Stand-up comedy meets economics at Bates College

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LEWISTON — “You might be an economist if you’re an expert on money but you still dress like a flood victim.”

Stand-up economist Yoram Bauman delivered his presentation, “Comedy, Economics and Climate Change” to a Bates College audience Thursday afternoon.

The lecture combined politics and economics with a lively stand-up style and a PowerPoint presentation that pointed a finger at swing voters and envisioned hyperinflation in hell.

Dividing the audience into political groups from far left to far right, Bauman said the majority of Americans view politics as severe polars.

Pointing to the middle, Bauman said, “You all are my swing voters.” He described the swing voters as numerous and vital in any election.

“If you are not a communist or a fascist, you are probably a swing voter,” he said, adding, “If you do not know the difference between a communist or a fascist, you are definitely a swing voter. Your job as swing voters is to pay absolutely no attention whatsoever, and then every four years you determine the fate of the free world.”

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He described the tea party as “right-center” people who believe in social Darwinism but don’t believe in Darwin.

To the far left and right of the room, Bauman assigned the Libertarians. The right-wing Libertarians, he said, want everyone to be free to use guns while the left-wing Libertarians want everybody to be free to use drugs.

“Now both wings of the Libertarian Party want to abolish Social Security and Medicare,” which Bauman said makes total sense because “who’s going to make it to 65 when the world is full of meth-fiends with machine guns?”

“You might be an environmental economist if you spend a lot of time flying around the world telling people that we need to spend less time flying around the world.”

Bauman, who earned his doctorate in economics from the University of Washington, has appeared in Time Magazine, PBS and National Public Radio. He has also shared the stage with Robin Williams.

The co-author of the two-volume “Cartoon Introduction to Economics” lives in Seattle, touring about three months of the year mostly to universities and corporate events to deliver understandable economics with wit.

An environmental economist, Bauman is a Carbon Tax Fellow at Sightline Institute, an organization that researches advancement sustainability in the Northwest and belongs to the CarbonWA.org effort to bring a revenue-neutral carbon tax to Washington state.

Talking about his time in Beijing, Bauman described the 400,000-person housing complex he lived in, surrounded by a growing pollution problem.

He said he once had the uncomfortable duty of apologizing for his entire country for selling its debt to China like a “loan shark.” He insisted that America was not a loan shark but a “borrowing walrus.”

Trying to explain to the man from Beijing how the United States also begrudged the trillion-dollar debt owned by China, Bauman said when both parties in a voluntary transaction are dissatisfied, it actually takes considerable effort.

“I don’t think we have a budget deficit because left-wing people believe in mandates or because right-wing people believe in markets,” Bauman said. “We have a budget deficit because people in the middle believe in magic.”

Bauman said the voters in the middle are overwhelmed by politicians on one side telling them they should build a road and politicians on the other side telling them they should support lower taxes.

“You might be an economist if you don’t read human-interest stories because they don’t interest you.”

During his stay in China, Bauman said he began to develop the concept of “Hyperinflation in Hell.” Hyperinflation is a massive influx in the money supply.

At temples throughout Asia, Bauman said, Joss paper is a form of fake money people use to burn in order to send money to their relatives in the afterworld.

With population and economic growth in Asia, Bauman, reasoned, more people would be able to afford more Joss Paper to send money to the afterworld. Even iPhone applications, such as the Hell Bank Note, allow bills to be tossed into virtual fire.

Bauman reasoned that such flooding of currency into the afterworld would surely cause economic misfortune and even hyperinflation, although empirical evidence has been elusive.

Upon attempting to publish his paper on “Hyperinflation in Hell” in the quarterly humor section of the publication Economic Inquiry, Bauman was rejected by two judges.

One of the judges responded, “The paper makes the mistaken assumption that there’s no technological progress in the afterlife,” asking, “Why would the dead suddenly lose their ability to innovate?”

“You might be an economist if you think ‘supply and demand’ is a good answer to questions like, ‘Where do babies come from?'”

Breaking from his comedy routine, Bauman gave a presentation on climate change and the need for carbon taxes and cap-and-trade policies.

The trend Bauman displayed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, showing temperatures rising as carbon levels in the atmosphere rise. This, according to Bauman, was not concocted by Al Gore, but by Svante Arrhenius in 1896.

Bauman, an advocate of carbon taxes in his home state, believes that a higher price on carbon-producing fuels would lower other taxes, such as income and payroll taxes, which he said even conservative columnist George Will agreed.

He said current failures to implement carbon taxes have been “sold like magic” in the political process in which people are not told energy prices will increase for gains to be seen.

dmcintire@sunjournal.com

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