Winning Ben Stein's Mind
July 10, 2006 - 12:59pm ET
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Ben Stein is popularly best known as either the teacher in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” or as the host of a Jeopardy-like cable television game show, “Win Ben Stein’s Money.” But political insiders know him as a former speechwriter for President Richard Nixon and a supporter of President Bush.
It is Stein’s role in selling the Republican agenda—and even putting a benevolent face on it—that makes his commentary in the Sunday Business section of The New York Times all the more startling. He makes scathing denunciations of the growing economic disparity between rich CEOs and run-of-the-mill workers as well as the Republicans’ devastatingly bad stewardship of the economy, which has put the nation dangerously in debt. I quote:
Even at my own beloved General Motors, whose Cadillacs I love so much — precisely because I think of them being made by the sons and grandsons of men who fought in Vietnam and at Peleliu and other bloody World War II battlefields — there is severe action to have workers quit and to lower their pensions.
At the same time, however, spectacularly large executive pensions, coming straight out of profits, keep G.M.'s retired top dogs happily playing golf at the Vintage, while the men who actually made the cars are saying: "Welcome to Wal-Mart. How can I help you?"
These points have been made frequently by such groups as the Economic Policy Institute and progressive Democrats on Capitol Hill. But the administration is always poised—on its own and through the conservative media echo chamber—to drown out economic reality with its fantasy-world chatter about the trickle-down-economics universe that Stein, having cut his political teeth there, knows so well.
But the ugly state of affairs that Bushonomics has created may be a bit harder to ignore when people such as Stein turn against it. Particularly when he asks,
Is this America, where far too many of the rich endlessly loot their stockholders and kick the employees in the teeth, the America that our soldiers in Ramadi and Kirkuk and Anbar Province and Afghanistan are fighting for?
As if to underscore Stein’s point that the competitiveness of American companies has waned while CEO salaries skyrocket—from about 30-40 times that of an average line worker about six decades ago to about 180 times that worker today—The Washington Post reports July 10 that executive salaries in the Washington metropolitan area are rising twice as fast as those of low-salaried workers.
What that means is that while high-five- and six-figure-salary workers have seen their pay exceed the rate of inflation between 2003 and 2005 (which was 5.8 percent nationally and 6.8 percent in the Washington area), pay for people making under $21,000 increased only 5.4 percent in that same period.
The rich are getting richer, and the poor are indeed getting poorer. They are less able to afford housing while those making more than $50,000 bid up the price of the available housing stock. They also see the pool of available jobs shrink as lower-skilled jobs are either outsourced or automated. Though this pattern is particularly acute in the Washington area, Harry J. Holzer, visiting fellow at the Urban Institute and a professor at the Georgetown University Public Policy Institute , told me it would not be surprising to see the same pattern in other large cities.
Stein would have hit a home run with his column if he had directly taken on the refusal of the Bush administration and Republicans in Congress to increase the minimum wage without attaching a poison pill. But at least Stein asked the right questions about the moral as well as fiscal bankruptcy of Bush’s economic policies. And if Stein gets it, there is hope that others who have voted for the current crop of Republicans will get it as well.
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Views expressed on this page are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Campaign for America's Future or Institute for America's Future