The economy is a funny thing after all
Yoram Bauman, the Stand-up Economist
TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Scott Jagow: It's been a pretty tough week for the markets and
the economy. I was thinking maybe we could use a chuckle. So without further adieu, may I present: the Stand-up Economist.
Yoram Bauman: So you might be an economist if you think that America's Next Top Model is a nonlinear growth model with indigenous technological change. (cymbal crash) I'm actually well-trained to be a stand-up comic, because one of the hard things about stand-up comedy is learning to deal with failure. I'm actually an expert at dealing with failure, because I used to teach introductory microeconomics . . . at 8 o'clock in the morning . . . in Walla Walla, Washington (cymbal crash).
Jagow: His name is Yoram Bauman. Yoram, how does one become a stand-up economist?
Bauman: Mostly by accident. While I was in graduate school, I sort of blew off some steam by writing a parody of an economics text book. You know, I passed it around the department, and then it ended up getting published in this science/humor journal called The Annals of Improbable Research. And they happened to do a humor session every year, so they invited me to present my paper there. Which I did, and I had so much fun with it I decided I needed to try it down at the comedy club.
Jagow: And how'd that go?
Bauman: Kind of a mixed bag. I quickly learned that I needed to tell some jokes that were not just about economics, but I've since learned to deal with crowds that are kind of economics crowds and crowds that are a little more drunk than that, maybe.
Jagow: Haha, yeah?
Bauman: Yeah. I actually got laughs on the first ever joke at a comedy club, was how my father was not thrilled that I was taking my PhD in economics and moving into the realm of stand-up comedy. He said, "Yoram, you could never be a stand-up economist. There's no demand."
Bauman: And I said, "Don't worry, Dad, I'm a supply-side economist -- I just stand up and let the jokes trickle down. I believe in the laugher curb.
Jagow: I don't know, Yoram, that one might deserve a little heckling. Anyway, I know that you're an environmental economist, and obviously climate change is a big concern right now, but it's not very funny. So how do you approach that one?
Bauman: I can only give you a joke that I'm kind of working on, I can't say that it's really ready for primetime yet. But the joke is that the evidence of climate change is everywhere, that, you know, every year the snows start melting earlier, and every year the flowers start to bloom earlier -- and the one that economists really like is that every year, the Christmas shopping season starts earlier.
Jagow: That's not too bad.
Bauman: Yeah, I'm working on it.
Jagow: Do you find, though, that using humor does help you maybe explain things better?
Bauman: Oh absolutely. The challenge that economists have is that we've been talking about environmental taxes, environmental tax reform, for 80 years, going on 100 years. It's been incredibly difficult to move it actually into practice, so I figure why not give it a try of doing something with humor, and maybe it'll stick that way.
Jagow: Yoram Bauman, The Stand-Up Economist. Thanks for being here.
Bauman: Thank you very much.
Jagow: Yoram teaches at the University of Washington in Seattle.