Ben Stein's Diary

Mr. Airplane Flies to Washington

A few warm moments on a cold stimulus weekend.

By 12.6.10

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Saturday
So, here I am in Washington, D.C. It is December 4 and it is cold. I flew in last night from Toronto, where I had spoken at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It is a spectacular building, the room of the event designed by Frank Gehry. The audience were Canadians and Scots, the latter dressed often in kilts. They were a good-looking bunch.

They discussed their work, stock picking, and we had a fine meal. Then I spoke and then we went off on our separate ways. That was two days ago.

Yesterday I flew in from Toronto to Dulles. Before we left the pilot of our plane made a bit of a mistake. He plugged a power cable into an Internet port, or so he said, and the result was, as he said, "Mister Airplane doesn't like that." So we sat for 90 minutes while repairmen were summoned and finally appeared and fixed Mister Airplane.

When we got to IAD, a fierce-looking woman would not let us off because someone at United had written on the "Gendex," a document about the flight, that we were coming in from Ottawa instead of Toronto. I went to use the bathroom and the maintenance people came on board and locked me in.

Finally I got off the plane and rode to my apartment with my trusty driver, Bob.

Today I awakened to a request by e-mail that I comment on Rep. Nancy Pelosi's claim that the "multiplier" effect of unemployment comp was two and therefore it was highly stimulative.

I wrote back the truth: no one knows what the multiplier effect is. No one has ever known No one even knows if it is positive or negative. Keynes didn't  know. No one knows. It cannot be measured. You just find a likely economist and he gives you whatever number you want. Then the other side gives you whatever number they want. This is what I call "economic realism."

Nor do we know if we are better off with more consumer spending or more saving. Three years ago we all wanted more saving. Now we want more spending. Who knows which is better? I just know I am happier when I am saving.

Who knows what will stimulate the economy? No one. We are getting a recovery, though, so maybe let's not screw around with it by raising taxes right now. And also, let's not be Scrooge by being hard hearted to the unemployed… although there is so much fraud in that unemployment and disability spending that it's breathtaking.

I wrote about that, and then I went to a reception at the home of Admiral and Mrs. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the JCS. The event was for wounded warriors and widows and family members of those who have been killed in the wars for freedom.

The event was deeply moving (as well as having fabulous food) because the Mullens were so welcoming, but mostly because I reconnected with several wounded soldiers whom I had met at Walter Reed over the years when they were in wheelchairs or on beds in total distress and pain. They were generous enough to recall my visits and to thank me, which I do not deserve at all.

We stayed a long time and as I walked home, I said to Alex, who was with me, "We really know very little about economics. We know very little about picking stocks. But I know that the real heart and soul of this nation is wearing uniforms and risking their lives for us and that the backbone of the nation is the military family. I don't know much, but I know that. Without them, all would be ashes, and there is no possible way to thank them enough. They are the stars in the stars and stripes."

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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.