What Keith Richardsí 'Life' As a Rolling Stone Tells Us About Economics
by John Tamny
by John Tamny: An
Entirely Predictable Economic†Dip
Stones guitarist Keith
Richards autobiography is a great read on its own for
the remarkable story it tells, there are economic lessons within
that apply to all manner of concepts made frequently prosaic by
books and newspaper articles. From the wealth gap, to what drives
success, to taxation, Richards amazing story explains them
all in exciting, uplifting fashion.
the wealth gap, its often a confused concept. No doubt there
are broad income differences throughout the world, but thats
frequently the case because the highest earners regularly reduce
gap through innovations that make former luxuries quite commonplace.
Richards revealed this numerous times in Life.
Richards mother worked as a Hotpoint washing-machine demonstrator,
it took her ages to get her own. Maytag and Sears come
to mind as successful businesses headed by highly paid executives
who achieved their pay by virtue of making washing machines broadly
accessible. Richards also notes that his family didnt
have a record player for a long time, but thanks to innovators
who were doubtless well compensated for mass producing the once
obscure disc player, someone of Richards humble beginnings
was eventually able to buy and play music.
The above was
particularly important when we consider Richards career path.
As he put it, Ive learned everything I know off of records,
and Being able to hear recorded music freed up loads of musicians
that couldnt necessarily afford to learn to read or write
music, like me. Economic commentators love to bash the rich
as greedy, but the profit motive driving music industry executives
provided Richards with a musical education on the relative cheap.
regularly bemoan inequality in terms of opportunity while seeking
government fixes, but Richards inspiring story reminds us
that starting at the bottom is often a blessing. His first guitar
cost 10 British pounds, but since his mother couldnt afford
to pay for it, she got someone else to purchase it, and then that
someone eventually defaulted. Notable here is that Richards couldnt
afford an electric guitar, but his familys inability
to pay for an electric was instrumental in his rise as a guitar
As he explained
it, I firmly believe if you want to be a guitar player, you
better start on acoustic and then graduate to electric. Rather
than allow his reduced economic circumstances to act as a barrier
to achievement, he accentuated the positive, that he had a guitar,
and proceeded to play every spare moment I got. Clearly
Richards started at the bottom, and had less financial resources
to fund his development much as theres inequality among children
today, but this was no deterrent.
view is that if you want to get to the top, youve got
to start at the bottom, same with anything. Wise words from
a wise man, and something politicians would do well remember as
they seek to achieve equality through legislative fiat. Being at
the bottom often drives creativity, as Richards story attests.
Thank goodness British politicians werent giving out electric
guitars back in the 50s.
the Rolling Stones humble beginnings as a band, where they
began and where they ended up exposes in living color the lie that
says upward mobility is a myth. As Richards recounts about the Stones
early days, At the time poverty seemed constant, unmovable.
Living in a horrid Chelsea flat with Mick Jagger and Brian Jones,
Richards tells the reader about live music venue Wetherby Arms,
and how Usually Id go round the back and steal their
empties and sell them back to them. You got a couple of pence on
a beer bottle.
bit counted because while the Rolling Stones sell out stadiums today,
in the early 60s they were lucky if they got paid at all for
their concerts. Modern theorists would call this exploitation as
they do any time individuals or groups are underpaid
in their eyes, but for the band these allegedly stingy concert promoters
provided them with invaluable experience that eventually put them
in a position to charge quite a bit.
Still, at the
time hunger was the order of the day given how bands
almost by definition start at the bottom. Of course any profits
they were able to cobble together went toward guitar strings,
mending amplifiers and valves. Just to keep what had going was an
incredible expensive. All of this cant be stressed enough.
For one, the
fact that limited profits were immediately reinvested in the business
that was the Rolling Stones reminds us how crippling corporate taxes
can be, particularly on businesses just getting started. When politicians
seek high taxes on businesses theyre robbing them of their
future. Second, in the early days they desperately wanted a drummer
by the name of Charlie Watts, but they couldnt initially afford
him. Again, when profits are taxed, the ability of a company to
grow is compromised.
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© 2011 Forbes