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Economist Comedian(s)

October 8th, 2010 . by economistmom

I heard a very nice story on Austan Goolsbee, the new Chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, this morning on NPR.  It reminded me that I wanted to hold Austan up as a rare example of an economist who makes economics accessible and compelling to non-economists.  Last week the White House featured him doing the above “White House White Board” one-minute explanation of the Obama Administration’s position on the Bush Tax Cuts.  I think it’s very effective–even though I’d prefer that we shrink the permanent size of all those circles he draws and swap them for smaller but more “powerful” ones.

The NPR story on Austan links to Austan’s very entertaining appearance on The Colbert Report and quotes Doug Holtz-Eakin saying this about Austan:

“There are not many people who are smart, who are well-trained, and at the same time can take off the gloves and be extremely populist on the airwaves and the campaign trail, and then win comedian of the year award,” said Holtz-Eakin.

But Austan is not the only funny economist out there.  Thanks to reader Jim Glass, I’ve discovered the “Stand-Up Economist,” Yoram Bauman, who entertained an economists-only audience at this year’s American Economic Association meetings.  You might not really “get” all this humor if you haven’t been through graduate-level economics training or have otherwise become an economics geek, but it’s absolutely hilarious if you have.  (And you should probably not post it on your Facebook profile as a way to get dates.)

2 Responses to “Economist Comedian(s)”

  1. comment number 1 by: Jeff Smith

    Jim Hines is funnier than all these guys.

  2. comment number 2 by: Jim Glass

    For more not boring economics…

    Here’s the once famous ‘JokEc’ economics jokes archive compiled over usenet back in the last century, saved from being lost in the aether. Enjoy.

    More substantively, I mentioned earlier the Phil Donohue shows with Milton Friedman during which the two of them went at it, to which I earlier posted a YouTube link. They’re worth a good watch whole. Not boring!

    Donohue of course was in the camp opposing Friedman, but starts out praising him: “The wonderful thing about you is that when you speak I understand you, and that’s a real breakthrough”.

    Even better, here’s Friedman really in the lion’s den (read the signs in the audience) debating the young Michael Moore of all people (the claim is, though I couldn’t prove it by his student-age BMI).

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cD0dmRJ0oWg
    Not boring!

    Friedman had by far the most influence on the general public of any economist of the last 50 years. His book Free to Choose was a #1 bestseller and top PBS tv series, the audience it hit was the average general public. There’s a lot to learn from him about communicating economics.

    When he was preparing FtC he made a lot of “lion’s den” appearances like this to learn how people think, see which arguments succeed at convincing and which don’t, how to get them across in plain English, etc.

    I don’t know what the “wake up tour” is doing, but IMHO it wouldn’t be bad to be something like this. Have Concord’s top people go right into the lion’s den of local AARP chapters. Not to polite gatherings with executives, but right to the Michael Moores of the AARP rank-and-file who will be incredulous and name call. Give the message to them and find out what works and doesn’t. Then do the same thing with the Tea Party-ers, if they have organized chapters. *Do* be partisan, not Dem-Repub, not name calling, but pro-responsible budget. Fight for “responsible budget” principles. Use populist rhetoric, using “confidence game”, “political scam”, “Ponzi game” didn’t hurt Friedman’s credibility any.

    Then put everything learned all together in a FtC-type effort with “responsible budgets” as the message, using what’s proven to work.

    Hey, this is how all “not boring” great communicators do it. Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech dozens of times to small audiences before the big delivery. Churchill, Lincoln, all the famous orators gave countless speeches to small audiences. Persons paid professionally to be not boring test their routines over and over on small audiences before the HBO special. Economists who want to reach average people on large scale are going to have to do the same thing. If Friedman did it even after winning a Nobel…

    As to Goolsbee there, he sounds entertaining in a professor-to-student way and Megan McArdle, who was a student of his, says he was great. But he’s not doing anything like going face-to-face against *the enemy*, as Friedman did. That video is just a happy TV political commercial. And it is partisan anti-Repub while posing disingenuosly to be anti-debt. “The Republican tax cut plan would make us borrow a whole $700 billion on top of our own tax cut plan that will make us borrow a mere $3 trillion … oops, wrong graph!!!

    Let Goolsbee go to AARP and tell the disbelieving Michael Moores there how SS and Medicare are unsustainable and have to be brought into line with reality, and if he succeeds and is entertaining about it I’ll give him full credit.