What Are We Going to Do About the Rich?

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2019
Original album - Agenda (EP)
Producer - Pet Shop Boys, Tim Powell
Subsequent albums -(none)
Other releases - (none)

An aggressive song with a thundering beat and blaring horns (whether real, sampled, or synthesized), "What Are We Going to Do About the Rich?" repeatedly asks the nagging title question while hurling one well-deserved accusation after another at the mega-wealthy, who feel that "democracy is simply very bad for business." In effect, it makes the case for coming up with an answer to the question that it poses. As the chorus always ends, "Come on! Well, come on!"

Among those accusations are buying up and controlling the media "to give themselves the power to destroy the very notion and the feeling of community," "poisoning the public discourse," and "avoiding paying taxes while the welfare state collapses," as well as the comparatively milder sins of "extravagance and arrogance." Even their acts of benevolence are tainted since they "only give to charity for maximum publicity."

Speaking of publicity, the publicity materials for the Agenda EP indicate that this is one of its three "satirical" songs. But just how "satirical" is it, really? If it were truly satire, then we shouldn't take its lyrics at face value. Yet I can't detect much of anything here that probably isn't quite heartfelt. By the same token, Neil has described it as a "sort of mock-protest song." Again, I don't see very much that's "mock" about its protest. On the other hand, maybe the most satirical aspect of the song, the thing that's most "mocking" about it, is the very concept of believing that we might actually be able to do something about the super-rich, and what that something might be. Our virtual helplessness in the face of such overwhelming power renders such considerations nearly absurd.

And lest you're tempted to level an accusation of your own at Neil and Chris (as some have)—one of hypocrisy seeing as how they're surely wealthier than most of the people who listen to their music—let me assure you that the type of "rich" they're talking about in this song goes far beyond their own financial resources. Rather, they're talking billionaires and oligarchs, especially those who, as Chris has noted, "don't pay any tax." Look at it like this: it was only a few weeks before this song came out that a report was released by Oxfam (the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief) revealing that the 26 richest people in the world together have more money than the poorest half of humanity, nearly four billion people, combined.

No, the Boys don't even come close to membership in that exclusive club.


List cross-references