One of Eight Billion - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
One of Eight Billion
by

Sunday

“Feelings come and feelings go. And feelings are not facts.”

These were words I heard in one of the first 12-step meetings I ever went to. It was at noon Monday through Saturday in a disused junior high school in Point Dume, Malibu. The meeting was called “Spiritual Search,” after one of the 12 steps of the program, actually the eleventh step. I went to that first meeting about 23 years ago. They stunned me with their insightfulness then and now.

Those words have saved me from suicide many a time. In that same room I also heard the saying, “What happens to me is not very important. I am one of eight billion or so people on the planet and what happens to me is not terribly important.”

These thoughts and many other great 12-step thoughts are coming in handy today as I contemplate some mean comments made about me on TV. Here is what happened.

As you all know, I have parted from contemporary GOP orthodoxy innumerable times by calling for higher taxes on the genuinely rich, such as persons making more than $5 million per annum. This has gotten me gentle criticism by the supply-siders, but all within the bounds of decency.

However, I cannot countenance raising taxes in the midst of a severe downturn. Yes, we may have reached the trough, but we still have a long way to go to get back to where we were three years ago. So, why raise taxes? The Obama administration is explicitly for large scale deficit spending in good times and bad, so why raise taxes on anyone and counter the Keynesian deficit spending effect, if there is one? The stated reason is that the rich do not spend much of what they earn, but that’s a laugh riot. The rich spend every cent they earn as far as I can tell, except for the very top of the heap. The great Milton Friedman found that the marginal propensity to consume was consistently 100 percent and if he found that, it’s good enough for me.

Anyway, by general consensus, raising taxes in a slowdown is counter-stimulative, and if you don’t mind deficits (à la Mr. Obama ), then why raise taxes even on the rich? Is it just to punish the rich? And if so, what have the rich done wrong to merit this punishment? They tried to be successful. They employ other people. They give to charity. When did that become a crime?

So, I gave a little, good-natured commentary on this subject on the telly. I added that when good times returned — if they do — probably taxes on the well-to-do should be raised.

It made Bill Maher angry, but then he’s a difficult case always. So, I didn’t worry much about that. Anyway, he’s on HBO, which is a network I don’t watch.

But then this morning, a network with which I have an extremely close connection ran a piece about what a lump of dirt I am, how elitist and unpatriotic and greedy, for not wanting my taxes raised in a recession. It was spoken by an angry woman whom I don’t know, but who works for the Syfy Channel.

“Upset” is far too mild a word to describe how I felt. First, as I tell my readers endlessly, I am NOT rich. I make a good living, but I am not rich. Second, I give away to the less fortunate a truly insanely large part of what I do earn, and I am taxed to death on the rest. Third, while there are millions who are more patriotic than I am, a small bit of research would show I was at least above average in patriotism. Besides, I do not equate patriotism with having my taxes jacked up to pay off public employee unions.

Anyway, I was really upset.

But luckily, I got a lot of supportive mail, and that helped me. Plus, I lay in bed with my Brigid, my rapidly aging German short-haired pointer, and that helped. Finally, I went out and got a huge milkshake and wolfed it down, and that helped a lot.

I also heard in those 12-step rooms long ago that “enemies are often our best teachers…” I have no idea of who that woman is or why she took such a personal tack on a public policy issue. But she did ruin my morning without adding one iota to the debate on fiscal policy. From this, I will try to learn that words can wound, and that I should use them more carefully and more diplomatically, even when provoked. We have been given a great lesson in this world:

Bless them that curse you.
Pray for them that despitefully use you.
Love them that hate you.

So, last night I prayed for that woman from the Syfy Channel, and I sincerely hope it helps her if she needs help or even if it doesn’t. I am a total mess as a moral being, but I am always trying to learn.

Monday

A FASCINATING EVENING on Larry King Live talking about the collapse of public education. I kept asking the other guests why, why, why has the school system fallen so badly. No one could answer. To my mind, it has a lot to do with a culture that does not value learning, and this culture has swept the nation, from the inner city to the suburbs and back again. This culture says it’s cool to sing and be on Dancing With the Stars, but pays little heed or value to knowing much.

The tragedy is that this attitude results in uneducated young people who drop out of school, take to crime, do not know how to do a day’s work, and just drag down their families, their communities, the nation, and themselves.

This condition — not wanting to learn or even knowing how to learn — is going to kill this country, or at least the idea of a fluid, meritocratic society. The poor will stay poor and the rich who are willing to learn will stay rich.

This will eventually drag down national productivity to the point where we truly become a Third World nation with a thin slice of first world on top of. The process will take a long time, but it will happen. It is already happening.

Thursday

OFF TO AUSTIN to speak to a group of people connected with a powerful hedge fund called Whitebox; one of the founders is a math whiz named Andrew Greenleaf and another is an all around genius named Richard Vigilante, who used to toil here at The American Spectator. They were a great, smart group. Many of them do what is called “arbitrage” with convertible bonds. I got a sort of a twinge when I met them. I wrote a paper on convertible arbitrage for Professor Henry Wallich — or was it James Tobin — at the Yale graduate school of economics back in 1969. That is 41 years ago, and I see the field is still going strong.

My pal Phil DeMuth, whom I brought to the conference because he is so interested in investing, told me that if I had been born 25 years later, I would have been a hedge fund guy and a billionaire. I don’t think so. I like the performer’s life as well as economics and law and writing. I could never do just one.

Friday

WOW. I had to get up at 5 a.m. PDT to do my speech. I did it and it went well, but I was very tired by the time I got to the Austin airport. Phil kindly bought me a chocolate milkshake but it was off somehow and I got quite sick on the plane. No fun.

I got home, rested with the dogs (pure bliss), then drove down to San Diego to give another speech to investors. I am like a dog. I love to get into the back of a car and go right to sleep. I wonder if someone could make a device that simulated being driven in a car. I know that puts crying babies to sleep as well. General Electric, get to it.

I got to my hotel, had a leisurely but very light meal with Joe Lucia, and then headed to bed. As I unpacked, I saw on TV that Rick Sanchez had been fired from CNN for making allegedly anti-Semitic remarks.

I listened to some of them online. Mr. Sanchez is a dangerously angry guy. That has thrown me about him from day one. Looks like he’s just spoiling for a fight at any time. But his remarks, while highly inflammatory, were nothing like as anti-Semitic as the e-mails I am endlessly getting. Still, probably good for Mr. Sanchez to have a rest. We all need to rest and maybe then after his rest, Mr. Sanchez can come back to MSNBC, where extreme anger is possibly more highly prized.

I fell asleep just lying in my bed thinking about how quiet it was at the hotel and how grateful I am for the quiet. I guess I am really getting old. I consider a quiet room just about the ultimate luxury.

Friday

A SPEECH, then a glorious light lunch (scrambled eggs and toast) under a palm tree facing Mission Bay. No one deserves anything this good, and the breeze off the bay makes it perfect. Thank you, Ray Lucia, for making it possible.

I spent all of the lunch urging a young woman who is fighting with her husband to forgive him and get back together. “He’s the kids’ father,” I said, “and what better use do you have for your time than to forgive?” 

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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