Listening to music
can be a great way to help pass the time for everything from reading to
exercising to driving. But if you listen closely, you will find more than just
melodies: Important lessons can be learned from some of your favorite songs. The
next time you are shuffling through your iPod, take note of some of these songs
that celebrate the fundamental principles of the free market.
"Taxman," from the 1966 album "Revolver," is a straightforward condemnation of
excessive government taxation, which the band members fell victim to on their
rise to stardom. Although the song was written more than 40 years ago, its
message is still relevant as today’s government taxes almost everything we come
into contact with. The Beatles address this when they write, "If you drive a
car, I'll tax the street. If you try to sit, I'll tax your seat. If you get too
cold, I'll tax the heat. If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet." Taxes like
these cause distortions in the market that can alter the supply of and demand
for goods and services, leading to shortages and surpluses. High taxes also
drastically diminish the incentive to innovate and produce, since much of the
rewards for investment will be siphoned away by the government. The Beatles
recognize this latter truth when the taxman in the song ends with "And you’re
working for no one but me."
from Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 1969 "Willy and the Poor Boys," offers a
slightly more complex message. While parts of the song do exhibit
anti-capitalist sentiments, it still contains valuable messages. Although the
song was written in the era of the Vietnam War, its comments on government power
are still relevant. The song mocks the special powers and privileges that
government officials can reap by force and leads band member John Fogerty to
write "It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no senator’s son. It ain't me, it ain't
me, I ain't no fortunate one." In a market economy, a person or business
prospers only by providing something that others want, thus adding to the
overall wealth of a society. The government, by contrast, can only give to one
by taking away from another. This opens the door for a great deal of corruption
by virtue of the system itself.
Local Emperor," from Blues Traveler’s 1991 "Travelers and Thieves" also
illustrates the fact that coercion underlies every government action. The song
encourages listeners to "Support your local emperor. Pay him tribute every
time," because "he holds your fate." This brings up an important distinction
between the government and the free market. The former must operate by force,
but the latter, if truly free, only facilitates voluntary transactions. Blues
Traveler’s song serves as an important reminder that nothing provided by the
government is truly free, whether it be welfare or public parks.
Springfield addresses the real fears associated with an ever-growing government
in their Vietnam-era song "For What It’s Worth," first featured on a 1967
reissue of their self-titled album. The song recognizes a growing government
presence with lyrics like, "There's a man with a gun over there, telling me I
got to beware," and "Step out of line, The Man come and take you away." But the
song does more than play the doomsayer role. It encourages its listeners to be
aware of what is going on around them and to stand up for freedom: "I think it’s
time we stop, hey, what’s that sound, everybody look what’s going down."
with the band’s recurring themes of individualism and freedom, Rush’s 1981 "Tom
Sawyer," from the album "Moving Pictures," addresses the importance of
individual thought. About the title character, drummer Neil Peart writes, "No,
his mind is not for rent, to any god or government." Many of Rush’s songs pay
tribute to the importance of thinking for oneself. That is one of the best
lessons we can learn from these songs: awareness. It is important to realize
that behind every government highway and handout is a curbed freedom and a
Music is a great
way to celebrate freedom and free market, and these themes inhabit our music
more than we may realize. Perhaps the bureaucrats in Lansing and Washington
should take a break from taxing and regulating and instead sit back and listen
to the radio.
Christina M. Kohn
holds a B.A. in economics and history from Hillsdale College and was a summer
2006 intern at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and education
institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in
part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly
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