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Folks Songs for Classical Liberals

Posted By Russ Roberts On February 1, 2006 @ 3:21 pm In Music | Comments Disabled

I was talking to my students last night about inspirational education—writing or music that not only informs but inspires.  And I wondered out loud with them about why there isn’t an economics or free market folk song.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have one?

I’d sing it all day.  I’d play it on the guitar.  I’d teach it to my children.

Consider the song about Joe Hill [1], that Joan Baez popularized:

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you and me.
Says I "But Joe, you’re ten years dead"
"I never died" said he,
"I never died" said he.
"In Salt Lake, Joe," says I to him,
him standing by my bed,
"They framed you on a murder charge,"
Says Joe, "But I ain’t dead,"
Says Joe, "But I ain’t dead."
"The Copper Bosses killed you Joe,
they shot you Joe" says I.
"Takes more than guns to kill a man"
Says Joe "I didn’t die"
Says Joe "I didn’t die"
And standing there as big as life
and smiling with his eyes.
Says Joe "What they can never kill
went on to organize,
went on to organize"
From San Diego up to Maine,
in every mine and mill,
where working-men defend their rights,
it’s there you find Joe Hill,
it’s there you find Joe Hill!
I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
alive as you and me.
Says I "But Joe, you’re ten years dead"
"I never died" said he,
"I never died" said he.

Now I’m not a big fan of labor unions.  I think they help some workers at the expense of others.  I think they can allow racism to flourish [2].  I think they make the workplace less flexible, less creative and more bureaucratic and rule-burdened.  But when I sing Joe Hill or hear it, I get goose bumps.

Where is the song that captures some inspiring aspect of economics from a Hayekian perspective? 

Why isn’t there such a song?  (Or better yet, a musical.  I once heard a song from a proposed musical for Ayn Rand’s Anthem. [3]  It was a magnificent song from a student at the Eastman School of Music.  If anyone knows what happened to that student or that project, I’d sure like to know.)

One answer is that most economists are left-brained folk.  And there’s some truth to that.  But I think it has more to do with the seen and the unseen [4].  It’s easy to write a song about Aragon MIll closing down and the resulting hardship.  (Lyrics here, [5] beautiful version by the Red Clay Ramblers here.) [6] It’s harder to write a song that shows what flourished because of creative destruction.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying.

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URLs in this post:

[1] Joe Hill: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Hill

[2] allow racism to flourish: http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?issueID=20&articleID=228

[3] Anthem.: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0451191137/sr=1-2/qid=1138824195/ref=pd_bbs_2/102-3805587-8967316?%5Fencoding=UTF8/invisiblehear-20

[4] the seen and the unseen: http://www.econlib.org/library/Bastiat/basEss1.html

[5] here,: http://celtic-lyrics.com/forum/index.php?autocom=tclc&code=lyrics&id=531

[6] here.): http://www.efolkmusic.org/ArtMusic/viewdownload.asp?AID=118&Artist=The+Red+Clay+Ramblers

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