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Lecture Library

Music for Econ
by Brian ORoark

The files below deal with economic content in music. You will find a variety of genres and topics covered in the songs. If you have an idea for a song or have a presentation that you have put together please drop me a line and we'll get your project posted.

Music for Econ on Critical Commons is the newest manifestation of the project begun by Dirk Mateer and Andrew Rice of Penn State University.

I Need a Dollar by Aloe Blacc (2010) I Need a Dollar is a song about the desperation felt by a man who loses his job. Unemployment and the potential to spiral into depression are poignant themes.
Price Tag - Jessie J by Jessie J featuring B.o.B. - Produced by Dr. Luke (2011) Spending money is fun. When you can forget about how much things cost buying things takes on a life of its own. However at some point, no matter how much you try to forget, the bills come due. This is one of the realizations of the great recession of 2008-2009. This is another contribution from Dirk Mateer and James Lang.
East Bound and Down - Jerry Reed by Jerry Reed (2009) East Bound and Down deals with trade and barriers to trade faced by truckers trying to move beer to thirsty consumers.
River Runs Red - Midnight Oil by Midnight Oil (1987) In this song about the degradation of the land caused by pollution, Midnight Oil deals with the implications of negative externalities. Like most songs striking a "green" theme, the economic perspective turns to the costs imposed on third parties.
Material Girl by Madonna (1984) Madonna's signature song put her on the map in 1984. Materialism is sometimes decried as a significant problem with capitalism, but if people don't buy things the economy would grind to a halt. Does having more stuff make you happier? That's debatable, the economic question of utility attempts to address that question.
Money Talks - AC/DC by AC/DC (1990) Money Talks by AC/DC deals with the role money plays in economic transactions. Money talks - it provides the incentives to get people to do things.
Thrift Shop - Macklemore by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (2012) This "rapsodic" hit about shopping at the thrift shop pokes fun at rappers who flaunt their spending. Maklemore himself claimed that this song was an attempt to promote saving. In this contribution to music for econ, Dirk Mateer and James Lang provide a veritable quiz of economic terms that show up in the thrift shop.
Cash Machine - Hard Fi by Hard Fi (2005) Opportunity costs abound in this song by Hard Fi. Cash machines aren't costless, and neither are the choices we make.
I Like Beer by Tom T Hall (1975) Music video
Satisfaction - Rolling Stones by Rolling Stones (1966) The epic Rolling Stones provide the perfect song about utility, perhaps this is due to Sir Mick’s background in economics.
No Man's Land - Billy Joel by Billy Joel (1993) When economies grow it isn’t always sunshine and lollypops. Growing pains for economies are just another form of opportunity cost.
The Way It Is - Hornsby / Shakur by Bruce Hornsby / Tupak Shakur (1986 / 1996) A mash up of two songs of the same name, The Way It Is addresses many social issues. Of economic concern are unemployment and discrimination.
E-Bay - Weird Al Yankovic by Weird Al Yankovic (2003) E-bay is a Weird Al classic parody song. However, he deals with the efficiency of markets making Weird Al quite the economist.
Fortunate Son - Creedence Clearwater Revival by Creedence Clearwater Revival (1970) In this anti-Vietnam war ballad CCR claims that the less fortunate among us are forced to bear burdens that the children of the well-connected and well-off do not. Do these groups bear different responsibilities or are there actually higher costs for some to join the army than others?
Christmas List - Simple Plan by Simple Plan (2001) Not your typical Christmas list song, Simple Plan isn’t asking for world peace. They want to indulge in lots of “ things they don’t need”. Of course as economists, we realize that “a million gifts” is unlikely due to the reality of scarcity.
Economics in Rent by Chris Columbus (2005) This is a broad way musical adapted for film. The musical itself was adapted from an opera, La Boheme, which explores poverty themes and the lives of people outside the mainstream.
Soak up the Sun - Sheryl Crow by Sheryl Crow (2002) Soak Up the Sun deals with the opportunity cost of sunning oneself while the world goes by. Trying to catch rays while they are still “free” makes an economist wonder, does Ms. Crow understand there is no such thing as a free sunbeam?
Whatever you Like - Weird Al Yankovic by Weird Al Yankovic (2008) Weird Al is at it again, putting out great economic content. In this parody he describes how you can have whatever you like.... at least within his budget constraint.
Privilege to Pee - from the musical Urinetown by Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann (2002) The musical Urinetown presents a greedy businessman who deals with a water shortage by instituting a toilet tax. If you don’t pay, you are banished, hence the “Privilege to Pee”. In this song we see the basics of demand and supply played out and how a monopolist can interfere with the market. Couple this with the indignity of paying for the privilege and you have the Tony winner for best musical score in 2002.
Molasses to Rum - from the musical 1776 by Sherman Edwards (1969) The musical 1776 tells of the battle in the Continental Congress over signing the Declaration of Independence. The song Molasses to Rum addresses what the south viewed as the hypocrisy of the north regarding the slave trade. It is fairly safe to say that this is the only song ever written about the triangle trade.
Christmas List - Simple Plan by Simple Plan (2001) Not your typical Christmas list song, Simple Plan isn’t asking for world peace. They want to indulge in lots of “ things they don’t need”. Of course as economists, we realize that “a million gifts” is unlikely due to the reality of scarcity.
If I Had a Million Dollars - Barenaked Ladies by Barenaked Ladies (1992) If you had a million dollars what would do with it? The Barenaked Ladies have a pretty interesting list of wants, and they probably could have afforded them all when the song was released in 1992. However, to buy those same things today would cost far more than $1,000,000 due to inflation.
Union Sundown - Bob Dylan by Bob Dylan (1983) Trade is all about taking advantage of what you do better than someone else. These comparative advantages lead to a reallocation of production resources. Bob Dylan seems to find the outsourcing of jobs to other countries to be a bad thing, and for union members it is. However, this dismisses the reality that low cost labor is the comparative advantage of some places.
Sweetest Girl - Wyclef Jean by Wyclef Jean (2007) Money can make even the best of us go bad. Wyclef Jean describes the transformation of one of his friends from the “sweetest girl” to a life of prostitution. The allure of money, perhaps in an attempt to get out of poverty, perhaps just as a way to make more money changed his friend to someone he never thought she would become. Perhaps the pursuit of self-interest at the time wasn’t all it was cracked up to be?
Baby Girl - Sugarland by Sugarland (2005) So you want to be a rock star? Yeah, you and about a million other people. This industry is famous for chewing people up and spitting them out because there is always another up and comer right behind you. The result is that most people make next to nothing while working horrendous hours and playing in small bars trying to make a name for themselves. For the lucky few who do make it, they won’t be asking mom and dad for money again, just ask Sugarland.
Boys and Girls - Good Charlotte by Good Charlotte (2002) Economics say that the pursuit of anything is usually the result of following one’s self-interest. This applies to making money, saving the planet, or finding a date. In this song by Good Charlotte, the group explains that the self-interests of the sexes results in the pairing up of the rich and beautiful. Nevertheless, these matches come at a cost, after all, there is no such thing as a free lunch, or a free date.
Whatever you Like - Weird Al Yankovic by Weird Al Yankovik (2008) Can you really have whatever you want? You can have a lot more if you are buying inferior goods with your limited resources. People have altered their consumption patterns as a result of the economic slowdown and having whatever you want means something a little different than it used to.
Skipper Dan - Weird Al Yankovic. by Weird Al Yankovic (2009) Weird Al is working for music for econ one more time. Now Al is dealing with choice and competition in the labor market in the original song Skipper Dan. Majoring in something like drama might be fun while you are in school, but when the supply of labor far out paces the demand your future job prospects may be pretty poor. That is, unless you win the entertainment tournament. The stars can make big money, the rest of the pack might end up on the Jungle Cruise ride.
Big Money - Garth Brooks by Garth Brooks (2001) How much you get paid depends on how much people want what you make, how productive you are, and in part on how risky your job is. Garth Brooks’ kin made some big money working in risky industries. That was too bad for them, but great for Garth.
Movin' on Up - the Jefferson's Theme Song by Jeff Barry and Ja'net DuBois (1975) The Jeffersons was a sit com that ran from 1975-1985. It dealt with the rise of an African-American couple who moved on up to a "deluxe apartment" as a result of George Jefferson's entrepreneurial skills. This song, performed by Jeff Barry and Ja’net DuBois is the title song from the show.
Why Don't You Get a Job by The Offspring (1998) Why Don’t You Get a Job isn’t your typical get a job song. Someone's girlfriend is free riding off of his earnings. He's had enough and wants her to "go get a job" so she can pay her own bills.
Fidelity Fiduciary Bank - Mary Poppins by Walt Disney Corporation (1964) The bankers singing the song Fidelity Fiduciary Bank in the movie version of Mary Poppins provide a perfect example of how lending and saving go hand in hand to facilitate investment.
Stress - Jim's Big Ego by Jim's Big Ego (2000) Jim's Big Ego sings about stress and the pros and cons of it. Stress makes him more productive, but due to everything going on at his job that productivity comes with opportunity costs. Coffee keeps him going through day, and soda into the night, yet there are diminishing returns to that energy boost.
Last Hour of the Last Day of Work - Less Than Jake by Less Than Jake (2000) On what might be the last day of work, Less Than Jake sings about the difficulties of transforming healthy ambition into unhealthy competition. Perhaps what Jake really needs to do is find where his comparative advantage lies.
The Horizon Has Been Defeated - Jack Johnson by Jack Johnson (2003) The Horizon Has Been Defeated is a song that deals with a number of different economic concepts, although not necessarily in a cohesive way. Defeating the horizon involves issues such as time preference, development and the omnipresent opportunity costs.
Minimum Wage by Fenix Tx (1999) For those working for minimum wage life can be hard. It also may not provide the incentive for a worker to do a great job. Nevertheless, most minimum wage jobs are entry level positions providing an opportunity to gain experience and build a resume. Furthering your education and gaining experience can help guarantee that you won’t be making minimum wage.
Another Day in Paradise - Phil Collins by Phil Collins (1989) Phil Collins addresses a perpetual social issue in this song. While it might not at first seem like an economic issue, the reaction to homelessness centers around some basic economic questions: how do we use our resources to combat it, and what are the incentives being created with public policy? While we would like to eliminate homelessness, the opportunity cost might just be too high.
Make that Money - Robbie Rob's Club World by Robi-Rob's Club World (1997) Making money can consume people as Robi-Rob’s Club World reiterates in this catchy number. How you “make that money” depends in large part on what you are using for money (cash, check, or credit) and what type of work you are engaged in.
If I Were a Rich Girl - Gwen Stefani by Gwen Stefani (2004) So if you had all the money in the world what would you do? Gwen Stefani would do a lot with it, not just yidle, diddle, didle, didle, day - don’t be fooled by the start.
Fast Car - Tracy Chapman by Tracy Chapman (1988) This song details the trap of intergenerational poverty. By failing to improve her human capital, Chapman becomes part of the vicious cycle of low wage, dead end jobs that even a fast car can't outrun.
In the End - Linkin Park by Linkin Park (2000) How do you view time? Time is one of those resources we never have enough of when we really want it (you’re late for a very important date) and sometimes it seems like we have way too much of it when we don’t want it (think about being bored sitting on the couch, or waiting for Christmas). Linkin Park explains the value of time, the opportunity cost of wasting it, and how we begin to see this more clearly as we age.
Time of Your Life - GreenDay by Green Day (1997) What makes something memorable? How about making a choice that ends up increasing your utility more than you thought it would. Green Day’s “Time of Your Life”, a classic end of a chapter in your life song, proposes that all the little choices we make can add up to something.
Peace of Mind - Boston by Boston (1976) Competition is the standard we shoot for in market structure. Consumers are generally made better off as prices fall, output climbs, and new products come to market; however, in this song by Boston, the idea that we compete with others in terms of status may lead to undesirable outcomes. Perhaps peace of mind is more important than a greater piece of the pie.
Taxman - The Beatles by The Beatles (1966) No one likes paying taxes, not even the Fab Four. In this song by the Beatles they decry the excessive taxing prowess of the British government. At the time the highest tax rate was 95%. Would you work if your take home pay was 5 cents on the dollar?
Big Yellow Taxi - Counting Crows by Counting Crows (2002) In this cover of Yellow Taxi, the Counting Crows reprise the lament that “you don’t know what you’ve got til its gone”. Hey Crows, this is one of the fundamental issues in economics! No choice is free. By definition you have to give up something when you make a choice, and in this case when people complain about not having enough parking, something’s gotta give.
Downeaster Alexa - Billy Joel by Billy Joel (1989) In this ballad by Billy Joel, the Long Island native sings about the life of the fishermen. At issue it seems is that there aren’t any fish to be caught, at least not without trolling far off into the sound. Overfishing caused one of the predictable problems of property that is not owned by individuals. When no one owns a resource, then no one cares about using it efficiently. Thus, the commons problem arises.
Secure Horizons - Guttermouth by Guttermouth (2001) Planning for the future is tough, since no one knows what the future holds. Guttermouth suggests a pretty good strategy…. diversify. Even then, picking the winners and losers in the market is a tough job. Some of the biggest names in the market can one day be belly up.
Ka-Ching - Shania Twain by Shania Twain (2002) Consumer behavior drives much of the macro economy so when buyers move en masse, they can move the needle on Gross Domestic Product. But, when does too much spending and not enough saving become a bad thing? Shania Twain’s cynical song addresses this obsession we have with spending.
Just to See You Smile - by Tim McGraw by Mark Nesler and Tony Martin - songwriters (1997) This song, performed by Tim McGraw explains the lengths a man will go to for the woman he loves. some people say that love makes you act irrationally. Actually love is just the reflection of an inelastic demand curve.
Cost of Livin - Ronnie Dunn by Ronnie Dunn and Phillip Coleman (2011) The backdrop for this video is a Tennessee town that losses its largest employer. The lyrics paint a picture of a military vet who is looking for work. The economics focuses on different kinds of unemployment, some good and some bad. For the vet and the town, things look pretty dire.
Take a Walk - by Michael Angelakos (2012) An anthem of the great recession, Take a Walk deals with the financial rise and fall of a man and his family. Bad decisions and events seem to overwhelm this poor guy. Thanks to Dirk Mateer and James Lang for this contribution.
Billionaire - by Travie McCoy, featuring Bruno Mars by The Smeezingtons (2009) Travie and Bruno both want to be billionaires, and doing so would make them part of a very exclusive club. While those who make lots of money are sometimes vilified, those big money earners are quite philanthropic. Not only this, but most billionaires got rich by providing something consumers want. Being a billionaire isn’t a bad thing. Not for the billionaire themselves, and certainly not for society as a whole.
Sittin on the Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding (1968) Otis Redding sings about wasting time better than anyone. He doesn't sound happy about it and neither should we. This is a waste of resources which means production will be lower than it could be.