Stand-up economist talks climate change at the Port




For most people, economics and global warming are no laughing matter. Yoram Bauman isn’t most people.

Billing himself as “the world’s only stand-up economist,” he travels the country presenting his unique mix of comedy, economics and climate change activism. Some of his YouTube videos have garnered more than one million views, and he appeared on PBS New Hour alongside Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stieglitz.

Yesterday, Bauman brought his act to Port HQ to entertain and educate staff with a one hour performance in the Chinook Room.

Sporting a t-shirt emblazoned with “Capitalism” in the Coca-Cola font (“80% cotton and 20% irony”) Bauman artfully segued from American politics to living in a 400,000-person (!) Beijing housing complex to the perils of global warming.
One-liners abounded.

If you ever wondered about the distinction between the two chief disciplines of economics, Bauman clarified that “Microeconomists are wrong about specific things. Macroeconomists are wrong about things in general.”

He also presented his own spin on a familiar comedic format, with jokes such as “You might be an economist if…you don’t read human interest stories, because they don’t interest you.”

Sandwiched between the bouts of laughter was an informative discussion of revenue-neutral carbon taxes and basic economic concepts. Bauman discussed at length the current revenue-neutral carbon tax in British Columbia, as well as his own work to develop a similar climate action mechanism in the state of Washington. He explained businesses wouldn’t pay any more in total taxes under this plan, instead increases in the carbon tax would be offset by reductions in other taxes, such as individual or corporate income taxes.

Bauman’s main points were:

  • We need a way to monetize negative externalities, such as the air pollution resulting from manufacturing. Market mechanisms have a strong role to play as our society works towards a more sustainable future.
  • British Columbia’s revenue-neutral carbon tax can appeal to both the left and right sides of the political spectrum.
  • The 21st century will be dominated by two intertwined stories: the continuing development of formerly impoverished countries around the world, and the strain on the world’s resources as a projected 10-11 billion people aspire to live by the standards enjoyed today by the U.S. and Western Europe.

Though the audience clearly thought Bauman’s schtick was hilarious, the series of questions after the show demonstrated that he also provided a good deal of food for thought.

As employees of an organization at the nexus of business and international logistics, located in one of America’s most sustainable cities, the issues of resource use and economic development are of great personal and professional importance. Perhaps more than anything, the performance was a welcome reminder that humor and storytelling can be the best way to enter into real and difficult conversations.