Economics is more likely to induce tears than laughter from students on a normal day, which makes the success of Dr. Yoram Bauman’s comedy routine on carbon taxes and the environment Thursday afternoon all the more unique.
Bauman, a published author and self-described, “stand up economist,” opened his routine with a few jokes about his own profession and the rarity of comedy in economics.
“I appear before you this afternoon, ladies and gentleman, as the world’s first stand up economist,” Bauman said, provoking laughs from the crowd. “It’s a niche market.”
From there, Bauman warmed up the audience with jokes about politics, making fun of each side of the political spectrum, including swing voters.
“You’ve got the left wing, and they’re stereotypically spineless, then the right wing, who are heartless and then the swing voters who are clueless,” Bauman said. “You’re apathetic, and you don’t even know what ‘apathetic’ means. You’re so apathetic you can’t be bothered to look it up.”
The jokes about politics were some of the best in the show, as Bauman smoothly transitioned from making fun of the Tea Party to jokes about Bernie Sanders.
“I would make some jokes about Bernie Sanders and Occupy Wall Street, but I don’t think it’s fair to make fun of the dead,” Bauman said, causing a sharp intake of breath from some in the crowd. “Oh no, I think I’ve offended the left wing. I’m sorry left wing, I’ll make it up to you later at the drum circle. Right wing, I’ll explain what a drum circle is later.”
Citing his experience doing shows in front of groups across the country, Bauman explained that comedy allows a person to talk to anyone about any topic, including climate change.
“I do a lot of corporate shows, and what I’ve learned is that if you make people laugh for 35 minutes, they’ll listen to anything you have to say,” Bauman said. “What I work on, as an environmental economist, is using the power of economics to protect the environment.”
Bauman went into detail on policies like carbon taxes and cap and trade, focusing on the economic benefits that such policies would have beyond “saving the world,” as Bauman put it.
“The point of those policies is to drive up the price of fossil fuels,” Bauman said. “The side benefit is that if you do these policies right, then you create whole bunch of extra revenue…if we had a higher tax on things we want less of, like a carbon tax, then we could have lower taxes on other things.”
The jokes became less frequent as the subject of Bauman’s lecture became more serious, but the lecture remained informative throughout. Bauman used a series of charts and graphs to show how a carbon tax could be beneficial for consumers while reducing the output of carbon dioxide.
“The idea is not to increase taxes overall, but to change what (businesses) are paying taxes for,” Bauman said. “What I like about the (carbon tax in British Columbia) is that it’s simple and transparent. It’s so simple that you can summarize it in a haiku. California’s cap and trade system is more like ‘War and Peace.’ My preference would be for the simple approach.”
Students enjoyed the lecture, laughing hard at some jokes and listening attentively during the more serious parts of the routine.
“I liked it, it was very funny,” Jeffrey Lyle, a 4th semester natural resources major, said. “I’m not an economics major, but it was very funny.”
After the lecture, Bauman explained that, although comedy can’t replace traditional teaching about economics, it is unique in its ability to motivate people to understand a topic, even one as complex as economics and climate change.
“You can’t be funny for a whole semester, or at least I can’t. I have fewer constraints than an educator, but one thing that is forgotten…is the importance of motivation,” Bauman said. “Few things make people more interested in learning about something than having people around them laughing at something they don’t understand.”