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 bensteinwatch.com) 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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