In a San Diego visit, Fox News commentator Ben Stein slammed both Republicans and Democrats and said neither party’s presidential candidate has the answers for the American economy.
“I don’t think either of them has the solution to the problem,” Stein said Friday at the San Diego Convention Center. “I don’t think the solution will come out of Washington. The solution will come out of industry initiative, hard work and through the efforts of ordinary citizens.”
Both major parties contributed to the collapse of the economy, Stein told more than 200 local business and political leaders at the South County Economic Development Summit.
“We’re in terrible budgetary and fiscal shape as a result of policies of the past from both parties, believe me, both parties,” he said.
Wearing his signature suit and sneakers, the economist and actor known for his monotone voice was fairly animated in presenting his vision for the economy.
After starting with more than 10 minutes of jokes involving a priest, a rabbi and an economist, being chased by a bear, and how to make a hurricane, Stein got down to business.
The recession began with “all the bad ideas that have always led to a recession”—over-reliance on housing and derivatives, irresponsible lending and allowing Lehman Brothers to fail. Big banks then seized up and refused to make loans, he noted.
The solution: Avoid poor policy that led to the crisis, work hard like previous generations and, for San Diego, seek labor in Mexico.
The last time America’s economy was in such bad shape, during the Great Depression, it took World War II and its aftermath to recover, he said.
No single event or action could spur recovery this time, he said, since war of that magnitude would likely involve nuclear bombs and the end of the world.
Instead of a quick turnaround, it will be a long, slow road back.
“It’s not going to be a sudden, gigantic enormous recovery, but it probably will be a recovery little by little,” he said.
There is still plenty of money and capital in America to improve the economy. The problem Stein said he hears business owners repeat over and over is flat demand and a lack of good workers.
San Diego can “show the way for the rest of the county” together with an enormous supply of good labor a few miles away, he said.
“It’s as if you guys miraculously brought China right next door to you,” Stein said.
“You’ve got American capital, American technology and fantastic labor across the border, and the mixture of these is just a miracle for your area and for the whole North American economy. It’s just an astonishing thing. There’s no other country in the world, no other big industrial country in the world that has this benefit.”
Mexico still has drug cartels and security issues, he said—and illegal immigration is a problem.
“Some [immigrants] cause harm and some of them just work very hard and keep our houses neat and well organized,” he said. “Those problems are little by little being worked on, and having the overwhelming benefit of having the next China right next door greatly outweighs the problems.”
Famous for his role as an economics teacher in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Stein said we can better educate ourselves, but American work ethic has been in steady decline for decades.
“I look at young Americans and I just shake my head,” Stein said. America got to be as rich and powerful and wonderful as it has become through hard work. “That ethic has disappeared in large measure in this country.”
Some things must be avoided in order for economic recovery to take hold.
“We cannot let there be a catastrophe in Europe,” he said.
“We’ve got to get him [Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner] and the president up there to say, ‘We’re not going to let the big banks in Europe fail. If we have to buy their bonds, we’ll buy them, but we’re not going to let them fail.”
The debt crisis should also be seen as a critical threat, Stein said.
Stein took ample time in his speech to praise the American military—“the backbone of this country”—and said America needs to pay its service members more money.
“I’m not saying more aircraft carriers,” he said. “We have to pay people in the military a living wage. It’s an outrage that we don’t. It’s just an outrage."
People such as the military who do for others will get us through, he said.
Stein finished by paraphrasing John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, which he saw as a boy:
“We’ve faced every kind of threat from nuclear war to communism, and we all ask God to go to work for this country, but if we’re going to get it done, we all have to realize one thing: God’s work is our work.”