Writing Contest: Semi-finalist
Song: "Summertime Blues" (The Who)
Economics, it is all about decision making. Every day people have to make choices.
Opportunity costs and trade-offs play a large role in everyone's daily life, whether they are
dealing with tangible or intangible items. Opportunity cost is the value of the next best
alternative given up for the alternative that was chosen. A trade-off is sacrificing one good or
service to purchase or produce another. For most Americans, time is money; and time and
money are both limited resources. People have to find equilibrium between their time at work
(and the money they earn), and leisure activities to create a healthy, happy balance.
The Who's song, "Summertime Blues," which was on their Live at Leeds album, is a
great example of a person trying to find a balance in their money earning and leisure time. The
lyrics quote a boy who says he has "been a-workin' all summer just to try to earn a dollar."
Later in the lyrics, the decision arises whether to go out on a date or to stay at work late and earn
more money to use the car. The boy in the story has to make a choice. Even though he is not
dealing with two alternatives with individual market prices, he still needs to make the decision:
what is the next best alternative choice that could be made? He could go out on the date but lose
money, or he could work but miss the date. This is a trade-off. The boy in the song chooses the
leisure alternative over making money. The lyrics are,"Well, I wouldn't go to work, I told the
boss I was sick. He said, 'You can't use that car 'cause you didn't work a lick.'" It seems that
the boy's decision was not for the best.
The Who's album, Live at Leeds, was released in 1970, at a time when worker
productivity was falling. Productivity grew nearly 3 percent in the years after the war, but it was
down to 1 percent after 1973. This song is a good example of a poor work ethic: The boy's
parents tried to warn him and teach him the importance of having the right balance of work and
play. The second verse goes, "Well, my mom and poppa told me, 'Son you gotta earn some
money, if you wanna use the car to go ridin' next Sunday.'" The boy makes his decision and
does not work and earn money; this decision does not end up being the best alternative, though.
Economics and decision making are in our lives every day. We deal with them
knowingly and unknowingly. Each person has to make choices and trade-offs. We could be
making decisions like the one in this song, or we could be at the grocery store deciding on which
items to buy. Economics is hidden in songs, even by some of the most obscure artists;
economics is seen in movies and on television. Even if we don't always notice it, economics is
all around us and plays a major role in our everyday lives.
Miller, Roger LeRoy. Economics: Today and Tomorrow. Glencoe, NY: McGraw-Hill 2001.