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January 25, 2009

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Well, it wouldn't be the New York Times if it didn't have a regular reminder that they're so thoroughly focused on the lives of the privileged. And this is an even better reminder than their standard issue "how tough the lives of multi-millionaire investment bankers have become" article.

Of course, he keeps teaching his son not to take responsibility for himself by telling him it's okay to get married while you are in college and unable to pay for a family.

Bueller knew more.

Ah, a legible font again. I was begining to think hilzoy was trying to drive away old eyes with her last 2 posts.

JayS: it took me a while to figure out which was the right one.

Is this where I insert the link to a photo of my 5 and 7 year old children (years ago) selling sodas out of the back of an ice filled wagon to construction workers at the nearby subdivision construction site?

Or how about the photo of the house my now 23 year old son recently bought, renovated, and resold for a $32,000 profit in the last few months.

Or the photo of my now 21 year old daughter, an RN volunteering for a summer at a primitive hospital in Nigeria.

If you train them how the real world works from the beginning they do just fine thank you.

Is my smugness showing?


Ben Stein...Ben Stein...is this the same Ben Stein who wrote speeches for Nixon? Who accused Bob Woodward of hatching genocide? Who compared Obama's campaign rallies to Nazi rallies? Who called the theory of evolution the cause of the Holocaust and the most compelling argument yet for imperialism? Who said that science leads you to killing people?

Why exactly should anyone care what this vile moron says, or expect it to be anything other than mind-numbingly stupid?

And why exactly would anyone be surprised by the New York Times continuing to publish laments describing the terrible deprivations of the super-rich?

She has an 11% mortgage (plus some other interest pmts, maybe, on the refis - it's not clear.) She will soon be getting "only" $10K a month in alimony/child support. Shae hs a money-losing business.

Stein didn't know what to tell her?

Sell the damn house!!

Close the store.

Get a job

How hard is that? She can live and support her kids just fine on 10K/mo plus whatever she can earn. She might not be able to get totally out from under the home loans, but I bet she can, one way or another.

Why does the NYT let Stein write about personal finance?

Notice how B.S. says I very much fear that my son, more up-to-date than I am in almost every way, is more of a modern-day American than I am. Dude needs to read "Middlemarch", because Stein Jr. could have come straight out of that (19th-century, English) book.

Notice how he also says,

Of course, that’s my fault. (I have learned that everything bad that happens anywhere is my fault.)

-- by matching the first sentence, which is almost certainly true, to the second, which is eye-rollingly false, BS manages to evade his central role in this particular problem, and how I hope to be able to leave him well enough provided for to ease his eventual transition into some form of self-sufficiency is yet more self-delusion.

Middlemarch, it's all in Middlemarch. What *are* they teaching them in these schools?

What *are* they teaching them in these schools?
I don't know, but Ben Stein will be damned if it is evolution!

i think this is the first time since i've been reading this blog that i've agreed with d'd'dave.

and you can do all that and be a bleeding-heart liberal at the same time. we did.

our (now 28-year-old) daughter had a savings account at 3, her own checking account when she started earning baby-sitting money (13-ish), a job by the time she was 16, and her own atm card as soon as the bank would allow it (age 18). her training was much like hilzoy describes. she was living independently (out of the dorm) by junior year of college and paid her own way thru grad school [another problem altogether - has led to a crushing load of student loan debt]. it is said of her mother and grandmother "she would skin a flea for the meat." our grasshopper learned well.

oh. and ben stein AND his son are both bleepholes.

I don't know much about Middlemarch, but even "David Copperfield" tells us:
"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery."

"Is our children learning?"

As you noted, Ben Stein is funny. His article is satire, although I bet he knows a real person in exactly the circumstances described. But, I find the post and comments here to be at least a degree funnier since many react with a sense that he is being serious about the circumstances of the individuals described as opposed to their misguided values.

Stein himself was provided with a good start in life and screwed it up quite a bit before he got serious. But we do have a generation now that will really have to learn things again, the hard way.

Maybe his son just played the home version of "Win Ben Stein's Money".

Ben Stein is an overstuffed pompous bloviator who like Denise Miller is not all that funny; the latter has not done anything worth the paper that wipes one's butt since SNL. And these are the clowns whining about their taxes? Screw Ben Stein's son and the wallet he rode in on.

I was reading the story and I kept waiting for the punchline. It's such a dumb story that I figured that it was some kind of moronic parable, like the woman is the American people and her credit card-payin' beau is China. Something stupid like that.

But no, it's just a dumb, meaningless story. I can tell dumb stories all day. Why the heck aren't I published in the NY Times?

In defense of GoodOleBoy, all of Stein's works make a lot more sense if you treat it all as satire. Like the dozens of articles claiming that subprime was no big problem and encouraging people at Dow 12,500 to invest because it was a great opportunity. And of course his movie.

Let's hope this article isn't satire because the only thing unfunnier than a smug bloviator is one that led people down the wrong path for years and then wags their finger for being imprudent.

As you noted, Ben Stein is funny. His article is satire, although I bet he knows a real person in exactly the circumstances described. But, I find the post and comments here to be at least a degree funnier since many react with a sense that he is being serious about the circumstances of the individuals described as opposed to their misguided values.

He equated the theory of evolution with the Holocaust. What makes you think he ISN'T being serious?

I know Ben Stein. He is being serious about one thing and satirical about another. He picked someone he knows from his own circle, who lacks the good sense to come in out of the rain, to show how absurd the lack of understanding prudence and personal responsibility can get. Most of us don't live with the margins available to this woman, thus total disaster comes much quicker.

GoodOleBoy, other than you're a conservative and Stein is a buddy of yours, therefore he can do no wrong, what exactly is "satire" about this article?

As for the woman in his column, her mistake is in limiting whoring to only one client; that's putting all your eggs in one basket and is a serious error in judgment.

The serious part in the article is about the need to get some old time conservative values like self-reliance. Get a job,save, and don't live on credit. His message also carries a warning to the enabler of irresponsibility, whether that be a parent or some other, like a beau. The satirical part is his expression that he was the one who had to tell her she was on thin ice financially, else she wouldn't know; the very thought that anyone would consider helping her financially after his description of how she goes through money; his sarcastic claim that hers, his, and his son's inability to cope in the modern world is their parents' fault. Oh my, but this is where we are.

" his sarcastic claim that hers, his, and his son's inability to cope in the modern world is their parents' fault."

Perhaps if he had said that you might have a slight point. The funny part is that what many might consider the most satirical part is actually the most truthful, he is largely at fault for his son's problems with money. Not totally, but he seems to not have done a good job in teaching him responsibility, but then he has almost never shown any himself.

I'm sorry, John Miller, wasn't that the last thing he said. Or am I indeed senile?

"You should stop reading this post right now, and after you've made sure that you won't get Diet Coke all over the keyboard"

I'm really impressed that you know that I came back from seeing Milk (which is really good, and in which Sean Penn is amazingly good!) about an hour ago, and I still have a huge cup of Diet Coke here, since I forgot my bag and water bottle, and figured I'd get the free refill, since they charge a bloody $5 for the drink.

"His article is satire"

What phrases in it, or other information, would you cite to support this interpretation, specifically?

"He picked someone he knows from his own circle, who lacks the good sense to come in out of the rain, to show how absurd the lack of understanding prudence and personal responsibility can get. Most of us don't live with the margins available to this woman, thus total disaster comes much quicker."

I'm missing how that makes the piece "satire."

"The satirical part is his expression that he was the one who had to tell her she was on thin ice financially, else she wouldn't know; the very thought that anyone would consider helping her financially after his description of how she goes through money; his sarcastic claim that hers, his, and his son's inability to cope in the modern world is their parents' fault."

Say we stipulate that: that doesn't make "the article" satire. It makes, at most, a couple of lines in it satirical.

And I have to say that if that was his intent, he did a very poor and unclear job of it for anyone who doesn't know him.

"... after you've made sure that you won't get Diet Coke all over the keyboard"

Two words:

Coke Zero.

(Better by a thousand... try it.)

Whatever Ben Stein has, Dennis Miller must have caught it.

If you folks cannot see the humor in Ben's article, then it becomes very clear why we have such a problem.

GOB, if Ben Stein thinks he didn't do a good job of teaching his son responsibility, then why did he get sarcastic about everything being his fault? The way he raised his son is his fault, and that's not some evil liberal "society's to blame" claim -- it's something I thought conservatives were supposed to be into.

KCinDC,

This thread is wearing thin, but I'm going to take a shot at responding to your point. Ben Stein likely considers himself one of those enablers that he warns against. Stein's failures in raising his son (to which he confesses) probably stem from his inability to curb the influences of the popular culture as well as that of his son's peers. These forces are so strong today that even the most ardent parents can fail to instill self-reliance and a sense of responsibility in their children. Make the setting one of our coastal cities and take religious influences away and it approaches hopelessness. The sarcasm comes from the fact that the outcome is not the fault of the parents' teaching but rather the influences that the parents could not overcome. This does not make it the parents' fault. I'm sure he doesn't really think its funny. It does get very complicated though. Those who do all the things that help lead to individual self-reliance are often marginalized by the popular culture. I have children and grandchildren so I know how taxing the job can be.

The lady in the story is funny because she goes through more money in a year than many see in 3 or 4. No economy, good or bad, is going to fix her problem.

What makes the article humorous is that neither the lady or his son are the sympathetic characters he makes them and they are certainly not disadvantaged compared to many in our society. I don't really think Ben is feeling sympathetic.

Whole books are written on this one topic, so I'll stop now.

GOB,

Sorry, I see nothing in Stein's article that could be interpreted as satire. If he intended it that way he is as bad a satirist as he is a financial adviser.

The humor in Ben Stein's article is that he got paid to write it.

Really...that's just freakin' hilarious.

The serious part in the article is about the need to get some old time conservative values like self-reliance.

Conservative like born-in-a-log cabin GW Bush, not like silver-spoon BH Obama?

"Stein's failures in raising his son (to which he confesses) probably stem from his inability to curb the influences of the popular culture as well as that of his son's peers."

Whatever happened to individualism, and individual responsibility, and family values?

"Make the setting one of our coastal cities and take religious influences away and it approaches hopelessness."

The universe of people and kids I know belies this.

Good call, Chuchundra. Anyone from the wingnut welfare brigade might have trouble teaching their children about work, and Ben Stein got paid for a film that sounds dumb even by their standards.

GOB,

How, writing in this direct thread, could you say with a straight face that the culprits are popular culture and friends and that without religious influences it's almost impossible to instill responsibility in your kids while in a coastal city without even responding to the fact that such success is described in this very comment thread.

I can add a couple dozen examples myself of people I know personally that are in their early twenties and very responsible with money and everything else. Once I go beyond the restrictions of 'knowing very well' and 'very responsible' I could give hundreds of examples.

That some kids are spoiled and irresponsible is nothing new. That others aren't is nothing new either. That this usually correlates with what kind of people their parents are is also not new.

GoodOleBoy, other than you're a conservative and Stein is a buddy of yours, therefore he can do no wrong, what exactly is "satire" about this article?

I consistently get the impression that conservatives are aware that some things are called "satire," and they kind of have this vague impression that satire has something to do with things that are supposed to be funny, but they're not exactly sure how it works.

Or, as Tom Tomorrow put it more succinctly, they've "heard of satire but never experienced it first hand."

What GoodOleBoy has written in this thread is closer to satire than anything in Stein's article and that's not very close. The only people anywhere who will read this article as any kind of a joke are conservatives who feel a need to find some way to defend it. There is no point in even arguing about it further really. You have someone basically telling you that white is black. You can try to explain how the color spectrum works but its really not worth the time.

I've always said the best thing we ever did for our kids was go broke. Not, thank God, literally, but money was very very tight for a time back in 2001/2002 and we had to tell the kids that we simply weren't going to be able to afford their summer activities--that they would have to earn the money if they wanted to go. Both my kids buckled down, got jobs, and funded themselves. And I never would have made them if I'd had a choice.

And just recently I had the conversation with my son that you describe. "What? Why didn't you *tell* me you were eating in a soup kitchen?" Shuffle, shuffle.

dear good ole boy,
do you want some mustard to go with that pretzel you've tied yourself in?
seriously, man. i know he's your friend, but nobody looks good defending the indefensible. the guy's a bad joke and a worse parent, his lady friend's not only a hooker but a dumb one, and his kid's got a heaping helping of oh shit coming his way that he's gonna be completely unprepared to deal with because your buddy's so weak-minded and ineffectual a parent that he's let his kid reach 21 without building a single ounce of character.
if you really are his friend, there's a lot better things you could be doing for him than sticking up for him on some random internet thread.

Felix Salmon is also on the case (of course) and links to Hilzoy over at her other digs. How Stein got his gig at the Times is truly baffling to me; he's perhaps less qualified to write about financial matters than John Tierney is to write about science, and he's a vastly worse writer and less interesting curator of his column. Here's Salmon on the last time Stein discussed the joys of fatherhood.

The only people anywhere who will read this article as any kind of a joke are conservatives

FWIW, I'm not a conservative and it seems pretty clear to me that Stein was being facetious. Unfortunately that sort of thing rarely travels well over the partisan border (in either direction).

GOB: "These forces are so strong today that even the most ardent parents can fail to instill self-reliance and a sense of responsibility in their children. Make the setting one of our coastal cities and take religious influences away and it approaches hopelessness."

*waves hand*

Born and raised outside Boston; no religious anything in my family. Judge my sense of self-reliance as you will.

FWIW, I'm not a conservative and it seems pretty clear to me that Stein was being facetious.

Fair enough. Then I stand corrected. On the other hand, I don't agree that satire or facetiousness is particularly difficult to read when the writer is reasonably competent regardless of political orientation. I have never considered PJ O'Rourke especially funny for instance but I am not confused about the intended tone of his essays.

A friend of mine teaches at CUNY, and he mentioned a while back that pretty much every time he asks his students to read A Modest Proposal, there'll be one or two who don't realize it's satire and are outraged. Part of recognizing authorial intent in these cases is having enough knowledge of or trust in the author to realize that s/he couldn't possibly be serious. That's what gets lost when conservatives read liberals or vice versa, IMO -- they tend to be ready to believe the worst about each other.

Victoria and Hilzoy,

Your comments are valid. I was trying to convey my sense that today building a sense of self-reliance and individual responsibility in young people is a more difficult task than it was in my generation. Maybe that's not even right. What I found funny about the examples (one with plenty of money and the other with unlimited opportunity) was the next thing they will say when these things run out is 'its not fair'.

The matters that concern me are not so much ideological as they are ethical. We are in a situation now in this country, fostered in large measure by elected representatives, Wall St geniuses, and Main St lenders, brokers, and borrowers, where everything built over the last 60+ years is in jeopardy. Many of these people are driven by greed, many are just crooks, and some are undoubtedly going along innocently. In any event, its going to get worse and I guess we will get a chance to see what we are made of. I hope there is real substance underlying

Hey, I'm glad to see at least a couple of people who can see it my way.

Part of recognizing authorial intent in these cases is having enough knowledge of or trust in the author to realize that s/he couldn't possibly be serious.

The problem with this argument is that experience has demonstrated time and again that Ben Stein is serious when he says ridiculous things. He's a profoundly ignorant man who often says absurd nonsensical things. I mean, when real professionals have to make "Let's see what idiocy Ben Stein said this week" a regular feature of their writings.

Note that I don't think Ben Stein is representative of all conservatives; he's just an idiot who happens to be conservative.

Part of recognizing authorial intent in these cases is having enough knowledge of or trust in the author to realize that s/he couldn't possibly be serious.

I get what you are saying ken, I just don't agree that irony is as difficult to read as you're suggesting. In the case of Swift, there are a number of clues that it is satire but the biggest one is that his proposal is pretty heavy on the absurdity. No one in his society was likely to take the prospect of cannibalism seriously. Do you think anything like the same principle applies to the stories Ben tells in this column? Is it really so preposterous that the Ben Stein who quite seriously holds a number of deeply absurd beliefs, might also believe it is reasonable to extrapolate his bad parenting into some sort of larger social issue? From what I have seen of Ben Stein as both a "humorist" and a pundit, it is not at all difficult for me to believe that that is exactly the way he thinks about the world. YMMV.

Dear GoodOleBoy,

Have you seen Ben Stein's vile attack on science? Do you have any idea how profoundly dishonest and defamatory it was? Why would anyone ever assume that he is not being serious here? As far as I can tell, he's making excuses for turning his son into the lady who can't live on a quarter million a year.

Stein's failures in raising his son (to which he confesses) probably stem from his inability to curb the influences of the popular culture as well as that of his son's peers

Where I come from, conservatives believe in personal responsibility, not blaming "the culture" or "the media" or "bad influences" for one's mistakes.

Stein says that he is currently supporting his married son and his wife - to the degree that his son is not only incapable of self-sufficiency, but can't imagine having to limit eating out based on his budget. The juxtaposition of "I give my son enough money that he is effectively rich" and "Kids these days" isn't satire; it's merely pathetic.

Mythago,

When did it become not possible to make fun of one's own behavior?

He seems to be making fun of his son more than himself. To be sure, maybe Son Stein is used to dear old dad's teasing him in the pages of the NY Times.

When did it become not possible to make fun of one's own behavior?

When you are sounding like every other right-wing hypocrite.

As a sketch comedy writer, when only 60% of my audience gets my joke, I consider the joke a failure.

60% is much, much higher than what we're seeing here.

This is starting to remind me a bit of the New Yorker cover.

GoodOleBoy, you seem to be under the impression that "satire" is some kind of Harry Potter-esque magic word, which, when uttered, dismisses hypocrisy, stupidity and just plain dumb and substitutes merry laughter in its place.


Totally misguided discussion. Ben Stein sits down at the word processor and some crap comes out.

Satire? Or not? This just so totally misses the point of sitting down at your word processor and having some pseudo-thoughtful cliche-scrapings off the brain pan laid down.

Do you think Ben Stein cares whether it's satire or not? Hell no! The man is a force of nature. You can get all entangled in a postmodern discussion where you try to decide what to do once you've discarded meaning, but in reality it's all about premodern concrete directness, with the natural simplicity of a YouTube video of a kitten falling down.

Is it "satire"? Is it "funny"?

The only answer to these questions is, "I think we should get some Chinese food!"

Incidentally, if the article is about a real woman, it's very classy of Stein to let her "beau" know that she's about to dump him in the pages of the New York Times. It's not like it'd be hard to figure it out if you were going out with a profligate divorced friend of Ben Stein.

Reading between the lines,

If your parents are rich, your lack of self-reliance is the culture's fault. If your parents are poor, such profligacy is your own fault, and your parent's fault.

Stein acknowledges the parental contribution in his case, only to minimize it. He may have been ironic in his initial appeal to sympathy in these two cases, but he was dead serious about blaming the culture. (Always fighting the culture war, whatever it means anymore.)

I agree the culture is wack. But conservatives are rarely so generous to the poor/middle class as to allow that the mass culture that they are largely responsible for through free-market principles is also encouraging everyone to spend beyond their means. If personal responsibility can be minimized in his son's case, why not in the welfare case? I suppose it's politically incorrect to say it.

“age 21”…

Kid should have been paying his own bills for at least 3 years already. And yes Stein is an idiot.

When ever my sons wanted something extra, I da a standard reply: "Get a job." Eventually they stopped asking. They are now both adults who work for everything they get, and never ask me for money.

Mr. Duncan - because, of course, wealth is a measure of moral worth. Rich people, being more moral and worthy human beings than the poor or the middle-class, can be forgiven for their foibles and are not to blame for them.

Stein's failures in raising his son (to which he confesses) probably stem from his inability to curb the influences of the popular culture as well as that of his son's peers.

It's not that hard to do. Parents have far more influence over their children than any other factor, if they only understand how to use it. Stein says that he "lectured" his son. You don't teach kids through lectures, you teach them through example.

The influence of popular culture and peers only overwhelms the parents influence when the parents surrender to it. If Ben Stein didn't teach his kid right, then you can't blame popular culture for that.

If Ben Stein is all worried about the influence of popular culture on kids, I wonder why he agreed to be in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Anyone who can use as example this woman with a multi-million dollar mansion and over 200K of yearly income is just...er...how to say it? Way out there?
Also: nothing in the tone denotes satire, which makes me hesitate. Usually one finds it - I looked for it, anf coulf not find.
Conclusion : WTF!?!?

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