I do not want to step on the turf of fellow blogger Felix Salmon, who has established a new feature, the Ben Stein Watch, to commemorate the generally deranged and uncomfortably close to stream-of-consciousness output of the Sunday New York Times columnist who styles himself as “lawyer, writer, actor and economist.” Well, at least he puts economist last, since his formal economics training appears to have ended as an undergraduate, but he gets bonus points for being the son of former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Herbert Stein.
I’ll leave the much deserved evisceration of this week’s column, “Pledging Allegiance to the United States of Hedge Funds,” to Felix. I assume this piece is meant to be humorous, because it certainly can’t be taken seriously. But Stein’s not a skilled enough writer to pull it off, so it comes off as being merely unhinged.
I finally put my finger on why Stein bothers me. Most readers probably are too well heeled to actually stand in line in grocery stores, but one of the things that makes it tolerable for me is the occasional sighting of Weekly World News. For those of you who don’t know it, it is far and away the cheesiest, lowest production value, most outrageous weekly tabloid, and by a considerable margin. Alien abductions, weird human crossbreedings, sightings of Hitler, bizarre marriages/birth/diseases are among its staples. Where else can you read about Bigfoot kidnapping a lumberjack and keeping him captive as a love slave? I figured the staff had to get high every week to come up with this stuff.
But the thought recently occurred to me that if I actually believed in Area 51, or were a fellow tabloid publisher, the existence of Weekly World News would bother me, because it it degraded things that meant something to me.
Stein is the Weekly World News of economics writers. He natterings are so often contradictory or contrafactual that he might as well be writing about space aliens. But at least the guys at Weekly World News know that they are merely free associating and having good fun with it. I’m not sure Ben Stein recognizes that that is what he is doing.
New York Times, take note. American Media recently shuttered Weekly World News. Maybe Stein’s days are numbered as well.