Ben Stein has Felix Salmon so upset that he has lost track of what month it is. I have to admit that I didn't actually read Stein's column, and still haven't, thereby avoiding a similar fate:
Ben Stein Watch: October 30, 2007, by Felix Salmon: I'm a uniter, not a divider. I'm a lover, not a fighter. I don't like to engage in the politics of personal destruction. But as Jonathan Landman might say, we have to stop Ben Stein from writing for the Times. Right now. And so, by popular demand, the first weekly Ben Stein Watch.
Stein uses his column this week to ask a question: "Is It Responsible to Shun Military Contractors?". Stein is a believer that investing isn't just about money:
I certainly believe in socially responsible investing for myself. I sold my tobacco shares long ago. (They have done fantastically well since then, but I don't regret my decision.)
Unfortunately, Stein doesn't tell us why he sold his tobacco shares. So we're going to just have to take a wild guess: maybe it's because cigarettes kill people?
Yet somehow Stein just can't comprehend why some socially responsible investors don't want to invest in arms manufacturers. "I don't understand this whole attitude," he writes. "Maybe someone can explain it to me."
Here, Ben, let me try, in words of one syllable:
Guns and bombs kill people.
Oh, damn, "people" is two syllables.
But let me rewind, to the very first sentence of Stein's column:
Henry Blodget should have started out as a writer.
I might point Stein to the second sentence of Blodget's wikipedia page:
Blodget received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University and began his career as a freelance journalist and was a proofreader for Harper's Magazine.
Stein finishes up his column seemingly asking the SEC to regulate everything that absolutely anybody might conceivably invest in. He doesn't claim that this massive expansion of regulatory responsibilities would do any good, mind you; he just ends his column, cryptically enough, by saying that "the ladder of law should have no top and no bottom." It's a Bob Dylan lyric which Stein obviously loves, since this is the second time this year he's trundled it out.
So here's my idea. Since Stein clearly isn't being featured in the business section on the grounds of his economic expertise, he's obviously got this gig on the grounds of his celebrity status. Maybe the Times has no desire to replace Stein with someone (like DeLong, say) who actually knows what he's talking about - what they want is a writer who's vaguely familiar with economic concepts but who's also something of a household name. My suggestion: Bob Dylan.