Ben Stein: Where Humor Meets Economics

By Lauren Prince '14 and Ellie Rudee '14, Editor-in-Chief and Staff Writer When Ben Stein entered Denison Library on Thursday, he was greeted by an eager group of Scripps students. After walking around the room and personally shaking each student’s hand, he sat down, pulled out a phone and silenced it. Then, he reached into his pocket again and pulled out a second phone. He started sharing that he has more than one phone because he likes to take videos on his phone but they can’t be transferred from the phones, so he just keeps buying more. The students started laughing. He then reached into his jacket again (a different pocket) and took a third phone... and then a fourth.

Stein, with a relentless sense of humor and the ability to talk for hours on end, came to Scripps College on Feb. 9 as part of the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Public Affairs Program speaker series.

Although known famously as the boring economics teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Stein was a speechwriter for Nixon and Ford, a lawyer, professor and a columnist. Stein mentioned his frustration that he spent 10 minutes shooting for Ferris Bueller and it changed his life. All his hard work researching financial fraud has become invisible because that movie role outshines his other achievements.

Stein also took questions, and was asked about welfare, education and immigration. Stein argues welfare is good for health benefits, but not for unemployment. Stein created the first universal health care package with Nixon, and believes that all Americans should have access to health care, but he also believes that in the employment sector, the welfare system fosters idleness and is not an adequate use of government resources and funding.

Stein’s views on education were particularly controversial, both in the discussion and again in the lecture, because he believes that the amount of money spent on a student doesn’t correlate with a student’s performance. He believes that students in underprivileged neighborhoods can go to college if they want to, but concedes that it might require more work for those students to succeed than it would for a wealthier student.

Stein believes there is no one solution to the immigration problem. However, he does not think the proper thing to do is to send the immigrants back to their respective countries. Stein said that the country needs both the low and high skilled immigrant workers in the United States. “America can still absorb more people,” he said.

Stein also commented that he’s frustrated that “law is being used to bring people down, not allow them the rights they deserve.”

When asked about his thoughts on the current GOP candidates, Stein said he likes Santorum for President, but would be okay with Romney. He also noted that the Republican Party is ready for a female leader, and that he originally wanted Michele Bachmann to be president.

Students’ reactions to Stein’s visit were mixed. Overall, students liked him as a person and were grateful for his enthusiasm while meeting all the students at the dinner and discussion. Students disliked that his lecture was apolitical. Students who spoke with him one-on-one gleaned that he equates intelligence with knowledge about history, economics and law.

“I found parts of his speech to be problematic, but as a person he was funny and endearing,” said Emily O’Brien (‘12).

One of Stein’s takeaway points during the lecture was the importance of work. He said that we have a shortage of labor along with a labor force that doesn’t want to work. However, to Stein, work connects individuals to reality and provides meaning and experience in one’s life.

Stein’s advice for students includes making connections and determining what one believes through experience rather than through the media. Stein is also big on humor: “If you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re missing the funniest joke there is.”