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Win Ben Stein’s Money

I have been a Ben Stein fan for a long time. For me, it started with his cameo role as the Economics Teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (the guy that says “Bueller, Bueller”), and the fascination has never worn off. I don’t always like what he has to say, but he does often make me think.

I think of Ben Stein in an economics context, and admittedly I am a self-confessed economics geek. In University, I earned the highest score in macro economics for the semester and this is one of those factoids about me that I truly enjoy sharing. Even today, I am sure some of the individuals who have taken a compensation course from me can attest to how my eyes light up and the exuberance I project while drawing out various scattergrams on a whiteboard. After all, effective compensation is about attraction, retention and motivation, coupled with finding the true intersection of the demand and supply for labour.

My exposure to economics came at about the same time that Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was in the movie theatres. Maybe this is why I like Ben Stein. I think the time period in which you study economics strongly influences the flavour of economics you are taught and come to absorb, and in my case, the focus was supply-side economics and trickledown theory, or as better known then, Reaganomics. I believe Mr. Stein would shutter at the accusation that he is a Reaganomist, but there is something about some of his views that seem clearly routed in the gallows of the 1980s. I see a connection.

A few weeks ago, he showed up on CBS Sunday Morning with a news piece about what we need to do to pull out of a recession. His presentation was like an economics 101 refresher, and it was refreshing, enough so that I thought it would be useful to share it with you. He made just one point which harkened me back to those days in the classroom and looking at hand-written overheads on a projector trying to understand the relationship between guns and butter. He said that a solid economic environment needs to have just two elements present—M and V. M stands for money, and he was referring to the fact that credit is required for investment and therefore economic activity. V stands for velocity, and he was referring to the fact that if we don’t spend money continually, at the right speed, it doesn’t turn over quickly enough and the economy contracts. Effectively in capitalism, the key is keeping people spending. While I don’t necessarily like this truth, it is poignant, and a reminder that what we have to do is stop freezing and start moving on with life.

This past week on CBS Sunday Morning, Mr. Stein’s new lesson was about how to have a good life in a recession. His advice, “get a dog”. Of course, I would find that to be great advice. In the program he said, “Your dog does not care how much money you have or don’t have. Did you lose your job? Horrible, but that just means that you have more time to spend at home with your dog, and taking him or her for walks, throwing a ball or playing Frisbee. I cannot control or foresee the world or the economic future, or any other kind of future. I can only tell you that life goes better with dogs. Take the first step toward recovery right now. Get a dog.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Stein. My dog Daphne has been a huge source of solace in times when I’ve worried about the future. She keeps things fun and I truly appreciate her total lack of awareness of the problems of the world. Just the other night she came flying into the room with one of her ropes, flinging it from here to there. She made me stop writing a report and play catch for awhile, and I got a good laugh out of how silly she was being, and wanted me to be. Those points of silliness are often the source of new ideas and entrepreneurship; so don’t discount them.

So, taking in Mr. Stein’s advice on both fronts, this is my advice–As you are planning for your contribution to the future of the economy, consider how to keep yourself happy (with a dog) and start spending money (on your dog)! He or she (and the rest of us) will thank you for it!

Have a great weekend.

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