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 If you include a concrete value in your song, be prepared for it to sound increasingly out of date.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 The song remains popular(ish), but the sums are now woefully out of date.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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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle