Povolny lecture series combines comedy and economics

Erty Seidel

Some might consider comedy and economics to be antitheses, but Yoram Bauman, stand-up economist, disagrees. Monday night, Bauman delivered an hour and a half of good laughs at his talk, “Comedy, Economics, and Climate Change.”
Bauman’s talk is part of the Povolny Lecture series, a set of annual talks sponsored in honor of former Lawrence professor Mojmir Povolny. The lectures are focused on international issues; this year’s topic is global warming. Povolny, unfortunately, was stranded in the Czech Republic due to the Icelandic volcano eruption and was unable to attend this week’s lecture.
Bauman received a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Washington but decided he was meant for something funnier when his parody of Mankiw’s “Principles of Economics” was picked up and published in a science humor journal. He has seriously pursued his stand-up career for about five years and has authored and published a book, “The Cartoon Introduction to Economics,” with illustrator Grady Klein.
“I appear before you tonight as the world’s first and only stand-up economist,” stated Bauman. “You can’t imagine how much this thrilled my parents.”
Most of Bauman’s humor was about the perception of incomprehensibility and humorlessness in economics. “You can tell I’m a real economist because I can translate English into Incomprehensible Gibberish,” he joked, showing slides of complex terminology to great effect.
Bauman ran through his Mankiw’s “Principles” parody, which included such principles as “people are stupid” and “people aren’t that stupid,” and jokingly reminded the audience that macroeconomists have predicted nine of the last five depressions.
Bauman pointed out the YouTube users’ responses to his video, which can be found on Bauman’s website, www.standupeconomist.com, included conspiracy-theory flame wars and excellent misspellings. YouTuber “coolway” wrote, “I can’t tell if this is supposed to be funny or educational.”
Bauman is not the only economist comedian, although he is the only stand-up so far. Bauman pointed out two papers that started the tradition. In the 1970s, Economist Paul Krugman wrote a paper titled “A Theory of Interstellar Trade,” which explored the effects of relativity on interstellar inflation.
D. J. Snower wrote a paper on “Macroeconomic Policy and the Optimal Destruction of Vampires” which concluded that destroying all vampires at once would not be socio-economically feasible.
Bauman closed his economic humor with a proof that there is, in fact, something funny about economics. He also presented, as an addendum to the standard D.I.C.E. and R.I.C.E models, the V.A.N.I.L.L.A. I.C.E. model, which involved ’90s pop music.
Bauman also included a piece on the early-morning phone calls to Nobel Prize winners that are transcribed and put online verbatim. He titled this segment, “What to expect when you’re expecting the Nobel Prize.”
Finally, Bauman attempted some political humor about the Iraq war, which did not go over as well with the audience as the economics jokes had.
The show ended on a humorous note, however, as Bauman briefly returned to the economics humor.
The next Povolny lecture will be Monday, May 10. Lee Paddock, associate dean for environmental law studies at the George Washington University Law School, will be giving a free talk titled “Environmental Change and Governance: A Legal Perspective” in the Wriston Auditorium at 7 p.m.