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 If you include a concrete value in your song, be prepared for it to sound increasingly out of date.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 The song remains popular(ish), but the sums are now woefully out of date.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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Let's turn RBS into a bank for the public interest

A tarnished symbol of global finance could be remade as a network of local banks. 

The Royal Bank of Scotland has now been losing money for nine consecutive years. Today’s announcement of a further £7bn yearly loss at the publicly-owned bank is just the latest evidence that RBS is essentially unsellable. The difference this time is that the Government seems finally to have accepted that fact.

Up until now, the government had been reluctant to intervene in the running of the business, instead insisting that it will be sold back to the private sector when the time is right. But these losses come just a week after the government announced that it is abandoning plans to sell Williams & Glynn – an RBS subsidiary which has over 300 branches and £22bn of customer deposits.

After a series of expensive delays and a lack of buyer interest, the government now plans to retain Williams & Glynn within the RBS group and instead attempt to boost competition in the business lending market by granting smaller "challenger banks" access to RBS’s branch infrastructure. It also plans to provide funding to encourage small businesses to switch their accounts away from RBS.

As a major public asset, RBS should be used to help achieve wider objectives. Improving how the banking sector serves small businesses should be the top priority, and it is good to see the government start to move in this direction. But to make the most of RBS, they should be going much further.

The public stake in RBS gives us a unique opportunity to create new banking institutions that will genuinely put the interests of the UK’s small businesses first. The New Economics Foundation has proposed turning RBS into a network of local banks with a public interest mandate to serve their local area, lend to small businesses and provide universal access to banking services. If the government is serious about rebalancing the economy and meeting the needs of those who feel left behind, this is the path they should take with RBS.

Small and medium sized enterprises are the lifeblood of the UK economy, and they depend on banking services to fund investment and provide a safe place to store money. For centuries a healthy relationship between businesses and banks has been a cornerstone of UK prosperity.

However, in recent decades this relationship has broken down. Small businesses have repeatedly fallen victim to exploitative practice by the big banks, including the the mis-selling of loans and instances of deliberate asset stripping. Affected business owners have not only lost their livelihoods due to the stress of their treatment at the hands of these banks, but have also experienced family break-ups and deteriorating physical and mental health. Others have been made homeless or bankrupt.

Meanwhile, many businesses struggle to get access to the finance they need to grow and expand. Small firms have always had trouble accessing finance, but in recent decades this problem has intensified as the UK banking sector has come to be dominated by a handful of large, universal, shareholder-owned banks.

Without a focus on specific geographical areas or social objectives, these banks choose to lend to the most profitable activities, and lending to local businesses tends to be less profitable than other activities such as mortgage lending and lending to other financial institutions.

The result is that since the mid-1980s the share of lending going to non-financial businesses has been falling rapidly. Today, lending to small and medium sized businesses accounts for just 4 per cent of bank lending.

Of the relatively small amount of business lending that does occur in the UK, most is heavily concentrated in London and surrounding areas. The UK’s homogenous and highly concentrated banking sector is therefore hampering economic development, starving communities of investment and making regional imbalances worse.

The government’s plans to encourage business customers to switch away from RBS to another bank will not do much to solve this problem. With the market dominated by a small number of large shareholder-owned banks who all behave in similar ways (and who have been hit by repeated scandals), businesses do not have any real choice.

If the government were to go further and turn RBS into a network of local banks, it would be a vital first step in regenerating disenfranchised communities, rebalancing the UK’s economy and staving off any economic downturn that may be on the horizon. Evidence shows that geographically limited stakeholder banks direct a much greater proportion of their capital towards lending in the real economy. By only investing in their local area, these banks help create and retain wealth regionally rather than making existing geographic imbalances worce.

Big, deep challenges require big, deep solutions. It’s time for the government to make banking work for small businesses once again.

Laurie Macfarlane is an economist at the New Economics Foundation