Ben Stein's Diary

Cold Cold Cold

Even in the lovely, tragic South.

By 1.24.14

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Thursday
HOLY SMOKE!!! It is cold here in Greenville. Very cold. Bitterly cold. Nothing like the Northeast, but too damned cold.

I awakened, listened to the fourth movement of Beethoven’s 9th, then got dressed and had my pitiful breakfast. Then, off to the U.S. Post Office to mail a letter. The beautiful Clement Haynesworth Federal Building here says it’s a post office but it isn’t. (Who here remembers Judge Haynesworth? A Nixon appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court who was deemed inadequate for the job. Was he the one who was too “mediocre”? Or was that Carswell. I just remember that when some Nixon official was asked about one of the judges being too mediocre, the spokesman said, “Well, there are a lot of mediocre people out there and they deserve a voice.”

Anyway, the guards at the federal building sent Bob and me to a building some ways away in the poor part of town. It was supposedly a post office but its computer was broken, awaiting a part, and they had not been able to send any special sort of mail for three days.

Unbelievable. Just stunning.

Then, off to another post office about 10 miles away in a depressing part of town. It had friendly, pleasant clerks and they took my express mail cheerily. Twenty bucks for express mail next day service. Or maybe two-day service. That’s damned good. And the people at the post office look like real Americans, down to earth, friendly, once again, smiling, and how very far a smile goes.

Then, a mad dash off to Christ Church Episcopal School to talk to an economics class. The campus was sprawling, gorgeous, magnificently landscaped. The head of school, Mr. Kupersmith, and Mr. Sanders, head of the upper school, greeted me happily, then took me off to meet some students. Holy cow. These are attentive-looking kids with purposeful looks on their faces. I like them a lot.

Then to an econ class of highly motivated students led by a lovely woman. I talked to the kids about their senior theses and where they planned to go to college and the like. One young man engaged me in a lengthy discussion about trade, employment, and vocational retraining. He was a super smart fellow and we really developed some good thoughts:

* Job retraining does not usually work on a mass basis.

* The theory of comparative advantage which is supposed to equilibrate trade does not work when you are dealing with China, because there are hardly any areas of manufacture where we have a comparative advantage over China and no areas of ag, except hides.

* High tech will provide profits, but not jobs.

In other words, “Mon, we’re in trouble plenty.” The young man said that we would still excel in services, but you cannot generally ( with some exceptions ) use services in trade.

We are going to face a continuing crisis in employment and current account because of China and other developing nations. The young man saw no way out of it and neither do I. On the other hand, as my father said, “If a thing cannot go on forever, it will stop.” And as he also said, “If we only do the things we can do forever, we won’t do very much.”

Still, it’s worrisome that China has had such an effect on the U.S. But immensely cheering that a man as young as the fellow in that class could analyze it so well. I do think he assumed some causal connections that do not exist, but so do all economists. Hayek said that in economics, the causes and effects are always so varied that it is impossible to know what effect had what cause or what cause had what effect.

As I spoke to the kids, I kept looking at a picture of the elderly, postwar Robert E. Lee. A great man and a genius but what a much greater man he would have been if he had gone to Richmond after Gettysburg and told Jeff Davis that the war was unwinnable by the South and they had better sue for peace. Instead, another 300,000 men — at least — died in a brave but futile struggle. Grant said after Appomattox that he had rarely seen men fight so bravely — or in such a bad cause.

I love the South. Don’t just like it. LOVE IT. But think how much better off the South would have been if there had been no war and slavery had ended by peaceful means. Better for blacks and whites.

I forgot to tell you that last night wifey and I had dinner — as we always do — at the Poinsett Club. Beautiful, as always. Elegant and as my wife and I walked out the door, wifey looked at the grounds and the stars and said sadly, “What a great place the South was. Imagine if it were its own country.” Yes, moonlight and magnolias, but slavery was so evil it can never be enough accursed. My wife agreed.

And the South is still great, just great, just fabulous.

I think it was the genius Mark Steyn who said that the only polite people left on the earth are in the states of the old Confederacy.

It stirs me deeply to hear “Dixie”... Also to hear “Maryland, My Maryland.”

But slavery. So horrifying. To have one man own another man or woman. I think it was Lincoln who said that if anyone thinks slavery is a good thing, he should first have it tried on him.

God help us.

As I discussed economics with that gifted lad, I was became very much aware of all the thought and analytical processes I had absorbed from my brilliant father. Far beyond the total of all I learned even at Columbia and Yale. What a mind that man had. He was never afraid to call a fraud a fraud, mixed gratitude and hope with skepticism. If I know how to think at all, it’s because of my Pop.

I did not deserve him and how I miss him.

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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.