It’s not really breaking news that Ben Stein’s NYT column is a joke, but it’s still surprising how warmed and ridiculous the ex-game show host’s ideas can be. This week’s column, on how to restore confidence in the economy, almost looks like a white flag, as he finally caves to the idea that he has nothing new to offer. His ideas are (for real):
- End mark-to-market.
- Restore the uptick rule.
- Make it illegal to buy credit-default swaps if you don’t have an interest in the underlying instrument being hedged.
Seriously, it’s as though he went out of his way to suggest the three ideas that have been thoroughly debunked. Each is cosmetic, and none address any of the problems facing the financial system. Maybe he’s finally going to throw in the towel.
Beyond his paucity of anything interesting to say — which consistently embarasses the NYT business section — there’s something insidious about this idea that the only issue here is confidence. You hear people say it a lot, that we need to restore confidence, but confidence is how we got into this mess. And a false restoration of it won’t make those subprime CDO tranches suddenly start to produce cash flow again.