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.

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2 Replies to “Ben Stein, on the Money”

  1. I think somewhere along the line– over the last seven years–Dick Cheney was credited with stating that “Ronald Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter.” That perception strikes me as one of the more odious aspects of the Reagan legacy. But Reagan still had some reality based sense about him, an example of which was his willingness to admit failure in his 1982-3 Beirut project and end it after the Marine Corps barracks disaster. Bush One had to eat his “no new taxes” pledge for the fiscal good of the country and, admittedly, that helped sink his re-election. So there is some sense that those Republican presidents could make rational choices…for the good of the nation. But the current president seems to live in a fantasy world, whether he’s talking about global warming, fiscal policy or his GWoT. His fiscal policies are horrendously corrosive and there is little indication that he cares a so much as a mote about it.
    Certainly, we have heard people saying this (Ben Stein) stuff for years. All that has happened in response is more of “stay the course.” The fiscal and trade deficits will deal with us if we don’t deal with them. Someone needs to tell the President that a GWoT is most assuredly a grand and noble endeavor…but somebody “gots” to pay for it!

  2. A very interesting piece, and it’s so unusual for someone on the right to speak the truth about what the Reagan/Bush tax cuts have cost us and our kids and grandkids.
    Of course, on the other hand, there’s an interesting story about the intellectual dishonesty of Ben Stein here; he’s flogging Creationism, er, ID, in a hoax of a movie. That’s more the Ben Stein I’m familiar with.

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