Income inequality debate

Ben Stein on the rich vs. poor debate


This is a RUSH transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," January 24, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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O'REILLY: "Personal Story Segment" tonight. America continues to debate the rich versus the poor. On a Canadian business program the other night that topic was center stage.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The combined wealth this according to Oxfam of the world's 85 richest people is equal to the 3.5 billion poorest people.

KEVIN O'LEARY, CANADIAN ENTREPRENEUR: It's fantastic. And this is a great thing because it inspires everybody get some motivation to look up to the one percent and say I want to become one of those people, I'm going to fight hard to get up to the top. This is fantastic news and of course I applaud it. What can be wrong with this?


O'REILLY: Joining us now from Greenville, South Carolina -- commentator and economist Ben Stein. So do you applaud it? I mean, I can understand why the Canadian interviewer, you know, like that. What do you say?

BEN STEIN, ECONOMIST: Well, I don't applaud it at all. But it's always been true that a very tiny majority of the richest people in the world control an enormously disproportionate amount of the wealth and the poorest people control the very, very tiny portion of the wealth.

But you know the way the media has been playing this is as if there's a finite amount of money in the world and if the rich people have a lot then the poor people have less. But that's not the way it works out. If the rich people got rich by starting businesses, starting new technologies that gave more employment and more productivity and more wealth to the other people, then everybody gets richer. There is not a finite goal: rich people getting rich does not make poor people poor.

O'REILLY: All right but there is an economic issue and I agree with you that economic freedom dictates that some people are just going to go off the chart. And other people are just not going to have very much.

But there is also a moral issue here. With 85 of the world's richest people controlling more wealth than 3.5 billion of the world's poorest people. And that's what Pope Francis was talking about. What is the responsibility there of the 85 richest? I don't know. I mean everybody has to answer that question for themselves.

STEIN: I couldn't agree more. There is a moral issue. Nobody should be starving. Nobody should be denied proper medical care. Nobody should be denied proper housing. But the fact that there are 85 very, very rich people is not the cause of any of these people being very, very poor unless the people got to be rich by stealing like some dictators in Third World countries. That is not the issue.

The issue is how do we make the poor people better off with a combination of a safety net --

O'REILLY: You that's a good point, I think that's a good point.

STEIN: Ok thank you.

O'REILLY: It's not the fact that the people are so rich that's causing the 3.5 billion to be so poor.

Ok. This Obamacare thing, you know, what you have now is a propaganda war of words. That's what you have. You have the supporters of Obamacare saying oh, it's going fine. It's going to get better and the detractors saying it's a major disaster. Today Moody downgraded the insurance company's stocks. And they did it because of fear of what Obamacare is going to do to profits for the insurance company.

Can you explain that so even I can understand it?

STEIN: Well, the Obamacare in a nutshell, and this is oversimplifying by quite a bit, is going to enforce the insurers to take high risk patients. Going to take patients with preexisting illnesses, patients who have all kinds of disabilities which would have kept the private insurers from insuring them except at very high rates and make those private insurers insure them at low rates so it is essentially compelling the insurers to lose money on a certain number of their customers.

O'REILLY: Yes. But the insurance companies have been Obamacare's biggest supporters.

STEIN: Well some have and some haven't. And the idea was they were going to get a very large number of healthy, young people into their programs and they would get premiums for them and they would have payment for them. It hasn't worked out that way. Instead they are getting older and less well - - less well --

O'REILLY: All right so would you buy insurance company's stocks?

STEIN: And those are costing them a lot of money. It's a system of price fixing against the price -- against the insurers and that never works.

O'REILLY: All right. So you are for Moody's, you are saying that they should be downgraded.

STEIN: Of course, they were completely correct. There is a very dicey future out there for the healthcare companies, unless the government is going to guarantee them bailouts and I'm not sure America is in a mood to guarantee bailouts.

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