Beatlenomics

by Bob Drake

Bob Drake was a writer, teacher and record producer; he founded Kopasthetics Records to produce his wife Spider Saloff’s work. In 2006, after years of careful work, he published his popular modernization of Progress and Poverty. He served as Education Director at the Henry George School of Chicago. Thanks to Chuck Metalitz for the following excerpt from Bob’s “Beatlenomics” presentation — which always included a few bars of each highlighted song.

We’re going to explain basic economics principles that may be a little different from what you’re used to, using Beatles songs!

-Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band- What we’re trying to do is introduce a new paradigm. Beatles fans remember when the Sgt. Pepper album came out, it was a whole paradigm shift. They used a brass band, sitar, harp, string quartet. Nobody had ever done that before…. One way I like to explain a paradigm shift uses the word “serendipity.” It comes from a Sri Lankan story about the Three Princes of Serendip. They went around the world and had various adventures, and when they came home “Nothing had changed, but everything was different.” All their experiences had made them see everything differently.

When people came to understand that the earth is round, not flat, nothing changed. The earth still looked flat. But everything’s different, you now know that you can do things that you could not do before.

So what I’m asking you to do is to put aside your paradigm, put aside your old ideas about capitalism, socialism, left, right, rich poor, and step right this way, for the…. -Magical Mystery Tour-

That’s a great phrase because tonight we’ll do three things. We’ll talk about magic. We’ll talk about the mystery of economics. And we’ll take a tour of economics….

Like magicians, economists misdirect your attention, which is why magicians like to have a pretty, scantily-clad girl on the stage. Economists tend to use jargon and mathematics rather than pretty girls. There’s nothing inherently wrong with mathematics or specialized terminology, but they can serve to make the subject confusing.

The other way economists misdirect our attention is by collapsing or combining two ideas into one. Consider the “housing bubble.” Suppose I were to talk to you about gasoline prices, give you a long lecture, talk about how gasoline is refined, marketed, transported, etc., but never mention petroleum prices. Wouldn’t you be a little suspicious that I didn’t mention the basic thing you need to produce gasoline? I could talk to you about the housing bubble for a long time, discuss interest rates and the Federal Reserve and mortgages and foreclosure, and never get to the root of the matter…. in all the articles about the housing bubble, do you ever see any mention of “land?” Just look over here at housing prices, mortgage rates, etc. — don’t worry about land.

The other kind of distraction that economists use is to make you think you only have two choices. We have the paradigm of left and right, which we can call capitalism and socialism, or democrat and republican, or other variations, but it’s the same idea that we have a choice of one or the other. And one of the choices we’re told we have is between justice or efficiency. Capitalism is more efficient — just look at the difference, when the wall came down, between East Berlin and West Berlin. Socialism wasn’t efficient, but under socialism, everyone was equal, everyone had an apartment.

Traditional economics tries to tell us we live in a world of scarcity, it’s complicated, we have to listen to the experts. Our lot in life is to work hard -Carry that Weight-

But Henry George said there’s just a flaw in the way we understand economics, and if we fix that flaw economics will be, well, not exactly fun, but -Obla di, Obla da… Happy ever after in the marketplace-

So I told you that Henry George wrote Progress and Poverty 129 years ago, and I’m going to try to interpret Henry George for you, and who am I? -I am the Walrus-

(Now that you have gotten the flavor of Bob’s presentation, we must, alas, skip to the end. — L.D.)

I could have said this simply when we started. Which goes up faster, your salary or your rent?

So we come back to the Beatles, and we have two choices. The capitalists -I Me Mine- and the Socialists -Taxman-.

But the Beatles came up with this solution: -All you need is love-

And we changed the word “love” to “land.” All you need is land.

Now, we don’t want to redistribute the land so everyone has a little piece. We want to redistribute the benefits of land. Henry George proposed to plug the hole in the tub, by making the distinction between people and products of labor, and land, and what we tax is not labor, but nature. We tax the “not people” part of the world. What people make, they keep. But if the value of land goes up, that is taken by the community for its own use.

To translate the Beatles, you keep what you make, and pay for what you take. And that’s how, at the very end of this, you get the answer

And, in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make.

That was the last thing the Beatles recorded together. It was like Shakespeare, a rhyming couplet at the end….

So now the Beatles songs should have a new meaning to you. And you should buy my book (the modernized Progress and Poverty) because I want to be a -Paperback Writer-

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