Dylan on the Economy: A Contest

I’m a longtime Dylan fan — to the point of being somewhat tragic about it. (Indeed, I’m dragging Betsey along to his Philly show this Friday.)

So it was a bittersweet insult when blog commenter malnicore had this response to my recent research on happiness:

On the quantification and rationalization of happiness:

“You walk into the room with your pencil in your hand.

You see somebody naked and you ask ‘who is that man?’

You try so hard, but you can’t understand,

Just what you will say when you get home.

Because something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is; Do you, Mr. Jones?”

~ “Ballad of a Thin Man” by Bob Dylan

Ouch, that hurt. Tough, but fair. Anyone taking happiness data seriously probably deserves that lash.

Let’s build on these literary efforts. Which Dylan lyrics would you use to describe the economy?

I can only offer a free piece of Freakonomics schwag for the best contribution and look forward to your suggestions.

Here’s some help: a complete listing of Dylan lyrics. And here are some fellow econoDylanologists.

For inspiration, take a look at this blog, which uses popular music to teach economics. Some broader context: research shows that Dylan is the most highly cited songwriter in law journal and judicial opinions, including this one. And a fun fact: Matt Rabin is the only economist whose CV lists his favorite Dylan song.


On the seduction of the consumer by the banking, lending and investment industries:

"Whatever colors you have in your mind

I'll show them to you and you'll see them shine . . ."


"Why wait any longer for the world to begin

You can have your cake and eat it too . . .

"Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed."

-Lay, Lady, Lay


Listen to the music. It is poetry, but he wrote it for what it is to him, not to you.


Now the bricks lay on grand street

Where the neon madmen climb.

They all fall there so perfectly,

It all seems so well timed.

An here I sit so patiently

Waiting to find out what price

You have to pay to get out of

Going through all these things twice.

-Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again


Surprised nobody mentioned "I Shall Be Released" yet:

"I see my light come shining

From the west down to the east

Any day now, any day now..

I shall be released.

They say every man needs protection

They say that every man must fall."

Or, another Dylan song popularized by The Band, "When I Paint My Masterpiece":

"Sailin' 'round the world in a dirty gondola

Oh, to be back in the land of Coca-Cola.

Newspapermen eating candy

Had to be held down by big police

Someday, everything is gonna be different

when I paint my masterpiece."


I was sure someone would have put the old one: The answer my friend is blowing in the wind


How did we get into this mess?

"The pump don't work cause the vandal took the handle."

Subterranean Homesick Blues

"To live outside the law you must be honest."

Queen Jane

How can we get out of it?

"I've heard you say many times that you're better than no one and no one is better than you. If you really believe that then you know you have nothing to win and nothing to lose."

To Ramona


People starving and thirsting,

grain elevators are bursting

You know it costs more to store the food

than it do to give it.

I don't care about economy,

I don't care about astronomy

But it sure does bother me to see my loved ones turning into puppets

Big-time negotiators,

false healers and woman haters,

Masters of the bluff and masters of the proposition

But the enemy I see wears a cloak of decency,

All non-believers and men stealers talkin' in the name of religion

All that foreign oil controlling American soil,

Look around you, it's just bound to make you embarrassed.

Sheiks walkin' around like kings,

wearing fancy jewels and nose rings,

Deciding America's future from Amsterdam and to Paris.

And there's a slow, slow train comin' up around the bend.

Kevin in McLean, VA

In the time of my confession, in the hour of my deepest need

When the pool of tears beneath my feet flood every newborn seed

There's a dyin' voice within me reaching out somewhere,

Toiling in the danger and in the morals of despair.

Don't have the inclination to look back on any mistake,

Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break.

In the fury of the moment I can see the Master's hand

In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand.

Oh, the flowers of indulgence and the weeds of yesteryear,

Like criminals, they have choked the breath of conscience and good cheer.

The sun beat down upon the steps of time to light the way

To ease the pain of idleness and the memory of decay.

I gaze into the doorway of temptation's angry flame

And every time I pass that way I always hear my name.

Then onward in my journey I come to understand

That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand.

I have gone from rags to riches in the sorrow of the night

In the violence of a summer's dream, in the chill of a wintry light,

In the bitter dance of loneliness fading into space,

In the broken mirror of innocence on each forgotten face.

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea

Sometimes I turn, there's someone there, other times it's only me.

I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man

Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand.

"Every Grain of Sand"



Sorry about this one. But he mentions the economy explicitly!

I don't care about economy

I don't care about astronomy

But it sure do bother me

To see my loved ones turning into puppets.

There's a slow, slow train comin'

Up around the bend.


"all this foreign oil, controlling American soil

look around you it's just bound to make you embarrassed, sheiks walkinn' around like kings wearin' fancy jewels and nose rings, deciding America's future from Amsterdam and to Paris. It's a slow, slow train comin', up around the bend."

willy purple

As with "Union Sundown", when he tells it like it is, without metaphor, the truth hits home.

excerpt from "North Country Blues"

They complain in the East

they're paying too high

they say that your ore ain't worth diggin'

that it's much cheaper down

in the South American towns

where the miners work almost for nothin'


Thank you for the reminder that Dylan was/is a feckin' genius. I am ashamed to think how long it's been since I paid his work the proper respect by simply LISTENING to it.

Ms. M

Oh, when there's too much of nothing,

No one has control.

Joe F

It's a wicked life, but what the hell

Everybody got to eat

And I'm just the same as anyone else

When it comes to scratching for my meat.



'Political World', much underrated:

We live in a political world,

Love don't have any place.

We're living in times where men commit crimes

And crime don't have a face

We live in a political world,

Icicles hanging down,

Wedding bells ring and angels sing,

clouds cover up the ground.

We live in a political world,

Wisdom is thrown into jail,

It rots in a cell, is misguided as hell

Leaving no one to pick up a trail.

We live in a political world

Where mercy walks the plank,

Life is in mirrors, death disappears

Up the steps into the nearest bank.

We live in a political world

Where courage is a thing of the past

Houses are haunted, children are unwanted

The next day could be your last.

We live in a political world.

The one we can see and can feel

But there's no one to check, it's all a stacked deck,

We all know for sure that it's real.

We live in a political world

In the cities of lonesome fear,

Little by little you turn in the middle

But you're never why you're here.

We live in a political world

Under the microscope,

You can travel anywhere and hang yourself there

You always got more than enough rope.

We live in a political world

Turning and a'thrashing about,

As soon as you're awake, you're trained to take

What looks like the easy way out.

We live in a political world

Where peace is not welcome at all,

It's turned away from the door to wander some more

Or put up against the wall.

We live in apolitical world

Everything is hers or his,

Climb into the frame and shout God's name

But you're never sure what it is.



some of the worst mortgages were originated about a year ago, I think this dylan quote sums up what's in store when those low FICO, high LTV, option ARMs reset, as well as the imprudence and greed of the originator and mortgage broker industry

"If it keep on raining, the levee's gonna break

If it keep on raining, the levee's gonna break

Some of these people gonna strip you of all they can take "

The Levees Gonna Break


'Dear Landlord':

Dear landlord,

Please don't put a price on my soul.

My burden is heavy,

My dreams are beyond control.

When that steamboat whistle blows,

I'm gonna give you all I got to give,

And I do hope you receive it well,

Dependin' on the way you feel that you live.

Joe F


My earlier entry said I'M NOT THERE.

I meant to say that song was from

"Going to Acapulco"

Martin Van Nostrand

I know this is a stretch, but here are 2 nearly 30 years apart:

from 1962's "Talkin' New York":

Alot of people don't have much food on their table,

But they got a lot o' forks and knives,

And they gotta cut something."

from 1990's "Cat's In The Well":

Cat's in the well

And Poppa is reading the news

His har's falling out

And all of his daughters need shoes.

Nathanael Grady

Regarding the economy as a whole:

'Someone's got it in for me...

They're planting stories in the press.

Whoever it is I wish they's cut it out quick

But when they will I can only guess'

Idiot Wind