Ben Stein's Diary

Return to Beverly Hills

Easier done than any return to fiscal sanity.

By 8.1.11

Send to Kindle

Saturday
"Re-entry is hard," as my pal, Phil DeMuth, says about returning from vacations. Amazingly hard this time because someone at the TSA at Spokane airport two days ago took my wallet, which had been in my shoe, and jammed it into my Dopp Kit, zipped up my Dopp Kit (a toiletries kit, usually black leather, this one was given to me by Jimmy Kimmel) and then I freaked out that I did not have my wallet. I also thought I would miss my plane.

By checking the videos, the kind TSA supervisor, Ms. O'Neel, and the kind Spokane Airport Police Sergeant Kempf at the airport found my wallet just as I was about to board the Southwest plane without (as I imagined) my wallet. That's a scary feeling. However, I felt deep relief and gratitude when they found the darned thing. I kissed Ms. O'Neel's hands. There was literally no money in the wallet but lots of credit cards.

A few minutes earlier, I had been given some forbearance by the Spokane Airport Police to leave my car at the curb for a few minutes to allow me to help my wife, who was feeling dizzy, to get to a seat. They are thoughtful people.

Then, an uneventful flight home, although a sad homecoming, inasmuch as the magnificent Brigid was not there to greet me. There is a Brigid-shaped hole in my heart now forever.

Yesterday, I went over to CBS to record some deathless words about the budget crisis, then to CNN to say some more deathless live words about the budget crisis. As I was talking to the camera, in a tiny little studio, I remembered my brilliant father's idea about the concept of "cap, cut, and balance."

Among many other ideas, Herbert Stein thought that there should be a "full employment surplus" budgetary policy. This plan would have balanced budgets when the government was at or near full employment (which in those days was thought to be about 6%). At higher unemployment rates, there would be a deficit so that the government (the taxpayers, really) could afford unemployment benefits, continue to maintain a strong defense, and provide for the poor. At unusually low unemployment, say 4%, there would be a surplus. This would be used to pay off the deficits from earlier years.

Frankly, the budget that is balanced over the cycle still seems like a darned fine idea to me. That way you do obeisance to the balanced budget ideal, but leave yourself flexibility in the superheated economy or the cool economy.

My father also thought the whole thing would be suspended in times of war, when we would have to run large deficits.

I wonder what the deficit hawks plan to do about national defense at this point anyway. Surely they don't think that low taxes are more important than a powerful defense. I hope they don't think that, anyway. "Defense is greater than opulence," my father used to say, quoting (of course) Adam Smith. How true that is. I am reminded of a famous brief conversation between Lady Astor and Winston Churchill in the early bad days of World War II. "Why are you fighting so hard against the Germans?" asked Lady Astor.

"If we stop, you'll find out," said the Greatest Man Who Ever Lived.

(I am paraphrasing here and may have many parts of the conversation wrong.)

Today, Saturday, I am sitting in my sunny office at home in Beverly Hills. I am tired from staying up late watching a very dirty (toilet jokes, not sex) movie with Will Ferrell called "Step Brothers." It is extremely un-PC in that it makes fun of mentally ill people, but it's funny. It reminds me of a LOT of families I know.

Now, I'll go swimming and wonder what is next for this great country. We have gone so far down the road of fiscal insanity that it's hard to know how we will ever find our way home. (Paraphrase from "Can't Find My Way Home," from Eric Clapton.)

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
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.