The Tax and Spend Spectator

That’s Another Rap

Rap and economics meet again for round two.

By 5.6.11

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Remember back in grade school when your mother encouraged you to put memorization lessons to music?  Turns out, she might have been on to something.  In the spirit of instruction meets entertainment, George Mason University economist Russ Roberts and former executive producer at Spike TV John Papola have joined forces again to create a video blending the study of economics with the sound of hip-hop.

Roberts and Papola produced a similar video last year -- "Fear the Boom and Bust" -- which they released on their site, Econstories.com and YouTube. A philosophical tribute to the opposing economic positions of renowned economists F.A. Hayek and John Maynard Keynes, the video received upwards of 3 million hits worldwide and high school and college professors nationwide show the video and distribute the lyrics to students.

This new video -- "Fight of the Century: Keynes v. Hayek Round Two" -- is a literal and figurative one: Hayek and Keynes square off in a congressional hearing that morphs into a prize fight complete with economists pulling punches -- this all wrapped up in hip-hop even Kanye West might like and lyrics Adam Smith could have penned.  As it stands, the video, released a week ago, has garnered about half a million hits on YouTube; thousands of people "like" it on Facebook.

While the lyrics remain as instructive, the music likeable, and the video as visually imaginative as last year's, the story itself differs considerably. In fact, this video actually tells a story, whereas the first one was more of a tutorial in differing economic positions. During the congressional hearing, both men give their explanation and solution to the kind of economic downturn we are currently experiencing. To wit:

HAYEK: We brought out the shovels and we're still in a ditch…
And still digging. don't you think that it's time for a switch…
From that hair of the dog. Friend, the party is over.
The long run is here. It's time to get sober!

KEYNES: Are you kidding? my cure works perfectly fine…
have a look, the great recession ended back in '09.
I deserve credit. Things would have been worse
All the estimates prove it -- I'll quote chapter and verse

Roberts, who collaborated with Papola on the lyrics and the visual aspect of the movie (not the production -- that was solely Papola's undertaking), says he wanted to answer specific questions this time around: "Did the stimulus spending help or make things worst? That fundamental debate is important and still going on." 

Indeed, in the debate, Keynes reminds Hayek how his economic theories aided the United States during World War II:

You can carp all you want about stats and regression
Do you deny World War II cut short the Depression?

Hayek is hardly amused and responds: 

Pretty perverse to call that prosperity
Rationed meat, Rationed butter… a life of austerity
When that war spending ended your friends cried disaster
yet the economy thrived and grew faster.

Throughout the "fight" Keynes maintains spending is what fuels a growing economy.  Keynes on the other hand argues the economy is "organic" and government shouldn't try to steer it.

While on one hand, Roberts believes Hayek's "views don't get the hearing that Keynes' do," and professionally he sides with Hayek, he still wanted to give Keynes equal time. "We're trying to improve the quality of discussion. We think that's intellectually honest."  Though, he remarks, "Keynes has better lines and a better body."  

Appealing physique aside, it will be interesting to see if this video catches on like the first one did, especially with students.  In today's age of multimedia, demonstrating a complicated subject like economics in story form complete with a polished set, charismatic actors, and inimitable lines is surely a deed worthy of a second look.

In the midst of a floundering economy, perhaps of our own doing, perhaps not, depending on your view, "Fight of the Century" offers a glimmer of light in the darkness of the downturn. It might not change the views of current legislators meddling in budget proposals and bickering over what caused the recession and what they should have done about it, but it just might help inform the minds of would-be economists, politicians, and parents. As Hayek says in the video:

The lesson I've learned? It's how little we know,
The world is complex, not some circular flow
The economy's not a class you can master in college
To think otherwise is the pretense of knowledge.

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About the Author

Nicole Russell writes from Northern Virginia.