HERE ARE DOZENS MORE ECON SONGS
- Abba: "Money, Money, Money"
Flash: it's better to be rich than poor. At least, Abba thinks so, despite what Puff Daddy (sorry, that's P Diddy), Prince, Tom Petty and others say in other songs below.
- AC/DC: "Back in Business"
Is this a metaphor for life, or is it meant to be taken literally? Or maybe both…
- Apollo Four Forty "High on Your Own Supply"
Any free market requires firms that are willing to supply a product in return for the chance at a profit. The higher the price, the greater the quantity supplied; that's the Law of Supply. This song was written to help people remember the Law of Supply—the higher the price, the greater the quantity supplied.
- Bachman Turner Overdrive: "Takin' Care of Business"
A ballad to the joys of being self-employed. Hey, it's as easy as fishin'! Of course if you've been self-employed, to be your own boss, you suddenly find out that everyone's your boss.
- Beatles: "All You Need Is Love"
Love is simply a case of interdependent utility functions—where one person's (the lover's) utility or happiness depends in an important way on the level of utility or happiness of the other (the loved.) Mathematically it could be expressed as: U = f(Her utility/happiness, My own consumption). If the coefficient on "her utility" is greater than the coefficient on "my own consumption", the lover will be willing to sacrifice to make the loved one happy, perhaps even to the point of giving up his life. So many songs deal with this particular form of interdependent utility functions that we will not list them all, and use this one as the model for all. Hey, it's ALL economics!
- Beatles: "Can't Buy Me Love"
Money can't buy me love." Maybe, maybe not. But we note that Ringo Starr was married to lovely actress Barbara Bach for a while…
- Beatles: "I Call Your Name"
As explained in "All You Need Is Love", love involves interdependent utility functions. When the loved one has a zero coefficient on "his happiness" in her utility function, it's called "unrequited love" and leads to highly negative utility for the original lover. It also apparently leads to a lot of country songs being written…
- Beatles: "Money"
Forget all that peace and love stuff; here's the real motivation for their success. Adam Smith knew this in 1776, but it's good to see it admitted by counterculture heroes.
- Beatles: "Taxman"
The Beatles' financial success gave them a personal introduction to how a progressive income tax system works and the disincentive effects it has, so they wrote a song about it. A very different perspective from John Lennon's later "Imagine" where he suggests that a world without private property would be a good thing. Notice he wrote that one AFTER he made his stash.
- Brooks, Garth: "Big Money"
For a country song, this one provides a surprisingly lucent take on the risk premium that is part of the wage of risky occupations. (Has Garth taken a Labor Economics course?) His conclusion is that it's a good idea to be the heir of someone who is willing to be a risk-taker, rather than a risk-taker yourself. Now if you can just get born into the right family…
- Buffett, Jimmy: "You'll Never Work in Dis Bidness Again"
Jimmy's story of how he broke into the business. It says "…work in this business" but is he really working? Have you been to one of his concerts? We've got to hand it to Jimmy; he seems to have found the secret to making money doing what he enjoys, and he's got the toys to prove it.
- The Business: "Steal this Record"
Anyone remember Abbie Hoffman and the ‘60s? His version was "Steal this Book." Now we're doing it with technology and downloads. The more things change, the more they remain the same…
- Cash, Johnny. "Tennessee Flat Top Box"
This is a story of a young man specializing according to his comparative advantage with a guitar, resulting in his personal consumption possibilities curve being pushed out beyond what his production possibilities curve would allow. Artist note: there is a rumor that before he became a country singer, Johnny Cash flirted briefly with the idea of being an economist specializing in money and banking. It just seemed like a natural, given his name. (Cf. Johnny Paycheck. And do they become country singers because of those names, or do they get the names after they become country singers?)
- Chapman, Tracy "Short Supply"
This is a song about the "Problem of the Commons"—resources that no one owns, and therefore are overused. Tracy doesn't propose the solution of giving ownership rights to these resources, though. If she'd just had one more econ course…
- Cooper, Alice: "Make That Money (Scrooge's Song)"
Another straight-forward American anthem, extolling the virtues of hard work and thrift and the rewards thereof. It's good to see that some musicians, like this young lady, Alice Cooper, have their heads on straight and aren't into the weirdness that so often attends the rock scene.
- Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young "Our House"
Sure, the muddy fields and freedom of Woodstock were fun, but you just can't beat a nice house for enhancing your utility. There is a rumor that this song was subsidized by the American Association of Homebuilders as a way to start changing the Woodstock generation's utility functions and consumption patterns to more conventional ones. We'll leave it to you to decide if it worked or not, in retrospect.
- Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young "Teach Your Children"
Economic research shows that education is typically one of the best investments a person can make. (At least, that's what we professors will tell you.) Increases in human capital are one of the key ways that a society progresses from generation to generation, and provides more flexibility for change and adaptation than investment in bricks-and-mortar capital. CSN&Y obviously stayed abreast of economic research, at least in this era.
- Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young "Woodstock"
"I have come to lose the smog." The hippies of Woodstock nation were just becoming aware of the environmental problems that can occur when you put lots of people together in a rather small area like a city, especially if they're exhaling various types of smoke. The natural environment's ability to clean and regenerate itself can be overwhelmed, creating smog and other forms of pollution. This is a case of negative externalities, where one party imposes costs on another that are not taken account of in the market system—a case of market failure. We can't help but think that the "half a million strong" created their own pollution problems at Yasgur's farm. (Question: were the clouds of marijuana smoke and contact highs at Woodstock a case of a positive externality for the attendees?)
- Dire Straits: "Money for Nothing"
Everyone thinks the other guy's job is soooo easy. But just try being a rock star. It's a hard life—or else there wouldn't be so many songs about how hard it is, right?
- Dylan, Bob: "Like a Rolling Stone"
You think it's hard getting ahead? Bob points out that it's even tougher moving down the income strata. At least we think that's what he's saying; he's a little hard to understand. Can't someone give him a throat lozenge?
- Dylan, Bob: "Subterranean Homesick Blues"
That investment in education really does pay off: "Twenty years of schoolin' and they put you on the day shift." Who could ask for anything more? (Oh, that's a different song, isn't it?)
- Epidemic: "Equilibrium"
A song about the point where the demand curve crosses the supply curve, and the quantity that buyers are willing and able to buy is just equal to the amount that sellers are willing and able to sell, at the current price. Or not.
- Harrison, George: "Cockamamie Business"
Wanna do music? It's still business. Of course, even a cockamamie business can make you a millionaire, it seems, especially if you sing about how screwed up the business is. (Is that called "irony"?)
- Hayes, Alfred and Robinson, Earl: "Joe Hill"
We know it from Joan Baez's version at Woodstock. It celebrates the life of IWW "Wobbly" poet and songwriter Joe Hill.
- Hendrix, Jimi "All Along the Watchtower"
Some say Jimi was prescient. Here he anticipates the accounting scandals of recent years. The joker and the thief are on the ramparts watching for the regulators to come while the businessmen drink the wine, metaphorically. At the end of the song, the wildcat growls, and the two riders show up to start the investigations, "and the wind began to howl." Martha Stewart just got caught in that wind.
- Hendrix, Jimi "Burning of the Midnight Lamp"
This is a song about the decreased productivity that comes from working third shift. Productivity is a key issue in competitiveness, for a firm or a nation, and Jimi wanted people to be more aware of it. Part of his "Productivity Suite" of songs. See also "Purple Haze".
- Hendrix, Jimi "Crosstown Traffic"
Although he focused mainly on productivity issues, Jimi also dabbled with concepts of general equilibrium in complicated systems, such as synchronizing traffic signals in a large city. This song is a metaphorical treatment of the complexity of the algorithms involved. Surprisingly, most people don't realize what this song is about.
- Hendrix, Jimi "If 6 Was 9"
This is Jimi's tribute to accountants, and especially auditors. Also a comment on the importance of proper business dress.
- Hendrix, Jimi "Purple Haze"
Continuing his "Productivity Suite", this classic refers to the fact that relationships outside the workplace can intrude on the production process, reducing productivity and leading to lower output and profits. The result is a lower GDP for the nation, and lower incomes all around. The obvious conclusion is that a happy, loved worker is a productive worker. Cf The Beatles, "All You Need Is Love." By the way, the third song in Jimi's Productivity Suite was "Love or Confusion."
- Hill, Joe: many songs, such as "Casey Jones—The Union Scab," "Rebel Girl" and "Workers of the World, Awaken!"
Joe Hill (1879-1915) is regarded as a martyr by organized labor. This page provides lyrics for many of his songs.
- Hives, The "Supply and Demand"
It's about time someone put Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations to song! We're not too impressed with their interpretation, though.
- Hot Hot Heat: "Haircut Economics"
Even tonsorial fashion is about economics, if you look closely enough.
- Jackson, Michael: "Money"
Okay, we're going to be verrrry careful here… The song says: "You'll do anything for money… Even sell my soul to the devil." Hmm…who's he talking to? Didn't he have a song titled "The Man in the Mirror"? And he used to be the spokesperson for Pepsi, yet he put his "Jesus juice" in coke cans?
- Jennings, Waylon "Mommas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys"
Career choice is crucial in a free market economy. Consumers signal their desires through higher prices for some goods, which leads to higher incomes for the occupations that produce those goods. Waylon is just pointing out that the demand for cowboys is down. "Let ‘em be doctors and lawyers and such."
- Joel, Billy: "Allentown"
Life got tough in the coal and steel towns of Pennsylvania in the ‘70s and ‘80s--but Billy seems to have come through okay, hasn't he? Ringo got Barbara Bach, but Billy got Christie Brinkley, at least for a while. Was it his music, or the money that resulted from it?
- Joplin, Janis "Get It While You Can"
This song is about a risk-averse consumer. Her utility function apparently places a premium on certainty, such that a smaller love now is preferred to a greater love that may or may not come later. In the vernacular, this is about preferring a bird in the hand to two in the bush. Cf: Steven Stills, "Love the One You're With".
- Joplin, Janis "Me and Bobby McGee"
This song demonstrates a barter exchange: the singer and Bobby trade music for transportation. Note that neither of these activities, though generating utility/happiness for the respective recipients, is included in the Gross Domestic Product since they are not officially reported. This song thus demonstrates the fact that the official GDP numbers can underestimate the actual amount of production occurring in a country.
- Joplin, Janis "Mercedes Benz"
Janis's utility function depends in part on the perceptions of her friends. If they're driving Porsches and she owns a Pinto, she'll have less utility/happiness than if her vehicle is at least as good as theirs. In fact if hers is better than theirs, her utility will increase, perhaps in a non-linear expansion. By the way, Janis DID have a Porsche, painted in psychedelic colors and patterns. You can see it at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. We don't know if she ever got the Mercedes.
- Joplin, Janis "Piece of My Heart"
Another unrequited love song, but this time the singer is trying to change the coefficient in the loved one's utility function by stoicism and demonstrations of sacrifice: "Take another little piece of my heart now baby."
- Kaufman, Felix. "Songs composed for Ludwig von Mises's Circle"
From 1920-34, famous Austrian economist von Mises conducted Sunday night seminars for a group of scholars and friends. One of these composed songs related to their discussions. This site tells the history and connects to MP3 files of some of the songs. They're in German, in an Austrian dialect. A little different from the others on this list!
- Kurre, Jim: "An Ode to Economics"
A parody about studying Economics, based on The Eagles' "Dirty Laundry."
- Lauper, Cyndi: "Money Changes Everything"
Another Monetarist theme song. (But you know, if she left him for money, he's better off without her, right?)
- Lennon, John: "Imagine"
Do we really need private property? There's no need for hunger, if we all just share, right? Maybe this is just a little over-simplified, eh? How come he never did a song entitled "There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Lunch?"
- Lennox, Annie: "Money Can't Buy It"
But maybe money can rent it for a while…
- Madonna: "Material Girl"
Some songs are just honest.
- Meat Loaf: "Life's a Lemon (and I Want My Money Back)"
A song about being a wise consumer and demanding value for your money. This is the way a free-market, competitive economy operates. (But what was his mother thinking when she gave him that name?)
- Miller, Steve: "Take the Money and Run"
This song is about the corruption of any system based on the profit motive--how firms will provide low quality goods to unsuspecting customers, then convince them to buy the next unnecessary product, until they're so far in debt they have to work two jobs for the minimum wage just to pay the interest on their credit card debt. Oh, no, wait; it's the one about Billy Joe and Bobby Sue robbing a guy. Never mind!
- Mamas and the Papas, The: "Words of Love"
Words of love are a necessary but not sufficient condition for winning a girl's heart these days. Apparently a trip needs to be involved, too ("If you love her then you must send her somewhere where she's never been before.")
- Monty Python: "Money Song"
The Pythons did a lot of satire, but this is one of their rare straight songs. Check it out! They seem to be right on target!
- Morrison, Van: "Blue Money"
Even when it's a little depressed, it still spends. (If anyone knows what this song is really about, please drop us an e-mail!)
- Motley Crue: "Keep Your Eye on the Money"
Yet another Monetarist tract. The original title was "Keep Your Eye on the Money Supply" (notice how it rhymes?) The rumor is that former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker wrote this one while he was trying to lower the inflationary expectations of the American public in the 1970s, so that inflation would fall in the wake of the Great Society/Vietnam War/Nixon spending years. Most Americans were not Motley Crue fans, however, so it didn't work and we had to suffer through a prolonged recession to lower those inflationary expectations. If only Paul had taken the song to a popular band…
- Nickelback: "Money Bought"
This one really has nothing to do with economics; we just like the band's name. If they get more successful, will they be Dimeback?
- Paycheck, Johnny: "Take This Job and Shove It"
People work mostly for the money, but psychic income (i.e., nonpecuniary aspects of the job) are important, too. Note though, that the singer doesn't actually quit; he just wishes he could. Of course, we love that name. (Any relation to Johnny Cash?)
- Pedro the Lion: "Simple Economics"
Politics and diamonds? And isn't "simple economics" an oxymoron?
- Petty, Tom and the Heartbreakers: "Money Becomes King"
It's a terrible thing to see a musician sell out for the money, apparently. It was a lot better when that star was singing for what the crowd would donate, and only a handful of people knew him. He was happy then. But wait a minute…Tom Petty doesn't charge any less for his CDs than the other stars, right? (Cf: Puff Daddy: "Mo Money, Mo Problems" )
- Pink Floyd: "Money"
The rumor is that this song was actually written by Milton Friedman and the Monetarists at the University of Chicago. It has been said that this song single-handedly overturned the Keynesian revolution and brought about a sea change in monetary policy at the Fed. But you can decide for yourself… It would be interesting to see if Alan Greenspan has Floyd in his CD collection, though.
- Presley, Elvis: "Money Honey"
Elvis learned early on about primary motivations.
- Preston, Billy "Nothing from Nothing"
Either: 1) another song to help train accountants, or 2) a song about the importance of working for a living and having material comforts. Are you a "soldier in the war on poverty"?
- Prince: "Money Don't Matter 2night"
This is what "The Artist Formerly Known as Rich" tells his dates now.
- Puff Daddy, Mase and Notorious B.I.G.: "Mo Money Mo Problems"
So give it away! What's the problem? There seem to be a whole lot of kids who'd like to have that problem. In fact, the performance end of the music industry seems to a good example of the monopolistic competition market structure, with easy entry driving down prices and profits for most musicians. You know, the ones with "Less Money, Mo Problems."
- Rolling Stones "Gimme Shelter"
Another rumored effort by the American Association of Homebuilders to have a subliminal effect on the purchasing and housing patterns of America's younger generation. Cf. CSN&Y "Our House. " By the way, Mick Jagger attended the London School of Economics—briefly—before he discovered his own comparative advantage.
- Rolling Stones "Start Me Up"
The rollout song for one version of MicroSoft's Windows operating system. Was Bill Gates a Stones fan? Note to our younger friends: the song existed BEFORE Windows; it was not just a jingle written for a commercial! (Cf. Bob Seger, "Like a Rock".)
- Rolling Stones "Street Fighting Man"
A straightforward song about class warfare and the lack of opportunity for inner city youth.
- Rolling Stones "Time Is On My Side"
This song denies the idea of positive time preference, that people would prefer their pleasures today rather than later. The idea of present value and discounting--that a dollar a year from now is worth less than that dollar in hand today—flow from this idea. Either that, or it may be the theme song of a young generation (Mick was young at the time) who knew that they would eventually outlive the older generation and inherit the reins, as seems to have happened for Sir Mick. Perhaps this ties in with the concept that old ideas hold on way too long, and sometimes we seem to progress one funeral at a time?
- Rolling Stones "You Got the Silver"
A version of the Golden Rule which, in economics, is that "He who has the gold makes the rules."
- Scarface, featuring Daz: "Money Makes the World Go Round"
Warning: these lyrics are a little rough. But we do like the line: "Although it's made of paper, it don't grow on trees." Of course, most money (M1) in this country is in the form of checkable deposits, so it's now in the form of electronic bookkeeping entries, not paper. But we still like the line.
- Seeger, Pete "John Henry"
This is the story of an attempt to stop the ongoing substitution of capital for labor, romanticized. Guess who wins? There seem to be a lot of songs and stories lamenting the loss of jobs to mechanization. Maybe all those unemployed folks have more time to compose songs…
- Springsteen, Bruce: "My Hometown"
Downtown's emptying out and the textile mill's closing down; sounds like we have to leave town.
- Springsteen, Bruce: "Born in the USA"
Returning Vietnam vets often came home to hard economic times. This time it was the refinery that didn't have any jobs. Did the end of the war mean a decrease in fiscal stimulus just as the labor supply was increased by the returning soldiers?
- Springsteen. Bruce: "Youngstown"
A love ballad to the steel industry and a lament for its loss. Did President Bush listen to this before imposing the steel tariffs? And how come there are no songs about how our cars and washing machines have gotten cheaper because other countries are producing steel so much more efficiently that they can ship it halfway around the world and still undercut American steel prices? Cf. Billy Joel "Allentown" and "Gary, Indiana".
- Stills, Stephen "Love the One You're With"
This is a positive song about consciously changing the arguments in your utility function. If you can't have the things you want, you can be happier if you can convince yourself that you want the things you have. Cf: Janis Joplin "Get It While You Can."
- Summer, Donna: "She Works Hard for the Money"
Hey, don't we all? That's why they call it "work"! And what is it that she's doing for that money, anyway?
- Switchfoot: "The Economy of Mercy"
Sometimes economics can be used as a metaphor. But mostly other things are used for metaphors of economics.
- Texas: "In Demand"
We keep waiting for the sequel "In Supply", but they just don't seem to know their economics well enough to see the obvious. Or maybe it's just because Texas is NOT in demand?
- Toto: "I'll Supply the Love"
In a free market economy, consumers decide what gets produced by their willingness to pay for some things and not others. It's called "Consumer Sovereignty." Toto points out that if the price is high enough, there will be suppliers of love, just like any other good or service. (P.S.: Next time you watch The Wiz, see if Dorothy/Diana is holding Toto while she's clicking those ruby slippers in the "going back to Kansas" scene.)
- Tritt, Travis "Here's a Quarter, Call Someone Who Cares"
A reminder that communication technology is changing rapidly. What good's the quarter when you can't find a pay phone? The advent of cell phones has changed the way we insult each other.
- Tritt, Travis "Where Corn Don't Grow"
The fertility of soil varies from place to place, and this leads to different comparative advantages for different regions and countries. That leads to specialization and trade, and both parties in those transactions benefit as a result. Thus, this is actually a song about removing trade barriers between nations and allowing free trade to occur. A rather surprising proposition for a country song.
- Twitty, Conway "That's My Job"
In a market economy, each person gets to choose what they'll produce. Some jobs take more up-front investment in education and training than others. This is a song about what Conway's dad chose. (Note: even in a free market economy, you still don't get to choose your own last name…)
- Volokh, Alexander "Sasha": "Concavity, the Mystery Property"
In the style of "Macavity, the Mystery Cat" by T.S. Eliot; can also be sung to the tune of "Macavity" from the musical Cats. This song focuses on a necessary property of certain mathematical economic functions. Who needs love songs when you can write a ballad to a math property?
- Volokh, Alexander "Sasha": "Serfdom USA"
Sung to the tune of "Surfin' USA" by the Beach Boys, this is a tribute to Hayek and his classic book "The Road to Serfdom."
- Volokh, Alexander "Sasha": "The Hayek Song"
Another parody/tribute to Hayek, sung to the tune of the "Log" song from Ren & Stimpy. (Who says economists only watch Milton Friedman re-runs?)
- Volokh, Alexander "Sasha": "The Ludwig von Mises song"
A parody/tribute to Ludwig von Mises, sung to the tune of "Maria" from West Side Story.
- Waits, Tom: "God's Away on Business"
Apparently even God has to do business trips. (But where would s/he go?)
- Wallflowers: "Somebody Else's Money"
Hmmm…is this about spoiled rock stars? …their agents? …government spending? …CEOs who make a reputation as world-class party-givers?