Not-just-any-economist Stein packs ‘em in

Economist, professor and deadpan comedic actor Ben Stein shared his thoughts on current issues in the United States in a keynote address Wednesday afternoon during Entrepreneurship Day at Mesa State College.

The event included moments of humor, such as three opening jokes and a few stories about the “16 bimbos” he quizzed throughout the 2007 television series “America’s Most Smartest Model.” Those with a sharp eye may have gotten a chuckle out of seeing Stein walk into Brownson Arena with a plastic bag of locally purchased Taco Bell dangling from his hand.

But Stein spent much of his time at the podium pushing aside comedy for more serious topics. Crime, low parental involvement in schools and incremental decreases in the difficulty of questions on the SAT have led to a “serious educational crisis” among America’s youth, he said.

He said he’s amazed that no Wall Street personnel have been indicted during the recession, and he likened investment bank activity to “selling a person a car you knew had bad brakes and buying a life insurance policy on them.”

When it comes to federal health care reform, Stein said,  more lawmakers should have read the bill before voting on it. And he dislikes a proposal to reduce Medicare reimbursements to doctors to help pay for insuring more people.

Stein’s not sure how the United States can pay for reform. “We’re already bankrupt,” he said.

The speech wasn’t all doom and gloom.

Partisanship is “part of living in a free country” and isn’t as bad as it was preceding the Civil War or the Vietnam War, Stein said.

Even in a recession, he said, most people are keeping their heads comfortably above water. Stein said he lives in a neighborhood of celebrities in Malibu, Calif., but truly admires the dedication of soldiers, teachers and doctors.

“That’s where the salvation of America is going to come from, not Wall Street,” he said.

More than 350 people packed the gymnasium to hear Stein. Most of those people paid $50 to sit at a table and eat lunch during the speech. Three or four dozen people purchased $10 tickets to sit in the gym’s bleachers for the event.

Although students made up more than half of the bleacher crowd, the tables were mostly populated by local business people, including Kristi Adams, who works at American National Bank. Adams said Stein’s presentation was full of poignant moments and sprinkles of humor.

“I expected to laugh, and I did,” she said.

Brad Krebill, who also works at American National Bank, said he liked that Stein “wasn’t afraid to speak his mind.” Krebill said he recognized Stein’s name because of his acting. He was surprised to learn Stein was valedictorian of his class at Yale Law School and advised U.S. presidents Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon on economic matters.

“I didn’t know he was such a prominent economist,” Krebill said, adding, “If it were any other economist, I probably wouldn’t have come.”


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