Ben Stein Apologizes Profusely for Being Truthful About Taxes on Fox News

The actor and right-leaning pundit says taxes must be raised to balance the budget, and jokes about worrying for his safety while leaving the studio.

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"Psst. You've inspired me to bide my time and buck the conservative movement on taxes in service of balancing the budget. I'm shielding my lips so no one reads them." (Reuters)

A couple years ago, Ben Stein was dead set against any tax increases, which wasn't a surprise. The right-leaning pundit and actor, best known for his role as the teacher in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, has long been out there expressing the sorts of opinions that get you booked on the Fox News Channel. 

"There is no known economic theory under which raising my taxes in the midst of a severe recession will help the economy recover. It isn't part of any well known monetarist or Keynesian theory. So if it does no good to raise our taxes, I assume we are being punished," he wrote in 2010. "But for what? I don't own slaves. I employ a lot of people full- and part-time and they are all happy with their pay. When charity calls, I almost  always write out a check. I don't have a yacht or ponies or a plane. My wife doesn't wear a tiara. I don't gamble. What did I do wrong? I know I have often lost my temper with my wife and the cats, but that's not a crime, yet. I tried to be successful, which is what I thought I was supposed to do. When did it turn out that was a crime to be punished? Maybe when the economy recovers, raising my taxes makes sense,but for now, it's just punishment, and I can't figure out what for."

The tone is that of a man who isn't ever going to decide he favors tax increases. But guess what? It turns out that Stein was being truthful when he said it may one day make sense to raise taxes.

He favors it now, along with spending cuts, to balance the budget, which is his priority because he thinks prudence demands it.

This used to be known as fiscal conservatism. Stein articulates his reasoning at greater length in this CBS video commentary. Save for exaggerating the degree to which raising taxes on multimillionaires alone can solve our budget problems, his analysis is sound. Basically, he says that our present fiscal course is unsustainable, and that it'll take tax hikes and spending cuts to remedy it. Again, fiscal conservatism ... which isn't so welcome on the Fox News Channel these days: 

What I find hilarious about that clip is how attuned Stein is to the gravity of the taboo that he is violating. For endorsing the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction plan, urging some tax hikes, and noting the dearth of evidence that they would retard economic growth, he jokes they might not let him out of the studio alive! It's the sort of joke that no one would think to make on a news network that valued intellectual honesty more than the vacuous repetition of ideological dogma.
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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