Interview with Ben Stein

After the January 27 debate on atheism vs. theism, The Stanford Review had the opportunity to interview debate host Ben Stein. The multi-talented Stein has held successful careers in journalism, academia, acting, and law. Perhaps most famous for his signature role in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Mr. Stein is now working as a lead interviewer in a documentary examining how academia treats scientists who critique any aspect of Darwinism. The movie, Expelled, will be released nationwide in April.

The Stanford Review: What is your opinion on President Bush’s ($145 billion) economic stimulus package?

Ben Stein: It’s trivial one way or the other. It makes people feel that the government is doing something, but it doesn’t really have much effect on the overall level of consumption. Consumption is roughly 70 percent of the economy, that’s very roughly $950 billion dollars; our additional consumption over a considerable period of time is going to add to about $40 billion. The other parts of the package are tax breaks. I don’t think that’s enough to change very much. There’s no clear evidence that people even spend what’s given to them in tax rebates and government handouts; an awful lot will be saved, so that doesn’t provide much stimulus. So, it’s just to give people the feeling that the government is doing something, and that could have some psychological value. But, as an economic matter, it probably won’t make much difference.

TSR: Recently, Singapore, South Korea, and Kuwait bought a $21 billion stake in Citigroup and Merrill Lynch. What is your opinion on sovereign wealth funds and their impact on the U.S. economy?

BS: Well, I think if these guys (sovereign wealth funds) are wise investors, it’s fair, but they should be aware that Wall Street generally goes to foreigners when it can’t sell a deal at home. They (Wall Street) would rather sell a deal at home. So, that’s something that foreigners should be aware of: if it’s a really good deal, they (American firms) would probably sell at home.

TSR: You’ve had several different careers: a legal and academic career, a writing career, a political career, a career in the entertainment industry, and now it looks like you may be starting a career in religious advocacy. Which are you most proud of?

BS: It would be my work on busting the Drexel-Michael Milken junk bond fraud in the late 80s and early 90s because that stopped a colossal fraud, where a great deal of money was lost to injured parties. That was really hard work, and it led to a lot of people getting their money back.

TSR: You worked as a speech writer for President Nixon. Was being in contact with high levels of government like that very useful?

BS: It was really interesting, being involved with Nixon. He’s a fascinating guy, very smart guy, very colorful guy. In private, he was extremely outspoken and he would say things that I can’t even imagine he’d say. He was a fascinating guy, and I was surrounded by very intelligent people… by far, the smartest group of people I’ve ever worked with. Accusations to the contrary not withstanding, I’m very proud of working at the White House for Richard Nixon. He was a great man.

TSR: What do you think of the current Republican “coalition” and the candidates for the Republican party being split between social conservatives and economic conservatives, and which one do you think should be taken into consideration the most?

BS: It’s definitely a case for all of them, and I think that what people are not yet realizing is what a genius Bush is to be able to unite this whole coalition and hold it together. That was not an easy task, and people who think that Bush is stupid don’t realize that a stupid man couldn’t have held the party together the way he did. And I think that he has a lot of knowledge, quite considerably more than he’s credited for.

Looking forwards instead of backwards, looking at the Republican Party now, I think that the sense we’re getting now is that there are a lot more people who care about abortion than who care about balancing the budget. The social conservatives are the ones that are the most important right now.

TSR: Can you tell us a little about the creative process that went into your upcoming documentary, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”? What was the inspiration behind it?

BS: Intelligent design is a question that I’m very excited about and very interested in. It’s really interesting that one of the prevailing orthodoxies in the world of science is extremely fragile and hard to prove. Just the fact that Christopher Hitchens—a very, very smart guy—is reduced to saying “it is widely believed” or “it is considered” instead of citing any data is proof that it’s not considered. When you say that “everyone knows” something, that doesn’t prove anything at all. We’ve never seen a species evolve; we have no idea how life started; we have no idea where the laws that govern the universe came from; Darwin doesn’t explain any of these. All these gigantically big issues still can only really be answered by saying, “well, some intelligent guy or gal or being had just done this; some being that always was and always will be…Part of the problem I have with both Christopher Hitchens’ and Jay Richards’ observations is that I don’t think it’s up to man to judge God. God’s not on trial, God isn’t a defendant, God’s the boss. It’s not up to us to judge him. God’s the boss!

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