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Tilting at Windmills

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July 21, 2010

BEN STEIN AND 'POOR PERSONALITIES'.... Republican criticisms of the unemployed have been in abundance lately. Those who've lost their jobs in the brutal recession have, just recently, been labeled "spoiled" and "hobos." Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) thinks if you don't have a job, you might very well be a drug addict. A common Republican talking point is that the unemployed are just lazy folks who choose not to work, preferring government aid.

But Ben Stein pushed the anti-jobless line to new depths this week.

The people who have been laid off and cannot find work are generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities. I say "generally" because there are exceptions. But in general, as I survey the ranks of those who are unemployed, I see people who have overbearing and unpleasant personalities and/or who do not know how to do a day's work. They are people who create either little utility or negative utility on the job. Again, there are powerful exceptions and I know some, but when employers are looking to lay off, they lay off the least productive or the most negative.

Stein went on to suggest that young people learn lessons on "how to do a day's work." Among the things he wants folks to learn: call your colleagues "sir" or "ma'am," and remember the importance of "not talking back."

His antiquated employment tips notwithstanding, Stein's notion that those who've lost their jobs are necessarily to blame for their condition -- they have "poor work habits and poor personalities" -- is just crazy in the midst of an employment crisis with five applicants for every opening. What's more, it's based on literally nothing but his own twisted perceptions.

That wouldn't be especially troubling -- there are plenty of dumb columns out there -- were it not for the fact that Stein remains a prominent voice in media: "Using the Critical Mention media search engine, ThinkProgress finds that the name 'Ben Stein' was mentioned 64 times in major television media networks within the past thirty days alone."

There's no reason for this. Stein has odd connections to a sleazy financial services company; he has truly insane beliefs about modern science; and in 2007, as the sub-prime bubble began to burst, Stein used his media perch to tell the public the crisis "will all blow over." (It didn't.)

I vaguely recall the point, some years back, when Stein was considered something of a mainstream figure at the intersection of politics and entertainment. He'd show up as a cable news talking-head, in between Hollywood cameos and hosting a game-show. He seemed quirky, conservative, and harmless.

Those days are long gone.

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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Comments

You left out that Ben Stein's secret to being employed is: have a famous father. Without that, he'd be in one of his own re-education camps.

Posted by: Andrew J. Lazarus on July 21, 2010 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

"But in general, as I survey the ranks of those who are unemployed,..."

When did he survey the unemployed? How did he survey them? What was his sampling size? What were the questions he asked? Do you have the data to back up this absurb claim? As you said, this is crazy information that he just made up as he has not done a survey of the unemployed.

Posted by: del on July 21, 2010 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

For a man who doesn't believe in evolution, he sure does embrace social Darwinism, doesn't he? "Don't feed them, they'll breed. Let them die and decrease the excess population." By the way, has anyone noticed Stein contributing anything useful to civilization lately? Let's see, a cameo in Ferris Beuller's Day Off some 25 years ago, a couple of ads for traveler's checks . . . time to report to the Soylent Green factory, Ben?

Posted by: T-Rex on July 21, 2010 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

Ben Stein is a virtual economic illiterate yet somehow occupies a perch somewhere between Alan Greenspan and Paul Volcker in the pantheon of economic sages. Merely seeing his pompous intonements of "common sense" on CNBC made me want to pull an Elvis on my TV set. In a rational world, he'd be grooming Shar-peis in Beverly Hills.

Posted by: walt on July 21, 2010 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

Without the famous father, Stein would be a run-of-the-mill con man/hustler/asshole. He keeps himself in the public eye because that's where the money is.

Posted by: MattF on July 21, 2010 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

Those Republicans, endlessly fascinated by mirrors....

Posted by: ericfree on July 21, 2010 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

Now you just gave this idiot even more publicity. Thanks for nothing.

Posted by: cr on July 21, 2010 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

I would like to see Ben Stein's 'survey'. What a jerk. And now people who don't have a job will feel even more ashamed and be secretive about their situation which will lead to even more problems and stress. Truly un-American as far as I'm concerned. Always blame the victim. The working of the minds of Orrin Hatch, Ben Stein and many others are truly a mystery.

Posted by: lisaintexas on July 21, 2010 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

Establishment media overwhelmingly only hire and spotlight media personalities (I do not call them journalists anymore) who espouse corporatist messaging.

Being consistently, factually wrong on issues results in promotion, sinecure, and the coveted "Serious" label; being consistently, factually right on issues results in demotion, ostracism, and the hated "Unserious" label. And, unfortunately, assignment to the comparative wilderness of political blogs, or if you're lucky, an off-peak TV show.

Such is the current state of media in this country. And it will lead to continuing, growing distance between citizens, a hardening of views, and ultimately a split society, populated by those who tailor facts to suit worldviews on one side, and those who tailor their worldview to suit facts on the other.

Posted by: terraformer on July 21, 2010 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

people who have overbearing and unpleasant personalities

Well, Ben Stein would be an expert on that, at least.

Perhaps Ben Stein should get out more. Maybe he could come to Seattle, where thousands were laid off when Washington Mutual bank went out of business, not because they of little utility, but because their corporate masters had f'd up. I've seen resumes for some of them: bright, hard-working, excellent people with top skills if you want to be running a major bank. Sadly, we don't have any of those based in Seattle anymore, and I don't see anyone setting one up anyway in the country. And my company is pretty far away from banking, so if I'm seeing their resumes, they are looking pretty far afield.

Maybe, if they are lucky, Visine will launch a new ad campaign. Seems like any schmuck could do those.

Posted by: biggerbox on July 21, 2010 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

Who nominated or elected this Jerk to speak out on any national issue? He should just stay home and count his money!!

Posted by: Ted76 on July 21, 2010 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

I agree completely with biggerbox--Ben Stein is the poster child for overbearing, obnoxious, ignorant, and entitled. Unfortunately, these characteristics are what it takes to be considered as a conservative pundit by the mainstream media.

Posted by: celeidth on July 21, 2010 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

How can you simultaneously maintain that the unemployment rate is too high (and, of course Obama's fault) AND maintain that the people who are unemployed probably deserve it? Pretzel much?
So, using this logic, the unemployment rate is about right. Right?

Posted by: mikem on July 21, 2010 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

"So, using this logic, the unemployment rate is about right. Right?"

Exactly. Not to forget: it's the direct consequence of Obama not wearing a jacket everytime he enters Oval Office.

Posted by: Vokoban on July 21, 2010 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

Criticize Stein all you want, but his survey was done quite scientifically. He found some homeless people nearby and asked them questions like:

When you last worked, did you refer to your colleagues as "sir" or "ma'am"?

Did you make the mistake of making direct eye contact with your employer, or allowing your head to be higher than his?

Have you ever complained that you weren't being paid enough for the work you did, or feel ungrateful for the job you were blessed with?

Have you ever had a sick day?


As you can see, it's quite obvious that Stein really did the hard work required for him to make his prouncement, and anyone criticizing him needs to be a little more deferential to people in authority if they ever expect to be gainful employed some day.

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on July 21, 2010 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

-in addition to the use of "Sir" and "Ma'am", the supplicant would do well to remove his cap when speaking to superiors.

Also, tugging the forelock is NEVER out of fashion. . .

Posted by: DAY on July 21, 2010 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

Stein remains a prominent voice in media

Prominent, come on Steve, minimal voice, maybe, certainly not prominent.
------------------------------------

Back to the point, how does one account for varying unemployment rates, what, people got lazier from when Bush took office to when he left. It's absurd, one year only 5% of the population was too lazy to get a job, yet another year twice as many people, 10%, are too lazy to get jobs ??

Them waz sum dam lazy mothafucka's in the 30's...

Posted by: ScottW714 on July 21, 2010 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

Unemployment was 3.8% in April of 2000. About the lowest in history. Money was sloshing all over the economy and anyone with a pulse got a job.
(They may not have kept it, but the jobs were filling immediately.)

Is it possible that a healthy portion of this 3.8 IS virtually unemployable?

Even granting that, unemployment is at nearly 10% and I'm hearing from the liberal world that there are 5 applicants for every job.

Assuming that half of the applicants are essentially worthless bums, that suggests double the number of quality personnel available for every job.

That's going to get people in a cutthroat mood.

Could Stein be a LITTLE right? I have my doubts that every single American is worthy of a regular paycheck. The chronically unemployed are a problem that should be addressed, not made into an excuse to ignore all the unemployed during a recession.

Posted by: ttowearyforoutrage on July 21, 2010 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

Ben Stein is a fucking asshole. I'm Deaf and I know a lot of Deaf folks who cannot find jobs because some employers don't want to hire Deaf people. The unemployment crisis is nothing new for many people with disabilities.

So we're a bunch of lazy people with "unpleasant personalities," huh, Mr. Stein? Fuck you.

Posted by: JihadPunk77 on July 21, 2010 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

ttowearyforoutrage: for the record, we're not talking about every single american. we're talking about roughly 60+% of the working age population (iirc, even at the '90s peak, the ratio was only up to about 65%).

and sure, at the margin there are probably some people who don't have much in the way of job skills and can only get a job when the economy is booming and creating jobs by the hundred thousand (say, the way it did in the '90s).

but that's neither here nor there in a situation where jobs just aren't being created at all: at that point, the willingness to say "yes sir, mr. stein, sir, whatever you say, sir, is brilliant, sir, and it's a privilege, sir, to breathe air in the same room as you" doesn't matter since there are no jobs to be had.

Posted by: howard on July 21, 2010 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

If it was all good personality and hard work, then Ben Stein would have been unemployed for most of his life. He is possibly the most obnoxious, least likable person on TV and has made a career out of it. I don't see where he has ever worked a hard day in his life.

Posted by: atlliberal on July 21, 2010 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

What is it about conservatism that appeals to so many small-minded, shitty men?

Posted by: hells littlest angel on July 21, 2010 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

I don't see where he has ever worked a hard day in his life.

Are you kidding? The man was a speechwriter for Nixon. Anyone tasked with making Nixon seem likable and presidential understands what it takes to put in a real day's work.

If I'm remembering right, Ben Stein cried the day Nixon resigned. Stein had been given the job to write Nixon's fake speech saying he wouldn't resign, which was a headfake for the real speech; because Nixon was such a weirdo that he didn't want his enemies to know it was coming, so he even lied to his staff about it. So it was a real shock for Stein when Nixon gave a different speech.

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on July 21, 2010 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

If you're toowearyforoutrage perhaps you could muster enoughenergytogofuckyourself.

Posted by: hells littlest angel on July 21, 2010 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

toowearyforoutrage is simply a piece of shit that forgot to flush itself down the shitter ...

Posted by: stormskies on July 21, 2010 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

. . . as I survey the ranks of those who are unemployed, I see people who have overbearing and unpleasant personalities and/or who do not know how to do a day's work.

I wonder how Stein formed this opinion. Has he spent a lot of time --- or any, for that matter --- meeting with, talking to, getting to know a substantial number of unemployed people? I suspect not, which begs the question of how he knows that in general they "have overbearing and unpleasant personalities and/or who do not know how to do a day's work".

In fact, it sounds like the guy's just an elitist jerk. I thought conservatives were supposed to dislike elitists.

Posted by: David Bailey on July 21, 2010 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

But in general, as I survey the ranks of those who are unemployed, I see people who have overbearing and unpleasant personalities and/or who do not know how to do a day's work. They are people who create either little utility or negative utility on the job.

Doesn't this actually describe Ben Stein perfectly? So why is he still employed?

Posted by: TCinLA on July 21, 2010 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

Hey tooweary: Well, here's a "survey" from someone who was a top executive until retiring and becoming a recruiter for the same industry 5 years ago. Right now, the companies in my former industry are cutting overhead by laying off hired salaried managers in their 50's. These people are very energetic excellent workers but tough, $$$ are at stake. Meanwhile, the companies I recruit for do not want to hire them--they are too old and too expensive (and, incidently, they don't want to hire anyone who doesn't currently have a JOB!). Nothing wrong with their work habits or personalities. They've be deferential enough for years. Let's get a grip on reality. It may make us feel safer, whistling in the dark, that people who can't find employment deserve it but that's not the case.

Posted by: Frak on July 21, 2010 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

I guess the bad economy just all of a sudden brought out those personality problems that had been lying dormant until after the recession started.

Have you ever noticed the gigantic mutant ear lobes ol' Ben is sporting these days? He makes former Senator Paul Simon's look dainty. Big, freaky-ass ear lobes on a worthless piece of shit.

Posted by: The Fool on July 21, 2010 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

So, according to Stein, one shouldn't talk back to one's employer? What if your employer is a biology professor who teaches Darwin? Isn't that supposed to be helping the Nazis or something?

Posted by: Hieronymus The Troll Braintree on July 21, 2010 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

Did people have better personalities a few years ago when unemployment was low?

Posted by: Ken D. on July 21, 2010 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

They are people who create either little utility or negative utility on the job. Again, there are powerful exceptions and I know some,[...] -- Stone Dumb

All those "powerful exceptions" are the erst-while CEOs of Lehman Brothers, no doubt.

Posted by: exlibra on July 21, 2010 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

Among the things he wants folks to learn: call your colleagues "sir" or "ma'am," and remember the importance of "not talking back."

And then there's office diplomacy. These kids know nothing about it! For example when your boss is winding up a drunken tirade about the Jews, and catches your eye, and says, "What do you think about that, Stein?"--well, you need to be tactful. The correct response is "Respectfully, Mr. President sir, I wish you wouldn't go so easy on those Jew bastards."

Posted by: Matt on July 21, 2010 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

This is easy to understand if you realize all Republicans and perhaps even most Americans associate money with virtue. Conversely the poor especially the unemployed poor MUST have some moral flaws responsible for their situation.

My experiences is that the connection between money and virtue is rather weak and what little correlation exists is negative. That is the rich are slightly wickeder than average.

Posted by: Bruce Rosner on July 21, 2010 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

ttowearyforoutrage, do you know what would happen if there was 0% unemployment, if those "hopelessly lazy" 3.8 who were out of work back in 2000 got jobs? Well, it would never happen, because the Fed would put on the brakes real fast if we got close to that. Want to know why? Runaway inflation! If there's no unemployed person available to do a job for you, then you have to offer whatever the market will bear, and that will be an exorbitant amount. Have you ever tried to hire a snow-removal service in the middle of a blizzard?!? I have, and I know.

That's why capitalism requires a certain number of unemployed people at all times. It's structural. And no, that doesn't mean I think Communism or Socialism are better alternatives; the U.S.S.R. claimed to have eliminated unemployment, but all they'd actually done was fudge the numbers. The Soviet people weren't fooled. They used to say "We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us."

Posted by: T-Rex on July 21, 2010 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

"people who have overbearing or unpleasant personalities"

Why then, does Ben Stein have a job? Surely he should be collecting unemployment.

What a heartless toad.

Posted by: AlisonS on July 21, 2010 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks for the advice, Ben. I guess I'd never really thought through my poor attitude and habits in the 30 years I've been working before my job disappeared.

Posted by: beejeez on July 21, 2010 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

I find Ben Stein to have a "overbearing and unpleasant personality."

If only he was also unemployed...

Posted by: stand on July 21, 2010 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

This is just more of the same re-cycled crap Repugs have have been saying as far back as I can remember. Only way back when the same mean spiteful things, especially in the 1980's, were said about people like me. Yes, little ole me who has been the scourge of our country and to blame and guilty for all of America's ills. Yes, horrible people like me, a welfare queen.

Now they are doing it to all of you but watch out though, because your royal highness am getting f**ked over and was arbitarialy thrown off the huge gob'ment benefits. I did nothing wrong. And guess who's next? All of you.

F**cking. Heartless. Bastards.

Posted by: GimpWelfareQueen on July 21, 2010 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

ha,ha,ha,ha, HELLO ADOLF BEN STEIN HITLER!!!
THE DICK-TATOR !!!!!
Did you refer to your colleagues as
"sir or "madam"?

Did you allow your head to be higher than your
ass?

Have you ever complained about working and not getting paid?

Have you ever had a sick day when you feel you are dieing? Here is an unpleasant personality.MF

Posted by: jimenez on July 21, 2010 at 8:44 PM | PERMALINK

After over 10 years of service at the same job my jewish employer moved everything to Mexico so he could increase his own wealth. Guess you all stick with your own kind

Posted by: brod on July 22, 2010 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

toowearyformath:

Math is interesting. Say among all working age population there is a 3.8% floor of completely unemployable unemployed and the remaining 7% are newly unemployed employable workers.

Your assumption that "half of the applicants are essentially worthless bums" amounts to a bit of an insulting overstatement. An upper bound of about 38% are worthless bums, not 50%.

When a job is advertised, there will be five applicants, as we "hear from the liberal world". Is that consistent? About 38% of applicants (i.e. fewer than 2 of the 5) will be among the unemployable group, and the remaining 3 are employable. So for every position there are five applicants and at least three of them are fully qualified (as defined by having a job in 2000). Your assumption is incorrect- there are triple, not double, the number of quality personnel available for every job.

As to your main point, even if he's a "LITTLE right" about the minority that he's referring to, he's more than half wrong (62%) when he badmouths everybody who's lost their job. Therefore his idiotic blanket statement is not even a half-truth.

And we don't even need to use the axiom that Ben Stein is an asshole.

Posted by: maverratick on July 29, 2010 at 11:07 PM | PERMALINK

Don't disagree with a word you said maverratick.

The point my detractors missed was that even if you can verify that there are unemnplouyable people, in whatever number. What do you DO about them. Ignore them? Kill them?

Ben seems to just write them off as if they'll cooperatively slink off into a hole somewhere.

Frak's observations do not surprise me at all. I've begun a small business because I more or less assume no one will want to pay me my current salary if ever I lose the job for the reasons Frak listed. I don't trust American businesses to look out for me. Instead, my company will be looking out for a lucky few.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on April 15, 2011 at 8:50 PM | PERMALINK
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