Thursday, January 12, 2012


Jamie Condliffe, contributor
(Image: Jon Stahl)

Yoram Bauman is a trained economist and stand-up comedian. New Scientist spoke to him about his new book, The Cartoon Introduction to Economics

You claim to be the first and only stand-up economist. How did that happen?
By accident. While I was at grad school I wrote a parody of an economics text book and performed it during a humour session at an American Association for the Advancement of Science conference. One thing led to another: people wanted to hear economics jokes, then were willing top pay me to tell them, and then I finally got a website. I wrote on the site that I was the first and only stand-up economist - and if it says it on the Internet, then it must be true.

What’s so funny about money?
What's on everybody's minds right now is that people have less of it than they used to. I think during a time like this being able to take issues like economics that are weighty and difficult and to be able to share a common laugh about them is very valuable.
The other part of it is that people have very strong stereotypes. They think that economics is dull and that economists are the kind of people who think supply and demand is a good answer to the question: “Where do babies come from?”. Stereotypes like that make for good comedy material.

You still do some research. Does it ever feature in your comedy?
I’m not a hardcore academic, but I have a PhD in environmental economics. I do an hour-long comedy routine, but at the end I throw in five or ten minutes about climate change and the terrific revenue-neutral carbon tax in British Columbia.

Your new book is The Cartoon Introduction to Economics Volume Two: Macroeconomics. What is it about cartoons that lend themselves to explaining economic concepts?
Most economics textbooks are about 600 pages long and full of graphs: they’re very daunting. A cartoon book is accessible. I have lots of fans - OK, actually, maybe not lots - I have some fans that send me emails telling me that their 10-year-old children are reading the books. I think the book appeals to the kid in all of us.

So who exactly is the book aimed at?
Well, the 10 -year-olds are very precocious, let’s be clear about that. The book’s aimed at high school and college students as an introduction to economics, but also at the general public too. I think at college there’s a tendency to focus on the mathematics of economics and to ignore the personalities and the history. The book fills some of those gaps.

You’re trained as an economist, not an artist, so how did the book come together?
Drawing is not one of my strong suits, so I work with Grady Klein to do the books. I script them up, and he finalizes the art work, and in between there’s a lot of back-and-forth; it’s a really fun process.

Macroeconomics is a hot topic at the moment, following the recession and the current Eurozone meltdown. What do you want people to learn from the book?
Everybody focuses on the disagreements, but there's about 90 per cent of macroeconomics that scholars agree on, so I'd like for people to be aware of that.
Beyond that, there’s this idea that economics is like eating your Brussels sprouts: it’s good for you, but nobody would do it if it wasn’t. I want to show people the other side of it: that there are all sorts of fascinating personalities, histories and ideas in economics. I’d like them to come away thinking that economics is interesting after all, despite everything they heard.

Do you think it’ll inspire teenagers of today to become the economists of the future?
I don’t know whether to hope so or be afraid so.

And what’s next, now you’ve written introductions to micro- and macroeconomics?
I’m interested in writing a similar introduction to climate change issues. Imagine a cartoon version of the next IPCC climate change reports - can you imagine that? Well, I can.
Yoram Bauman will be performing stand-up comedy on his "Gold Standard" World Tour across the UK and Europe, Asia, and the USA during 2012. For more details visit his website.

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