From time to time, I get asked a simple question: Who’s your favorite economist?
The question is natural enough for anyone who works at an organization dedicated to the teaching of economics, but it’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer because there are so many economists who’ve shaped my thoughts and perspectives.
Ultimately, Thomas Sowell and Henry Hazlitt are at the top of my list because—unlike most economists—both men showed tremendous talent as writers and storytellers on top of their economic acumen. (Also, each man wrote an economics book—Economics in One Lesson for Hazlitt, Basic Economics for Sowell—that is essential reading to anyone seriously pursuing economics.)
Unfortunately, that question—Who’s your favorite economist?—is one we rarely hear asked today, which is why it caught my attention when economist David Henderson brought it up on Sunday.
For years, Henderson, a professor of economics at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, has told people Mick Jagger—yes, we’re talking about the lead singer of the Rolling Stones—was partial to Friedrich Hayek. It turns out that Jagger studied econ at the London School of Economics before he abandoned his studies to pursue his music career. (Opportunity costs strike again.) And apparently before belting out hits like “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Paint it Black,” and “Gimme Shelter,” Jagger came to appreciate the insights of the Austrian economist who would later win a Nobel Prize.
The problem was, for years Henderson couldn’t remember where he’d learned Jagger was a fan of Hayek, but that changed when a reader showed him a Saturday Night Live clip from February 1993.
The skit, somewhat amusingly, begins with Wayne and Garth discussing Jagger’s favorite Rolling Stones songs before the discussion switches gears toward economics.
GARTH: “Okay, I have a question. You went to the London School of Economics, right?”
GARTH: “Do you think it’s a good idea to stimulate fiscal growth through a sharp increase in government outlays for infrastructure?”
JAGGER: “Actually, as a disciple of Friedrich von Hayek, I’ve always been skeptical about the larger government involvement in economic stimulus. I’ve preferred a market oriented approach to, uh, government spending and increasing deficits.”
The discussion doesn’t quite end there. Garth says “I didn’t figure you for a Keynesian economist”—an odd comment, since Jagger clearly is not one (but maybe that’s part of the joke?). Moments later Jagger begins to elaborate on his economic philosophy, which soon puts Garth to sleep.
Monetary policy aside, there are at least two reasons we can believe Jagger was not joking when he said Hayek—a classical liberal who opposed central planning—was his favorite economist.
For one, Jagger is a clear individualist with, at minimum, a libertarian streak. In the early 1960s, Jagger gave reporters an impressive response after he was asked if he’s responsible for young people who decide to take drugs.
“People have been talking about responsibility for a long time now about pop singers generally, and how everyone in the public now has a responsibility,” Jagger commented. “I’m not quite sure this responsibility is as grave as they make out because I believe that individuals really have to make their own minds up.”
Second, we have evidence that Jagger might be a closet libertarian. William Rees-Mogg (1928–2012), the famed British journalist who was editor of The Times from 1967 to 1981, reportedly was horrified to discover that Jagger had libertarian principles. In a 2012 article, the Financial Times reported that Rees-Mogg interviewed Jagger and was “astonished to discover a ‘right-wing libertarian’ who insisted, ‘I don’t really want to format a new code of living, a new code of morals.’”
Apparently, Rees-Mogg had never heard the Rolling Stones song “I’m Free,” which opens with these lyrics.
I'm free to do what I want any old time
I'm free to do what I want any old time
These lyrics represent the essence of freedom, and it’s at the core of not just rock n’ roll but all art, which is fundamentally an exploration and expression of the human individual. It’s long been my belief that this is why so many artists—from Bob Dylan to Bob Marley and beyond—seem to identify with individualism and liberty over collectivism and control.
This is why when Mick Jagger says he’s “a disciple of Friedrich von Hayek” he should be taken at his word—even if it’s in a Wayne’s World skit.
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