I Am a Camera - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
I Am a Camera

A long nap in bed in my office with my new lover, the perfect 7-year-old German shorthaired pointer, Julie. She was found for me by the GSP Rescue of the De Luz Mountains, brought to me about nine days ago in Rancho Mirage. Love at first sight.

She is white with little brown spots, beautiful, soft, furry, loving, enthusiastic, follows me wherever I go. I have loved all of my GSP’s, and each is special in her own way. But Julie and I fell in love in a matter of minutes. Now, when I want a peak experience, I just lower the shades and get in bed with Julie and my Mozart discs, and I am in heaven. This is it. I don’t need anything more.

If there are finer beings than German short hairs, I don’t know what they are. In their eyes is peace.

However, my compulsive little brain refuses to stop running at fever pitch. For example, two days ago, wifey and I flew from LAX to Fort Walton Beach, Florida. On the way to Dallas to change planes, I read through the latest copy of Reason magazine.

There was a lengthy interview with an economist from the World Bank by the name of Kirk Hamilton. Dr. Hamilton was referring to the legendary genius, Adam Smith, and his key work, The Wealth of Nations. In that work, Dr. Smith explained that the real wealth of nations did not lie in farmland or minerals or ports or woodlands or shovel ready construction projects or schools with Internet connections.

The real riches of a nation were what its citizens carried around between their ears, in their brains. The real wealth of a nation was the aggregate knowledge, discipline, creativity, energy, imagination, and willingness to persevere of its people. That, said Dr. Hamilton, amounted to about 80 per cent of the wealth of a great nation like Japan or the USA. This was why the USA was so much richer than even oil-laden nations like Kuwait or Saudi Arabia: because our people had so much more going on between their ears than the people of mineral-rich but mentally undeveloped nations. In poor Third World countries, Dr. Hamilton noted, there is little intellectual capital because the people are so uneducated and (presumably) have such poor work skills. In those countries, whatever wealth there is consists of minerals or lumber. This is not enough to make any sizeable nation rich.

This struck me as so true, and so important, that it compelled a series of thoughts in my febrile brain: if the USA is as rich as the total number of our people times the average of what they know and can accomplish, we are in a phase of intense downgrade of our wealth. I think that’s Dr. Hamilton’s point, too.

The ordinary American — as far as I can tell — knows so much less than he did fifty years ago and has such poor work habits compared with fifty years ago that the average multiplicand of knowledge/capabilities is a much smaller number than it was in 1961.

This means that the wealth per capita will inevitably fall. More than the stock market’s fall, more than the bust in housing, what we are seeing is a collapse in the value of the knowledge asset in this country.

Some say this is highly concentrated in nonwhite minorities (who will soon be majorities), but it is taking place across the board. This is just a much more ignorant people than we used to be, and this will make us much poorer.

Look out below! Here comes the poor old USA, which used to have the smartest workers in the world long ago.

On a bridge in Trenton, New Jersey, near the railroad tracks, there is a faint, long faded sign saying, “Trenton Makes — The World Takes.” Now, Trenton is a ghost town of slums. Buffalo used to be one of the manufacturing hubs of the world. Now, it is an urban nightmare. It’s true all over the country.

The America that we knew as the smartest place on the planet is gone with the wind.

On the other hand, tonight after my nap, I took my wife to a drug store near our home in Beverly Hills. At the front door, an old black man was holding the hands of a shaking old white woman. “You’ve just got to put it all in the hands of God and try to live each day,” he said. “Just take it one day at a time.”

“But I’m too sick to take it one day at a time,” the old women said in between tears.

“You have to trust in the Lord,” the black man said. “Let me get you an ice cream cone.”

“I’m just so sick,” the woman said.

“Trust in the Lord,” said the black man. “What flavor do you want?”

I was deeply touched. After all the black man has been through in this world, he can still often reach levels of spirituality the most pampered white man cannot touch. Maybe what he’s been through is the reason why.

A few days ago at the desk at the Watergate East South Lobby, I could not find my keys — then the desk clerk pointed out to me that they were in my hand. I was mortified.

“It’s going to be all right, Mister Stein,” she said. “It’s going to be a fine day.”

Ben Stein
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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.
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