Michael Medved

When a dubious economic theory turns up as the punch line in a wildly popular song, its safe to say that the proposition has deeply penetrated the publics consciousness.

The odd notion that when the rich get richer, the poor get poorer received recognition and publicity in the jaunty foxtrot Aint We Got Fun, introduced as part of the vaudeville revue Satires of 1920 and then a huge worldwide hit in recordings and performance after that.

The lyrics, co-written by Tin Pan Alley legend Gus Kahn, describe a young couple facing hard times

Not much money
Oh but honey
Aint we got fun!
The rents unpaid dear
We havent a bus
But smiles were made dear
For people like us
In the winter
In the summer
Dont we have fun?
Times are bum
And getting bummer
Still we have fun
Theres nothing surer
The rich get rich
And the poor get.... children.

The idea that the rich get rich (or richer) as the poor get poorer had already established itself a century ago as such a cherished clich that the songwriters knew the audience would reach for the familiar word to rhyme with surer, and they deliver a laugh by mentioning children instead. The lyrics go on to describe the arrival of twins for the merry, love-struck couple (twins and cares dear/come in pairs dear) and then flaunt the poorer expectations with a darker edge.

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Landlords mad and getting madder

Aint we got fun

Times are bad and getting badder

Still we have fun

Theres nothing surer

The rich get rich

And the poor get laid off.

This little song drew portentous comment from some of the most significant writers of the twentieth century. George Orwell (in The Road to Wigan Pier) saw it as poignant expression of working class anxiety during the painful recession that followed World War I. Citing the bittersweet lyrics he noted that all through the war and for a little time afterwards there had been high wages and abundant employment; things were now returning to something worse than normal, and naturally the working class resisted. The men who had fought had been lured into the army by gaudy promises, and they were coming home to a world where there were no jobs and not even any houses.There was a turbulent feeling in the air.


Michael Medved

Michael Medved's daily syndicated radio talk show reaches one of the largest national audiences every weekday between 3 and 6 PM, Eastern Time. Michael Medved is the author of eleven books, including the bestsellers What Really Happened to the Class of '65?, Hollywood vs. America, Right Turns, The Ten Big Lies About America and 5 Big Lies About American Business
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