Ben Stein's Diary

It Can Happen Here

Those scenes in Athens? They could be coming attractions for Atlanta or Akron.

By 5.14.12

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Thursday
So, I am watching my faithful old TV, and what do I see: Trouble.

Here's what I mean. Have you noticed on TV the riots in Greece and Spain and the political tumult in Europe because of budgetary crises? Have you noticed how many nations in Europe have an intractable problem of slow economic growth, but they cannot play the stimulus game because their deficits are already excessive? Have you noticed how silly and at the same time scary all of those rioters look? Thank heavens we're in America where things are bad, but calm.

Guess what. All of that bad stuff? It not only can happen here, but if the government in Washington cannot come up with a miracle, it's going to happen here.

Once again, this spring, growth is anemic and what seemed like a growing rebound is more like a pitiful weak dribble. Once again, we're already stimulating the economy to the tune of a roughly $ 4 billion per day deficit. And it's not working. The patient is still in a coma.

We've run up a cumulative total deficit of $10 trillion since the beginning of the 21st century. It took 226 years to get to the first $5 trillion. We tripled it in ten more. We now have a total debt as large as the whole economy. That has not happened since World War II. And the debt is growing very fast, while the economy is moribund.

We are in a box. We really cannot do a lot more stimulus without begging fate for a genuine hyperinflation. We cannot cut taxes at all because we need the revenue. We cannot try austerity because Americans, like Greeks or Spaniards, will not stand for it. Have you seen the riots in Oakland? Imagine if the government cut Social Security or Medicare or welfare or food stamps or student loans. It would be Oakland in Omaha.

What's the solution? I don't know -- and neither does anyone else and if they say they do, they're lying.

I'm just telling you -- those scenes in Athens? They could be coming attractions for Atlanta or Akron. Scary. Get the canned goods. And a can opener.

Friday
And speaking of which, a woman whom I am extremely close to called me today while I was buying Mother's Day gifts for my wifey at the Palm Desert Brooks Brothers. She wants money. She lives near Santa Cruz, my old stomping grounds. She and her husband wanted a swimming pool. They bought the lot next door to their home. It had a serious slope. No problem, said the swimming pool engineers. We'll put in concrete and caissons and beams and you'll be all set. "We wanted gracious outdoor living," said my pal. "Some space to relax. What we got was an out of control nightmare of expense putting in this pool. Beyond any possible prediction. An explosion of bills. Now, we've cashed in our retirement accounts to pay the contractors and we're still short."

"Time to refi the house," said I.

"We can't," she said. "Too many bills because of the swimming pool."

I knew what came next.

"I am just getting asked for money all day long," I said. "I can't handle it. This economy has been rough on everyone, including me."

"I just need thirty thousand," she said. "That's all."

That seemed like a lot to me but I told her I would think about it. I hate the way everyone wants money from me. I just hate it.

I do not want to wind up broke because I gave away my money to people who asked me for it. I have done way too much of that already. I never get repaid and the people who were supposedly broke and homeless show up in Mercedes at luxury restaurants.

I am scared about myself. I am way too gullible for this world.

Saturday
Our pal Russ Ferguson -- who does not ask me for money ever -- is visiting us in Rancho Mirage. We had a nice day: lunch with big wifey at Morningside, more present buying for big wifey, then a visit to Mission Hills Country Club to watch preparations for a huge Native American wedding. There was a simply beautiful blond waitress with her hair on top of her head in braids. "Are you from the Ukraine?" I asked her.

"No, I'm from Oklahoma," she announced evenly. "What's the Ukraine?"

Then, dinner at Morningside, and then Russ and I went to watch the Lakers beat the Nuggets after the Nuggets put up a great fight. Then a few minutes listening to a fabulous duo on guitar and keyboards at a club. The duo was called, aptly, "The Smooth Brothers." They played "Black Magic Woman" as well I have ever heard it.

Back to our house at Morningside for Russ, wifey, and me to lie by the pool and watch the waterfall play over the lights.

"I am so grateful for this," I told Russ. "I know I may not have it much longer and I know that for Rancho Mirage, it's a small house. But I love it like crazy."

"It's all about an attitude of gratitude," he said. "That's it. Attitude and gratitude."

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About the Author

Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes "Ben Stein's Diary" for every issue of The American Spectator.