A little over ten years ago, I was asked by Al Burton to come down to his office and talk about working on a new TV show he was putting together with Ben Stein. Stein was hot at the time with his Comedy Central quiz show Win Ben Stein's Money, and the network wanted to capitalize on his quirky personality. Turn Ben Stein On was the eccentric talk show that emerged, and Burton hired me to be the talent producer to book the celebrity guests.
Working with Ben was interesting, though I doubt he remembers me. I tended to deal with the producers mostly, and interacted with him directly when he was making guest suggestions... which thinking back on it now happened a lot, actually. Like any host of a show, he made his thoughts known.
So I got to hear Ben's politics. He was of course among other things, a speechwriter for Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and his father was economist Herbert Stein, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors in the Nixon administration. Ben majored in economics at Columbia University (graduating with honors in '66), and has written frequently about the subject. While I don't agree with most of his politics, I do listen to what he has to say with regards to economics.
That's why I was gob smacked Sunday while listening to his commentary on CBS News' outstanding Sunday Morning program. Ben was talking about why the economy went into the tank and who was to blame for it:
Sometimes the bets and the alleged rigging go so wrong that they bring the whole financial system to its knees.
Imagine a group of drunken frat boys playing with nuclear missiles, as Warren Buffett suggested in an analogy, and you have the general idea. You don't even have to imagine it! This is what led to the current recession.
It wasn't overly ambitious homeowners in Modesto or Miami; it was wild men on Wall Street.
Now, President Obama is trying to get Congress to do some modest reforms that will rein in the frat boys and keep us from coming as close to financial Armageddon as we did in 2007 and 2008. The legislation is not perfect, but it is a big step in the right direction.
The Wild West, 'anything goes,' casino mentality of modern Wall Street is an insult to the decency of the ordinary American taxpayer.
I rarely carry water for President Obama. But he is so right on this one it's not even close.
Time for the grown-ups to step in and take the weapons of financial mass destruction away from the party-hearty crowd. Time to keep the specter of another Great Depression far from our American door.
Wow. If Ben Stein calls out the gamblers of Wall Street as the cause of our not-so-Great Depression and proclaims Obama's reform as the right thing to do... well, we obviously are in serious times indeed.