The historical human problem has always been that the people were poor – now that we’ve largely solved that problem the idiots are complaining that the people have got rich. So it is with this current obsession with fast fashion. Quite literally the complaint is that us oiks, we standard peeps out here, are able to have new clothes. We no longer have just the Sunday Best and the other set of garments for the rest of the week, we’re actually able to dress ourselves in different pieces of cloth each and every day!
What a damn thing to complain about, eh? And what makes it so infuriating is that this is exactly the example used by Adam Smith to talk about the relative nature of poverty – the linen shirt.
But then without idiots and fools being swept up in fashionable fads and nostrums what would The Observer or Guardian have to write about?
So-called fast fashion has ushered throwaway culture into the clothing business, with items so cheap they have become single-use purchases. Last week, the young-fashion brand Boohoo had 486 dresses available online for less than £5. Many – like a black bandeau jersey bodycon number – were just £3.75, meaning the delivery charge cost more than the contents of the package. Rival Asos was offering 257 dresses and 2,141 different tops for less than £10. Now, however, some fashion experts believe the party could be coming to an end for such disposable clothing and a backlash could be brewing, just as it has against takeaway coffee cups, plastic packaging and meat.
Will you just look at that? They really are complaining about how the proles have got rich.
Think back a bit. The specific numbers here might not be quite right but the general thrust most certainly is:
Let’s talk clothing. When the Industrial Revolution began, it started with factories making cloth. Why? Because clothing used to be frighteningly expensive. Back in my teaching days I gave a standard lecture, which is about to follow, on the $3,500 shirt, or why peasants owned so little clothing. Here’s the way it worked.
Even Hugo Boss wasn’t charging the SS that much for their spiffy uniforms.
As Schumpeter pointed out, we do actually know that Queen Elizabeth I had a pair of stockings, also that the average woman of the time did not. It took until the Satanic Mills of the Industrial Revolution that those who made stockings could afford a pair. And we’ve also Adam Smith’s point about linen shirts. Not having one does not make you poor, But if you live in a society where not being able to afford a linen shirt is taken as a sign of poverty then, if you can’t afford one in that society you’re regarded as poor. A point made in this – I’m actually wearing a linen shirt to make that very point.
This is the very process that these people are whining about, us all getting rich. So, we can now buy a dress for £3.75 can we? 30 minutes of minimum wage labour gets you kitted with clobber? Isn’t that such a vast increase in human wealth from the above stories? Yes, actually it is – and they’re whining about it.
We peeps can now clothe ourselves at a fraction of the human labour it used to take, this makes us very much wealthier, and yet the fast fashion maniacs are whining about that very process of the poor getting rich. Are the dunderheads all taking their logical analysis from the models themselves or something?