Thursday, 30 July 2009

The Musical Economics of the Barenaked Ladies

Professor Dexter Duncan of the London School of Economics is one of the most eminent thinkers in the field of Musical Economics. His 1970 paper, A Third Staircase (Just for Show): What Could I Buy If I Were a Rich Man?, was a sensation and is credited with starting the Music Economics boom. Duncan’s most famous paper, Living in a Material World, explained the ostentation of the 1980s fiscal music scene.

Duncan’s latest work, If They had $1,000,000, is another grand project of aural economic analysis. In it, he tests the theories laid out by the Barenaked Ladies in their popular 1992 song, If I had $1000000, and tries to determine whether their claims are valid.

At more than three hundred pages long, this is a very dense and almost impenetrable work, with some formulae and passages that would be far too difficult for the casual reader. However, sticking with the text reaps some wonderful rewards.

As many music lovers know, the song begins with the assertion that if he had a million dollars, the singer of the Barenaked Ladies would “buy you a house”. Using current Canadian house prices, Professor Duncan determined that this would set back the singer $326,613. Several chapters are then devoted to the implications of buying such an abode and the differences between a building of this price in the different Canadian provinces.

Furniture is the next purchase mentioned in the song, and the singer specifies either “a Chesterfield or an Ottoman”. Using a complicated series of calculations based on musician psychology, wealth ratios and fabric costs, Duncan determines that the most likely item of furniture bought by the Barenaked Ladies’ frontman would be a $3,000 Chesterfield from one of Toronto’s premium seateries.

Here lies one of the more galling omissions from the paper. While his reasoning for coming up with this value for the Chesterfield is sound, Duncan does not assess the merits of having a large house and only one piece of furniture. This seems to me to be somewhat lacking for a gentleman of means, owning his own house and only a Chesterfield to sit/sleep on. This scenario brings to mind the frugal miser, rich yet reluctant to purchase fripperies like beds, wardrobes and tables. Is this really an image we see in the twenty-first century?

There are other oversights that do detract from this otherwise excellent piece of investigation. In estimating the cost of a llama (one of the “exotic pets” that the Barenaked Ladies would purchase), Duncan only takes into account the purchase price of the creature. There is no mention of cost of food, lodgings, training, etc. The same can be said for the monkey, a bargain at $8,000, but less so when you consider the extra money needed to house and feed the animal.

Sadly missing in the analysis is the cost of John Merrick’s remains. In the song, the singer wants to buy “them crazy elephant bones”, but according to Professor Duncan this would be easier sung than done. The remains belong to a London museum, and despite repeated requests for information, no employee would put a price on the bones.

Also, the song states that the singer would buy “some art; a Picasso or a Garfunkel”. Art Garfunkel does not make personal appearances, so Duncan had to find a reasonably priced Picasso work. In the end, he found an original sketch for $70,000.

All in all, Professor Duncan’s analysis of the Barenaked Ladies’ ability to purchase everything mentioned in the song for a million dollars is sound, although he really ought to have given more room to considerations of inflation since the song was written. There is also the question of differences in exchange rates between the song's appearance and now.

Duncan's conclusions – that the items in the song could be purchased for less than half a million dollars, leaving enough money to buy “your love” – are sound. He also adds that this much money would probably be required to buy someone's love if you bought them a house and only one chair, not to mention a fake green dress and lots of Kraft Dinner. But there are some bad omissions in the paper, and these are enough to sow the seeds of doubt about some of Duncan’s methods, and therefore, his conclusions.

I'm the kind of guy who laughs at a funeral. Can't understand what I mean? You soon will.

8 comments:

The Vegetable Assassin said...

Maybe there'd also be enough left over to invent that "pre-packed bacon" that we don't have even though you get "pre-packed sausages". And more than enough for some of them fancy Dijon ketchups.

I'm also still in the market for a green dress - but not a real green dress. That's cruel!

red said...

Someone could buy my love for a million dollars...or a half-a-million dollars. Seriously, any takers?

Suze said...

My brother askend me to buy him a Barenaked Ladies CD years ago. I said no because I thought it was porn. My bad. Now, what was I saying?

BeckEye said...

I still can't believe they thought a K-car would cost $1 million. I had one and it cost me a cool $800.

TishTash said...

If he worked in an equation to loop time on itself thus enabling time travel to the early 1800s, perhaps that million dollars could've bought more. Louisiana, perhaps?

Daltana said...

Given the house would need room for the K-Car, llama, monkey, green dress, etc inside how much furniture could fit other than the one Chesterfield?

Cooper Green said...

I'd be willing to part with a Winnipeg couch for a song. Not that song specifically, but the BNL would have lots left over to buy something really useful. Certainly not a chesterfield.

Gwen said...

Well, in the end it all boils down to whether or not "he'd be rich" with the million dollars. It's my position that gee-gaws like tiny little fridges and tree forts leave the soul bereft.