012: Yoram Bauman on Cartoons, Being a Stand-Up Economist & His Passion to Save the Environment
Yoram Bauman is considered the world’s first and only stand-up economist and uses cartoons to explain economic concepts and theories. He has a PhD from the University of Washington and a BA in Mathematics from Reed College. Yoram lectured environmental and health economics at both Whitman College and University of Washington and was a visiting research scholar at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing. Yoram has swapped the lecture hall for the comedy club and is on a mission to spread joy to the world and to reform economics education. Every year Yoram organizes the Humor Session at the American Economic Association annual meeting.
Yoram is an advocate for carbon pricing and other economic approaches to protecting the environment. Yoram has written extensively on these issues but has also published numerous micro and macro books with comedy and entertainment as its central theme. They include The Cartoon Introduction to Economics, The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change and Stand-Up Economics: The Micro Textbook. Some of these books have been translated into over 10 languages.
In this interview, Yoram mentions and discusses: adverse selection, portfolio selection theory, the invisible hand, environmental economics, environmental taxes, market power, monopoly, corruption, opportunity cost, free market, revenue-neutral carbon taxes, consumption tax, tragedy of the commons, externalities, correlation, hyperinflation, population growth, economic growth, monetary base and rational expectations.
Economists and Economic Schools:
In this interview, Yoram mentions: George Akerlof, James Tobin, Adam Smith, Gregory Mankiw and Paul Krugman.
Yoram’s AH-HA HA HA HA Moment:
“I went to graduate school to work on environmental taxes and to make them a reality, so being an academic was one path to doing that. When I was in graduate school I wrote a parody of an economics textbook by Greg Mankiw just to blow off steam. It ended up getting published in a science humor journal called The Annals of Improbable Research and they run a humor session each year at the AAAS meeting. They invited me to come and I had so much fun that I got into stand-up comedy as a hobby.”
“My academic career wasn’t going as well as I hoped.”
- “When I had choices in front of me, in terms of life choices, I was going to choose the path of adventure. That’s turned out to work really well for me. There’s this constant pressure in life that you’re not good enough. Maybe you have a PhD in economics but you’re not a Professor at Harvard. I’m in a position where I can take chances and I don’t have to pursue the resume builder and I don’t have to take the conventional path.”
- “I think if a lot of people stop and look in the mirror, especially college-educated folks, I think that they are already winners. And when you’re already a winner then you can afford to take some risks and take some chances.”
- Yoram’s 4 month old baby Zadie wakes up at 4am for a bottle feed. He feeds her, puts her back to sleep and stays up, spending 2 to 3 hours working when it’s quite.
- Yoram spends some of his time at Lighthouse Coffee in Seattle, where his child likes to nap with the comforting noise that’s there, and gets to work on his emails while off-line (there’s no wi-fi at Lighthouse Coffee). It’s a great way to clear out your inbox without fighting off all the traffic
- Yoram’s father, his grandmother, Helen Winter, his godmother Betty Tansey, his professors, the Overeducated Cartoonist, Larry Gonick, Jon Stewart and John Oliver.
In this episode, you will learn:
- about revenue-neutral carbon taxing.
- if we should keep economics serious or is there room for comedy?
- why it’s important to motivate people to open a textbook and how humor and comedy can do this.
- how cartoons and humor can bring so much detail and understanding to economic concepts.
- where it all began for Yoram when writing a cartoon economics textbook.
- about the cartoon books written by Yoram that document the annals of economic theory.
- how Yoram humorously depicts why some economists have won the Nobel Prize in Economics in a simplified and memorable manner.
- how Adam Smith calls the winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics to interview them. Spooked? Find out how.
- how Yoram found his true calling while reading Mankiw’s economics textbook.
- how Yoram uses cartoons and comedy to teach us economics and to inform us of the need for environmental taxes, something he is passionate about.
- how Yoram can use his knowledge on monopoly to maintain a lucrative career in comedy.
- if Yoram ‘fears market failure’ (he is a monopolist after all!).
- how the comedy club and the lecture hall are quite similar.
- about Yoram’s passion for environmental tax reform.
- how we can reduce the carbon impact on our environment with tax reform.
- about the meaning of The Tragedy of the Commons.
- about the secret to being a comedian.
- why I think Yoram reminds me of Walter White from Breaking Bad.
- about the connection Yoram has with Steve Jobs.
- about the influence that the strong women in Yoram’s life had on his outlook and philosophy.
- how having a new born baby has created a new habit for Yoram to help him get things done.
- about Joss Paper or spirit money and how you can make your dead ancestors wealthy in the afterworld.
On Being a Monopolist:
“I’m the world’s first and only, so I have market power. Fortunately, I know a thing or two about monopoly pricing.” – Yoram Bauman
Yoram has over 1.7 million YouTube views – ‘That’s a lot for economics jokes’ – Yoram Bauman
“I’ve done my fair share of ‘bombing’. Hopefully you learn from it, you grow from it and you also realise that it’s not the end of the world and that you wake up the next morning and the sun still rises and you try again.”– Yoram Bauman
On Cartooning and The Similarities Between Teaching and Stand-Up Comedy:
- “Anytime you can try to reach out to people and humanise the subject and humanise yourself as an instructor I think that’s helpful. Humor has a way of motivating people. Especially at college level, teachers forget how important motivation is. Try and give people an incentive to crack open a textbook other than the fact their grades depend upon it.”
- “What I learned from comedy is that it’s a two-way street. You have to pay attention to where the audience is and you have to figure out ways to get feedback from them. In the comedy world that’s quite easy – people are either laughing or they’re not laughing. You get feedback pretty easily. But in the teaching world it’s a lot harder to get feedback. You have get yourself in that mindset of thinking about how is the audience viewing this and how can I figure out where they are and how can I connect with them.”
Gigging in Beijing in The Bookworm
- There’s no censorship at The Bookworm. There’s actually quite a bit of free speech in China if you’re a Westerner speaking English.
- They had a book on Tiananmen Square in The Bookworm.
- There’s a lot of China that’s very laissez-faire. You think about it as a Communist state, and you think this must mean it’s like a police state like North Korea. But it’s actually a lot like the Wild West in the United States in many places.
- If you look at the day-to-day lives of many people, it’s become more like the Wild West than the totalitarian North Korea style regime.
Environmental Tax Reform
- If we had higher taxes on bad things like pollution, we can afford to have lower taxes on good things. That idea struck me as being intellectually beautiful and it also struck me as something that was politically a good idea that could get some bi-partisan support.
- I decided to devote a considerable portion of my life-energy to make pollution tax a reality.
- Economic theory and almost all economists think that revenue-neutral carbon tax is a good idea but if you look at the political system, it’s been very difficult to get environmental taxes to work in the political arena.
British Columbia Case Study on Carbon Taxing
- British Columbia is considered to have the best climate policy in the world with its revenue-neutral carbon tax and it’s performing terrifically. But it’s one of the relatively few examples of a textbook case of environmental economics in action in terms of pollution taxes.
- The revenue from the carbon tax in British Columbia reduces investment and corporate tax, so the overall impact on the province is its fiscal status is basically zero.
- I’m working with a group called Carbon Washington and we’re going to reduce sales tax in the state. Households will pay a few hundred dollars more a year for fossil fuels but they’ll pay a few hundred dollars less a year for something else.
China’s Role in Environmental Reform
- The Chinese make noise about pricing carbon. There’s a big agreement their president made with President Obama. Maybe they’re exploring the idea but I have a hard time believing that they’re fully committed to it because they don’t yet seem to be fully committed to reducing local air pollution.
Tragedy of the Commons (21:23)
The Secret To Being a Comedian
- “Let yourself be free to explore unusual areas and hobbies. You have to give yourself permission to follow your passions to pursue something. I gave myself permission to try it (comedy) and I gave myself permission to fail, and I think with a lot of creative endeavours it’s what you need to do.”
The Difference Between Macro Economists and Micro Economists:
“The level of vitriol in macro economics makes it especially appealing as a target. Micro economists disagree about little things, but on the big things they are all pretty much on the same page. But macro economists are really all over the map and so that opens up some opportunities for comedy.”
- The Cartoon Introduction to Economics: Volume One: Microeconomics by Yoram Bauman and Grady Klein
- The Cartoon Introduction to Economics: Volume Two: Macroeconomics by Yoram Bauman and Grady Klein
- The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change by Yoram Bauman and Grady Klein
- Economics of the Environment: Selected Readings by Robert Stavins
- Becoming Richard Pryor by Scott Saul
- Andy Kaufman: The Truth, Finally by Bob Zmuda
- Books by comedian Lenny Bruce
- A bunch of baby books.