In his column for The New York Times today, Ben Stein defended CNBC’s Jim Cramer for playing the financial soothsayer, while also applauding The Daily Show host Jon Stewart for bringing us back to reality.
Mr. Stein classified himself as bemused by the Cramer/Stewart exchange. Stein defended Cramer by writing, “Humans can’t consistently pick the right stocks or call markets, foretell political or geopolitical events or successfully predict changes in interest rates or commodity prices…Yet, we cry out for someone to tell us the future, like children who want to hear the end of the story. When Mr. Cramer tries to satisfy that need, he is doing no more than answering a deep human wish. But he — and everyone else in a similar situation — should make it clear that these are no more than opinions and guesses, which could easily be wrong and often are. This is not just boilerplate. This is life. The way it is.”
He said that he didn’t fault Cramer for his shtick, “I DON’T blame Mr. Cramer for trying to act as if he knows the future. That’s his gig. But the most that economic seers can do is apply broad, generally acceptable principles to current situations and try to go from there. When I stray far from that, I hope that thoughtful readers will call me to account. Life is deeply, terrifyingly uncertain. I applaud a comedy guy from Comedy Central for calling us all to account.”
It is rare when television captures the mood of the country at a critical moment the way that the Stewart/Cramer interview did. I think that in years to come when the financial crisis is discussed on television, clips of that interview will be played. Ben Stein offered a very philosophical opinion. It is true that Jim Cramer alone should not be blamed. I don’t fault him for his television persona either. I always have viewed Cramer as entertainment. I would never make a financial move based on what a TV personality said.
Stewart does deserve praise because he was able to channel an unwieldy issue into an understandable discussion. President Obama is the only other person who has had a degree of success explaining this issue. I don’t think we have heard the last about the Stewart/Cramer interview, because it has become culturally relevant. Ben Stein’s piece offered an explanation for why individuals are so willing to place their faith in people like Cramer, and why critics like Jon Stewart serve such a pivotal role when faith isn’t enough to explain a crisis.