20 January 2012

That Kyocera Ad

A distinguished-looking man with cropped hair and professorial glasses walks across a screen and starts talking about costs and ownership periods. We feel at first that we've stumbled into a lecture hall, but this turns out to be a pitch for Kyocera, a Kyoto-based company that makes printers and other office equipment.

The professorial man in the ad is in fact a professor: Peter Morici of the R.H.Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, College Park, MD. But he is hardly a household name, and when I first saw the ad I had the feeling he was supposed to remind me of someone else.  But who?

I've decided that Morici was chosen less for his economist credentials than for his resemblance to the Ur-expert in economics, the late Paul Samuelson.


The above is a photo of Samuelson. Do the comparison yourself to Morici as he appears in the above YouTube video. Same glasses, same hair, same suit, quite similar face.

I'm reasonably certain that the  ad agency recognized the resemblance, and chose their spokesman on this basis. After all, generations learned the basics of economics from the many editions of Samuelson's textbook, so a visage like that is natural for this role.

None of which would be worth mentioning except that Ben Stein has made it a cause of controversy and even litigation. Here is the complaint. Stein was apparently considered for this role in Kyocera's ads, and then rejected, apparently on the ground that his expressed views about the unreality of global warming were at odds with Kyocera's own eco-friendly branding.

Stein has filed a lawsuit, claiming that Kyocera breached a contract with him. That claim seems certain to go nowhere. If you read the complaint, above, you will see no allegation of specific facts to the effect that there was what lawyers call a "meeting of the minds." There doesn't seem to have been any contract to breach before Kyocera backed out of the arrangement they had been considering. Considering something doesn't bind you to it.

Ben Stein is the son of a fanous economist, Nixon advisor Herb Stein. Ben Stein also played a teacher of economics (at the high school level) in a movie. The point of the movie, as it happens, was that the protagonist wasn't in that day when Ben Stein's character was droning on about the Hawley-Smoot tariff. This movie role is cited without irony in the complaint, apparently in hopes of persuading the court that there must have been a contract to hire such an obvious choice for their commercial as he. 

But the more risible aspect of the litigation is Stein's contention that he is the victim of religious discrimination. "A host of federal laws protects Americans from being discriminated against on the basis of religious beliefs." This could be intended to render the unwinnable issue of whether Stein was ever actually a party to a contract irrelevant. It is just as illegal to refrain from hiring Stein because he is a Jew as it would be to fire him for that.

Ben Stein isn't really saying, though, that he was fired for a religious adherence to Judaism. He is saying that he was fired for a religious adherence to Global-Warming-Isn't-ManMadeism.

The complaint says: "BEN STEIN said [he] was by no means certain that global warming was man-made ... [he] also told Hurwitz to inform defendants that as a matter of religious belief, he believed that God, and not man, controlled the weather."

Felix Salmon has some fun with this in his Reuters blog.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.