67p none the richer: popular music uprated for inflation

In which the fun is sucked out of music.

Everyone writes music about money. It's one of the most emotive of topics, alongside love, death, and writing songs about writing songs. But music is forever, and contemporary price levels are not. If you include a concrete value in your song, be prepared for it to sound increasingly out of date. But what if you adjusted those prices in line with inflation?

22 Grand Job

"22 grand job in the city, that sounds nice," sang the Rakes, in May 2004 (the single was later rereleased by V2 records in March 2005, but unacceptably, the band failed to update the sum despite low and stable inflation in the intervening ten months). The song remains popular(ish), but the sums are now woefully out of date.

To the young indie rockers of 2013, trying to really understand what Alan Donohoe, the band's lead singer, was feeling when he sang those words, we have to uprate them to fit for the world of today.

The CPI measure of inflation is indexed so that May 2005 is equal to 100. In May 2004, the index stood at 98.1, while December's level was 125. Do the sums, and we can work out that, for someone to feel as "alright" as Donahoe did in 2004, they would now have to be earning £28,032.62. Round it down to a 28 grand job, and it even scans acceptably.

(From 2004 to now also included a considerable portion of the boom years, as well as the post-2008 slump in real wages. As a result, if we decide to uprate their income according to the seasonally adjusted average weekly earnings index, we find they have had a marginal boost in real wages. Using the index which includes bonuses — because the job is in The City, after all — we find their expected wage would be £28,115.32. That's Alright.)

If I had $1,000,000

The Barenaked Ladies' song has already been subject to a rigorous financial analysis by the blog Panic Manual, which concludes that all the goods mentioned in the song — except, presumably, "your love", but they recommend a diamond ring as a valid substite — can be purchased for around $770,000.

But Panic Manual failed to take account for the fact that a million (Canadian) dollars (the band is from Toronto, after all) is worth considerably less now than it was in 1992. While the band has been singing, rather than acting — surely they actually have a million dollars? They are quite popular, after all, and their dreams have been becoming increasingly banal since they started.

The band still sings about having $1,000,000; but in 1992 money, that would be a paltry $689,736.84. Would they have achieved international success if that had been the fourth single from their first album?

Sixpence none the richer

I was wondering how to deal with this one, since Sixpence None the Richer are in fact from Texas. Do I convert sixpence into US dollars at the market rate for 1992? Should I assume sixpence refers to six cents?

Thankfully, I'm saved by the fact that the band's name is actually a reference to a 1952 book by C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. Sixpence in new money is 2.5p, inflation (measured using RPI this time, because CPI was only introduced in 1996) since 1952 is equal to 2562%, and so the band ought to be called Sixty-six Pence None the Richer. (Actually it's equal to 66.54 pence, but I'm rounding down for aesthetic reasons).

Money, money, money

Abba's hit single was released on 1 November 1976. The Swedish CPI stood at 69.1. Thirty years later, the index stands at 314.61, which means that, properly adjusted for inflation, the song ought to be called Money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, mon.

The Rakes' frontman, Alan Donahue, sings in 2006. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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