MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Now a story about a cable TV producer, a professor, an international pop superstar, and the two dead economists who brought them all together.
Alex Blumberg from our Planet Money team tells us what happened.
ALEX BLUMBERG: John Papola works for Spike TV, the cable channel for guys, which specializes in ultimate fighting championship and bikini specials. But John, hes interested in other things, like macroeconomics.
Hes really into this one podcast called EconTalk, put up by an Econ professor named Russ Roberts. EconTalk deals a lot with the ideas of two rival economists, John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich von Hayek.
Keynes basically invented the idea of a stimulus package, Hayek would have opposed it. And it killed John Papola, the TV producer, that heres the government spending all this money on the stimulus and the popular media isnt talking about the underlying economics of it, like Russ Robert does on his podcasts. And then John remembered, wait a minute. I work in the media.
Mr. JOHN PAPOLA (Executive Producer, Spike TV): So I called Russ in like April of 2009 and said Im this producer, marketing person from Spike TV. I really like to work together on some kind of video project to, you know, dive into economics using visuals and entertainment value and not just lectures. It was actually Russ said jokingly what if we did a rap song.
BLUMBERG: Nine months later, what started as a joke is now a reality, making its worldwide debut right here, right now on NPR.
(Soundbite of song, Fear the Boom and Bust)
Unidentified Group: (Singing) John Maynard Keynes. Yeah, F. A. Hayek. Yeah, were opposed. We oppose each other philosophically in the same studio. Weve been going back and forth for a century. I want to steer markets. I want them set free. Theres a boom and bust cycle, and good reason to fear it. Blame low interest rates. No, its the animal spirits.
BLUMBERG: Did you imagine Keynes and Hayek come back to life? They had an economics conference together and they go out for a night on the town, going (unintelligible) drinking and rolling with their entourages, theyre at the basics of their theories. Keynes sings about the need for government spending to lift us out of recession. Hayek counters that borrowing money will come back to haunt us in the end. Like any good rap, they sling insults.
Heres Hayek getting up a good diss on Keynes.
(Soundbite of song, Fear the Boom and Bust)
Unidentified Group: (Singing) ...all red. In the long run, my friend, its your theory that stay. So, sorry there, buddy, if that sounds like infective, prepare to schooled in my Austrian perspective.
BLUMBERG: Russ Roberts and John Papola had never written a rap before. Its unclear whether Russ had even heard one, although he did have some composing experience.
Mr. RUSS ROBERTS (EconTalk): I once took a class in how to write for the musical from Charles Strauss, who wrote Annie. And I audited the class and wrote song for it.
BLUMBERG: The video is actually really good. The production values are as high as anything you might see in MTV. And both John and Russ know the economics inside and out. But lets be honest, none of us here at Planet Money are experts on what makes a good pop song. We had no idea if regular music fans would like it.
And this is where we get to the international pop star. About a week ago, right exactly at the moment when Russ walked into the NPR studios with his laptop to show us the video, the flashiest, most famous-looking pop star appeared right there in our midst. Her name is Kesha. She was there to be interviewed by NPRs Scott Simon because she has the number one single in the world right now, Tick Tock.
(Soundbite of song, Tick Tock)
KESHA (Singer): (Singing) Im talking pedicure on our toes, toes. Trying on all our clothes, clothes.
BLUMBERG: So, here we had a question about Russ and Johns song. And now, we had arguably one of the worlds leading pop music authorities right there in the next studio. Kesha was psyched to help us out, although she was little worried were going to make fun of her. So, Russ tried to reassure her in a very academic way by giving her a test, but it worked.
Mr. ROBERTS: So, Ill name a couple of people you tell me if they are economist, say economist, not economist, okay?
Ms. KESHA: Would you help me?
Mr. ROBERTS: Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Ms. KESHA: Not an economist.
Mr. ROBERTS: Okay, John Maynard Keynes?
Ms. KESHA: Totally an economist.
Mr. ROBERTS: See? Thats all we need to know.
BLUMBERG: So with that, Russ pressed play, (unintelligible) start and, sorry, Russ, (unintelligible) economist huddled around a pretty messy NPR conference table and watched the action unfold onscreen. I was nervous for Russ. I thought Kesha would make fun of him. But she watched the entire thing and she seemed pretty absorbed. Then the moment of truth, the song ended. All eyes turned to Kesha, who is unequivocal.
Ms. KESHA: Its like legit. And its really good raps.
Mr. ROBERTS: Thank you.
Ms. KESHA: Its really good rapping. Its the animal sprit, I remember it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. KESHA: Im impressed.
BLUMBERG: Kesha has rendered her judgment. Now you can render yours. We linked the video on our Web site, npr.org/money.
For NPR News, Im Alex Blumberg.