From ABBA to Zeppelin, Led: using music to teach economics
From ABBA to Zeppelin, Led: using music to teach economics

30,000 Pounds of Bananas - Harry Chapin

JEL: a d     

He passed a sign that he should have seen,
saying "shift to low gear, a fifty dollar fine my friend."
He was thinking perhaps about the warm-breathed woman
who was waiting at the journey's end.
He started down the two mile drop,
the curving road that wound from the top of the hill.
He was pushing on through the shortening miles that ran down to the depot.
Just a few more miles to go,
then he'd go home and have her ease his long, cramped day away.
and the smell of thirty thousand pounds of bananas.
Yes the smell of thirty thousand pounds of bananas.

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

In "30,000 Pounds of Bananas," Harry Chapin tells the story of a truck driver that is delivering bananas to Scranton, PA and crashes because he was going too fast down a hill. Using the lyrics, explain the idea of opportunity costs for the driver. What were the opportunity costs of the company that the driver worked for? Do the marginal benefits of moving so much produce at one time outweigh the marginal costs of having a tired and inexperienced driver out on the road for so long that he sacrifices his own safe driving so he can go home to his wife? How might the incentives of the company and the driver be mis-aligned? Is this an example of a principle-agent problem? Why or why not?

[Provided by Matt Olson, Beloit College]

American Saturday Night - Brad Paisley

JEL: f o r   

She’s got Brazilian leather boots on the pedal of her German car
Listen to the Beatles singing Back in the USSR
Yeah, she’s goin’ around the world tonight
But she ain’t leavin here
She’s just going to meet her boyfriend down at the street fair

It’s a French kiss, Italian ice
Spanish moss in the moonlight
Just another American Saturday night

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

By reflecting on the lyrics in the songs, explain how free trade, limited limited trade barriers, liberal immigration policies, and broader markets, increase human welfare.

Welcome To The Future - Brad Paisley

JEL: o       

My grandpa was in World War 2
He fought against the Japanese
He wrote a hundred letters to my grandma
Mailed them from his base in the Philippines
I wish they could see this now
Will they say it’s changed a note
‘Cause I was on a video chat this morning
With a company in Tokyo

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

How does technological progress make us better off? Comment by using the two examples provided in the lyrics.

Silas Stingy - The Who

JEL: e       

Silas didn't eat, which was just as well
He would starve himself for a penny
He wore old clothes and he never washed
'Cause soap cost a lot
And the dirt kept him hot
All the little kids would shout
When Silas was about

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

In "Silas Stingy", The Who describe a man so in love with his money that he cannot bear to be away from it. Silas even denies himself basic necessities, such as food, to keep as much money as possible. The song ends with a description of how Silas goes to great lengths to protect his existing money from thieves, only to discover that he spent it all in the process. Putting aside Silas' unhealthy obsession with currency, explain how the fractional reserve banking system can help him expand his supply of money through the system of required and excess reserves and loans. On the other hand, explain to Silas why FDIC insurance is necessary to guarantee his money, and how these conditions may make his money safer in a bank than under his mattress. Be sure to also explain inflation and how it can gradually erode the real purchasing power of Silas' money when stored in a bank, even when the money is protected by FDIC insurance and being expanded by the fractional reserve banking system. Finally, make a case for Silas to deposit his money in an FDIC-insured banking institution or keep his hard assets, based on your own opinion of the pros and cons for Silas of fractional reserve banking, FDIC insurance, and the accompanying inflation.


[Provided by Derek Lyndes, Beloit College]

Light Pollution - Bright Eyes

JEL: j       

He got a nightlife, lost his dayjob
pushing paper, swinging pendulums
anything to serve a function
or to occupy some time
you gotta earn this living somehow
you're good as dead without a bank account
but it's funny how alive he felt down
in that unemployment line

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

Conor Oberst sings about a man who has lost his job and is now doing “anything to serve a function or to occupy some time” because he feels he must make a living somehow. Opportunity costs, as well as marginal costs and benefits must be weighed against each other to decide if the subject has made a rational decision. The lyrics indicate that the cost of his new lifestyle is a loss of income from his day job. The benefits are more leisure time and a new attitude.


Think further on what marginal benefits and the marginal costs might be for the subjects’ change of lifestyle. What are the opportunity costs? Is the subject being a rational decision maker?


Oberst also mentions the man as being in a group of unemployed individuals. One can presume that the subject is working odd jobs, or at the very least not working a stable job. Under these conditions is the subject correctly classified as unemployed?

[Provided by Emillea Cohen, Beloit College]

Should I Stay Or Should I Go? - The Clash

JEL: a d     

Should i stay or should i go now?
Should i stay or should i go now?
If i go there will be trouble
An' if i stay it will be double
So come on and let me know

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

The Clash sings about the angst of decision making in their song “Shall I Stay or Should I Go?” Economic theory states that rational decision makers weigh the marginal benefit one receives from an option with its marginal cost, including the opportunity cost. The lyrics give us a rough assessment of the costs (“If I go there will be trouble, and if I stay it will be double”). However, little is mentioned regarding the marginal benefit. In fact, the singer tells us that he needs additional information (“Darling you gotta let me know”) and fears that he must make a decision under conditions of imperfect information.

Speculate on what the marginal benefits and the marginal costs might be for staying and going.
What are the opportunity costs? How does knowing that the cost of staying is double influence the decision? Is the singer being a rational decision maker attempting to make a decision under conditions of uncertainty, or is he irrational, unclear of his preferences, and waiting for someone else to make the decision for him? Stay? Go?

[Provided by Jim Davis, Santa Rosa Junior College]

Reno - Bruce Springsteen

JEL: a d i   

She took off her stockings
I held 'em to my face
She had your ankles
I felt filled with grace

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

Bruce Springsteen sings about the demand and supply of sex and the subsequent equilibrium prices of different acts in "Reno". Why might some activities result in a higher price than others? Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner in SuperFreakonomics provide some evidence that the price of vaginal sex with prostitutes in Chicago is about $80 and oral sex is $37. Why, if Springsteen can be believed, might sex more expensive in Reno than Chicago?

[Provided by Simon Medcalfe - Augusta State University]

Ghost Town - The Specials

JEL: a       

This town, is coming like a ghost town
All the clubs have been closed down
This place, is coming like a ghost town
Bands won't play no more
too much fighting on the dance floor

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

The Specials sing about "all the clubs have been closed down". What has caused this? That is what factors have shifted demand for clubs and which have shifted supply? Draw representative demand and supply curves. In the introduction to the video the announcer says it is "1981 and a song that conjures up the era". How does this song reflect that time? (P.S. The Specials are a British band and Top of the Pops was a British music show on TV).

[Provided by Simon Medcalfe - Augusta State University]

Glamorous - Fergie feat. Ludacris

JEL: a d r   

Wear them gold and diamonds rings
All them things don't mean a thing
Chaperons and limousines
Shopping for expensive things
I be on the movie screens
Magazines and bougie scenes
I'm not clean, I'm not pristine
I'm no queen, I'm no machine
I still go to Taco Bell

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

The singer in the song enjoys the glamorous life of expensive things, however she still likes going to Taco Bell. Does this imply that Taco Bell is not an inferior good for Fergie? What about for the average wealthy person.

Ludacris says, "I've got enough money in the bank for the two of us". While they are "taking trips from here to Rome" what is the bank doing with their money? In order to make the actual deposit expansion multiplier get closer to it's potential, would the bank want to maximize or minimize the excess reserves it is holding?

[Provided by Dillon Hess - Beloit College]

Money To Blow - Birdman

JEL: a d i   

They can't help it, and I can't blame em
Since I got famous but bitch I got money to blow
I'm gettin it in, letting these bills fall over your skin
I got money to blow oh oh oh oh

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

This song makes it seem like all rappers have enough "money to blow". Using economic reasoning, explain whether you think Birdman is the exception or the average? What is the problem with only analyzing the lifestyles of rappers you see on television?

What is the opportunity cost of becoming successful enough to have "money to blow?" Does it vary across industries? Your answer should include a discussion of industry specific human capital.

[Provided by Ulysses Smith - Beloit College]

The Fear - Lily Allen

JEL: a d     

I want to be rich and I want lots of money
I don’t care about clever I don’t care about funny
I want loads of clothes and loads of diamonds
I heard people die while they are trying to find them

And I am a weapon of massive consumption
And its not my fault it’s how I’m programmed to function
I’ll look at the sun and I’ll look in the mirror
I’m on the right track yeah we're on to a winner

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

In "The Fear," Lily Allen sings about a young woman who lives in a trailer but dreams about living with unlimited resources in a large estate. The narrator's utility for some costly but tangible goods (such as clothes and diamonds) is high. On the other hand, her utility for some intangible but costless goods (qualities of cleverness and funniness) is very low. Are these bundles of goods comparable? If not, why not? Why doesn't the narrator care about the clever/funny bundle, especially if it does not have a traditional market value? How does the narrator view clothes and diamonds? Does some of their value come from something other than their market price? What are the trade offs between these two bundles? Also, what is a weapon of massive consumption anyways?

[Provided by Katharine Bigott - Beloit College]

Aint No Rest For the Wicked - Cage the Elephant

JEL: a d r   

Oh, there ain't no rest for the wicked,
money don't grow on trees,
I got bills to pay,
I got mouths to feed,
there ain't nothing in this world for free.

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

This song outlines three different scenarios in which people use illegal means in order to get money. The chorus of the song explains these actions by mentioning a couple popular cliches such as: "Money don't grow on trees," and " There ain't nothing in this world for free." What do you think the economic advantage is to engaging in illegal activity? Do you think that it is their economic state that drives people to commit crimes? Is partaking in illegal activity a never- ending cycle? In other words, is there really "no rest for the wicked" as long as their is scarcity?

[Provided by Jerrica Zaric - Beloit College]

Paperback Writer - The Beatles

JEL: j       

Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?
It took me years to write, will you take a look?
Based on a novel by a man named Lear
and I need a job, so I want to be a paperback writer,
paperback writer.

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

The subject of the song states that he wants to be a paperback writer but he "needs a job." How would you classify his employment status? Is he unemployed? Actively seeking new work? Do you think self-employment creates a measurement problem for the Bureau of Labor Statistics? Also if it took him "years to write," does this suggest anything about the opportunity cost of his time?

[Provided by Xilong Zhu - Beloit College]

Can't Buy Me Love - Beatles

JEL: j       

I'll buy you a diamond ring my friend if it makes you feel alright
I'll get you anything my friend if it makes you feel alright
'Cause I don't care too much for money, money can't buy me love

I'll give you all I got to give if you say you love me too
I may not have a lot to give but what I got I'll give to you
I don't care too much for money, money can't buy me love

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

Does money have any intrinsic value? What are the functions of money? How does demand for money affect its supply? How do you think the supply of money versus the supply of diamonds has changed since the since the Beatles wrote this song? What's the reason for the difference? Although money can’t buy love, money can buy a diamond ring. How does the money supply change today if you pay for the diamond ring with credit as opposed to a debit card?

[Provided by Marlie Pykelny - Beloit College]

Money's Too Tight To Mention - Simply Red

JEL: j       

I been laid off from work my rent is due
My kids all need brand new shoes
So I went to the bank to see what they could do
They said Son looks like bad luck got a hold on you

Money's too tight to mention
I can't get an unemployment extension
Money's too tight to mention

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

What is the singer saying about economics? What is his financial situation and why is he in such an intense pursuit of cash? What are the problems and reasons of bank and family for not lending him the money? What is your point of view on money in such desperate situations? Is "money too tight to mention?"

[Provided by Ilija Bojovic - Beloit College]

Original Pokémon Theme - Billy Crawford

JEL: a d     

Pokemon!
It's you and me.
I know it's my destiny!
Pokemon!
Ooh you're my best friend
In a world we must defend!
Pokemon!
A heart so true
Our courage will pull us through
You teach me and I'll teach you
Pokemon!
(I'll catch you!)
(Gotta catch 'em Gotta catch 'em Gotta catch 'em all!
Pokemon!

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

In the song, the narrator insists that he has to “catch ‘em all.” How elastic is the narrator’s demand for pokémon? Considering the law of diminishing marginal utility and the six factors that change the demand for a good, how realistic is his stated elasticity? In other words, is it usually efficient to “catch ‘em all”?

[Provided by Rhiannon Roselle - Beloit College]

Milkshake - Kelis

JEL: a       

My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard,
And their like
It's better than yours,
Damn right it's better than yours,
I can teach you,
But I have to charge

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

“It’s better than yours/…/I can teach you/But I’d have to charge.” What sort of market structure is Kelis operating in: price taker, price searcher with low entry barriers, or price searcher with high entry barriers? How would competition affect Kelis’s market and what is she doing to protect her profits?

[Provided by Rhiannon Roselle - Beloit College]

Voodoo Economics - Faker

JEL: j       

You got the curtain call
Before your hands were tied into the ground.
You got the kitchen hand job easily
You'll be king of this here town.
We're never gonna let you down.
You were pulling tips from nine til five
But that meant nothing without rhyme and elijah round.
So "Give them the kick" was what you said
Was a kiss to your bee stung lips
And the kiss to your bee stung lips
Was a kick to arithmetic.
I''ll take voodoo economics

It's all about danger

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

The speaker is consoling a friend who can’t quite cut it in show business. He makes light of the situation by telling his friend, “You got the kitchen hand job easily/ You'll be king of this here town.”

Is “the friend” better off for taking this job right away and making some money? If this person were to remain unemployed, how long would they be considered part of the workforce? What type of unemployment is this: frictional, structural, cyclical?

[Provided by Shelley Quade - Beloit College]

Money, Money, Money - Joel Gray

JEL: a e     

If you happen to be rich and you feel like a night's entertainment
You can pay for a gay escapade
If you happen to be rich, and alone, and you need
A companion, you can ring tingaling for the maid

If you happen to be rich and you find you are left by your lover
Though you moan and you groan quite a lot
You can take it on the chin
Call a cab, and begin to recover on your fourteen carat yacht

Money makes the world go round
The world go round, the world go round
Money makes the world go round
Of that we both are sure
On being poor

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

What is the main purpose of the money according to the song? Is money really that powerful? Can it replace happiness in your opinion? What is the purpose of the money if not to afford happiness? Is the song being realistic about the role of money? Why or why not?

[Provided by Ilija Bojovic - Beloit College]

Slow Motion - Third Eye Blind

JEL: d       

Ms. Jones taught me English, but I think I just shot her son
Cause he owed me money, with a bullet in the chest you cannot run
Now hes bleeding in a vacant lot
The one in the summer where we used to smoke pot
I guess I didnt mean it
But man you shoulda seen it
His flesh explode

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

In the song "Slow Motion" we see a young man appearing to make several bad decisions. To many, these decisions are irrational. But are they? Explain the young man's actions as a rational. Your answer should discuss the marginal benefits of conducting the violence, drug intake, and sex as compared to the marginal costs of each action.

[Provided by Rajeev Viswanathan - Beloit College]

Tobacco Island - Flogging Molly

JEL: d j n   

All to hell we must sail
For the Shores of sweet Barbados
Where the sugar cane grows taller
Than the god we once believed in
Till the butcher and his crown
Raped the land we used to sleep in
Now tommorow chimes of ghostly crimes
That haunt Tobacco Island

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

What was the economic advantage to engaging in slavery? Why did they choose to engage in economic ventures in Barbados rather than remaining in their home country, especially given the high start up costs (ship construction, supplies for the voyage, etc)? What are the opportunity costs of starting up a overseas economic venture? Given the high levels of unemployment in Enlightenment-era Europe, why didn’t more Europeans join colonization efforts in order to escape
their economic plight? What could be some long term costs of natural resource consumption associated with such “ghostly crimes?”

[Provided by Tim Schutt - Beloit College]

Day Job - Gin Blossoms

JEL: d       

Has it been eleven years
Since I've stood here with my peers
And we started out to conquer doubt and Frisbee

I should've been a whole lot father
I'm never going back to college
For just one good day job

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

In "Day Job," Gin Blossoms lead singer Robin Wilson sings about the disillusionment that greets many college graduates, and wonders whether he should return to college and complete his degree. When might the marginal benefits of a greater possibility of graduating and finding a better job be exceeded by the marginal costs of spending time and money at college instead of being fully employed? Should the singer return to college due to the sunk costs of already having attended for some time? What are the opportunity costs of completing college?

[Provided by Kevin Axe - Beloit College]

Pretty Girl From Cedar Lane - The Avett Brothers

JEL: d       

“I could stand right underneath the window of your room
Throwing rocks I've done it before
And I would love to find a reason to dazzle you with lies
But I don't have the energy no more”

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

The narrator expresses his decision not to put the effort into trying to win the girl’s love because the more time he spends the less energy he has. How do the marginal benefits and the marginal costs of this effort influence his decision? Keeping the concept of sunk costs in mind (“…I’ve done it before”), should the amount of time he has already invested in the girl influence his decision? Why or why not?

[Provided by Emory Nelms - Beloit College]

10 Dollar - M.I.A.

JEL: d       

China Girl is a little girl
From a town
That's all ya need to know

What can I get fo' 10 dollar?
Everything you want
And what can I get fo' 10 dollar?
Anything you want
Yeah what can I get fo' 10 dollar?

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

In "10 Dollar" M.I.A. sings about a young child who had her sights set on better things but is stuck in the sex industry. What are the costs and benefits of this girl engaging in the underground economy? How are the opportunities for this girl different since she comes from a developing country? Is her choice rational to charge 10 dollars for sex?

[Provided by Sophie Kaufman - Beloit College]

Career Opportunities - The Clash

JEL: j d     

The offered me the office, offered me the
shop
They said I'd better take anything they'd got
Do you wanna make tea at the BBC?
Do you wanna be, do you really wanna be a cop?

Career opportunities are the ones that never knock
Every job they offer you is to keep you out the dock
Career opportunity, the ones that never knock

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

In the song, Clash lead singer Joe Strummer sings about job opportunities available and how he doesn’t want any of them. Does this mean he is unemployed? If so, what type of unemployment is it? What is the opportunity cost of him not taking the job? Can it be beneficial for the economy if citizens don’t take jobs offered to them? In the song, Strummer mentions many of his “career opportunities”, many which are jobs with the government; do you think it is beneficial for the government to offer low-paying jobs to jumpstart the economy? Weigh both the pros and cons for of Strummer's decision to not join the labor force.

[Provided by Bebe Santa-Wood - Beloit College]

Shipbuilding - Elvis Costello

JEL: d       

Is it worth it
A new winter coat and shoes for the wife
And a bicycle
on the boys birthday

Its just a rumour that was spread around town
By the women and children
Soon well be shipbuilding

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

After reading the reading the lyrics describe the sacrifices (opportunity costs) of going to and preparing for war.

[Provided by E. Frank Stephenson - Berry College]

Don't Go For The One - Gaelic Storm

JEL: d       

I bumped into Harvey back home last year
Says I to him, "Do you want to go for a beer?"
"No! Me sister's French husband is over," says he
"I've been sent to get snails to impress him for tea."

"I was down in the snail shop she told me to go
I'm a little bit late because the business was slow...
If I'm not home by six, I'll surely be done
The missus will kill me, Let's just go for the one!"

the one, the one, don't go for the one.
Don't go for the one, for the one, for the one
the one, the one, don't go for the one.
Don't go for the one, for the one, for the one

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

According to the song, what is Harvey's reservation price for an evening with his friend the narrator, as illustrated by his behavior? What are the opportunity costs of Harvey's activities? Why do people partake in what to outsiders seems like risky behavior? Put yourself in Harvey's shoes and justify his behavior in cost-benefit terms. Are his costs really that "the misses will kill me/I'll surely be done"?

[Provided by Alex Ebner (Student - Beloit College)]

Girl Your Marginal Benefits... - Mike Toomey

JEL: d       

Now girl being with you has always been so tough
With each passing minute your marginal cost goes up
But my love is inelastic and it all belongs to you
I'm the only love producer and my good is for you to consume

Cause girl your marginal benefits far outweigh your marginal costs
Without our equilibrium baby well you know I'd be lost
Trapped inside this market I need you to buy my love
Girl without your complementing goods well I'm just not enough

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

Put yourself in the shoes of the "girl". Should she be pleased at the line "with each passing minute your marginal cost goes up?" Why or why not?

Refugee - Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

JEL: e o     

Somewhere, somehow, somebody must have
Kicked you around some
Tell me why you wanna lay there,
Revel in your abandon

Honey, it don’t make no difference to me
Baby, everybody’s had to fight to be free
You see, you don’t have to live like a refugee
No baby, you don’t have to live like a refugee

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

Most people interpret “Refugee” as a song about a woman who’s had a rough go of it in life. But, embedded in the song is a message of the role freedom plays in NOT living like a refugee. Petty, in some sense, is telling listeners that freedom promotes a better life. This message is one that is consistent with many of the findings in macroeconomics: more open and economically free societies prosper; societies that are less free struggle. How would you define economic freedom? How does this differ than your definition of political freedom? How, specifically, does freedom tend to make people more prosperous? Finally, what can policymakers do to increase freedom in a society?

[Provided by Scott Beaulier (Mercer University)]

A Man Needs A Maid - Neil Young

JEL: d       

I was thinking that
maybe I'd get a maid
Find a place nearby
for her to stay.
Just someone
to keep my house clean,
Fix my meals and go away.

Full Lyrics · Click to Listen

Assignment:

Many rock stars like Neil Young get a maid. Why don’t they do their own cleaning and fix their own meals? If you were thinking about getting a maid what information would you need to make that decision? For example, if you could hire a maid for $100 per day to cook and clean, would you hire her? Does your answer differ if you are a successful lawyer or a burger flipper? Why?

[Provided by Simon Medcalfe (Brenau U.)]