in the arts. With a lot of hard work, I got one. My brother and I are both now self-made multi-millionaires. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Posted by: dalloway on January 25, 2009 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK

Thought this was a political blog..."Political Animal". God, guess they never have to worrry about super gluing their dental bridges or endure oral pain for months at a time...or choosing between an orange or an apple for the week. Squandering away resources easily obtained at the expense of others...definitely republican.

Posted by: bjobotts on January 25, 2009 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK

Ben, tell your son to do what I did to "escape" my parents in 1966. I went into the Army. Trust me, it will do wonders to give the kid a sense of reality that you obviously do not have.

Posted by: Repack Rider on January 25, 2009 at 6:05 PM | PERMALINK

".... My brother and I are both now self-made multi-millionaires. Coincidence? I don't think so.
Posted by: dalloway on January 25, 2009 at 5:51 PM

Education paid for does not mean self made. Paid for from birth with adult loan options...lacking nothing till turned out "on their own" (ha)in adulthood. You don't really believe that ego claim I suspect being that your entire lives were ensured from birth to make sure you'd have to go out of your way to fail. Yawn. Pity those born to poverty who seem cursed from the git go. Go brag to them about being self-made 'multi' millionaires...they need a good laugh.

Posted by: grumpy on January 25, 2009 at 6:17 PM | PERMALINK

Education paid for does not mean self made. Paid for from birth with adult loan options...lacking nothing till turned out "on their own" (ha)in adulthood.

Good point. Actually not much different than Stein's kid, who's still in college--although maybe he gets to eat at better restaurants.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on January 25, 2009 at 6:32 PM | PERMALINK

What is the point of this column? We are all the cause of this? Bull$hit! This whole mess was actually caused by very few rich and powerful people that got greedy. The checks and balances that prevented it were sweeped away by Reaganomics, blatent greed, and stupidity.

My dad was a depression child and instilled in all seven kids the need to live within your means and pay your way. We put ourselves through college, and without accumulating much debt. I am not rich, but I don't have many bills.

Now, I consider all of this prudence somewhat stupid. Why? Because I've just watched the government hand out 2.7 trillion dollars from the Fed and the Congress (TARP) and so far there has been little to no downside to being an absolute, complete failure, and causing economic chaos for the WHOLE WORLD. Once again, those of us in the middle class are being asked to support the rich, and I have no clue why.

I propose a new regulatory scheme for our country. We hand out those excess nuclear devices in our stockpile to low and middle income citizens. This reduces our nuclear stockpile and gives all of the citizens of the US more equal representation. These citizens can show up in front of Congress and demand trillions of dollars or they will wreck our country. A stupid plan, and criminal plan you say? Well, what is the f^&king difference between that and what the bankers are doing right now? NOTHING.

There's this free market concept I keep hearing about called "moral hazard". It was supposed to keep the free market "in control" by imposing some form of economic or social pain upon those who have done something wrong. I ask you, what is the moral hazard of being able to run your bank, or your nation in such a way that you can wreck the WHOLE WORLD? So far we just go tsk, tsk, and hand out bushel baskets of MONEY. Or we let them retire to Texas and tell the rest of us to move on, or get over it. I'm sorry, but that's not even how the "free market" that the Republicans kept blathering about is supposed to work. We need to lay some serious moral hazard on these a$$holes as a clear message that the BS is OVER, and there is a new sheriff in town.

Posted by: Glen on January 25, 2009 at 6:32 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, the irony. The daughter-in-law has taken the first steps toward living the life of his California friend and he speaks of his son as you would of someone with an incapacitating illness or disability: And I hope to be able to leave him well enough provided for to ease his eventual transition into some form of self-sufficiency."

That's how you talk about a grown child that has severe mental or physical handicaps and who you hope will find a sheltered and accepting home in the community and who might find some sort of a job or activity, and will be well taken care of after you are dead and can't look out for them anymore. That's not how you talk about a married, 21 yo student and his wife, who frequent lovely restaurants.

Maybe he's trying to shame his son with this?!

Posted by: Jen on January 25, 2009 at 6:58 PM | PERMALINK

It's always astounded me that so many on the right demand that the poor imbue their children with a sense of responsibility, independence and self-sufficiency, but shrug their shoulders in a "Whattayagonnado?" way when they hear about the children of wealthier families becoming helpless layabouts. (I love that word. It's so Norman Rogers.)

The fact that Ben Stein isn't deeply humiliated to air his own parenting failures--yeah, I said parenting failures--in this way shows that the son's not the only one in the family with zero sense of accountability.

Posted by: shortstop on January 25, 2009 at 7:23 PM | PERMALINK

Not sure why this column got mentioned. Its idiotic obviously. Have we not heard enough republicans examining their incompetance? The days when a comedian could simply quote a republican to get a laugh are hopefully over. And its was getting to be a pretty lame joke anyway.

Posted by: exclab on January 25, 2009 at 7:36 PM | PERMALINK

"She has a wealthy beau who pays her credit card bills and other incidentals, but she is thinking of telling him she is through with him."

OMG Bless her heart!

(Yo Ben! Could you email me his number?)

Posted by: MissMudd on January 25, 2009 at 7:36 PM | PERMALINK

Ad hominem stuff is not my cup of tea but I'll fudge a little bit for Ben Stein.

Ben Stein is just another garden variety right-wing tool. He has nothing relevant to say about anything and anything he is advertising should be shunned and ignored.

There , I said it and I kind of feel better for it.

Posted by: PatD on January 25, 2009 at 7:38 PM | PERMALINK

what shortstop said.

Posted by: karen marie on January 25, 2009 at 7:42 PM | PERMALINK

I never had much of an opinion about Ben Stein until I saw Expelled, from which I derived a hearty contempt for his intelligence. It has since become clear that no one should ever take advice from him or assume he has a clue about anything. I make one possible exception for the people who sponge off him, since they ought to stay on his good side.

Posted by: Zeno on January 25, 2009 at 8:01 PM | PERMALINK

Stein has been loony for years now. It's too bad because he used to be amusing and somewhat insightful. He gives us no specifics about his son. Is he in school? Does he have ability or the start of an education? The woman is a slightly different case, but trying to make a political point out of it is absurd, and he doesn't really try to do so.

Posted by: Steve on January 25, 2009 at 8:04 PM | PERMALINK

Only $20,000/month! Now that's torture!

Posted by: John Lee on January 25, 2009 at 8:16 PM | PERMALINK

And if, on reading a column like this one, your son asks you why you're focusing on someone who managed to get deep in debt while living in a $2.7 million dollar house and getting $240,000 a year in alimony and child support, and not on people who are poor or middle-class, then you can rest easy and congratulate yourself on a job well done.

It is a wonderful feeling to know that my 10-year old son and my 8-year old daughter have both asked me this very question on a regular basis. The 3-year old hasn't asked the question yet, but there is hope---she sees a picture of Ben Stein and says, "He's a stupid man."

Posted by: Steve W. on January 25, 2009 at 8:17 PM | PERMALINK

The rich have been pursuing economic scorched-earth policies for years, and now the flames are lapping at the gates of their mansions. Sorry, I have no sympathy.

Posted by: dr sardonicus on January 25, 2009 at 9:30 PM | PERMALINK

I loved this article. How out of touch with the common man!

Stein's example of a person in trouble is an aging trophy wife and his son the parasite.

Trite-licious!

Ben Stein is the real life Mr. Lebowski, and he has no shame about it.

Posted by: busdrivermike on January 25, 2009 at 9:35 PM | PERMALINK

"Ben Stein" is a character long played by Ben Stein to amuse the public, much like "Woody Allen" is a character played by Woody Allen. Taking "Ben Stein's" Malibu travails seriously enough to get worked up over them is just falling for his shtick.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on January 25, 2009 at 9:36 PM | PERMALINK

Shorter Ben Stein: I am really really smart and work really really hard. My son, my friends (even the rich ones) and all the rest of you are stupid and lazy. All of you should just be more like me.

Posted by: J. Frank Parnell on January 25, 2009 at 9:38 PM | PERMALINK

From: bruno on Jan25,2009 @3:41...

>In reality she's a prostitute ...
>
yeah, exactly.

Ben Stein should be hustling to sell
"The Real Friends and Family of Ben Stein"
to BRAVOtv.

Posted by: The Probe on January 25, 2009 at 9:41 PM | PERMALINK

Great, great posts...............

someone at Wash Month should send Ben Stein the copy of The Millionaire Next Door....then put some bookmarks in with yellow highlights about children of NON Millioniare Next Doors. Talk about Welfare Queens....members of Country Clubs who decry the lack of the work ethic, even though mumsy is picking up the club tab.

Is Ben Stein on acid??? Is this some bad LSD trip.... anyone, anyone...

Posted by: mkrrpc on January 25, 2009 at 10:02 PM | PERMALINK

Thomas Malthus (one of the original social Darwinists) would certainly not approved of Ben Stein's kid getting married (however lovely the bride) before the boy could support her. My my, these Republicans have different values for their own kids than for everyone else's.

Posted by: sab on January 25, 2009 at 11:08 PM | PERMALINK

I have a different take on this. Stein is wrong about practically everything, but he isn't stupid. I think that his intent is that the reader should have an unsympathetic reaction to his "friend".

After all, what is it that progressives propose to do differently that Paulson did with respect to the bailout? The answer is that progressives propose to help out actual homeowners, not just the banks. If Stein can convince enough people that the people who got in trouble in the housing market are undeserving, perhaps he can head that off.

Posted by: Joe Buck on January 25, 2009 at 11:11 PM | PERMALINK

Joe,

Interesting take, but most of the actual homeowners progressives want to help aren't worn out old prostitutes about to lose their $20,000 per month payoffs from their previous John or the indulged children of the idle rich.

Posted by: Ron Byers on January 25, 2009 at 11:28 PM | PERMALINK

From Ben Stein's son:

Gee Dad, thanks for announcing to te whole f**king on-line world that I'm a useless sled who couldn't support my wife before I married her. I know you have issues with me, but did you have to announce to the whole on-line world that I'm a bum? I hope my wife doesn't read this.

Is this a wake-up call? Couldn't you have told me privately?

Posted by: sab on January 25, 2009 at 11:42 PM | PERMALINK

Living for the day is always filled with an upside, a better day, and a downside, the current economy.

Funny, I got the feeling that we really weren't supposed to be any pity for any of these folks, except to say that "I should make sure that isn't me." In the words of David Byrne (of Talking Heads) .. "How did I get here ?" .. really doesn't cut it as they should have asked that question a long time ago. Living today and expecting tomorrow to be a better day, only leaves you with a downside. On the other hand, a pessimist can only be pleasantly surprised.

Posted by: Neo on January 26, 2009 at 12:08 AM | PERMALINK

Are you sure that "Ben Stein column" wasn't in The Onion instead of the NYT??

Posted by: Stilliberal on January 26, 2009 at 12:42 AM | PERMALINK

Stein's column has a strong air of manipulation about it. His claim that his son's trust-funder ways are all the father's fault gives Ben a faux nobility for being modest and kudos for being the martyr. What's really happening is that this column gives Ben an excuse to publicly humiliate his son to quit being such a chump (even if it is deserved) while burnishing Ben's halo for publicly berating himself for wishing he was a better dad.

In reality, Ben Stein still comes across as a narcissistic SOB who's using his public soapbox to be covetous of his own money and not really trying to be a good father.

Posted by: petorado on January 26, 2009 at 1:28 AM | PERMALINK

Ben Stein should teach his son and friend [the
prostitute] about his father's law ...

(Herbert) Stein's Law: "If something cannot go
on forever, it will stop."

Posted by: The Probe on January 26, 2009 at 6:21 AM | PERMALINK

"it must stop", Now, was the elder Stein referring to economics or intelligence running in his family?

Posted by: berttheclock on January 26, 2009 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

Looks like somebody has won Ben Stein's Money!

Posted by: gttim on January 26, 2009 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK

Dear Grumpy,
No, we weren't below the poverty line but we weren't rich, either. My mom and dad scrimped to send us to college, but because they could "afford" it, I wasn't eligible to receive the National Merit scholarship I won in high school. Would I be self-made in your view if I had? Or if I'd gone on public assistance after college instead of working a minimum wage job? There's a lot of help out there for poor kids, but none for lower middle class kids like me. And no, living with my parents or getting any more money after those small loans wasn't an option. My father would not have supported me even if he could have, and failure was a very real possibility. Also, I didn't leave the comment to brag about how great I am -- only to commend my father for making me stand on my own two feet.

Posted by: dalloway on January 26, 2009 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

Dalloway: I must throw the bullshit flag. The National Merit Scholarship program is exactly what the name says -- merit-based, as opposed to need-based. Your contention that you earned a National Merit Scholarship, but were ineligible to receive it because your lower middle class family was just a tad over the poverty line is a blatant fabrication. That isn't how merit-based scholarships work. If you had actually won a National Merit Scholarship you would know that.

This leads me to suspect that you have an axe to grind that you are not being candid about.

I have known several people who were National Merit Scholarship winners. All were from comfortably middle class (or upper middle class) families. One was the child of a professor at an Ivy League university, and therefore would likely have been able to attend an excellent school for free. Instead, she went to the University of Chicago on a full ride, courtesy of the National Merit Scholarship program.

Not to mention that plenty of need-based scholarship money goes to lower middle class families.

Posted by: varmintito on January 26, 2009 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

WTF?

And why is Ben Stein not just advising the woman - who evidently didn't put a dime of her own into the house - to sell the house, no matter HOW much it has come down in price. What? She can only get, say, $1.25 million for it?

Of course, she would have to manage her million dollars well. And get used to living on, say, only $10,000 a month. I doubt she would want to, but what are her options?

She is sitting on a freaking gold mine, and Ben Stein is crying for her?

I would trade places with her in a heartbeat.

Posted by: SteveGinIL on January 26, 2009 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

varminto: you're wrong about the National Merit Scholarship. I was a National Merit Scholar more than 30 years ago, and I didn't get any money from it, just a nice certificate. My father's income was too high to qualify, so it was just an honor. My niece is a National Merit Scholar, and she had to turn down her first choice school because the offer was $20,000 less than the yearly cost. She is looking at state schools which would give her a free ride so they can brag about how many NMS are enrolled, but competive school's attitude is: how nice for you. Where's the money?

Posted by: Peggy on January 26, 2009 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

Yup on the National Merit -- there are a few that are no-strings, but otherwise, it's up to you to rustle something up. I got lucky because we realized that my deceased father had worked for a corporation that gave out NMSs. We contacted them and they agreed to fund mine. However, the amount I got was determined by...yup, you guessed it, our financial aid forms. So, no it's not just money out there for anyone.

Posted by: Jen on January 26, 2009 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK

I know a guy who was born with money and imagined himself an "entrepreneur" because he always used his inherited money to run one unsuccessful business after another. And over the years, his fortune slowly dwindled as he sold one building after another, and even the business he was actively running was his first business success; just not successful enough to support his lifestyle. And now he owns no buildings and sold his one successful business last year because he had drained too much cash out of it and it couldn't pay its bills. And he's got nothing left and can't even make real money at his new job; which is the first real job he's ever had. I always warned him that this could happen, but he refused to even consider the possibility and insisted that he could make $10k a month easily working for someone else, even though he had never had a real job before. Needless to say, I'm very worried he's about to lose his expensive home, which he just refinanced last year.

Interestingly, he's a Republican and still insists that Bush was a very successful businessman before he went into politics. Their stories are far too similar. The only difference is that his family wasn't powerful enough to get him into politics. Yet all the same, he always believed that poor people just didn't work as hard as rich people like himself, and never listened to me when I told him to cut back on spending. Now, he's got nothing left and can't understand why. He always believed that making big bucks was easy, as long as you weren't lazy.

These people truly believe in magical thinking and refuse to contemplate the possibility that their wonderful lives might have had anything to do with luck. They're born on third base and imagine they hit a triple. That's how they can justify their egregious cold-heartedness towards helping those less fortunate. Life was so easy that they concluded that they must have done something to deserve it. Poor people don't really exist to them. They're just props to be talked about and object lessons of why laziness is bad. Poverty just isn't a reality to them. And now that it's finally hitting them, they lack the tools to explain it.
Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on January 25, 2009 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

The thing is, it IS possible to get anywhere you like as long as you work hard and work SMART. Your friend did neither, and now he's suffering.

All wealth comes from working hard or working smart, whether it is yours or your father's, or his father.

For example, my Dad grew up in Podunk, Utah living with his mother who was receiving welfare. At the age of fourteen he started work wherever he could find it, (first sweeping the floors after hours at a Harmon's) and never stopped. He's now directing one of the few highly successful mortgage companies in the nation, a classic rags-to-riches story. He never went to college. He's been working his ass off since he was a teenager, and, more importantly, exercising common sense and living well within his means. This is a sure formula for success for anyone.

Posted by: J. Cline on January 27, 2009 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

I think that the argument that Stein's stories amount to an argument for a serious estate tax is off base. It is the principle of having to pay taxes on assets that you have already paid taxes on during your life that is the issue with any sort of "death tax." That someone could work all of their life to amass a fortune and then the government gets to swipe a healthy portion, rather than let them distribute it as they see fit...that would be a travesty. The individual who works is one who earns their money and they should not be prevented from leaving as much of it as possible to their children, or anyone else, if that is their wish. In reality, it's hard enough to get any inheritance at all with more and more estate disputes occurring because there happens to be an Anna Nicole Smith wannabe in every family who makes the property distribution a long and drawn out affair. Challenging will provisions because they think they must be due more than was designated in the deceased's estate planning papers. Anna Nicole, in life, challenged a will that didn't even name her as a recipient of ANY property from the Marshall estate, with that kind of greed in the world we may be approaching a time where only attorneys benefit from estate distribution. The moral of the story is...if a man earns his money, he may spread it around as he sees fit and people (and the government) should respect that.

Posted by: belicoso on January 27, 2009 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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