Bad Religion vs. Labor Econ
By Bryan Caplan
For my 50th birthday, the noble Jason Brennan gave me Do What You Want: The Story of Bad Religion, signed by the whole band. I love their music. I listen to it all the time. Greg Graffin, the lead singer, clearly has excellent knowledge of natural science. Yet Bad Religion’s lyrics are sadly infused with economic illiteracy, one cliche of populist green leftism after another. Listen to “10 in 2010,” “Modern Man,” or “Department of False Hope.” It’s tempting to read “American Jesus” as an open borders anthem, but I’m afraid that’s wishful thinking.
I feel sorry for the earth’s population
‘Cause so few live in the USA
At least the foreigners can copy our morality
They can visit but they cannot stay
At the same time, however, Bad Religion is a business. When you read the biography of the band, it’s especially clear that Brett Gurewitz, the main song-writer and founder of Epitaph Records, is a shrewd capitalist despite his official ideology. I’m 98% sure that Brett supports the minimum wage. If you warned about the disemployment effects, I have no doubt he would scoff. Yet this happened:
Lee wasn’t the first official Epitaph employee; that distinction belonged to Jeff Abarta, who literally knocked on the door at Westbeach. He had just gotten off his shift at the drug store where he worked and was still wearing a collared shirt and tie.
JEFF: Is this Epitaph? I’m looking for a job.
BRETT: Yeah, but I’m the only employee and I’m not even paying myself yet.
JEFF: I’ll work for free.
BRETT: You’re hired!
Before long, Jeff becomes a critical employee – and has a job far better than working at a drug store. That’s what I call “the joy of market-clearing wages” in action. And while you could demur, “It’s just an anecdote,” it’s an anecdote that should give every populist leftist pause. If working for free can easily be mutually beneficial, why are outsiders so quick to to see employment and cry “exploitation”?
P.S. If any members of Bad Religion ever read this, I love you guys. I would happily teach you economics for free. I visit LA often, and there’s always Zoom.
And you wouldn’t be exploiting me any more than Brett exploited Jeff when he knocked on the door at Westbeach.