Mellencamp describes this as a "political song." He told Rolling Stone in 2013: "Reagan was president - he was deregulating everything and the walls were crumbling down on the poor. the song was the last one recorded and the first single. It was a hit immediately. I felt like I was pulling the wool over everyone's eyes."
This is one of several songs Mellencamp wrote with the songwriter George Green, who was a childhood friend. Green also co-wrote "Hurts So Good," "Rain On The Scarecrow" and "Human Wheels."
This was the first single from Uh-Huh, Mellencamp's seventh album and the first one on which he used his real last name. After two albums as "Johnny Cougar" and four as "John Cougar," he had enough clout to wean off the stage names, but he kept the "Cougar" until his 1991 album Whenever We Wanted.
Along with the superficial changes, Mellencamp was also coming into his own with his songs. "Real songwriting didn't come to me until by sixth or seventh album, when I realized, this is what real poetry and art is about," he said in his Plain Spoken DVD.