January 30, 2007

Ben Stein and Trust

I don’t think Ben Stein thinks it’s a good idea to have a huge wage gap.

I was surprised to read his comments in the NYT on Sunday, because I am used to hearing him espouse very conservative views. But this is what he’s saying about the state of our capitalist economic system:

The system of capitalism is wide open. If you have an idea, you can turn it into capital.

But, as I swam and watched the private jets’ lights as they glided right above my head into Palm Springs International Airport, I had a chilling thought: in capitalism, the most fundamental building block is trust. […]

When I see what the top dogs at all too many corporations are now doing to that trust, I feel queasy. Outrageous — yes, obscene — pay. Greedy backdating of stock options, which in my opinion is straight-up theft. Managers buying assets from their trustors, the stockholders, at pennies on the dollar, then forestalling competing bids with lockups and insane breakup fees.

As Isaiah Poole states, Stein could have commented on the current efforts of congressional Republicans to poison the minimum wage bill with huge corporate handouts.

What Stein is saying is what my father always taught me. But this is the first time in a long time I’ve heard this from a conservative.

Posted by James at January 30, 2007 3:58 PM
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It makes me both happy and sad to hear Republicans talk that way.

Happy because, at this point, they really do need to speak up if they don't want the rest of us (and their leaders) to assume that they're in agreement with the way things have been.

And sad because it should not have taken Ben Stein this long to figure out that something is wrong.

Posted by: Julie at January 30, 2007 5:08 PM

Actually, I've found myself agreeing with Ben Stein a lot in the past year. He writes for the financial/business section of the Times every other week, IIRC, and there have been many, many times he has decried the growing gap between the rich and the poor, Harvard's hitting up alumni for donations when they have a huge endowment and the alumni's money would be more appreciated by needy charities, and other things that make this liberal happy to read his column.

Posted by: mjfrombuffalo at January 30, 2007 6:45 PM

I haven't read the whole thing, but from what you posted I don't think he cares about wages. He certainly isn't admonishing corporations for sending production over to China.

In fact, his claim that millions of us are going from nothing to something under capitalism is flat-out false. Study after study after study after study in this country shows that there is very little class mobility. He also holds on to the "people are paid what they're worth" argument, which means Chinese people are worth far less than Americans, and illegal immigrants are worth far less than legal citizens with the same skills.

Like most Capitalists, his concern seems to solely be for "the investors" - which is realistically about 2% of our society (you can pad that out with people's 401ks, but its not really the same. Could most folks afford to lose their job so that their share prices go up a nickel?). He doesn't give a shit about someone losing their job when the factory is shipped overseas, because that makes investors richer. And the guy who lost his job? Doesn't even deserve a mention - except to insinuate that he deserved it because people are paid what they're worth.

Posted by: DG at January 31, 2007 9:51 AM

I think it's significant that people like Stein are feeling the need to write about the growing inequity that is eating away at the trust in our system.

The rich benefit from the trust. It's something I don't hear rich conservatives acknowledge much. When you start hearing people worry that they're killing the goose that laid their golden egg, you know that the problems must be getting significant.

Posted by: James at January 31, 2007 12:21 PM

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