Benjamin Jeremy "Ben" Stein (born November 25, 1944) is an American writer, lawyer, actor, and commentator on political and economic issues. He attained early success as a speechwriter for American presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Later, he entered the entertainment field and became an actor, comedian, and Emmy Award-winning game show host.
Stein has frequently written commentaries on economic, political, and social issues, along with financial advice to individual investors. He is the son of economist and writer Herbert Stein, who worked at the White House under President Nixon. His sister, Rachel, is also a writer. While as a character actor he is well known for his droning, monotonous delivery, in real life he is a public speaker on a wide range of economic and social issues.
Stein was born in Washington, D.C., the son of Mildred (née Fishman), a homemaker, and Herbert Stein, a writer, economist, and presidential adviser. He is Jewish and grew up in the Woodside Forest neighborhood of Silver Spring, Maryland. Stein graduated from Montgomery Blair High School in 1962 along with classmate journalist Carl Bernstein; actress Goldie Hawn (class of 1963) was one year behind. Actor Sylvester Stallone was a schoolmate at Montgomery Hills Junior High School. He went on to major in economics at Columbia University's Columbia College, where he was a member of Alpha Delta Phi and the Philolexian Society. After graduating with honors from Columbia in 1966, Stein went to Yale Law School, graduating in June 1970. He says that he did not have the highest grades in his class at Yale "by a long shot", but claims to have been voted valedictorian by the students because he was the "most popular".
Legal and academic career
He was first a poverty lawyer in New Haven, Connecticut, and Washington, D.C. before becoming a trial lawyer for the Federal Trade Commission.
Stein's first teaching stint was as an adjunct professor, teaching about the political and social content of mass culture at American University in Washington, D.C. He subsequently taught classes at University of California, Santa Cruz on political and civil rights under the United States Constitution. At Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA, Stein taught libel law and United States securities law and its ethical aspects. He was a professor of law at Pepperdine University Law School, from about 1990 to 1997.
Stein was the commencement speaker for the Liberty University 2009 graduation on Saturday, May 9, at Williams Stadium. At this ceremony, the University awarded him an honorary degree. According to the school, Stein "delivered a message about creationism, patriotism, and value for humanity to graduates and their families."
Stein writes frequently on a variety of topics, including politics, investing, and economics. He writes a regular column in the conservative magazines The American Spectator and Newsmax. He has also written for numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, New York Magazine, Penthouse, Los Angeles Magazine, and Barron's Magazine, where his discussion of the Michael Milken Drexel Burnham Lambert junk bond situation, as well as the ethical dimensions of management buyouts, attracted heavy US national attention in the 1980s and 1990s. He wrote a regular biweekly column for Yahoo! Finance online, with his last article dated August 7, 2009. His bestselling books (with investment advisor Phil DeMuth) include Yes, You Can Retire Comfortably, Can America Survive?, and Yes, You Can Time the Market. In 2009, he published a collection of essays, The Real Stars.
Stein was fired from his position as a Sunday Business columnist at The New York Times in August 2009, due to a policy prohibiting writers from performing product endorsements or advertising. Stein had recently become an advertising spokesperson for credit information company FreeScore.com, and according to a Times statement, had assumed there would be no conflict provided that he did not discuss credit scoring in general or FreeScore.com itself in his column. However, the publication felt that it would be inappropriate for him to write for them while he was involved in advertising, and terminated his contract. Writing in The Spectator, Stein states his belief that the real reasons for his firing were budget cuts at the Times, his criticism of President Obama, and pressure from those critical of Expelled, who "bamboozled some of the high pooh-bahs at the Times into thinking there was a conflict of interest".
Stein is currently an in-house journalist at Newsmax Magazine, a magazine by the conservative media group Newsmax Media.
Stein began his political career as a speechwriter and lawyer for President Richard Nixon, and later for President Gerald Ford. On May 3, 1976, Time magazine speculated on the possibility of Stein having actually been Deep Throat. Stein responded over the years by not only denying he was Deep Throat, but by going further and accusing journalist Bob Woodward of falsifying the famous secret source. In the May 14–21, 1998 edition of the Philadelphia City Paper, Stein is quoted saying, "Oh, I don't think there was a Deep Throat. That was a fake. I think there were several different sources and some they just made up." After Mark Felt's identity as Deep Throat was revealed, Stein stated that Richard Nixon would have prevented the rise to power of the Khmer Rouge if he had not been forced to resign. For his actions leading to that resignation, Stein said:
If there is such a thing as karma, if there is such a thing as justice in this life or the next, Mark Felt has bought himself the worst future of any man on this earth. And Bob Woodward is right behind him, with Ben Bradlee bringing up the rear. Out of their smug arrogance and contempt, they hatched the worst nightmare imaginable: genocide.
In 2005, Stein said in the American Spectator:
Can anyone even remember now what Nixon did that was so terrible? He ended the war in Vietnam, brought home the POWs, ended the war in the Mideast, opened relations with China, started the first nuclear weapons reduction treaty, saved Eretz Israel's life, started the Environmental Protection Administration. Does anyone remember what he did that was bad?
Oh, now I remember. He lied. He was a politician who lied. How remarkable. He lied to protect his subordinates who were covering up a ridiculous burglary that no one to this date has any clue about its purpose. He lied so he could stay in office and keep his agenda of peace going. That was his crime. He was a peacemaker and he wanted to make a world where there was a generation of peace. And he succeeded.
That is his legacy. He was a peacemaker. He was a lying, conniving, covering up peacemaker. He was not a lying, conniving drug addict like JFK, a lying, conniving war starter like LBJ, a lying, conniving seducer like Clinton—a lying, conniving peacemaker.
On June 24, 2008, Stein received the Freedom of Expression Award at the Entertainment Merchants Association's Home Entertainment Awards for "his outspoken economic and political beliefs."
Career in the media
Stein became a Hollywood consultant before he moved into acting. His film career was launched by his performance as the monotonous economics teacher in the 1986 movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off. In one scene, he gives an unscripted economics lecture, relying on his own experience in economics. The topics covered in his lecture are the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930 and the then-current debate over supply-side economics.
Stein played similarly bland and unemotional characters. He had a recurring role in the TV series The Wonder Years and played himself in Dave.
He also appeared in several television advertisements, most notably for the product "Clear Eyes" throughout the 1990s and 2000s ("The difference is clear ... Clear Eyes." "Clear Eyes, wow!"). Many advertisements spoof movies of the day, such as one where Stein is a painter (a play on The Da Vinci Code). Before this, he appeared for Godfather's Pizza in 1987 and as a bland science teacher in 1990 for Sprinkled Chips Ahoy! cookies. In 2013, Stein began appearing in advertisements for small business accounting service firm 1800Accountant.
In 1997, Stein was given his own game show by Comedy Central, titled Win Ben Stein's Money, along with co-host Jimmy Kimmel (replaced by Nancy Pimental and later by Sal Iacono). True to its name, the money that contestants won on the show was subtracted from the $5,000 pay that Stein earned per episode (in addition to his salary). The show won five Daytime Emmy Awards before ending its run in 2003.
In 1999, during the height of Win Ben Stein's Money's popularity, Comedy Central gave Stein another show, a talk show with celebrity guests entitled Turn Ben Stein On. One of the mainstays of the show was Stein's dog, Puppy Wuppy, who had free run of the set.
Other movies and television shows in which Stein has appeared include Charles in Charge; Seinfeld; Full House; Casper; Casper: A Spirited Beginning; Casper Meets Wendy; The Mask and its sequel, Son of the Mask as well as the television show, The Mask: Animated Series; Earthworm Jim; Star Search; MacGyver; Richie Rich; Game Show Moments Gone Bananas; Cavuto on Business; The O'Reilly Factor; CBS News Sunday Morning; Planes, Trains and Automobiles; Family Guy; the Michael Berger-hosted version of Match Game; The Fairly OddParents; Duckman; Married... with Children; The Emperor's New School; My Girl 2; Ghostbusters II; and the intelligent design documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.
In addition, Stein's voice roles include The Pixies, magical creatures on the animated series The Fairly OddParents; Mr. Purutu on the animated series The Emperor's New School; Professor Wisenstein in Bruno the Kid; the birthday party clown, Mr. Giggles, on The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius; a bingo caller on Rugrats; and Pip on Animaniacs. Futterman in Freakazoid. Stein also voiced a psychiatrist, again named after himself, in the USA TV series Duckman; he once appeared in the sitcom Married... with Children as a receptionist in the animal afterlife. He also made a cameo appearance in the comic book Young Justice, as Ali Ben Styn. Another cameo appearance was as Rabbi Goldberg in the Family Guy episodes "When You Wish Upon a Weinstein" and "Family Goy". Stein also voiced the character Sam Schmaltz in the 1996 computer adventure game Toonstruck.
In addition, Stein has written for the television industry, including outlines for the TV movie Murder in Mississippi and for the lengthy ABC miniseries Amerika. He has also contributed to the creation of the well-liked TV comedy Fernwood 2 Night.
Stein hosted a show on VH1 called America's Most Smartest Model. The show aimed to find the smartest among fourteen models through a series of challenges.
On May 14, 2006, during an appearance on the Fox News program Your World with Neil Cavuto, Stein called for a tax increase of 3.5% for wealthy Americans, to be earmarked for soldiers and military initiatives. Stein wrote an editorial for The New York Times critical of those who would rather make money in the world of finance than fight terrorism.
On December 28, 2009, Stein appeared on CNN's Larry King Live with Ron Paul to discuss the attempted bombing of an American plane on Christmas Day 2009. Stein said that Paul's stance that the United States were "occupiers" in Iraq and Afghanistan "is the same anti-Semitic argument we've heard over and over again." The comment started a shouting match between the two men and prompted anger from Paul supporters and those who believe Stein went too far in calling Paul's argument anti-Semitic. Stein issued an apology on December 30, 2009.
He was an occasional political and economics commentator on CNBC's The Kudlow Report.
Financial and economic commentary
In the period preceding the late-2000s recession, Stein made frequent and vehement claims that the economy was not in recession, and that the issues in the housing market would not affect the broader economy. On March 18, 2007, in a column for CBS News' online version of CBS News Sunday Morning, Stein famously proclaimed in the beginning of the subprime mortgage crisis that the foreclosure problem would "blow over and the people who buy now, in due time, will be glad they did," the economy was "still very strong," and the "smart money" was "now trying to buy—not sell—as much distressed merchandise" in mortgages as possible.
In an August 12, 2007 column in The New York Times, titled "Chicken Little's Brethren, on the Trading Floor", Stein, while acknowledging "I don't know where the bottom is on subprime. I don't know how bad the problems are at Bear (Bear Stearns)" claimed that "subprime losses are wildly out of all proportion to the likely damage to the economy from the subprime problems," and "(t)his economy is extremely strong. Profits are superb. The world economy is exploding with growth. To be sure, terrible problems lurk in the future: a slow-motion dollar crisis, huge Medicare deficits and energy shortages. But for now, the sell-off seems extreme, not to say nutty. Some smart, brave people will make a fortune buying in these days, and then we'll all wonder what the scare was about."
On August 18, 2007, on Fox News Channel's Cavuto on Business, Stein appeared with other financial experts dismissing worries of a coming credit crunch. Thirteen months later, in the Global Financial Crisis of September 2008, global stock markets crashed, Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were taken over by the US government, AIG was bailed out by the Federal Reserve, Merrill Lynch was sold to Bank of America Corporation, and Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs confirmed that they would become traditional bank holding companies.
In a Yahoo! Finance article written on October 17, 2008, Stein explained that his understanding of the debt obligations based on real estate loans was less than the "staggeringly large" amount of obligations that were created through trade in derivatives of those, and so why it wasn't as similar to collapse of junk bond empire in early 1990s as he'd thought it would be: "Where I missed the boat was not realizing how large were the CDS [credit default swaps] based on the junk mortgage bonds."
Business commentator Henry Blodget wrote a piece for Business Insider in January 2008 entitled "Ben Stein is an Idiot," stating that Stein's criticism of those with bearish views and positions on the market was either "delusional," or a deliberate and "shrewd" attempt to create false controversy and drive up web traffic.
Stein is married to entertainment lawyer Alexandra Denman, who is from Arkansas. They were married in 1968, but later divorced in 1974. Eventually, they got back together, and in 1977, they were married again. Stein lives with Denman in Beverly Hills and Malibu, California. He also has a summer home in Sandpoint, Idaho. Stein also owns an apartment in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., which he inherited from his parents.