The Bank of England’s chief economist, Andy Haldane, reckons economists should pay more attention to the music people are listening to on Spotify [pdf]. He wonders whether that might provide better clues for how optimistic or otherwise people are feeling than the headline economic data we tend to focus on.
Interesting question. And it leads naturally to another one: what’s the best economics song ever recorded? I mean, a song that’s not just about the economy but actually helps you understand economics a bit better?
I’ve spent a bit of time thinking about this, and for some reason I keep getting drawn back to soul songs from the 1970s and early ’80s. Perhaps that says something about my tastes, or perhaps there was something about the potent cocktail of high unemployment, stagflation and urban degradation that made that the golden period for economics music.
Either way, my top three economics songs, in ascending order, are:
3. Marvin Gaye – Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)
From the greatest album of all time, this song is perhaps the greatest ever lament on urbanisation and the left-behind. All the more so when you consider the songs it sat aside in the album, which also cover ecological ruin and intergenerational inequality – the ultimate commentary on the problems of the day. Indeed, this is such a good tune one can almost forgive some of the slightly mangled economics in in the lyrics (for instance: “Inflation: no chance/ To increase finance”)
2. Valentine Brothers – Money’s Too Tight to Mention
You probably remember the actually-not-that-bad Simply Red cover but perhaps you hadn’t heard the original, by the long-forgotten Valentine brothers. Contains the least likely line in pop history: “We’re talking about Reaganomics”. Any song that can pull that off surely deserves a place in the hall of fame.
1. Billy Paul – Let the Dollar Circulate
For my money (pun intended), the single greatest economic song of all time. After all, what Billy Paul, the Philadelphia legend who sadly died a couple of years ago, is basically singing about here is monetary theory. Consider the opening verse:
Inflation getting higher
Makes it harder on the buyer
Unemployment on the rise
Gasoline engines filled with flies
Rent being paid late
Let the dollar circulate
I mean, ultimately that’s the theory of money circulation in a single verse, isn’t it. It’s MV=PT, right? Anyway, a phenomenal song even if you ignore the lyrics. One of the forgotten gems of the 1970s.
If you have any better suggestions, please leave them in the comments below.