Ben Stein Watch, RIP

By Felix Salmon
April 12, 2009

Shortly after I started blogging for Portfolio, I was quite rude about a Ben Stein column in which he described the lack of any Wal-Marts in midtown Manhattan as “an enduring mystery of the retail economic world”. In September 2007, I officially started the Ben Stein Watch, on the grounds that “we have to stop Ben Stein from writing for the Times. Right now.”

By the time I left Portfolio, the Ben Stein Watch archives (conveniently available at amounted to 60 separate blog entries, totaling 33,776 words. And although they were popular, they never achieved their stated aim: Stein is still writing for the NYT. But I’m putting the BSW to an end right now.

One reason is that Stein’s columns have ceased to be infuriating to me: instead they tend to lie somewhere between boring and incomprehensible. Another reason is that if Stein couldn’t get himself fired from the NYT for making Expelled , there’s simply no way that a lone blogger is going to have any effect. But mainly I just want my Sundays back — I have better things to do with what is meant to be a day off than try to decipher stuff like this:

If some of us want to help posterity, and help it survive the tsunami of debt, we might be more likely to save when our mood is low (as against the times when we are all happy and positive about the future).  

And so I’ve decided that the BSW won’t follow me from Portfolio to Reuters. I probably won’t ignore the man completely, but I will no longer feel compelled to blog every single NYT column he writes. If anybody wants to take over the franchise, they’re more than welcome to, and I’ll happily provide lots of link love — I might even submit a guest post once in a while.

If you ever wonder, however, whether a Ben Stein column might be making sense, just remember this: the man wrote a book entitled “Yes, You Can Time the Market!” and then wrote this:

I’m writing this on Aug. 13, 2007… the stock market is cheap on a price-earnings basis, profits are fabulous… and in the long run, both here and abroad, stocks are a lovely place to be.

Oh yes, and he also declared, more than three months into the deepest recession in living memory, that “as a matter of definition, we simply cannot be” in a recession at all.

So it’s probably best just not to read the chap. Since paying attention to his atrociousness clearly hasn’t worked, maybe ignoring him will have better results.


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will be missed

Posted by otto | Report as abusive

My favorite memory of Stein was when he called Gore a thug for challenging the 2000 election result. NYT: all the News that fits.

Posted by D Sakarya | Report as abusive

This is a tragedy. Both the end of BSW and, more to the point, the continuance of Ben Stein’s column.

May I suggest that you start a Portfolio Watch instead. No more conflict of interest, it only requires one day a month (actually, only 10 days a month now that its frequency has been reduced), and has gorgeous opening paragraphs like this from last month’s cover story:
For more than 30 years, a natural-gas pipeline had been the great white whale of Alaskan resource development. Tens of millions of dollars had been spent in the quest for it. The names of collapsed consortiums and failed legislative initiatives littered the tundra like the bleached horns of long-dead caribou. Then, last summer, Sarah Palin said she had harpooned the whale.</
Whales! Consortiums! WTF!
Of course, if Joanne couldn’t get herself fired for putting Dov Charney on the cover, there’s simply no way that a lone blogger is going to have any effect.

Posted by Liam | Report as abusive

I halfway wonder if the NYT didn’t pay you to start such a campaign. Something of this nature would only boost his exposure.

I will deeply miss the BSW.

Posted by TJS | Report as abusive

I haven’t made up my mind quite yet, but I’m tempted to take the BSW torch from your hand, Felix.

Here’s a lnk to a couple of my Stein-related columns. Consider it a job application. I hope your readers will feel free through my blog, Pragmatism Refreshed, to let me know whether they think me suited to be the next anti-Stein.

Anyway, here are the links. One on his withdrawal from the chore of speaking to graduates at the University of Vermont.

And one on his anti-Darwinism tralala.

Felix, you didn’t mention one of the other great predictions in that Aug ’07 link – Stein estimated losses from sub-prime mortgages to be about $37 Billion. I dunno, maybe he was talking about the losses on any given day.

But at least he did get one thing right – anybody who listens to CNBC for investment advice will lose money.

Posted by KenG | Report as abusive

yes, his still being there is one reason I no longer get the times on a regualr basis

Posted by dcb | Report as abusive

Felix Salmon, let me guess… You are an Atheist? And this is why you dislike Ben so much because of his stance on the belief of a God. And because he made ‘Expelled’… Just admit it…

Posted by jeff | Report as abusive

Jeff, I started the BSW long before I knew anything about Stein’s views on God and creation.

Posted by Felix Salmon | Report as abusive


I’m not sure why my previous comment has been “awaiting moderation” for three days now.

Nonetheless, I have made my decision with regard to the BSW franchise.

See today’s (Thursday’s) entry in my blog, Pragmatism Refreshed, for my plans. I’d love a link. Thanks.