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Jewish World Review
August 3, 2006
/ 9 Menachem-Av, 5766
Thoughts on the passing scene
We are agog at the new inventions of our times: computers, new medications, you name it. But the late Herbert Stein, a former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under Richard Nixon made a different case: That the late 19th and early 20th century were the times of the greatest invention: telephones, airplanes, automobiles, air-conditioning, the telegraph, indoor plumbing and so on.
I think Stein was probably right.
Herb was a colleague of mine at the American Enterprise Institute. The management once suggested that we share a secretary. Stein, one of the few economists with a sense of humor, said drolly: "Sharing a secretary with Wattenberg is like sharing a canoe with an an elephant."
Probably right again.
I have often traveled under the auspices of the US Government --- particularly what was then called the United States Information Agency. In the field these guys were great. I was in Moscow with my then-wife at a "night-club." I asked one of the USIA guys, Alan Coombs, to take our picture. We returned to our six person booth. Alan was at an inside seat. A Soviet military man with lots of stripes (A general?) started yelling at Alan Coombs our helper-outer. The officer leapt across the booth and grabbed the camera, saying (in Russian) that pictures couldn't be taken of Soviet military men. Coombs jumped back at him and salvaged our camera. A hero!
It's back at home that the diplomats get the reputation (often deserved) of being softball-playing striped pants cookie-pushers, too often willing to accommodate to that mystical "world public opinion."
There is always a great argument about how many people are "in poverty" and whether the number is growing or sinking. Inflation rates and the CPI are often cock-eyed or subject to varying interpretations. The best way to see it, as I see it, is to see what people have. Today, more people have air-conditioners, cars, living space, television, books --- than ever before. That's good.
Can Democrats be hawks?
In 2003, Donna Brazille, a tough-minded liberal, co-authored an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal. She said that Democrats ought to model themselves on the Sen. "Scoop" Jackson, quintessential liberal hawk. She said that Dems have been "AWOL on National Security." Yada, yada, yada. Now, Sen. Joe Lieberman is being scalded because he has supported the President's policy on Iraq. The Dems talk the talk, but they ain't walking the the walk.
Nepotism is supposed to be bad. But it's everywhere, and it should be. A politician's son/daughter may follow in his/her footsteps. It may well be the most important thing that can be bequeathed. My own family is heavy on writers, editors, artists, musicians. We try to help each other, but some object: They want to be weighed on their own merits. OK. But the truth is that we learn from our home environment, whether we like it or not.
This is true among business types, shoemakers, bakers and candle-stick makers. And a good thing it is.
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© 2006 Ben Wattenberg