The Nation's Pulse

That’s a Rap

West Coast vs. East Coast, Keynes vs. Hayek: rap revives two dead economists.

By 2.5.10

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Rap and economics rarely -- no, never -- go hand-in hand. That is until recently when Russ Roberts, a professor of economics at George Mason University and fellow at the Hoover Institution, colluded with John Papola, an executive producer at Spike TV, to create "Fear the Boom and Bust."

The video features two renowned economists, now deceased, rapping their particular econ-schticks while out for a night on the town. It was released about two weeks ago and has gotten over half a million hits on YouTube without the help of any mainstream media coverage.

The video features a creative representation of Frederich Hayek and his John Maynard Keynes. The two men aren't just any economists but were both then and now dynamic, influential thinkers on either side of the economic coin. Keynes, the "father of modern macroeconomics," was born in Britain in 1883. he advocated governments spend money to mitigate economic recessions and depressions.

Keynes' popularity died down in the stagflationary 1970s when economists like Milton Friedman doubted the effectiveness of his theories. Since the most recent economic downtown, his theories and popularity as an economist has soared. Keynesian economics has provided the theoretical foundation for President Obama's plan to ease the recession.

Austrian-born Friedrich Hayek was Keynes' peer but believed in the power of the free markets. Like his predecessor Adam Smith, he noticed the free market coordinated people's actions spontaneously. Hayek won the Nobel Prize in Economics, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and authored The Road to Serfdom, one of the key books on economics and political philosophy in the 20th century.

In "Fear the Boom and Bust," both economists are given equal rapping time to persuade the audience of his economic worldview. The scene puts the two men at an economics conference. Before it begins, Keynes invites Hayek to a night out on the town. The two men ride around in a white limo, drinks in hand, beautiful women by their side and begin:

We've been going back and forth for a century
[Keynes] I want to steer markets,
[Hayek] I want them set free
There's a boom and bust cycle and good reason to fear it
[Hayek] Blame low interest rates.
[Keynes] No... it's the animal spirits

Keynes argues first:

You see it's all about spending, hear the register cha-ching
Circular flow, the dough is everything
So if that flow is getting low, doesn't matter the reason
We need more government spending, now it's stimulus season
So forget about saving, get it straight out of your head
Like I said, in the long run -- we're all dead
Savings is destruction, that's the paradox of thrift
Don't keep money in your pocket, or that growth will never lift...

Haynes listens politely and when it's his turn to give a rebuttal he raps:

And yet it continues as a justification
For bailouts and payoffs by pols with machinations
You provide them with cover to sell us a free lunch
Then all that we're left with is debt, and a bunch

Then:

Your focus on spending is pushing on thread
In the long run, my friend, it's your theory that's dead
So sorry there, buddy, if that sounds like invective
Prepare to get schooled in my Austrian perspective

Despite his lack of formal economic training, Papola actually approached Roberts and asked if the two could combine their knowledge of economics and creativity to write a rap video that would explain, in layman's terms, a complicated subject. "We wanted to get people exposed to a richer set of ideas," said Roberts. Both men are sympathetic to Hayek -- Roberts said he "doesn't get the hearing in the public square that Keynes gets" -- but wanted to give equal time to both men in the rap because it's "intellectually honest."

The rap, which has been translated now into several languages, is as appealing as the lyrics are educational. Pop star Ke$ha has praised the rap on the partners' website econstories.tv.com, calling it "like, legit" and "really good rapping." Teachers and audiences alike are catching on. One teacher told him she'd already shown the rap, with a page of printed lyrics, to 800 students. Roberts said its use in the classroom has been a pleasant surprise. A parent informed Roberts he thought this video now "gave him a chance to talk to his kids about economics over dinner." Roberts hopes to write and produce more with Papola in the future.

After all, economics is all about the Benjamins.

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About the Author

Nicole Russell writes from Northern Virginia.