Ben Stein has gotten a lot of traction out of his turn as a droning teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (“Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?”).
He’s since hosted his own game show and talk show, written books and starred in his own documentary. He’s also a lawyer who wrote speeches for Presidents Nixon and Ford, bills himself as an economist and collects between $30,000 and $100,000 a speech.
But as one Rogue tipster puts it, “Stein is an economist like Groucho was a Marxist.” Stein does have a bachelor’s degree in economics from Columbia University and worked briefly in the field for the U.S. government.
He also has an ethically troubled history of proffering economic advice while selling his name and droll visage to hawk questionable products. His lapses have been documented by Gawker and The Washington Post. Reuters journalist Felix Salmon writes an online feature called “Ben Stein Watch.”
In 2009, The New York Times let Stein go as a columnist after he became a paid spokesman for FreeScore.com, which advertised “free” credit reports while luring consumers into $29.95-a-month subscriptions.
In 2011, Stein became a paid spokesman for Accredited Members Inc., a penny-stock investment firm. But, as Salmon points out, Stein argued in his 2004 book, How to Ruin Your Financial Life, that penny stocks will do just that.
Stein also promotes and hosts seminars featuring Ray Lucia, a financial guru accused by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission of making false financial claims. Stein is scheduled to host another Lucia seminar Sept. 22.
Five days later, Stein is scheduled to appear in Portland as keynote speaker at the annual economic summit of Greater Portland Inc., a nonprofit economic development group funded in part by taxpayers. “He is controversial, but he brings a humorous and interesting take on the economy,” says Maggie Davis, Greater Portland’s vice president.
Some people don’t think Stein is funny. He appeared in and co-wrote Expelled, a 2008 film that promotes teaching creationism in schools. The film connects the theory of evolution to Nazi atrocities. In a promotional interview with Crosswalk, Stein said, “Darwinism led—in a pretty much straight line—to Nazism and the Holocaust.”
Ticket revenues and private sponsorships will pay for Stein’s speech. But Greater Portland (with local governments funding 38 percent of its annual budget of about $1.6 million) grants taxpayer-sanctioned legitimacy to an actor/huckster.
Is there a reason WW shouldn’t name Greater Portland Inc. Rogue of the Week? Anyone? Anyone?