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Why aren’t right-wing economists fans of mainstream hip-hop?

I always wonder why libertarian or right-wing economists aren’t bigger fans of mainstream hip-hop.

I’ve just been watching J.Lo’s “Jenny From The Block,” and like much mainstream bling-bling hip-hop, it’s a libertarian wet dream. Conservatives have been trying to hone a message like that ever since the freakish excesses of wealth in the turn-of-the-century Gilded Age. During the First World War, when megarich dudes in New York were crushing pearls into their $200 glasses of wine to drink, wealth got a bad name. So after the stock market crash, you had a massive reaction against it — with taxes on the wealthy rising, unionization sweeping the country, and a general civic attempt to rein in the rampaging power of the top-one-per-centers. Ever since this WWII turnaround, the rich have been frantically beating back the bad press.

Their main message? We’re Just Average Folks. Sure, they might have billions in their bank accounts; they might destroy the lives of thousands of laid-employees at the stroke of a pen; they might spend $2,200 on gold-plated wastepaper baskets; but other than that, they’re just like you and me! Hence the constant, desperate attempts of intergalactically powerful CEOs in PR appearances to been seen driving a cheaper car, sitting around in their shirtsleeves, maybe drinking a can of Bud.

Still, this stuff has always seemed like what it is: Pretty phony. So why don’t they imitate J.Lo, and much of mainstream wealth-obsessed hip-hop? Just take the wealth and power, grind it in everyone’s face, and bitch them out for being jealous if they complain.

Consider the whole concept of “playa hater”. Conservative economists have never been able to come up with a phrase more elegantly and sneeringly smug. Nor politically powerful; there is simply no way to respond to a pop-culture charge of being a playah hater, an envious despiser of those who’ve worked hard for their massive wealth. And as J.Lo notes, she “used to have a little, now I got a lot” — as if the manna dropped from heaven as a reward for her clear superiority to all around her. We’re all from the same ‘hood; we all have the same roots; it’s just that you suck and I don’t. Merit: Another cherished bead in the libertarian catechism!

Of course, genuinely streetwise hip-hop is all about the other side of the economic equation: The brutal lot of the bottom-20-per-centers in society; the berserk and subtle racisms of everyday life; the fact that the rich keep most everyone else out of their clique by keeping high the price of admission to, say, the 92nd Street Y. But J.Lo’s style of glossy, breezy mainstream hip-hop pretty much out-Rands Ayn Rand. Hell, I could imagine Tom Delay striding across a campaign stage to the bouncy, saccharine venality “Jenny From The Block.” Let’s wait two years; maybe he will.

(Coolness alert: In the comments section, there are several extremely smart comments about this subject by Maura and Morgan.)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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