Felix Salmon has written an epic essay on just what makes Ben Stein such a threat to the republic. It’s very good, and very Karl Popper. Felix’s main complaint is that Stein is “anti-enlightenment.” Rather than offering explanations for the market’s behavior (or the evolution of the human race) that are falsifiable–that is, they could potentially be proved wrong as more evidence is amassed–Stein prefers to go with unverifiable assertions. Writes Felix:
Every so often I get comments on this blog saying that I’m an idiot because something I said has turned out to be wrong. But that just doesn’t make sense to me. The real idiots, to me, are people like Ben Stein. Stein makes factual errors, but that doesn’t make him an idiot. What makes him an idiot is his evident belief in his own infallibility, to the point at which he clearly doesn’t allow the NYT’s editors to do even a cursory fact-checking run over his copy before it’s published.
This Steinian mode of discourse is actually pretty common on the cable-TV news channels, where there’s no time or incentive to fact-check the claims of the guests (and on occasion hosts). It’s just really jarring to run across it in the business pages of the New York Times. One of the main reasons I got into business journalism (and away from political coverage) was that the realities of business seemed far less friendly to the unverifiable assertions that permeate political debate.
One final thought: This is all John Hughes’s doing, isn’t it? Ben Stein never would have gotten an NYT column if it weren’t for Ferris Bueller. Although, he probably wouldn’t have landed the Bueller role if he hadn’t first gotten a small part in Cameron Crowe’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High sequel The Wild Life. And Crowe never would have been able to make those movies if Ben Fong-Torres hadn’t hired him to write for Rolling Stone at age 15. And that couldn’t have happened without Jann Wenner‘s approval. So there you have it: It’s all Jann Wenner’s fault!
Wait, is that a verifiable assertion?