A Lightning Bolt Struck a Housing Bubble...
Who believed this would happen? Me, for one, and Peter Schiff. (However, if Schiff envisioned a time frame for the collapse, I had no clue about such a steep slide happening so quickly. However, by the time that I received the news that my hours were to be cut, I was not surprised at all.)
Who didn't believe it? Ben Stein, naturally (or supernaturally), and his conservative friends at Faux News. Ben Stein was and is as wrong on the economy as he is on evolution and science. My evidence? This video from August 2006-2007. It's an amazing document:
Ben Stein: "The financials, as I keep saying, are just super-bargains [unintelligible] I predict with Merril Lynch, which is an astonishingly well-run company..." Holy crap, can you believe that he said that?
Also: "Subprime is a tiny, tiny, blip [in the market]." Look at these weasles laugh at Schiff! Who's crying now, Stein?
Did you follow Ben Stein's and Charles Payne's advice and eschewed Canadian for "patriotic" American stocks? Then I'm sorry for you. Maybe you should sue.
But make it fast. It looks like the financial "guru" Ben Stein has lost a significant amount of money since 2006.
If you had $100 million or $100,000 a year ago and now you have a lot less [yeah, it's rough losing $100 million or $100,000 in overvalued stocks, isn't it, my fellow Americans? Most people have investments like that, right?], you are still the same person. You are not a balance sheet, at least not one denominated in money, as was explained to me recently.
Losing and making money are not moral issues so long as you are being honest. [emphasis mine - we'll get to Stein's honesty in a moment] You may have a lot less money as this year ends than you did two years ago. But you are just as good or bad a person as you were then. It is a myth that money determines who you are, and if you have gotten over that myth by now, then 2008 will have been a very good year.
Awww, isn't that sweet, America? Money doesn't determine how good a person you are! Aren't you so glad that a privileged, whiny rich guy told you that?
That's a fine and dandy sentiment, Ben, but whoever your intended audience is, they sure as hell don't bill themselves as financial geniuses/prophets and dispense terrible financial advice just before a crash, and just after accusing the scientific and academic communities of this nation of trying to gas en masse Jewish babies. Yes, I'm sure the average Joe or Jane really appreciates believing your shitty advice above, Stein, and losing his or her life's savings only to see you patronize them that just because you're a fucking failure, they're not bad people!
And as for the rest of this pompous and self-stroking little column in the New York Times, well, I'm sorry, but I don't believe one word of your story, Ben Stein! I think this is a ridiculous tale:
ABOUT two years ago, a little delegation from a major investment bank arrived at my home in Beverly Hills. These nice young people were from the bank’s “wealth management division.” I told them straight away that I didn’t have anywhere near enough wealth to make their trip worth their time, but they smilingly insisted that we could help each other.
They told me that if I invested a certain sum with them, they would make sure that a large chunk of it was managed by a money manager of stupendous acumen. This genius, so they said, never lost money. He did better in up markets than in down markets, but even in down markets he did well. They said he used a strategy of buying stocks and hedging with options.
I protested that a perfect hedge would not allow making any money, because money made on the one side would be lost on the other. They assured me that this genius had found a way to spot market inefficiencies and, indeed, to make money off a perfect hedge.
I thanked them for their time and promptly looked up Bernard Madoff online. Nothing I saw was even a bit convincing that he had made a breakthrough in financial theory. Besides, this large financial firm was going to charge me roughly 2 percent to put my money with Mr. Madoff’s firm. I could invest my few shekels with Warren Buffett for no management fee at all.
I checked with my investment gurus, Phil DeMuth, Raymond J. Lucia and Kevin Hanley. None of us could see how Mr. Madoff could do what his friends said he could do. I politely passed and went on my way, finding my own inventive ways to lose money on a colossal scale during these last 15 months.
My point is not that I was so smart. I am not and I was not. Mistakes are a big part of my life. [No shit.] My point is that, as humans, we seem unable to learn from our mistakes very well.
Speak for yourself about mistakes. (And no, Ben Stein, I don't think your racism* is very cute.) But I call bullshit.
For one thing, no major investment bank - such as Goldman Sachs, which Stein defamed last year - has been touched by the Madoff scandal. This is the first anyone is hearing of that - but Stein's not naming names. Why not name this "investment bank?" (UBS? Nomura? Even they wouldn't make sense.)
Secondly, why would this unnamed "delegation" go to Ben Stein's house - his residence, mind you - and pitch essentially an Amway scam to him when surely they knew Stein is an author of economic books (such as they are), and a celebrity (of sorts)?
Then, even more unbelievably, Stein invites them in, listens to their pitch, and then researches it - the West's Greatest Champion of the Triumph of Puppy Dogs over the Evil Darwinists allegedly takes this crap seriously enough to look online and consult friends about a metaphorical piece of swampland managed for only a 2 percent annual fee. Sure! And I'm the Wizard of Oz.
Why, I didn't even research another blatant plea from Chase to make zero-interest cash withdrawals on my paid-off credit cards before throwing the checks into the fireplace and laughing this weekend - and those deals are much, much more honest than the one Stein recounts! A true financial guru would have slammed the door in the faces of this supposed "delegation from a major investment bank." But I don't think they ever came to his door.
Finally, of course, Stein expects us to believe that he kept his "I-turned-down-Bernie-Madoff" story secret (and stories like his are whipping around Wall Street like pasties on an aging stripper desperate for tips from an indifferent crowd) for two years.
Two years. That drama queen, keeping his mouth shut for two years? Not likely. The man is so desperate for attention, he even wrote an autobiography in which he hinted at an open marriage with his wife** and claimed to spend more time with "a variety of pubescent assistants and his beloved trio of dogs" than with her.*** This is a man who, before he suspiciously "got creationism," bragged about such things.
Incidentally, the reviewer of said autobiography described Ben Stein as "thick in a bout of self-delusion."***
Open the book of Ben Stein's life to almost any page and try not to hate or envy the things that drive him nuts. His catalog of constant complaints includes a Porsche 928, a thing of beauty perpetually in need of repair; the stupidity of pretty teen-age girls whose attention he covets [ick!]; and the illogical business dealings of studio executives, whose favor he finds it impossible to curry and maintain.
More recently, in a vomitingly self-important commentary in Newsweek entitled "Clinton on the Couch" (thanks for that image, BTW), Ben Stein is quoted thus: "He is remedying an early deficit in female attention. Like all childhood deficits, it can never be filled."
I laughed aloud at such a transparent example of Ben Stein's neurotic projection, describing himself while taking an envious jab at diagnosing Clinton (the true problem with William Jefferson Clinton is that the sleek, self-satisfied cat has never been without female companionship, a problem with which Ben Stein cannot and never will empathize) whereas columnist Peter Carlson**** exploded:
Who was this psychological savant? Alter identified him as "Ben Stein, the writer-actor-armchair shrink." Good Lord, I thought, he means Ben Stein, the guy who played the soporific teacher in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," the guy who hosts a game show called "Win Ben Stein's Money," the guy who writes a hideously narcissistic column for the American Spectator. Who died and made him Freud?
Two which I posit: Well, who died and make him God? Because that's what Expelled was really all about. In his nihilistic pretense of bestowing a sense of "purpose" upon the world that he himself does not have, Ben Stein tries on identities the way some dandies try on suits - one day he's a sex god, gallivanting around with young beauties (who, it seems, still rejected him sexually), next he's an outraged father (he claimed that Monica Lewinsky was "barely legal"), then he's a financial wizard tossing out advice like gold coins to the proles, then he's a sad sack, weeping that What Really Matters is how nice we are to each other as we cut back on dinners at Spago's and buy fewer rolodexes. (As I said, I cannot imagine who the hell Ben Stein writes his column for.) But I digress.
I recommend that everyone save whatever he or she can and invest it, not put it into Treasury notes or money market funds as Ben Stein is now doing. Now is the time to buy stocks - August 2007 wasn't, although you should contribute to a 401k/Roth IRA no matter how the economy is doing. Everyone should have some investments to leave alone until the economy improves, as it eventually will, probably years from now. If you have Treasury notes and/or money market funds, fine - just put something into indexes. But don't listen to Ben Stein. Listen to this guy. He's next on my reading list, along with Michael Shermer's The Mind of the Market.
And just remember - much of what I know about finances I learned from evolution. And evolution "is the result of accumulated small change." Ben Stein told America that so-called microevolution cannot lead to speciation - ironically undermining his one valid message that pennies turn into dollars. You're right, Ben: honesty much more than money determines who we are - but too bad you didn't take your own advice.
UPDATED: "On the subject of his personal life, Stein makes the most of his middle-aged Angst. He hangs out with the kids at Birmingham High School in the San Fernando Valley. While he deplores the materialism of students, he can't get enough of their youth and innocence."***
Do the parents of these teen-age girls know that Ben Stein "hangs out" with them? The more I think about it, the more that it creeps me out.
*"'Should I be worried about the Crips and the Bloods up here?' These were the first words out of the mouth of Ben Stein as he entered my office at Skeptic magazine, located in the racially mixed neighborhood of Altadena, Calif. I cringed and hoped that the two African-American women in my employ were out of earshot..."
**Stein, Ben. Hollywood Days, Hollywood Nights: The Diary of a Mad Screenwriter. Bantam.
***Russell, Candice. "Screenwriter's Whining Mars Otherwise Insightful Memoir. Sun Sentinel. October 30, 1988: 8.F.
****Carlson, Peter. "Monthly Cure for a Scandal Overdose." The Washington Post. Feb. 3, 1998: B.02.