Posted by: erichosemann | September 12, 2011

The Who and Economics

I’m inclined to believe that when we search popular culture for positive references to our preferred political viewpoint, we are searching for an affirmation deeper and more personal than what those references are capable of delivering.

When I began to feel this way was when my enthusiasm for conservatism began to wane. A very big part of the conservative imagination is devoted to sifting through popular culture for those elements sympathetic to it. I now see this as a waste of time and energy, and also sign that my faith in conservative ideas was based on emotional reflex, not logical rigor. Economics alone was responsible for my shift towards a more radical libertarianism, because economics demands a rigorous approach to fact and argument for those who desire proper and honest practice of it. At least the economics I like. I don’t know about yours.

Having said all that, there is nothing like the triumphant feeling one gets from remembering just how accurately Pete Townshend captured the bullshittedness of agricultural subsidies in pop song format.

The lyrics are below. Take a listen here.

I’ve got a spade and a pick-axe
And a hundred miles square of land to churn about
My old horse is weary but sincerely
I believe that he can pull a plough
Well I’ve moved into the jungle of the agriculture rumble,
To grow my own food
And I’ll dig and plough and scrape the weeds
Till I succeed in seeing cabbage growing through

Now I’m a farmer, and I’m digging, digging, digging, digging, digging
Now I’m a farmer, and I’m digging, digging, digging, digging, digging
It’s alarming how charming it is to be a-farming
How calming and balming the effect of the air

Well, I farmed for a year and grew a crop of corn
That stretched as far as the eye can see
That’s a whole lot of cornflakes,
Near enough to feed New York till 1973
Cultivation is my station and the nation
Buys my corn from me immediately
And holding sixty thousand bucks, I watch as dumper trucks
Tip New York’s corn flakes in the sea

Now I’m a farmer, and I’m digging, digging, digging, digging, digging
Now I’m a farmer, and I’m digging, digging, digging, digging, digging
It’s alarming how charming it is to be a-farming
How calming and balming the effect of the air

Now look here son
The right thing to say
Isn’t necessarily what you want to say
The right thing to do
Isn’t necessarily what you want to do
The right things to grow
Ain’t necessarily what you want to grow
Your own happiness
Doesn’t necessarily teach you what you want to know

Well I’m suntanned and deep, so’s the horse
And my hands are deeply grained
Old horse is a-grazing, it’s amazing
Just how lazily he took the strain
Well my pick and spade are rusty,
Because I’m paid on trust to leave my square of cornfield bare

It’s alarming how charming it is to be a-farming
How calming and balming the effect of the air

When you grow what I grow
Tomatoes, potatoes, stew, eggplants …
Potatoes, tomatoes … gourds

I know, right? It’s awesome. If you don’t think it is, it’s just because you haven’t warmed up to it yet. It’s tuneful enough Mr. Farmaid himself John Mellecamp would probably sing it completely oblivious to the irony.

Cultivation is my station and the nation
Buys my corn from me immediately
And holding sixty thousand bucks, I watch as dumper trucks
Tip New York’s corn flakes in the sea

You don’t need to know what Pete Townshend’s politics are to know he understands what price floors do in a world of scarcity and inequality. They create surpluses, surpluses that look like trash in one part of the world, even though there are starving people in another that would gladly eat that trash. And this song was released almost 40 years ago, when there was a hell of a lot more starving than in the world today.

And once we’ve used up every last spade and pick axe and lame old horse—Townshend’s slang for marginal resources perhaps best used elsewhere—what do we do?

Well my pick and spade are rusty, Because I’m paid on trust to leave my square of cornfield bare.”

Indeed my friends, indeed.

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