Occupy Wall Street dominates the headlines and it comes as news to no one that there are cracks in the firmament of America's version of capitalism. Among the problems are an inequitable distribution of wealth, a taxation system that seems at once exorbitant and insufficient, and a widely held view that the system is rigged in favor of those who least need assistance.
Few dispute the need for change, the question is how to effectively enact it. I explored the issue with Ben Stein, a man with vast experience in finance, politics, and law as well as author of the new book "What Would Ben Stein Do?" We started with the OWS movement.
"They're not doing anything right," Stein says in a way that somehow combines flat affect and high impact. "They don't accomplish anything specifically useful."
So what would Ben Stein do?
He'd do what he's done in the past. Stein used to write 7,000 word in-depth exposes on corporate fraud. "They were a lot of work but they eventually got some people prosecuted," Stein says. "They got some money recovered for stockholders." Stein offers that if the OWS crowd wants to do something helpful they should do the research necessary to direct and inform their discontent.
Beyond method and means, Stein is unimpressed with the very notion of "crusading against greed." Especially when the protesters themselves are demonstrably guilty of something he thinks far worse.
"You know what the worst deadly sin is? Spiritual pride or thinking that you're morally better than other people," Stein says. "That's what the Occupy Wall Street people are all about; thinking they're better than other people and that's a sin, too."
Not that he doesn't have grievances himself. "It's breathtaking how much tax I pay, but I think I should probably pay more," says the former speechwriter for Nixon. He outright believes the U.S. will default on our credit, either outright or via inflation, so his self-imposed tax hike is a last but necessary resort.
See the attached video to hear Stein's thoughts on how our tax dollars can be deployed more effectively, where he'd like to see the budget cut, and to generally enjoy his Ben Stein-ness. Whatever you do, don't dismiss Ben Stein as another Doom and Gloom crank. He's more along the lines of a man who's already seen the scary movie and knows everything turns out alright by the time the lights come up.
"The future looks difficult but it always looks difficult," he says. "I cannot remember a time when the future looked like it was all clear sailing with no problems." In other words, relax, folks, it's going to be a bumpy ride but we'll get there... if not we can just ask Ben Stein what he would do to help.
- Ben Stein