Ben Stein, on the Money

Ben Stein and I go way back. Yeah. There was “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” And once I won some (but not all) of his money. On the studio lot where that happened, I saw his car. It was a pearl-finish Cadillac with the vanity license plate CLER EYZ (or some variation); the plate referred to the fact Stein was a spokesman for Clear Eyes and had made a bundle from the gig.

Anyway. Ben’s quite the conservative Republican. Much more conservative Republican than anyone else in my little circle of acquaintances. But having said that, he is not of the stripe of Republican conservatism that hands you a cow pie and tries to sell it to you as filet mignon. He seems oddly reality-based. Today, he wrote a great column in The New York Times: “What McCain Could Do About Taxes.”

His message to the nominee presumptive of the GOP is that Republicans have “for the last 30 years or so been operating under a demonstrably false and misleading premise: that tax cuts pay for themselves by generating so much economic growth that they replace the sums lost by tax cutting.” In an open letter to McCain, he argues that that course is ruinous. The Bush tax cuts, and the Reagan cuts before them, have shifted the tax burden “from us to our progeny and add immense amounts of interest expense to the federal budget. At this point, taxpayers shell out about $1 billion a day just for that item.” He continues:

“Moreover, immense federal deficits in modern life are financed largely by foreign buyers of our debt. This means that the American taxpayer must work a good chunk of the year to send money to China, Japan, the petro-states and other buyers of United States debt. In effect, we become their peons.

“By flooding the world with debt, we in effect beg foreigners to take our dollars, and this leads to a lower value of the dollar and a higher cost of imports, including oil. If you feel pain filling up the tank, you can partly thank those tax cuts. If you feel the sting of inflation, you can partly thank the supply siders. Deficits matter.”

What’s to be done? Stein urges a decisive tax increase for the wealthy. His reasoning? “The government — which is us — needs the money to keep old people alive, to pay for their dialysis, to build fighter jets and to pay our troops and pay interest on the debt. We can get it by indenturing our children, selling ourselves into peonage to foreigners, making ourselves a colony again, generating inflation — or we can have some integrity and levy taxes equal to what we spend.”

Note that he says taxes ought to be equal to what we spend. That could be a veiled call for draconian budget cutting, but Stein does seem to have his feet on the ground: He concedes what a lot of the Republicans deny: That the people want a lot from the government, and that what they want costs money.

I hope McCain or maybe even some Democrat is listening to this.

Technorati Tags:

Spaceman in Jail

Walter Anderson, who probably has spent more than anyone on trying to develop a private spaceship, is in jail in Washington for allegedly evading hundreds of millions of dollars in federal taxes. One of the conundrums about Anderson is that, unless you’re a real space junkie, you’re not very likely to have heard of him. Over the past 20 years, he quietly became very wealthy by starting and selling telecommunications companies. Then he turned around and ploughed tens of miillions into private space research, including a spectacularly unsuccessful venture called Rotary Rocket that tried to build a vehicle that would blast off from an airstrip like a rocket and land helicopter-style, but back end first. He also got behind an outfit called MirCorp that hoped to take over the historic and scary Soviet/Russian space station and send tourists there. Anderson’s space ambitions came wrapped with an unpleasant, somewhat paranoid grandiosity that’s profiled in an exceptionally well-done story Elizabeth Weil wrote for The New York Times Magazine in July 2000, and is touched upon in her exceptionally poorly executed book, “They All Laughed at Christopher Columbus.”

After all that, Anderson’s in jail. The government alleges he’s hidden hundreds of millions of dollars in off-shore shell companies and other dubious tax shelters to avoid paying taxes. Anderson says his plan all along was to give his money away to space ventures; but all bets are off on that plan, he says, because he’s broke now. In any case, Anderson might be realizing his long-expected martyrdom. In Weil’s magazine story, he makes no secret of his dislike of the feds and concludes: “In my life, if the U.S. government doesn’t try to kill me, I probably won’t have succeeded in meeting my long-term goals.”