Commentary: ‘Rich Men North Of Richmond’ Falls Short in Message

Class and racial undertones destroy what is good about the song
Anthony Olivers song has gone viral, but the tune misses its mark in the end.
Anthony Oliver’s song has gone viral, but the tune misses its mark in the end.
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Why do we want poor people to suffer?

“I’ve been sellin’ my soul, workin’ all day / Overtime hours for bulls*** pay/ So I can sit out here and waste my life away / Drag back home and drown my troubles away” is a seemingly good start to any country song.
It speaks on the way capitalism can bog one’s soul down and reflects on the sad realization that we weren’t just born to work and work and work–and then die.

Oliver Anthony, the creator and singer of this song, “Rich Men North of Richmond”, seems to have a point.

Especially when he gets to the chorus, “Livin’ in the new world / With an old soul / These rich men north of Richmond / Lord knows they all just wanna have total control / Wanna know what you think, wanna know what you do / And they don’t think you know, but I know that you do / ‘Cause your dollar ain’t s*** and it’s taxed to no end / ‘Cause of rich men north of Richmond.”

Anthony seems to be getting to a frustrating issue of class struggle, but then sadly, he takes a nosedive down a dangerous route.

Anthony goes on to sing, “Lord, we got folks in the street, ain’t got nothin’ to eat / And the obese milkin’ welfare. /Well, God, if you’re 5-foot-3 and you’re 300 pounds / Taxes ought not to pay for your bags of fudge rounds / Young men are puttin’ themselves six feet in the ground / ‘Cause all this damn country does is keep on kickin’ them down.”

Oof, yikes. You were so close to the root of the issue, Oliver Anthony! But alas.

This song is so seemingly close to calling out the true devil to whom we’re selling our souls, which is rich men who take advantage of workers, keep the profits for themselves, and hoard all of the wealth that they’ve built off of other people’s labor.

Why does Anthony feel the need to attack people on welfare? Not only people on welfare, but people who he also makes sure to point out are obese and lazy by saying they’re using welfare to eat fudge rounds while other people are dying from working hard. Are there no rich, obese people?

Or is it just that it’s OK for rich people to be obese because they have the money to buy fudge rounds?

One thought is that he feels the need to blame someone for the reason he’s not living a better lifestyle and blaming the rich for it just isn’t enough.

He feels the need to punch down.

Why is there a constant animosity between people who are already struggling? It almost seems like Anthony sees people on government assistance as the “worse kind of poor people.” There seems to be some racial undertones here as well, as the rumor of the mythological “Welfare Queen” was started in the eighties (thanks, Ronald Reagan).

Why do we as a society feel the need to blame other poor people for our own problems? We get angry with them for receiving financial aid and medicare, as if rich men profiting off of our labor aren’t the ones to blame for us not receiving more wealth.

The majority of our taxes go to paying for this country’s military budget. We do not have a problem where poor people are just leeching money right out of your paycheck to buy snacks, but that’s what the rich want you to think, so that they keep the anger off of them.

That’s not to say that poor people who do use their food stamps to buy snacks are some sort of villain. Those who are food insecure will often eat whatever they can, whenever they can, because they don’t know when or where their next meal is coming.

Not only does the blame seem to fall on other poor people, but where is the outcry for government funds that go to larger corporations that surely do not need them?

A Boise State University article that was published a few years ago found that “more than 170 billion dollars is expended on assorted varieties of corporate welfare. The federal government spends 11 billion dollars on Aid for Dependent Children. The most expensive means tested welfare program, Medicaid, costs the federal government 30 billion dollars a year or about half of the amount corporations receive each year through assorted tax breaks.”

Why is it ok to blame poor people using welfare programs while we blatantly ignore the large corporations that receive it to greater excess?

These corporations aren’t investing that money back into their workers, either. They use it for marketing purposes, buying equipment that will replace workers, relocating to other countries where workers don’t have to be paid as much, and buying into government bonds. Where is the outrage cue to our taxes going toward that?

Just because someone is poor and living off of welfare, that does not mean that they don’t deserve certain treats in this life.

The idea that poor people have to live off of rice and beans is preposterous and classist. Just because someone is struggling, it does not mean that they have to be suffering, too.

It is unfair for us to dictate what other people do with their government assistance when they’re just trying to survive. It makes us just as hierarchical and pretentious as any of the elite rich that Anthony seems to want to call out.

Interestingly, since Anthony’s song has gone viral, American Songwriter reports that with revenue made from his YouTube channel where he has been uploading music since 2022, Oliver Anthony’s net worth has been reportedly estimated to be between $1.5 – $2 million.

So it seems that Anthony is now also a Rich Man–just south of Richmond. It will be interesting to see what he does with his money.



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  • S

    ScottNov 15, 2023 at 3:40 pm

    “… while other people are dying from working hard.”

    You need to revisit your thoughts here. Oliver is talking about suicide.

    “Young men are puttin’ themselves six feet in the ground / ‘Cause all this damn country does is keep on kickin’ them down.”

    Your interpretation undermines the premise of your argument.