Yes I really do have a Ph.D. in economics (Univ. of Washington, 2003, here’s my CV), and of course I went to Reed College. I live in Seattle with my wife Laura. Some FAQs are below, but if you’re here on business—i.e., you want to hire me—here are links to my comedy bio, some hi-res photos, my technical requirements, some testimonials from past shows, and stories about me in print/radio/TV.
To spread joy to the world through economics comedy; to reform economics education; and to implement carbon pricing, preferably through a revenue-neutral tax shift involving lower taxes on things we like (working, saving, investing) and higher taxes on things we don’t like (e.g., carbon).
Well, there’s a fabulous carbon tax in British Columbia, which I’m proud to have had a small role in creating and promoting and which I’m trying to spread to Washington State and elsewhere. I also cover carbon pricing in my economics cartoon books, which are the opening salvo in my efforts to reform economics education. As for economics comedy, performing at colleges, corporate events, and comedy clubs takes up much of my time; I am also the Specialized Co-Editor for Miscellany of Economic Inquiry (see my collection of funny economics articles), and every year I organize the Humor Session at the American Economic Association annual meeting.
As of 2013: Yes. In years past (and maybe future since I love mixing it up) I have also done some teaching and research, most recently as an environmental economist with the University of Washington’s Program on the Environment. I’ve also taught part-time at Lakeside High School and at Bainbridge Graduate Institute, and in summer and fall 2011 I had a visiting research position working on climate change economics at UIBE in Beijing.
In graduate school I blew off some steam by writing a parody of the “ten principles of economics” in Greg Mankiw’s best-selling textbook, and in 2003 my parody got published in a science humor journal called the Annals of Improbable Research. They run a humor session every year at the AAAS annual meeting, and in 2004 it happened to be in Seattle so they invited me to present my paper. I had so much fun I started going to open-mic nights at the Comedy Underground, and the rest is history.
Yes, it even says so on the internet! Among those who may take issue with this claim are David Powell, Boston Comedy Festival finalist and RAND economist; Austan Goolsbee, voted “Funniest politico in DC”; Tim Harford, “Dear Economist” author for the Financial Times; Peter Schiff, investor and hyperinflation mis-predictor; Merle Hazard; Robert Mundell, Columbia, who won the Nobel Prize and appeared regularly on Dave Letterman; Victor Fuchs, Stanford (pic); “socialist magician” Ian Saville; Louis Ashamallah, the BBC’s Evan Davis; William Breit, Trinity; Peter Orazem, Iowa State; Ben Stein (“cited by Akerlof”); Steven Tomlinson, UT Austin; Ariel Rubinstein, Tel Aviv University; Paul Solman, PBS’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer; Shaun Eli, a comic who graduated from the Wharton School; Steve Zanetti of Freeman H.S. (Richmond VA); and James Kurre of Penn State Erie. Apologies to all, and email me if you belong on this list. And BTW if you’re into academic comedy outside of economics, folks I know about include biology PhD Tim Lee, astronomer Brian Malow, chemical engineering PhD Pete Ludovice, linguist Myq Kaplan, and the UK-based Festival of the Spoken Nerd.
My video “Principles of Economics, Translated” contains two unattributed quotes: “9 out of 5″ is adapted from a line attributed to Paul Samuelson — he said it about Wall Street indices, not macroeconomists — and “wrong about things” is paraphrased from P.J. O’Rourke’s Eat the Rich. And, of course, the Einstein “simple” quote is an intentional misquote. Oh, and one of my jokes (“You might be a macroeconomist if you’re an expert on money but you dress like a flood victim”) is adapted from an old Dilbert cartoon I saw in grad school.
Nope! I do, however, suffer from faceblindness (at least according to my self-diagnosis) , so if you say hello and I give you that puzzled look then please give me a clue. PS. If you’re a journalist and you’re determined to write a depressed-comic-economist story then you can point out that I’m depressed about how we’re not doing enough about climate change; also, you can write that my mother was bipolar and took her own life. (I try not to hide that because mental illnesses are hidden too much in our world and they shouldn’t be.) Having said that, though, I should emphasize that I generally feel like I lead a charmed life.
I spend a lot of free time working on carbon taxes, especially revenue-neutral carbon taxes (where the revenue from the carbon tax goes to reduce existing taxes). I even talk about it in my comedy routines, and to some extent I do comedy so that I can talk to people about carbon pricing. So… why? Three reasons. One, climate change has the potential to be a huge huge issue this century: I’m not convinced that a climate catastrophe is looming, but I think the threat of a climate catastrophe should be taken seriously. Two, economics has a lot to add to this discussion: the theory of externalities, cost-benefit analysis, economic instruments like carbon taxes and cap-and-trade… all of these and more make economics a crucial part of the discussion; people who wonder what economists have to say about environmental issues couldn’t be more wrong. Three, economists more or less agree on what should be done. This is very different than, say, many questions in macroeconomics, which everyone agrees are important but which elicit wildly different opinions from experts. In contrast, just about all economists think that putting a price on carbon (with a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system, but especially with a revenue-neutral carbon tax) is necessary if not sufficient in tackling climate change. Paul Krugman, Greg Mankiw, arguably even Milton Friedman, the list goes on.
In short, I’m hoping I can add an economist’s voice (and to a great extent the voice of almost all economists) to the discussion of a major policy issue. That seems like a good way to spend part of my life.