Oliver Anthony’s blue-collar anthem “Rich Men North of Richmond” is the best-known song in America.
Since debuting on August 7, the song has amassed 45 million views on YouTube (at the time of writing), and remains at the top. Board Hot 100. While millions of listeners clearly love the Virginia native’s hit, it has also drawn criticism for its economic populism.
The song takes aim at everything from inflation (“the dollar ain’t worthless”) to high taxes and low wages. But it is the song’s attack on Kalyan that has really enraged people.
Lord, we’ve got people on the street, they ain’t got nothing to eat
and the welfare of the fat milker
Well, god, if you’re 5 foot 3 inches and you weigh 300 pounds
Tax not to be paid for your bag of Fudge Round
These words did not go down well with many, especially the media.
Hannah Anderson said, “Instead of trafficking in easy caricatures and political tropes, we must recognize that the plight of our food-insecure neighbors is our plight, too.” Christianity today who shared their story about being on welfare.
Kenan Malik wrote, “Anthony really attacks the poor.” Guardian,
For many journalists, criticizing welfare is the third rail. Welfare helps poor people, so good people support welfare.
There are problems with this argument, and Anthony isn’t the first country music songwriter to attack the sacred cow of wellness.
When ‘Welfare Cadillac’ Hit #1
In 1970, a working class man named Guy Drake wrote a song called “Welfare Cadillac”, which became a hit in North America, reaching #6 on the US charts and #1 in Canada.
drake, slate Recently noted, took a non-traditional path to music stardom. While working as a painter in the 1960s, he wrote a cheeky tune about a poor family living on welfare in a dilapidated home while eating a hefty sum on government grants And used to drive a Cadillac. Drake told a newspaper the inspiration for the song came one day while painting a radio tower.
“I looked down,” Drake told a reporter, “and saw this shack that was half wood and half Holiday Inn sign, with a roof made of sawmill slabs, tin cans and pieces of linoleum. There There were heaps of young people, some of them old enough to go to school, with clothes unstitched on their bodies. I didn’t see any adults. What really attracted me was the Cadillac parked in front of the house.”
Drake’s message attacking welfare was as controversial in the 1970s as Anthony’s is today. The record label refused to touch the song, prompting the then-60-year-old Drake to release his song as an independent single with $1,500 of his own money.
Despite its controversial subject matter – or perhaps because of it – the song quickly became a hit. But it also came under fire.
Rolling stone reportedly called Drake’s song “disgustingly racist”, even though there is no indication of race in the song. ,the Atlantic made a similar allegation in 2021 without citing evidence.) Government officials also attacked the song.
“Its message that welfare recipients are cheap and the rest of us are fools is a grave injustice,” the Tennessee welfare commissioner wrote in a public letter to President Richard Nixon. During his 1970 visit to the White House.
Drake, like Anthony, dismissed criticisms that his song was a political satire mocking welfare recipients.
Drake told a reporter, “If they’re not on welfare and don’t drive a Cadillac, I’m not talking about them.”
He said, “I didn’t write this song to make anyone angry.” “I just wanted people to laugh, because I thought if they were laughing, they weren’t thinking about their problems.”
economics of welfare
Like Drake, Oliver Anthony today finds himself accused of racism for attacking welfare, even though there is not a single reference to race in his lyrics.
Eric Levitz writes, “Of course, in America—and especially in the South—the resentment of the downward-looking class is regularly intertwined with racial hostility.” New York magazine. “It raises the question of what exactly [Anthony] It means ‘people like me and people like you.’
Levitz concluded that it is reasonable to consider “whether a color line divides those who deserve to eat more and those who deserve to eat less, at least on Song’s account.”
Frankly, this is a convoluted argument. (Readers looking for a more nuanced review of Anthony’s song should read the review by J. Caspian Kang, Levitz New York magazine colleague.) The truth is that a fair charge of racism can be leveled at those who associate welfare with brown-skinned people.
Indeed, what’s most striking about Anthony’s song is that it seems to be resonating with Americans of every racial background. A heartwarming video shared by Will Cain shows people reacting to Anthony’s song. The most interesting part of the clip is the absence of too many people. clearly burst into tears, It’s a diverse makeup of people who get emotional when they hear “Rich Men North of Richmond.”
Keep pretending that all these people do not exist. Keep reassuring yourself that it’s not real. Keep pretending it has nothing to do with real people.
— Will Cain (@willcain) 18 August 2023
Attacking Anthony’s song as racist or “punching out” is vicious and lazy, and it ignores a reality about welfare that many supporters of the policy refuse to see: welfare, of any policy. Kind of, economics comes with business.
There’s no doubt that welfare programs help some people, like Hannah Anderson, who describes in detail how government assistance helped her family. But policies have costs, and these costs far exceed what the taxpayers pay for the programs.
With welfare also come perverse incentives. This can discourage work—the true means of escaping poverty—and create what economists call a poverty trap. This is not a liberal or conservative fantasy. Left-wing writer Katharine Rampel described part of this incident several years ago. Washington Post,
…Today’s social safety net discourages poor people from working, or at least from earning more money… You qualify for certain welfare programs, such as food stamps, housing vouchers, child-care subsidies, and Medicaid Can get it. But if you get a promotion, or get more hours, or get a second job, or otherwise start earning more, those benefits start to wane…
This is just one way that today’s welfare programs harm people. And the truth is that the federal government’s war on poverty has failed miserably.
The data showed that poverty in the US was declining, falling from 32.1 percent to 14.7 percent over a two-decade period before Lyndon Johnson declared “war”. Yet since 1966, after the introduction of his Great Society, the American poverty rate has barely budged. (Today the poverty rate is 12.8 percent.)
Why? The answer may be found in a quote from Benjamin Franklin.
Franklin once said, “I think the best way to do good to the poor is not to ease them into poverty, but to lead or lead them out of it.”
Franklin clearly understood perverse incentives better than today’s journalists.
Some country musicians seem to understand him better, as evidenced by the lines Anthony quips about.Bags of fudge rounds.”
The youth are burying themselves six feet into the ground
‘Cause all this country keeps kicking ’em down
It is clear from these lines that Anthony is not mocking anyone, but criticizing a program that has harmed millions of Americans by making them dependent on government doles.
Many Americans support welfare because they believe that is what any compassionate person would do. But Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman reminds us that policies should be judged by their results, not their intentions.
In 1970, when Guy Drake wrote “Welfare Cadillac,” one could argue that we hadn’t given welfare a chance yet. Today there is no such excuse.
Jonathan Miltimore is the Managing Editor of FEE.org. His writing/reporting has been the subject of articles in Time magazine, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Forbes, Fox News and the Star Tribune.
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