What’s Funny About A Tax On Fossil Fuels? Why Not Ask A Stand Up Economist?

Sep 3, 2013

Yoram Bauman calls himself the world’s first and only stand up economist. He’s also advocating for a carbon tax in Washington State through an organization he founded called Carbon Washington. The tax would be modeled after the one British Columbia put into effect several years ago. Companies there pay a price per ton of CO2 that they emit.

Yoram Bauman: "Great! Thank you all. Ah, so I’m going to talk to you about carbon taxes. But first, I’m going to tell you some jokes. That wasn’t the response I expected. “No, tell me about carbon taxes.”

When I told my dad I was going to do stand comedy he said, “yoram you can’t be a stand up economist” and I said “why not?” “He said because there’s no demand”. I said “don’t’ worry dad, I’m a supply side economist”.

This is comedy about politics – and I know that sounds like a challenge, right? To do comedy about politics that appeals to people across the political spectrum… especially in a room like this in Seattle, because there’s not political spectrum.

But I’d like to do with you the same thing I do when I go talk to the trucking execs on the banks of the Arkansas River, I’m going to divide you up across the political spectrum. So for the next couple minutes.

You folks on the left side of the room you folks on the left side of the room get to represent the left side of the American political spectrum.

That was actually an appropriate amount of enthusiasm for the left side of the American political spectrum.

Ok, you guys on the right, I need you to come through for me, You guys are my right wing.

That was very good right wing. But when I did that in Texas they started cheering USA USA USA

You guys on the left were perfect also. No no, because while the right wing was chanting USA you were sitting there looking befuddled and vaguely unpatriotic.

Let’s talk about carbon taxes.

Now, I get the sense that some of you may have different feelings about capitalism but I’m an environmental economist and I’ll just tell you up front: what I work on is using the tools of economics and the powers of capitalism to protect the environment.

You might think it’s impossible to find common ground with folks across the political spectrum on an issue like climate change but you also might have though it was impossible to do stand up comedy about economics and the common ground comes from the way that economists think about pollution problems which is that the way to get less pollution is to make polluting expensive. Because when you make polluting expensive you get market forces working to promote conservation and innovation and the development of new technologies and all the things that I at least love about capitalism.

This is generally the part in my talk where people stop laughing because it’s hard to convince people that we should be paying more for fossil fuels. But there is a side benefit to these policies – other than you know, potentially saving the planet.

And the side benefit is that if you do these policies right you can generate a pile of revenue and the government can do all kinds of stuff with that revenue.

The idea I work on is the idea that we could use that revenue to reduce or eliminate existing taxes.

So with that I am going to stop and thank you all for coming.

What I’ve learned from doing comedy is that if you make people laugh for 50 minutes then you can talk to them about anything you want for 5-10 minutes. They may not agree with you but they will forgive you and they will be open minded in considering what you have to say.

I did a show on the banks of the AK river once for trucking executives. That was terrifying, but I did it, except for the time I tried to make a joke about guns. I just said “guns” and this guy in the back was like “don’t talk about my guns, boy”. And then I started looking for the emergency exit and they thought it was funny that I was looking for the emergency exit so from that point on we had a great time.

I go into conservative audiences and business audiences and I make them laugh and then I talk to them about climate change and say that I think that it’s a serious issue. It’s something we can do something about. I think we can deal with it in a bipartisan way.

Sometimes I think about it as the pill that you put inside the ball of meat that you feed to the dog. It’s not necessarily what audiences want to hear especially conservative audiences but it’s what I want to tell them and the thing that’s cool about being a comedian is you get to get up on stage and talk to people about what you want to talk about and I’m putting that to use.

Copyright 2013 KUOW