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 If you include a concrete value in your song, be prepared for it to sound increasingly out of date.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 The song remains popular(ish), but the sums are now woefully out of date.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.

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue