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“Rich Men North of Richmond” by Oliver Anthony has created something of a political firestorm lately. It was one of the few songs that rocketed to the top of the billboards by an artist who was largely unknown. Drafting off it’s popularity, politicians adopted the song as proof of their point of view. Then, Anthony publicly denounced any politician using his song, stating that they were part of the people he was writing about.

This video won’t wade into the political argument, but we will look closely at lyrics of the song and what they might be telling us about this moment in the United States economy. How did the most powerful economy in the world get to the point where so many people feel that they are being left behind, exploited, or ignored? Are we allowing certain individuals to have too much power? Are we allowing certain companies to have too much power (don’t get me started on Black Rock or Vanguard)? Is it really about keeping and wielding power?

What we can’t deny is that Oliver Anthony’s song, Rich Men North of Richmond, has struck a nerve. The political Right sees it as an anthem against big and ineffective government. Others see it as an indictment on globalization and economic displacement. But, what does the song actually say? What is the message found in the song and is Anthony’s criticism legitimate? What does this song say about the U.S. economy at this moment in time?

We look closely at Anthony’s lyrics and explain the economic forces that might have led to this popular sentiment.

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Jonathan Walker