When I was a kid back in the Seventies, there was a song by the British band Ten Year After called I’d Love To Change The World. That song included these lyrics:
Tax the rich, feed the poor
‘Till there are no rich no more
Even the seventeen-year old me thought that was stupid. “If there are no rich no more,” I remember thinking, “who the hell is going to feed the poor then?” These lyrics seemed to that younger me to describe the very folly of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.
Now, musicians – indeed, performers of any sort – are frequently of the redistributionist bent. That’s nothing new. But some popular song lyrics present us with some of the most intelligence-insulting economic illiteracy ever seen. Here are a couple of examples:
1: Steve Miller Band, Take The Money and Run.
The lyrics in question:
They headed down to, ooh, old El Paso
That’s where they ran into a great big hassle
Billy Joe shot a man while robbing his castle
Bobbie Sue took the money and run
Isn’t that nice? The young couple that are the subject of this song, in the very opening stanza, commit three felonies: Breaking and entering, armed robbery and assault with intent to commit murder (if not actually murder – the song is unclear.) Maybe the Steven Miller Band wasn’t trying to glorify violent robbery, but you couldn’t prove it by me. The song goes on:
Billy Mack is a detective down in Texas
You know he knows just exactly what the facts is
He ain’t gonna let those two escape justice
He makes his livin’ off of the people’s taxes
Sure appears to me that the cop is made out to be the bad guy here. As for his making his living “off of the people’s taxes,” well, sure – law enforcement is an example of a distributed interest, and one of the actual legitimate functions of a local government. And bringing armed and dangerous felons to heel is a pretty damned good use of tax money.
2: The Beatles/John Lennon, Imagine
I loathe this song. I’ve been called a heartless bastard for saying so, but I nevertheless loathe this song. it’s the worst sort of mushy-headed puffery masquerading as some kind of high ideals. Consider:
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world
No possessions? To hell with that! Heartless bastard I’ve been called and heartless bastard I may be, but screw that idea. If I work for something and earn it, it’s mine. If you work for something and earn it, it’s yours. If anyone works for something and earns it, it’s theirs.
You want a brotherhood of man? Fine. Let’s have a brotherhood of free men, all using their own talents, skills, knowledge and abilities to produce value. Let’s have a brotherhood of free men openly and freely trading the products of their work with each other, via mutual agreements openly and freely agreed to, in which both parties gain value. What Lennon called greed, I call ambition – that urge that drives people to work, to achieve, to excel. Want to eliminate hunger? That’s the way to do it.
Much as I love my daily helpings of classic rock, there are nevertheless times when its creators drive me batty.