“Costly Apparel” or Just Good Economics

Being in the fashion industry, I have always been bothered by the constant references to “costly apparel” in the BOM and its link to pride and the downfall of nations. It’s bothersome because I love and appreciate beautifully made, well designed clothing, and this type of clothing usually does not come cheap. I am not saying that I have a lot of expensive clothes in my close–I really don’t–too many student loans. But I do long to spend my money:

-supporting fair and honest garment industry business,
-valuing truly skilled labor and talented artists,
-investing in well made clothing that lasts in our “throw away” culture.

Is this so wrong? So what exactly is the definition of “costly apparel”?

In one of my fashion classes in college, we were assigned to do an inventory of all our clothing. We had to write down a description of each item, when we bought it, what it cost, cost of care (dry clean vs. washable) and the number of times worn. Then, with all this information, we had to figure out the cost per wear of each piece. Depending on the size of your closet and how full your dressers are, this could be an overwhelming task. For me it definitely was. But what I learned from it has shaped my view of fashion and purchasing expensive clothes.

The most expensive piece of clothing in my closet (a beautiful wool and cashmere winter coat from a small boutique in Paris) cost me less per wear than many of my other articles of clothing which were all purchased on sale (back when I thought I was the queen discount shopper). Eight years later, I still wear this coat every winter and the cost per wear is probably in the pennies now. It is my only dress coat. It is still in great condition and I will probably end up passing it down to my daughter when I die or when it no longer fits me. It seems to me, this coat, though costly, cannot be put into the “costly apparel” category (though Aaron Brown’s never worn Jimi Hendrix “flying eyeball” tie might find a comfortable place there).

I would also love to know how much GA’s spend on their suits– because if anyone in the world should spend money on a really good suit (based on the study set forth above) they should.

131 comments for ““Costly Apparel” or Just Good Economics

  1. Easy: “costly apparel” is defined as the most expensive thing you own plus 10%.

    (In other words, no one thinks they are guilty.)

    I love your wool coat story. The only problem that I have with it is that, in general, I think it is almost impossible to know how much you’ll wear something (and how well it will last) until after you own it. I bought a beautiful camel-colored skirt once (It was so soft! Like butter!), wore it the first time, sat on one of those dang folding chairs in the RS room, and it got a huge snag/run thingie in from the bolt on the chair. I’m still in mourning.

    I find clothing–buying, owning, and wearing–in the childbearing years to be a huge annoyance. I’m constantly scaling up and down and nothing seems to fit for more than a few months at a time.

  2. My best article of clothing by far is a longish, microfiber (suede-looking) camel skirt with a slit front, fitted with a little bit of stretch, that I bought on my mission in Portugal from a chain called Zara’s (this was before Zara’s was in the states, I believe). I’ve worn it countless times–it goes with anything, is nearly indestructible, crazy easy to clean. I can’t remember how much I paid for it, but it was definitely more than my missionary-self generally spent on an article of clothing—but has been so, so worth it.

    (Of course, I’ve occasionally bought other expensive items of clothing that haven’t worn nearly so well.)

  3. Sister Carrie, does “costly apparel” mean what it did before mechanization of sewing and textile manufacture? It’s a different world than the one that gave us fairy tales about poor tailors laboring for weeks to dress the king.

  4. Carrie,

    “Supporting fair and honest garment industry business, valuing truly skilled labor and talented artists, investing in well made clothing that lasts in our ‘throw away’ culture.”

    This is a wonderful statement of social and economic priorities. It is interchangable with almost any field of production–farming, construction, etc.–and makes just as much sense. Supporting what few industries still operate according to these principles, and conforming our consumption around such principles, would do more for the betterment of modern life than any number of economic or political nostrums. If there are people in the fashion industry who still embrace these standards, hooray for them!

    (P.S. Boycott Nike.)

  5. What Russell said. It seems strange to me that in our desire to avoid costly apparel, we would support mass consumption models that in the end cost us all far more in terms of their societal impact. Cheap clothing and the quest to drive prices lower isn’t a completely desirable thing.

  6. Russell,

    Alas, Nike happens to make the only running shoes that I’ve found that really fit my feet (very narrrow heel, long foot and toes).

  7. I hope I can ask this question without being offensive. Are general authorities really the example we should look to? Maybe they shouldn’t wear those nice suits all the time. Or maybe their particular callings make the suits important, but their example does not apply to us. I question the suggestion that whatever we seem them doing is right. I say this as a guy who just bought a ridiculously expensive suit and is feeling rather self indulgent right now.

  8. I also think that we should get all of our thoughts on the topic out of the way before Frank reads this thread.

    Kaimi: have you tried New Balance? They have pretty much every size under the sun.

  9. I suspect the scriptural “costly apparel” warnings are really warnings against status symbols of all varieties. As such, I think we probably apply those warnings too much to clothes and not enough to things like cars, houses/neighborhoods, boats, jet skis, etc. Certainly clothing can fall into to the unrighteous status symbol category too, but as you mention it is not exclusively a function of the price. It seems to me that paying a huge premium for a brand label would be far more objectionable than paying more for a high quality garment that lasts a long time.

  10. Steve,

    I just bought a new pair of shoes a few weeks ago. Tried on a dozen different shoes in several brands, including New Balance, Reebok, and Adidas. As usual, the Nikes were the ones that fit. (I don’t really like my funny-shaped feet, because I inevitably don’t really like the look of the Nikes that fit me. I would rather find a better looking pair that fit me well. Alas, it hasn’t happened.)

  11. -supporting fair and honest garment industry business,
    -valuing truly skilled labor and talented artists,
    -investing in well made clothing that lasts in our “throw away” culture.

    Amen, sister. Just read a kind of fluffy novel in my book club — Lucia, Lucia — about a young woman who worked in the “custom” department of B. Altman’s dept. store in NYC in the 50s. The lush descriptions of the care given to an individual fitting, to lining a coat, to hiding stitches on a hem, etc., made me think of my gifted seamstress mother and of the frequent lack of such care and artistry in the modern off-the-rack clothing industry. I still remember my mother’s utter despair when we shopped together for a wedding dress. It took her basically one afternoon to know that she would make my dress–that the attention to the invisible parts of clothing constructions (nicely finished seams, for example)–that is often missing in mass-produced clothing–mattered too much to her. Which is why it can sometimes make lots of sense to spend money on quality.

    As for fair labor practices (not to mention sustainable/organic agricultural practices for the fibers that make the fabrics), amen again. It’s hard to know all of that information when you shop, but it’s definitely a noble endeavor to try to find out when we can and to support businesses that give a darn about these things.

  12. Wow. I’ve never seen folks so eager to condemn their sisters & brothers living in the third world to unemployment and the prevailing wages. You may not like MNCs that produce their clothes overseas, and sure, it would be nice if they were paid even more; and if you are willing to support companies that do pay more (by buying their more expensive products)…more power to you; but…

    1. They provide our family members w/jobs that otherwise wouldn’t exist in those countries
    2. They provide jobs that pay more than than the prevailing wages

    For years I took pride in buying Gap belts (you know, the woven ones that were all the rage for awhile) because I knew they were made in a factory in the Dominican Republic by some of the members I worked with while serving there. No factory, no job. These members didn’t complain about the poor conditions, or the low wages. They were happy that they could get these jobs, and grateful they paid better than whatever they were doing beforehand.

  13. This has long been an confusion for me. Not just “expensive apparel” but anything nice. For instance the ten years before I got married I did a lot of outdoor “extreme sports.” My jacket cost $500 back in the 90’s. My ice climbing boots $400. My ski boots $450. My bib for climbing and skiing $300. And so forth. $250 per ice axe. Was that bad? I sure sacrificed to get them and I made use of them. But was wearing a top of the line Arcteryx jacket part of the Nephite disease?

    I bring it up that way since I suspect most people are thinking about stuff from Vogue or GQ.

    But I remember at the same time (back before marriage when I had a 31″ waist) that I saved up to buy a nice Versache suit. I wore it to church. I doubt most people knew it was expensive. But I always wanted one and it lasted a long time before it went out of fashion and frankly wasn’t nice enough to wear. Would I do that now? No. Mainly because I have clothing for my wife and kid to pay for. (That and the fact I don’t think I’d buy nice clothing until I’m back in shape again)

    Is that bad though? Should I have bought a few Mr. Mac specials instead?

    My sense is that a lot of what the Nephite disease dealt with was tied to building up class structures. i.e. I’m better than you because I’m in style while you’re not. I feel that a bit more now that I *am* always out of style whereas when I was single I was much more stylish.

    No real answers here. Just confusion and perhaps a tad bit of guilt.

  14. I saw Kirsten’s wedding dress. It’s gorgeous.

    (By the way, were you able to recycle it into a temple dress?)

    Nine years later, I’m still trying to figure out what to do with mine, which wouldn’t recycle easily into a temple dress.

  15. Speaking of wedding dresses….Carrie, this may not come under your expertise, but, my wedding dress (from 13 years ago) has a stain. Looks like chocolate but maybe its a moth stain? I have no idea if I actually spilled something on my wedding day and I’ve never understood moth bolls in old clothes so I don’t know what moths do. Obviously, I have no idea how to take care of clothes kept in closets for 13 years.
    Anyway, is there any hope?

  16. I think there is some truth to this. We can spend costly money on costly apparel. Some of this may just be conspicuous consumption, but other expenses may be reasonable costs amortized over time.

    What I’m not sure of is that there is always an easy way to tell the difference between the two . . .

  17. I don’t think there is an easy way to tell. I think we have to just examine our priorities and keep them in line. If our house burned down, what would we really miss? If we lost all our money, what would make us most upset? How do we judge people? How much of our money do we try to share? What do we think our money is for? How much are we willing to give to the Lord?

  18. can we read “costly” in another way? and might that reading expand the discussion a bit? must it just be monetary cost? what about other ways that apparel could prove “costly” to us? (selling out our values? modesty?)

    perhaps costly in a relative sense . . . in that the money may have been better used elsewhere.

    or maybe it’s not the cost per unit, but the aggregate. i know plenty of women who bargain shop , but do it _constantly_, and own far more clothing than they’ll ever wear. and with styles changing quickly, they cost per wear can be very high, though the unit cost may have seemed low. many of these woman are addictive, almost compulsive shoppers. what about all the costly time they spend on the bargain hunting?

    if every piece of clothing you have is more than you need to be “neat and comely”, is it “costly apparel”?

    i own very few items of clothing, but they all cost me a load. i met my wife when she was working in the fashion industry in new york city. one of the first thing i learned from her was the value in buying timeless clothing that was well made because of the savings over time. on of the “downers” has been that some of our friends think we are lavish because we dress well, when in reality i’m spending half as much as i used to on clothing. i just wear it 4 times as long and the quality of the apparel shows.

    i hope that by buying quality goods that last long we don’t give the impression of seeking status . . .

  19. Ironically, I think the term “costly apparel” could be used to apply to those who purposely wear rags to show how much more humble than everyone else they are. I knew a man who, ten years after his mission (and for reasons unrelated to his pocketbook) wore the same mission suit still every Sunday to make a point about how he did not buy into the “costly apparel” trend. His pride in his “humble appearance” was every bit as audacious as the pride of those who flaunt their “costly apparel.” He often mentioned how little he spent on clothing.

    “Costly apparel” is a symbol for those who try to set themselves up on a pedestal of being better than everyone else because of how they dress and accessorize.

  20. Julie said: I saw Kirsten’s wedding dress. It’s gorgeous.

    (By the way, were you able to recycle it into a temple dress?)

    Umm, well, even though it was rather sedate, as wedding dresses go, I didn’t think Ted would ever want to sit in the chapel waiting for me for two hours while I get all those little buttons done up in the back…. But since they’re the most beautiful part, maybe I should do it anyway. The artistry of that row of a gazillino buttons — thinking of my mother doing each one [I definitely did not inherit her patience…]– always chokes me up whenever I look at it.

    And speaking of sewing, it seems a big bummer to me that sewing has gotten so gosh darn expensive. Who can afford a pattern these days? Back in the day, it was apparently a big money-saver to sew for your kids (if you had the talent).

  21. Lyle,

    I am not sure how you can interpret “supporting fair and honest garment industry business” and “valuing truly skilled labor and talented artists” as eagerness to “condemn their sisters & brothers living in the third world to unemployment and the prevailing wages.”

    Obviously, fair and honest business in the garment industry is a difficult issue. I suspect that is why Carrie did not specifically define those terms in her post. She designed for Gap (well, Old Navy – same difference), has visited their operations in countries like India, and actually has a pretty high opinion of the way that company operates overseas despite some negative press. She certainly has an appreciation for the skills and talents of the workers there. She has also witnessed first-hand (even if only for a moment) the abject poverty of that country and was, I think, greatly affected by it. I am not sure whether Carrie has developed a comprehensive set of standards by which to judge honest and fair business in her industry, but I can guarantee she is not eager to deprive those working for the Gap in India of the wages and working conditions they have available.

    Perhaps I should let Carrie defend herself in this regard, but given her reluctance to jump into an argument, I thought I would say something.

  22. Todd–

    You raise such an interesting point; I hope you and/or Carrie will address this.

    Let’s say that I know (which, of course, is hard info to come by) that the teeshirt that I am considering buying for one of my boys was sewn in buy someone paid horrid wages. Let’s say, therefore, that I don’t buy the shirt; I go somewhere else and buy a different one. If a million people make the same decision that I just did, won’t our underpaid seamstress end up losing her crummy job as demand decreases? Isn’t she better off with the crummy job than without it?

    (None of this, of course, is a defense of mistreating workers. It is just an appraisal of what, in reality, my options are–and how they affect workers–as I stand there holding a teeshirt in the store.)

  23. Jordan is right! It’s not so much what you wear, but the attitude you project that matters. When I was in the military and served in remote overseas assignments where we could get only 5 or 10 church members together at a time, I never turned anyone away who wasn’t wearing a suit because they weren’t able to bring one with them. We were grateful to them just for showing up, since many of them had to work on weekends.

  24. Julie,

    I hope someone else will address your questions because I have very little economics background. Would choosing not to buy a product manufactured by someone getting paid horrid wages really cause the employee to lose his job (bracketing for a minute the difficult question of what “horrid wages” might mean)? Or would the company compete for those customers by paying higher wages and passing the cost on to the consumer?

    It seems like protesting a product on these grounds does have some effect. I believe Gap, for example, pays more to its employees than the local market might otherwise demand (certainly the facilities it operates are better than other facilities) in order to maintain its reputation globally. Gap is able to compete because other companies must similarly protect their reputations. If Gap (or Nike) still underpays its employees from a moral standpoint, that probably has more to do with an inability for consumers to agree on what constitutes “horrid wages”. Perhaps the market works differently with smaller companies, though. Not sure.

  25. Clark – “Versache” is the funniest thing I’ve read all day. But don’t you mean Versace? (sometimes pronounced, “Ver-sayse”)

    I bought Vasque Sundowners 10 years ago for almost $200 and I still wear them. Good investment.

  26. Kristen,
    It’s still possible to save money sewing clothing for your family these days but you have to know where to get deals on fabric and patterns. If you sign up for JoAnn and Hancock’s mailer’s you’ll get 40% off (25-30% at Hancock’s) coupons regularly and be notified of when patterns are on sale for 99 cents or $1.99. There are online co-ops organized for buying fabric and Kwiksew patterns (better than the big 3 pattern companies avail. at JoAnn’s) at reasonable prices. I traced one of my best fitting t-shirts and can make them now for $5-7 worth of fabric each and about 20 minutes of my time. I’m making my boys’ pants for the fall and I’ve made several t-shirts for them this summer and it does save money but you have to enjoy it for it to be worth it, if that makes sense.

  27. In my experience, I find surprisingly little correlation between what an item of clothing costs and how well made it turns out to be. For example, the most expensive pair of shoes I ever bought ended up bleeding dye all over my socks. I’ve also bought relatively expensive, brand-name items and had the buttons fall off in a couple of months. And I’ve bought sale items at Target that turned out to be fantastic. I also agree with Julie that it is hard for me to know how much I’ll really want wear something until I own it. Given this uncertainty, what works for me is to buy moderately priced items and then wear the ones that turn out to be well made and that I like to wear.

    On my mission I remember hearing a rumor that Thomas S. Monson, when visiting Europe, would pick up a few of his favorite brand of dress shirts that were not available in Utah. I heard that they cost something like $50, which seemed pretty extravagant to me at the time, and I remember having judgemental thoughts towards Monson and his costly apparel. Now I’ve repented, and I don’t begrudge Monson his fancy shirts…in his position, I think he deserves to wear something he likes that fits him well, and his time is probably not well spent shopping around for bargains.

  28. Vicki,

    I think you may have inadvertantly proven Kirsten’s point: anyone who wants to shop at somewhere like Kohl’s or Target can buy tshirts for 5-7$ each. The economics of sewing seems only to favor special needs (nursing clothes, modest formalwear) or hobby-ists. Not that there is anything wrong with that; it is certainly a more virtuous hobby than blogging, but sewing just doesn’t make the economic sense that it once did.

  29. I’m with Julie’s opening comment: it’s impossible to predict the cost-per-use from the outset. Three of my most expensive coats (when we were first married my wife spent $65 — a lot of money to us and much of the world — to buy me a wool Paddington-style toggle coat from TJMaxx) have been lost or stolen. For that reason I couldn’t have predicted the cost-per-use at the time of purchase; I didn’t know I’d have my coats for only a few months. And on the other side of the coin, in about 1989 I bought a rugby from Gap with wide mustard and maroon stripes on clearance for $3.99. I didn’t care for the colors so I set it in bleach for a few hours and the colors turned to a one-of-a-kind butter and melon, and it became my favorite shirt. Then it became my brother’s favorite shirt when I went on my mission (my mom said he wore it every week), and then he gave it to a friend who wore it in this New Era Mormonad. It was completely thrashed the last time I saw it — the cuffs were falling apart. Who could have guessed the cost-per-use we’d get from a cheap shirt with colors I didn’t like?

    And as for sweatshops, Nicholas Kristoff invites most of you to visit Cambodia with him. Looks like Lyle’s the only one who’s been there.

  30. Two general points about sweatshop labor, the making of which will no doubt rightly earn me a loving but firm horsewhipping from Nate and Frank, for both my embarrasing presumption and my appalling ignorance:

    1) Regarding the simpler issue of the basic justice, or lack thereof, in the transaction between those who work in sweatshops and those who benefit from their labor: the wages commonly paid to garmet manufacturers in third world nations could, by all accounts that I have read (which are many), easily be doubled, tripled, perhaps even quadrupled, overnight with only a tiny relative impact on the ultimate cost of a finished article of clothing and with a minimal impact on the profit margins of those operating the shops. (Sweatshops in the U.S., mostly run with illegal labor, are by necessity much more fly-by-night and marginal operations, but they have their own set of legal problems.) So why don’t the owners do so? Because, without legislation to require them to act otherwise, they and their competitors are happy to engage in a race to the bottom in terms of cost, and thus have no incentive to pay workers any more than they absolutely have to (in other words, the same reason that 19th-century industrialists so willingly exploited children for labor in their mines and factories). Boycotts of certain manufactured clothing will not alone make a difference here, but it is one important strategy in a multifaceted effort to construct international standards, enforce them, and thereby bring a higher level of egalitarianism, not to mention a respect for craft, back to the garmet industry.

    2) Regarding the harder issue of the welfare of those who actually work in sweatshops: it is undeniable that most Third World sweatshop employees are delighted with the horrid wages Nike pays them, because the alternative is mostly subsistence agriculture and complete destitution. Entrance into the global economy–something which was thrust upon many of these peoples through war and colonization, not by their own choice–devastated local agricultural patterns, which ultimately led to huge migrations into the cities, where hundreds of thousands find lives of absolute squalor (to say nothing of the levels of crime, prostitution, etc.). Compared to all that, a job at a Nike factory is a godsend. Do I want to shut them down? Not immediately; in the short term, I just want them to be better employers. In the long term, I want the global economy to change so that sustainable patterns of economic development can emerge in these Third World localities, so that they don’t have to content themselves with being the First World’s industrial serfs for the foreseeable future. Part of this will involve removing certain protections that we have on some of our own outputs, so that an actual viable market becomes available to agricultural and small-scale producers in those countries; but a lot of it will also involve turning away from the sort of economic interference which prevents these nations from protecting their own resources and industries and charting their own economic path. Learning to value simplicity and the products of local economic arrangements–in other words, to bring this back around to Carrie’s post, recognizing the superiority of well-made, long-lasting, labor-intensive products here at home–is a big part of undermining the addiction to bigness which defines the garment as well as many other industries.

    (Yes, yes, everyone, it’s safe to come out now; Marx has left the building.)

  31. Versache, Versace. I’m famous for mangling words when I speak. Why not when I write? Plus I’ve not worn it for quite some time. Actually my goal for getting in shape is to fit back into this nice Givenche (yeah I probably misspelled that too) suit that was a classic cut and so shouldn’t be out of style. It was from when I weighed 160 lbs and was climbing regularly. Since I’ve not weighed 160 – 165 for a very long time, it is in very, very good condition. It was the nicest most comfortable suit I’ve ever had. It was wool, but the most breathable thing ever. I remember driving out of Escalante across the desert in it with 100 degree weather and no air conditioning. I felt better than when I’ve worn shorts.

    As others have mentioned. Paying 2 – 3 times the price sometimes (but not always) saves money in the long run. Cheap stuff typically wears out quicker. There are exceptions, like others have mentioned. But I think especially for suits, shirts and slacks that the extra expense is almost always worth it.

  32. Russell, you ought writeup on your blog what you think about the recent changes in the garment rules in trade. I’ve heard that China has taken business away from many third world nations, potentially affecting how your goal will work out.

  33. Russell: “Entrance into the global economy — something which was thrust upon many of these peoples through war and colonization, not by their own choice — devastated local agricultural patterns, which ultimately led to huge migrations into the cities”

    Is this belief commonly held? It’s my understanding the migration from farms to cities throughout the industrial revolution was largely voluntary in the United States, as people escaped the demands of farming. According to Kristoff’s sources, the people in southeast asia aren’t driven to work at Nike only because of squalor in the cities — they would prefer Nike to working the rice paddies, too, suggesting that even if their countries had never been touched by imperial powers, the people would still prefer the kind of labor expected by Nike. The fact that the Chinese also compete vociferously for western factory jobs suggests that the circumstances making those jobs appealing weren’t caused by colonization.

  34. I should like to enter this digital dialogue with a few IMO’s of my own, So here goes.

    Good cloth is good cloth, but does good cloth make a man or a woman good?

    Does the cost of the cloth come at the cost of some lost virtue or cause?

    Is costly apparel expensive because of the cost to acquire it, and I am not speaking of dollars and cents, but rather the expense of loss of common sense or the use of nonesense to obtain it.

    Does cost necessarily mean the quality or cut of the cloth, after all even the rags of the poor can become costly if they look up with pride in spite of price, as costly perhaps as looking down with pride because of price, which thing is done by some who buy their perch.

    And then there is the issue of temples where no expense is spared, but all who enter dress alike unto God. Rich on the outside but inside they are meek humble, submissive, the same as it were, in the important things of life. Costly and poor at the same time, a costly commodity that requires the sacrifice of all things. The Book of Mormon teach’s we are all beggars? It is a small step from being a beggar to a bugger, all it takes is something costly and someone to put it on.

    And God would have all to be rich, and avoid this one upsmanship world. We must seek a kingdom that only we can find individually. And we must find it first, then put it first or we shall loose it at last, and the last shall be first.

    Can our education become costly apparal? We don it, we use it to acquire place, prestige, status, positive peer review, money, influence, and to buy bigger homes to move into, finer cloth to fit into, bigger faster more luxuriant vehicles to surround ourselves with, more pleasureable toys for girls and boys, which toys wind up being housed in houses themselves,, where moths and rust make them mud and rock over time.

    Perhaps none of this makes cents. I know I can hardly make heads or tales of it. Perhaps you can give your two sense worth.

    Harold B. Curtis

  35. Russell: Take Indonesia for example, a country that is a major exporter of clothing to the U.S., and the home of some of the much-maligned Nike factories. Between 1950 and 2000 Indonesia’s population grew from 80 million to 212 million. Don’t you think that might have someting to do with the change in “local agricultural patterns, which ultimately led to huge migrations into the cities?” Perhaps you’d prefer that these people didn’t exist, but they do, and as you say, for them “a job at a Nike factory is a godsend.”

    It’s just not true that the world was full of a bunch of happy healthy farmers until the wicked industrialist came along. Before the wicked industrialists, death rates were high, disease was rampant, and sustinence crises were common. Poverty has always been with us, so you don’t need to feel like it’s somehow the result of your necktie, as you suggested on the other thread.

    You are certainly right that in theory we could double the wages of the clothing workers with little effect on the final prices. But what is needed is not just higher wages for a lucky few, but a total package of economic growth. The way that has been done in the past is through more trade, not less. Are you serious when you say you want the global economy to “change?” Do you feel confident that you would know how to “change” it even if it were possible?

    (Sorry for the threadjack.)

  36. #29 “On my mission I remember hearing a rumor that Thomas S. Monson, when visiting Europe, would pick up a few of his favorite brand of dress shirts that were not available in Utah. I heard that they cost something like $50, which seemed pretty extravagant to me at the time”

    Elder Zwick is the sharpest dressed GA I’ve ever met. Monogrammed shirts. Cuff links. Pocket handkerchiefs. Custom suits. Sweet.

  37. My sister-in-law recently was visiting a singles ward somewhere I won’t name and she overheard a conversation where one sister asked another (regarding her clothing): “Is that designer or store-bought?” For some reason the question seemed unusually obnoxious, especially in the context of church meetings. Really … why in the world would you ask someone a question like that?

  38. Danithew, it brings to mind the joke told about the “New Russians”: One says to the other, “Check out this tie I bought yesterday. $300.” The other responds, “Big deal. I just bought the same tie at a boutique in Berlin for $500.”

  39. Todd: my comment wasn’t directed to Carrie; but the others that posted on the subject.

    Harold’s comment is excellent. Can’t say more on that.

    Russell: If it wouldn’t make that much difference to triple the wages…let’s pool our capital and start a garment factory in a 3rd world country to provide jobs to members. We will pay them triple the regular garment wage. We should be absolutely flooded with applicants and can choose the very best from all others; who would then have to compete with us and raise their wages or lose their best workers…or quality doesn’t really count and they wouldn’t care. Regardless…we would still make a large profit and we could feel better about ourselves.

    One small problem. If this is a viable option…it would already have been done. That’s the trick about free markets…where there is a profit to be made, new entrants will come. I suspect there isn’t a race to the bottom on wages here; but to see how cheaply the end product can be produced. I could be wrong though…and I have actually thought of really doing this. Either that or start a “Mormon” Values Mutual Fund.

    Carrie…perhaps you have knowledge about the mark-ups alot of companies charge on their products? i.e. those companies that sell clothing, but don’t have make and sell their own?

  40. What virtually all third world countries lack is capital. They have a tremedous excess of labor, but a scarcity of jobs. Those jobs will only be provided if there is investment. Unfortunately, because most of them do not have a legal system which provides a safe and non-corrupt environment for investment, the capital that goes there demands higher returns to account for the risk factor.

    Well meaning people who would seek to decrease the returns that investment makes in those countries, will only end up by decreasing the investment; and therefore, reducing the jobs that they desperately need.

    We act the same way with our investments. We can invest in Treasury bonds which yield 4% or so, and are very safe, or we can invest in junk bonds which have a high return, but are very risky.

    As far as costly apparel goes, I think the theme that has been stated above, that when clothing (or other things) are bought to impress others with our money/class/status, etc. then it is probably what the B of M is talking about.

  41. Rosalynde (#2),
    I have a twin Zara story. 8 years ago, I was working in Greece and was introduced to Zara. I bought one skirt: straight, ankle length, wool, lined, black. I still wear it every fall and winter. It has a lovely slit on the left leg that make boots look terrific. It still looks new. My best clothes purchase.

    Ed (#29),
    I have a wonderful memory of attending the Church Susquecentennial Celebration one summer in the then Cougar Stadium. The program was amazing. One highlight: they surprised the audience by bringing all the missionaries from the MTC out onto the field. It was so unexpected and was such a visual example of an army of righteousness. There was such a positive feeling of hope and energy and purpose that night. But my favorite part was when the First Presidency walked out on to the field wearing pale linen suits. What a treat! I had never seen President Hinkley, President Monson or President Faust in anything but a dark suit. For me, they suddenly had much more depth to their personality. They were humans who had to pick out clothes like the rest of us and they wanted to look appropriate for such a celebration. I hope they bought those suits just for that occasion.

  42. Matt and Ed,

    You’re both right that there’s a lot more to the story than what I put in my original comment. For example, the disruption of local agriculture that I talked about wasn’t solely a matter war or imperialism; it was also a matter of the Green Revolution which swept the world in the 60s and 70s, which dramatically lowered the cost of the food production and improved nutrition and life expectancy in many previously very poor nations. Does anyone truly want to turn the clock back on all that? Not really. (Well, genuine Luddites do, but I’m only a quasi-Luddite, at most.) So sure; there are tens of millions of more people crowding into the cities of the Third World now, from Mexico City to Bangkok, and they’re not going to be heading back to their villages, whether they’d like to or not, because there’s nothing left for them there. How did this play out in Western Europe and the U.S., when a similar situation arose at the turn of the century (crowded cities, exploitive factories, declining farms, etc.)? Well, there was a long, difficult, often bloody but ultimately successful struggle for the people in those factories and out on the remaining farms to organize, influence their government, and by so doing mostly protect and make sustainable their own vocations. The same thing took place in Japan and South Korea in the 60s and 70s, except in that case the organizing came top-down from the government itself (i.e., setting up huge chaebol to promote and protect, say, semiconductors or shipbuilding, thus pulling the country away from the fate of making cheap toys for the West for eternity). Will the same thing naturally happen every else eventually too? Maybe, so maybe the sweatshops will just take care of themselves in the long run. On the other hand, MNCs are a lot more efficient and powerful now than they used to be, and the Third World a lot more poor, comparative speaking, so perhaps it’s important for consumers in Western nations to modify their habits and force some changes upon the globalized market.

    (Then again, as Clark suggests, perhaps China will just change all this for us–it has a huge enough population, and an aggressive enough government, that it may well actually be able to beat the MNCs at their own game.)

  43. I appreciate Drex’s comments in #19 and Harold’s comments in #37. I think we need to start thinking about “costly apparel” as not just “clothing that costs a lot of money so it must be inherently evil”.

    As for all the comments about sweatshop labor, there are others commenting here that obviously have more knowledge in the matter than me. The statement “supporting fair and honest garment industry busines” in my intial post was meant to include supporting companies who manufacture overseas and also work to create higher standards in factories, but was not limited to just the issue of sweatshops. I have worked for a few small clothing companies who manufacture in America – mostly because overseas is not an option for small quantities. Also, small companies usually do not have the resources it takes to work outside of the country. These small design companies are constantly going out of business because they are just not able to compete in the price arena. So, my point is I would also like to spend my money supporting small business in America (not only small business in America, but also small business in America).

    Lyle: What I know about mark-ups mostly comes from the children’s boutique market (but I think it holds true for other clothing areas as well – except discount of course). A retailer usually sells a garment for double what they paid the manufacturing company. I don’t know what percentage of that mark-up is profit vs. overhead costs though.

    “As far as costly apparel goes, I think the theme that has been stated above, that when clothing (or other things) are bought to impress others with our money/class/status, etc. then it is probably what the B of M is talking about.”

    Should we change our dressing habits just because others percieve our expensive clothing as a symbol of money/class/status when in fact, there could be other factors involved (namely the 3 that I stated in the original post)?

  44. I got the question a little bit wrong in my comment #40. The question one sister asked the other (about her clothing) was: “Is that designer or chain?”

  45. “These small design companies are constantly going out of business because they are just not able to compete in the price arena. So, my point is I would also like to spend my money supporting small business in America (not only small business in America, but also small business in America).”

    Very well put, Carrie. Buying from small producers–of clothing, food, whatever–that you know and respect, aside from every other social or economic argument, is almost always just plain good sense from a quality standpoint.

    “Should we change our dressing habits just because others percieve our expensive clothing as a symbol of money/class/status when in fact, there could be other factors involved (namely the 3 that I stated in the original post)?”

    An excellent question. Birkenstock makes expensive shoes. They also make shoes that will last just about forever and are extremely comfortable. Plus they make them all in labor-intensive factories scattered throughout Germany that have very high reputations insofar as labor and environmental practices go. Win-win, all around.

  46. Russell,

    I do not even know where to begin.

    First, trade raises wages in countries with tons of labor. That is why people in those countries like those international jobs. Thus the MNC’s are helping the low wage problem. This should be obvious. You understood the point when we talked about how trade barriers kept up wages among U.S. farmers, why is it that you miss the reciprocal point that lowering barriers will raise wages among their counterpart in third world countries? Probably because you’ve never had a decent class in trade theory :)

    Second, destitution was the rural norm 100 years ago, and 1000 years ago. It is not some new phenomena brought on by the imperialist Nike corporation. Raising agricultural productivity means that, eventually people will have to go into other professions. Unless you want us to all eat more until we burst. Thus the agricultural advances require a shift in occupation. People flood the city because the jobs pay well there. They can’t all get jobs because wages are kept artificially high (by governments and by people pressuring international corporations) so the market doesn’t clear. Then the available jobs become sources of corruption and not competition and lots of people who can’t get the good jobs live in slums while they keep trying. This is the gist of the Harris-Todaro model of urban migration. You can find it in the American Economic Review in 1970 I believe.

    Third- trade barriers are a massive source of corruption. It takes very little time for people to figure out that when goods are sold at different prices in two places, there is the opportunity to make profit- legally or illegally. The same is true of artificially high wages. They become regressive transfers to those in power.

    (Todd, this one answers your question)

    Fourth- If you want to help people in undeveloped countires, don’t disemploy them in the way that Julie and Lyle outlined! Todd has asked if maybe the demand for “good wages” will make these firms pay more. This misses the crucial point. By paying more the jobs attract better, more productive workers who would earn more anyway. They do not help the impoverished people in those countries. If a job pays twice the average salary, who in their right minds thinks it will be the outcasts and rejects who get that job? It will be the connected and the productive, who would be doing comparatively well anyway. The more agitation for fair wages, the fewer low-skilled workers will get in. Agitate enough and the firm will move out of the country and go some place with higher wages still.

    Fifth – Famines and widespread starvation are, in recent times, the province of government intervention or market collapse. See, for example, China’s famine and Cambodia’s great leap forward that wiped out their educated population by forcing them out to live the good rural life.

    Sixth – When people start intervening in markets, it will not be the utopian charitable types who steer the reigns of power. It is the people who like power and see an opportunity to help themselves. You would do well to dwell on how that might affect what we can and can’t pull off here in the telestial world.

    Seventh- A real way to help might be a donation to the PEF. It will not end world poverty, but it will potentially raise a worker’s productivity. And that is how one ends poverty. Not by fiddling with wages, but by making workers more productive. Poverty is ended one worker at a time. Coincidentally, the more you personally earn, the more you can donate. So we should all strive to be very productive people.

  47. Did I really just lay out seven points? What is this, high school debate? I feel out of breath. Steve, I hope you are satisfied.

    By the way, in high school my senior year the policy debate topic was trade/aid policy to help the environment. We offered two plans that year- free trade with Mexico and giving away nuclear power plants to replace coal. Them was good times.

  48. Why are we not asking ourselves–what else could I be doing with that money? And I dont mean going golfing…!

  49. How much better it would be if we chose some way of flaunting our good taste that nobody else understood! Then we could revel in the beauty of our own good taste, but nobody would know we had it, and they wouldn’t look down on us for being snobs.

    Try hardwoods, for example. Get book-matched quarter-sawn hardwood in the panels of your raised-panel cabinet doors, or in your wainscoting. Do the same for the end panels of your cribs/cradles. Bag the polyurethane, and go with a hand-rubbed oil finish. Forget the cheap parquet flooring from Home Depot, and get a random width oak slab flooring, quarter-sawn of course, with walnut plugs.

    Some folks may come in and say “Ooh, how pretty!” but they won’t have a clue about how good it really is. Sort of like how Jack Nicholson told Helen Hunt how most people had no clue how good she was. And you can sit back and enjoy your enjoyment of something really good (which will be around long after this year’s clothes are down at the Goodwill) and nobody else will know!

  50. Russell: I’m serious about the Mormon Mutual Fund or a clothes or better yet, a cocoa farm, that we could set up and pay better wages at. What do you think? Why not give it a try.

  51. I grew up really poor. We never got new shoes until they just fell off your feet, so I still do that. It drives my husband crazy, but if my shoes are still pretty much still on my feet, why buy new ones? I honestly have had my favorite pair of shoes for at least fifteen years. I’ve had them sewn once, but I still wear them. Not every day.

    Well, all I can do is thank God I don’t have that vice because I have all the rest of them.

  52. Russell: It seems to me that how one reads the history of the industrial revolution is very important for how one understands the plight of the developing world. On this front, it is worth remembering that the Progressive account of the industrial revolution which you give as uncontroverted fact — namely that it began with oppressed workers who eventually redeemed their economic condition through progressive political action — is not without problems. Falling prices through increased industrial efficiency also led to increases in the real purchasing power, and the nominal and real value of wages themselves rose as economic expansion spurred the demand for labor. In other words, there is a fair argument to be made that the amelioration of proletarian misery may have been largely due to economic forces unconnected to progressive politics. I think that the truth of the matter probably lies someplace in between, but I do think that it is a bit simplistic to tell the story entirely in terms of rescuing the workers thorugh minimum wage laws and unionization.

    It seems to me that it is a bit too simple for you to make the MNC the main villian in the globalization drama. The problem with this story is that allows you to downplay the real tradeoffs involved between third-world workers and first-world workers entailed by your favored trade policies. It is not simply a matter of the minor adjustments that you seemt offer as a concessio.

  53. Frank,

    So I’m trying to translate your post into the real world. Is the best thing for me to do is to buy my kids’ shirts for 3.88$ at Wal-Mart and then send the rest of my clothing budget to the PEF?

    (I’m serious.)

  54. I agree with Nate’s comment.

    It always amazes me how most educated people seem to assume it’s a matter of settled history that unions have been an unalloyed force for good and right. The history of labor movements accross the world is full of racism, violence, and corruption (as well as more well-meaning but ultimately disasterous mistakes like Marxism). Perhaps labor movements have done more good than bad on the whole, but I don’t think it’s an open and shut case.

    But what should be clear is that productivity growth and trade are absolutely, positively essential if you want to lift a growing population out of poverty.

  55. Lyle, there is already something akin to a Mormon Mutual Fund: http://www.unitus.com

    There is also a group doing something similar to your factory/farm idea: http://causeforhope.org

    Also, in my opinion, Frank and Nate get it just about right. Boycotting Gap and Nike is not the answer. Period.

    I also heartily disagree with this statement: “So, my point is I would also like to spend my money supporting small business in America (not only small business in America, but also small business in America).” As coldhearted as it may sound, someone has to lose in the near-term, and I’d rather it be an American, whose coping skills and safety net are far, far better than a Bangladeshi factor worker.

  56. Russell, I think Korea faced a transition much like our own in the 20’s and 30’s. Remember a lot of the strikes and often the violence. The fact that Korea was in a quasi-state of war with a semi-totalitarian government only vaguely democratic made it worse. S. Korea is very good today in science, technology and so forth. But there definitely was that period of shakeup in the 70’s and 80’s. The transition from those who grew up in the war to those with no memory of war was difficult as well.

    At the same time, I’m not sure I agree with your more marxist view of all this. I think Nate makes some good points here. But I do think the transition from a more agricultural base to a more industrialized one will have many growing pains. Just as our transition from an industrial base to a more informational one is causing growing pains. (And may have more than just growing pains since an informational economy tends to put the uneducated or less intelligent out of luck)

  57. Costly Apparel examples:
    Abercrombie & Fitch.
    Who spends $65 for a pair of already ripped up jeans? I don’t get it!

    Not so deep thought – the difference between “expensive apparel” and “costly apparel” To one, a $100 skirt doesn’t cost(sacrifice) them as much as another. Maybe that’s what it means – spending more than you can afford to fit an image?

  58. Davis Bell–

    Is unitus run by church members? Is it related to the BYU work on microfinance? What else do you know about it?

  59. By paying more the jobs attract better, more productive workers who would earn more anyway.

    Indeed. A real problem with Nike’s foriegn plants is every time they raise wages, they strip the local economy of school teachers.

  60. Ah, of course. Well clearly the Christian thing to do is to lower wages even further in order to attract the very, *very* least of these and let everyone else enjoy all the plum skilled-labor jobs.

  61. Emily,
    I dont see how you go from “costly apparel” to it being a matter of how much an individual sacrifices–
    the more relevant question should be–
    What would/should be done with the price difference between what one needs and what one actually spends on the costly apparel.

  62. “Well clearly the Christian thing to do is to lower wages even further in order to attract the very, *very* least of these and let everyone else enjoy all the plum skilled-labor jobs.”

    Well, yes, actually. Well put.

  63. Davis: Unitus is microfinance; not a Mutual Fund. I’m very familiar with Grameen, et al.
    A Mutual Fund is a basket of diverse stocks, bonds and investments.
    A “mormon” mutual fund would only put “mormon/gospel friendly” companies in its investments.

    The Cause for Hope Group looks interesting. Thanks for the tip.

  64. Rosalynde,

    What would your alternative solution comprise?


    Unitus is not explicitly Mormon, nor is it explicitly related to BYU. However, it was founded by Mormons and is mostly run by Mormons (many of whom went to or teach at BYU). I’m not as familiar with their work now, as my association with them ended a few years ago. From what I gather they’re something of a fund that invests in microcredit funds rather than in typical private sector enterprises. Interestingly, they started out trying to create small groups of people throughout the Church who would form with the intent of fighting poverty; however, they were given a friendly cease-and-desist order from the Church, and they evolved into their current iteration.

  65. Julie, yeah, that sounds about right.

    I agree with Ed and Nate on the nature of unions. Unions can be a very effective tool for helping you and your buddies at the expense of the outsider.


    If we were to artificially lower the wages then workers would lose money, some would quit, and firms could not produce as much stuff, thus lowering our total societal resources. The best wage for society is the market clearing equilibrium wage.

    More broadly what would good poverty policy look like? The first thing I can think of is to stop trying to play with an outcome measure (like wages) and instead work on the causal input– productivity of the worker. Which is to say that wages always want to follow productivity. Trying to mess with wages on their own (up or down) is usually a mistake.

  66. Julie,

    Unitus was founded (co-founded?) by Geoff Davis, who was a Harvard Kennedy School grad back in 2000. He and I (and the wives) are probably getting together for dinner this Sunday. Maybe I’ll ask him if he wants to guest-blog here (or some other place …) concerning his organization. I think he would make an interesting guest.

    Aaron B

  67. A more serious matter relating to your seven points, Frank:

    Is the ghost of Steve Covey at work here?

    At least you use big words, complex sentences, and not a lot of big graphics.

  68. I warned you all that the fun would end once Frank chimed in. SEVEN points of light in a single comment! Sheesh, you economists….

  69. “How much are we willing to give to the Lord?” To which I respond:

    “The God I believe in isn’t short of cash, mister.” I don’t give money to the Lord; He doesn’t need it. I do give money to the church and to charities that use it to meet the needs of the poor.

    As for Carrie’s initial post, as a lawyer I can relate to being in a profession that is treated less than favorably in the Book of Mormon. But I think for the same reason we (well, most, or many) do not condemn folks for practicing law, neither should we condemn folks who work in the fashion industry. The lawyers in the Book of Mormon were nasty sorts; condemnation of nasty modern lawyers is probably justified. The wearing of costly appareal is condemned, I think, not in a per se manner, but rather because of the effect that the wearing of costly apparel had on Nephite society. For them, costly apparel was all about status and privilege and creating divisions among the people based on class. While costly apparel may in some circumstances today have similar effects, I think those who have mentioned materialism and a “keeping-up-with-the-Joneses” mentality generally have hit upon the insturctive parallel to the Book of Mromon’s costly apparel lessons.

    For me, the question is not about how much I spent for my last suit (or anything else), the question is why did I make that particular purchase. If it is to impress my neighbors, I am falling into the trap the Book of Mormon warns against; if it is to have something to wear that is appropriate for my profession and calling, then I don’t think the Book of Mormon proscribes the purchase.

  70. I could be mistaken, but I don’t think Geoff Davis founded Unitus, although I know he’s their ED (or something) now.

  71. He’s President and CEO, and I’m quite sure he did found it (though there may have been other co-founders as well). I’ll ask him on Sunday.

    Aaron B

  72. Lyle,

    I’m familiar with what a mutual fund is. I suggested Unitus as something “akin” to a Mormon mutual fund b/c I thought they provided investors with a socially reponsible investment in microcredit (and it’s run by a bunch of Mormons); as it turns out, I may be mistaken on this, and it might be simply donations. I’m not sure.

  73. Frank wrote: “I agree with Ed and Nate on the nature of unions. Unions can be a very effective tool for helping you and your buddies at the expense of the outsider.”

    Sorry – as a former union member and union organizer, and as the wife of a worker whom I would see even less than I do if not for the protections fought for by his union, I can’t let that comment just SIT there. I’m the first to admit that unions are far from perfect, and indeed can be prone to corruption and abuses. But until all managers value employees more than they do the bottom line, we must have them. There are of course exceptions, but unions can and I think usually do make a gargantuan, positive difference in the lives of workers –and their buddies.

    My experience with unions has been in higher education, where I maintain that unions are desperately and widely needed–for graduate students and faculty and most keenly for custodial and other support staff. Probably the most satisfying fight-for-justice, not to mention educational, experience I’ve ever had was marching on the capital and pounding on legislators’ doors side-by-side with workers of all stripes from the U. of Texas. Sharing a union with all the people who make a university work really made clear the human context of the privilege of my education. But I digress, since we’re supposed to be talking about clothing.

    Maybe someone needs to start a separate thread about why LDS should care about labor practices.

  74. Unitus seems to be organized as a 501(c)(3) which means that it is a charitable organization rather than an profit making entity. However, its stated goal is to transition microcredit institutions from non-profit NGOs into for-profit banks and connect them to international capital markets.

    Incidentally, giving the poor access to international capital markets seems like the sort of thing that is actually likely to improve the material condition of the poor and lead to a “sustainable economy” to borrow a phrase. IOW, Unitus looks like it is doing really, really cool stuff IMHO.

  75. UT is public, last I checked, and Public Unions are the worst there is. What exactly is redeeming about people on public paychecks using political pressure to convince lawmakers to take more from the public and transfer it to them? Its the worst kind of special interest. Satisfying? Like a stick up.

  76. So where should Julie put here marginal clothing-dollar-saved…Unitus, or the PEF? I guess it’s hard to say, since as far as I know virtually no detailed information is available about what the PEF is actually doing.

  77. Kristen: My point was about the nature of economic history. I have no doubt that knocking on doors at the state legislature gave you great feelings of solidarity, spiritual union with the poor, and what not. However, this fact is really niether here nor there on the question of how effective unions were at raising the material condition of the working class over the course of the 19th century. The orthodox position is to say that they were the prime factor in such improved conditions. However, this position was developed mainly by Progressive historians who propounded their theories without any reference to the theoretical tools that have been developed for understanding economic change. Given that there were massive secular changes in economic conditions over the course of the industrial revolution that were independent of union organization or progressive legal agitation, it is by no means a foregone conclusion that unions were the primary driving force behind improved working conditions, etc. by the poor. The fact that the labor movement itself is tremendously invested in the story of its own role in improving the lives of workers doesn’t really tell us anything about whether or not that story is true.

  78. Wow, Adam. Labor unions definitely have their excesses, but stereotyping union workers as criminals is going a bit too far. Maybe you should rent “Norma Rae” this weekend.

  79. “Incidentally, giving the poor access to international capital markets seems like the sort of thing that is actually likely to improve the material condition of the poor and lead to a “sustainable economy” to borrow a phrase. IOW, Unitus looks like it is doing really, really cool stuff IMHO.”

    Nate, I know there are funds that do just this, i.e. solicit funds from those with excess capital and then invest them in microcredit funds, offering a lower return than a typical investment vehicle but with the psychic premium of knowing one is contributing to the welfare of others. I had thought Unitus was doing this, although I may be confusing with someone else; I haven’t been in the microcredit scene for quite some time. At any rate, I know people are doing it. One example: http://www.profundinternacional.com/htm/profile.htm

  80. I agree with Frank that the way to increase the wages of the poor is not to legislate wages, but to increase the economic value of their labor. The best way of doing this is by increasing their capital. The thing is there are trillions of dollars of capital sloshing around the globe and by and large that capital is indifferent as to where it lands, provided that the return and risk profile are what it is looking for. Microlending doesn’t have great returns, but the risk profile is really remarkable. The trick is to reduce the transaction costs that act as a barrier between the poor and the capital markets. This, however, will require the skills of business consultants and commercial lawyers to solve the institutional and regulatory problems that keep transaction costs high. We need more business dorks interested in poverty…

  81. Yes, Adam, UT is public. Texas is also a “right-to-work” state, meaning, among other ironic things, that public employees didn’t actually have the right to bargain collectively. That didn’t stop employees from forming the Texas State Employees Union, which operated with the support of the CWA (Communication Workers of America). And the fact that we couldn’t officially bargain didn’t mean that we couldn’t make our issues and opinions heard by and solicit support from the administration, our lawmakers and yes, the public.

    I fail to see how putting pressure on lawmakers to reallocate PUBLIC funds to secure a living wage–yes, we had employees below the poverty level– for someone who cleans the PUBLIC university, or securing benefits for the graduate students who teach nearly half the classes at this PUBLIC school where tens of thousands Texas citizens study is the “worst kind of special interest.”

    Thanks for your clarification, Nate. I’m not a labor historian, but I obviously see your point about the historical narrative and the interests of the various sides in interpreting it.

  82. Since we’re off the topic of clothes, I want to take issue with another of Russell’s statements. He says “MNCs [Multi-National Corporations] are a lot more efficient and powerful now than they used to be,” and expreses hope that we can “beat the MNC’s at their own game.”

    I don’t understand the idea that corporations are so incredibly powerful. In a free market system, the main power a corporation has is to offer to buy or sell something from/to you. Not really in the same league as raising your taxes or drafting you into the army. In fact, that is the exact power that Nike excercises when it opens up a plant and offers to buy the local labor.

    There is some danger that corporations can get too powerful if they get involved in politics and government. But this becomes a much bigger danger the bigger role the government plays in regulating, or worse subsidizing, businesses.

    It amazes me that people can think that the “power” of corporations is anywhere near as potentially dangerous as the “power” of governments. The high point of all this silliness came a few years ago, when it was de rigueur for the chattering classes to bloviate about how corporations were now more powerful than governments. Then 9/11 came along and people pretty much stopped saying that.

    Also, people stating their love of small businesses might want to note the empirical regularity that, on average, large firms pay higher wages than smaller firms. Also, attempts to regulate business will generally favor larger firms that can take advantage of economies of scale in the expense of complying with regulations.

  83. ed: Have you seen the Aviator? A very interesting movie on business. There is a seen where Howard Hughes is having lunch with the Senator who was working for Pan Am to shut down TWA. Hughes says, “Do you really want to go to war with me?” The Senator responds, “It’s not me Howard; it’s the United States government. We just beat Germany and Japan. Who the hell are you?” Of course, you can read the story either way, because Hughes turned the tables on Senator Brewster and TWA triumphed over Pan Am. Incidentally, the scenes in the movie where Hughes confronts Brewster in his own committee hearing and turns it into an inquest into the Senator’s relationship with Pan Am is basically accurate. Hughes really did just wipe the floor with Brewster.

  84. Perhaps Ed should watch the Jeff Bridges unrrated classic “Tucker: The Man and His Dream” as well.

  85. Nate: Sounds interesting…I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ll add it to my Netflix queue.

    Has anyone seen the documentary “The Corporation?” According to Netflix, it “chronicle[s] the origins of corporations, as well as their inner workings, controversial impacts and possible futures.” Sounds like it could be really a fascinating subject for a documentary! So many interesting legal and economic issues! But then is says “The pros and cons are weighed via interviews with social critics such as Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore.” I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

    Seriously, can anyone recommend a book that gives a good history of the rise of modern corporations?

  86. “Also, people stating their love of small businesses might want to note the empirical regularity that, on average, large firms pay higher wages than smaller firms. Also, attempts to regulate business will generally favor larger firms that can take advantage of economies of scale in the expense of complying with regulations.”

    I don’t know anything about “empirical regularity” but I do know about the clothing industry and what it costs to make clothing overseas vs. in america. And I do know that small clothing businesses that have no choice but to manufacture clothing in America have to pay much higher labor costs which turns into a higher priced product.

    It is quite possible that I was not supposed to be included in your comment “people stating their love of small businesses” . Once this thread turned primarily to economics, you all sort of lost me.

  87. The degree to which folks are having their world views formed by movies is disturbing. Taking fiction as truth can be very dangerous, like on the Truman Show.

  88. ““Also, people stating their love of small businesses might want to note the empirical regularity that, on average, large firms pay higher wages than smaller firms. Also, attempts to regulate business will generally favor larger firms that can take advantage of economies of scale in the expense of complying with regulations.” ”

    I don’t love small businesses because of the pay. And I usually favor less regulation partly because I like small businesses.

  89. On my mission I remember hearing a rumor that Thomas S. Monson, when visiting Europe, would pick up a few of his favorite brand of dress shirts that were not available in Utah. I heard that they cost something like $50, which seemed pretty extravagant to me at the time

    Seidensticker Splendestos (now available in Montreal).

    If you think that’s extravagant for a GA, be glad you were not a missionary in Duesseldorf between 75 and 78. Those were the only acceptable shirts in our mission. Anything else was mocked as an “American noodle.” I got by on two for my whole mission, then got a fresh one to take home with me.

  90. Adam (#94) – how exactly is film a less reliable medium than, say, a book? It seems to me that there’s nothing inherently dangerous about it, and your “taking fiction as truth” comment could be applicable to any input source. Of course people shouldn’t confuse fiction from non-fiction — but most people are capable of making that distinction (except in the case of the excellent Battlestar Galactica).

    Now, if you just wanted to say that people shouldn’t believe Noam Chomsky or Michael Moore, that’s a more interesting point (and of course a threadjack). But as it is, your generalization isn’t very helpful.

  91. Kirsten,

    You are right that the topic deserves its own thread (sometime).

    I am sure the union has been good to you and those you know. Economic theory suggests that it is hurting others who you don’t see. Public unions have their own special problems worth their own thread.

  92. No, Carrie, I was mostly talking responding Russell. I agree with you that firms operating in locations with high prevailing wages will generally have higher labor costs for unskilled labor than those operating where prevailing wages are low, whether the firms are large or small.

    Sorry about all the threadjacking…at least I made an on-topic comment back in comment #29! I agree with your original point that cost-per-wear is more important than cost-per-garment. But like I said, in my experience I haven’t found high price to be a reliable indicator of high quality. Maybe if I had your training I’d be able to spot the good pieces and spend my clothing-dollar more wisely.

  93. In order to hit 100, let me say that my wife and I talked about Carrie’s original post last night and agreed with the “cost-per-wear” rationale.

    Sorry for the sharp veer into trade theory. I blame Steve Evans.

  94. Frank wrote: “Economic theory suggests that it is hurting others who you don’t see.”

    I’m sure that certain practices also support that theory–that unions do hurt certain people. (My husband, incidentally, is open about both the pros and cons of his union, but definitely sees the pros as outweighing the cons.)

    I’m all for reforming unions, just not for abolishing them.

  95. Whether the fault is Russell’s or the fault is Steve’s, I think Adam should apologize to Steve.

    Aaron B

  96. ed: If you want a really wonderful little history of the corporation check out

    Adrian Micklethwait & Adrian Wooldridge, _The Company: A Short History of Revolutionary Idea (2003). It is a really wonderful little book — short, punchy, well written, full of interesting stories. Definitely worth a read.

  97. Dear Steve,

    I apologize that you took my joke seriously in comment #97. I sincerely regret that your sense of humor is as impoverished as if you had been raised by wolves as a boy and rescued as an adult by a Soviet Commisar married to a Puritan grandmother. I ask your forgiveness for your utter inability . . .

    No, wait. I take it all back. What do I have to apologize to Steve E. for? I’ve been very respectful and non-insulting.


    Sorry, Steve.

  98. Thanks Nate! I just ordered a used copy of the book on Amazon for only $3.79 plus shipping. Aren’t corporations great?

  99. ahhh…. I feel refreshed and invigorated. Newfound power surges through my veins… I’m alive….ALIVE!

  100. Isn’t Micklethwait the editor for the Economist? (Aaron asks, too lazy to spend the 10 seconds it would require to search the net and find out …) If so, his book on American conservatism last year was a good read too.

    Aaron B

  101. Micklethwait is indeed an editor at the Economist (aka the world’s greatest news magazine).

  102. Last Lemming:

    send me an email at mebutler (at) nyc (dot) rr (dot) com with the name and address of the store in Montreal that sells them. The Seidensticker website didn’t turn up any hits in their store locator.

  103. Hi, Adam G.-

    I assume “Like a stick up.” means like an armed robbery. So, union members who agitate for more benefits, are, according to you, robbing the public of revenue. Which is not such a charitable analogy.

  104. Maybe the issue has degenerated past the point of serious commentary, but I think the Book of Mormon says it pretty clearly: “Ye rob the poor because of your fine clothing” (2 Ne 28:13). There are a million and one ways to wiggle out of such harsh words (“its about priestcraft not us”), but I doubt angels are shopping around for the best deals and showing off their cute clothing to each other. Fashion is ephemeral, at best, so caution concerning costly apparel is appropriate. The question boils down to does fashion have anything to do with a Christlike life? No. That means it can be a dangerous distraction.
    Furthermore, my experience with Nike and other US businesses abroad was that it paid similar wages to what the employees could get anywhere else, but was much worse than other jobs. The factories shut down and fired employees without caring about them. I knew members who were in and out of jobs in American complanies making shoes and clothing because they didn’t have the skills to do anything else. NAFTA ruined these people. It doesn’t help that their self of self worth has been bloated like Americans to think that their worth is a function of their physical appearance and their wealth either.

  105. yeah, like how my parents are coerced into paying union dues to the UEA & NEA when they oppose nearly 99% of those organizations lobbying.

  106. It hardly needs saying, Elisabeth, but I am not suggesting that the public unions are actually criminal. I do not believe that they are extorting funds from the state via illicit force or the threat thereof. Satisfied?

  107. Adam, with all due respect, your comment did in fact suggest that public labor (not to be confused with civil) unions engage in criminal behavior (“Like a stick up”).

    I know you were just kidding, but I work with many good people who are members of a public labor union, and my sister, a high school English teacher and Debate coach, who gets paid a ridiculously low salary for an incredibly demanding and time-consuming job (which includes most weekends ferrying her debate team to tournaments and two weeks of debate camp during summer vacation – she gets paid a measly $1,000 per year to run her school’s debate program – which was pretty much thrust upon her because none of the other teachers wanted to do it, and as a new teacher, she felt that she couldn’t refuse, and so now she’s stuck doing it for at least another year or two), is also a member of a public union (the UEA), so, yes, I actually do think there are worse things in life than public labor unions.

    Like run-on sentences, for example.

  108. Elisabeth, I haven’t bothered to debating my earlier statements in this thread about the importance of promoting and protecting local labor, since I always lose those debates anyway. But, just in case you feel alone, rest assured that you are not alone in your support for unions. Workers need some way to equalize the playing field between them and those in a position to set the terms for their own work; unions are not a perfect strategy for doing so, and they have plenty of distorting and corrupting effects (I’m sure your sister has more than few complaints about her own union; I’ve yet to meet a public school teacher who didn’t), but nonetheless modern capitalist society would be a much darker place if it hadn’t have been for them.

  109. Thanks, Russell. I agree that unions are not without blame, but I’m surprised at the almost universal disdain for labor unions shared by many members of the Church. Labor organizers, including Cesar Chavez, have made invaluable contributions to the improvement of working conditions for the most disadvantaged members of our society. I especially worry about the thousands of migrant and undocumented workers who have few alternatives to avoid cruel exploitation.

    Anyway, this union tangent is way off course (sorry, Carrie!). We’ve all heard union horror stories (i.e., the millions of dollars of repairs needed for Boston’s Big Dig that some have attributed to shoddy union work), but, I think we shouldn’t dismiss labor unions out of hand as corrupt organizations. At least not when we have the likes of Dennis Kozlowski and the Enron guys running the top corporations in the country.

  110. Elisabeth,

    Although unions do have some good features (they provide a social network and often help organize worker training), I am perfectly willing to report a hearty disdain for the political and monopolistic activities that typically define them. And even more so when they monopolize a public service, as Adam mentioned. But I’ll leave it at that and we can hash out the details some other time. Beating up on Russell has diminishing returns.

  111. Elizabeth: Both of my parents would prefer less lobbying by the UEA in exchange for reduced dues. I think that is the best thing a labor union can do for its members currently. If teachers are so lowly paid…why do their unions insist in taking more and more from them?

  112. “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.”

  113. It’s been my experience in my work as an engineer that unions have a strong tendency to degrade the work enjoyment and performance of those workers who are unionized. In perhaps fifty jobsites I’ve worked at installation and commissioning of factory equipment, in various locations all over the U.S., about one third of the locations had unionized workers and two thirds did not. The unionized workers (millwrights and electricians chiefly) usually took 30% to 50% longer to do the same job, had a generally lower quality of workmanship, and seemed much less happy in their jobs, too. I was raised to support unions, and taught that they did great things for our country. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I do know that I’d rather work on nonunion jobsites.

  114. “Beating up on Russell has diminishing returns.”

    Hey, I like that! It’d make a nice personal slogan, if I could adapt it somehow. Melissa recently got me a t-shirt which has “Provocative Yet Flawed” printed on it, which is a comment that my dissertation advisor occasionally used to describe my work, and which subsequently became kind of a family joke. But yours might be even better. Thanks, Frank.

  115. I remember an older woman in our ward, speaking from the pulpit one Sunday in Sacrament, looked down at the congregation and said “Women, If we would spend half the amount of time that we take getting ready for church in spiritually preparing for church, we would have a ward with much stronger members.” I don’t mind throwing my hair in a ponytail for church quite as much now, although it does feel nice to put on the “non-mommy” clothes once a week and get the oooh’s and the ahhh’s from all of the other moms! This is one that I still really need to work on, obviously.

  116. I’m a frequent reader here; hope I’m not committing a faux pas by jumping into this discussion.

    I agree with those who’ve gone before me who bring up the idea of “costly apparel” as that which we don to impress others with our wealth or status.

    As a very petite woman, I have learned to spend my money on “classic” clothing which won’t go out of style rapidly. Yes, they cost more, but it’s just too hard to find clothes that fit! For trendy clothes, my newly-16-year-old daughter and I both go to resale and consignment stores. And we both sew and knit. My daughter had learned that, if she wants to have lots of clothes, she’s got to get them secondhand or make them. We don’t spend more than $10 on jeans.

    Is it wrong to want to enhance our bodies with the apparel we wear? Well, let’s draw an analogy to the temple. Is it wrong for our temples to be beautifully decorated with furniture of fine craftsmanship? Of course not–it glorifies God! If our bodies, too, are temples, then I don’t believe it is wrong of us to beautify them to glorify God.

    It’s the overdependence on labels, brands, and trends that is a sign of pride and seeking after the approval of men rather than of God that is a problem. I teach high school; I see it daily. I was wearing a secondhand,big label shirt one day, and a student noticed–“Mrs. H., are *you* wearing [namebrand]?!?!” Suddenly I was cool, like I never was when my mother dressed me in third-hand hand-me-downs.

    I should probably add that, in dressing to enhance the bodies we have, modesty needs to be a key factor. There is a phrase we hear in the temple that I love: “humble pride.” The idea of being proud of our gifts and still having humilty before the Lord and others can be a bit of a conundrum, but one worth sorting out!

    (Avoiding commenting on the union thread drift–having just completed my first year teaching/coaching speech, being a union member still feels strange!)
    I’ve rattled on; but will just add that I love reading through the discussions here!

  117. Carrie,

    I wear short sleeve shirts in the summertime because I sweat like a pig. I don’t polish my shoes often because I don’t like to spend my time polishing shoes. I like Rockports, which tend to look lame but last forever and allow me to walk everywhere I go. I admit I need to get my suits cleaned and pressed more often, especially now that I live in Sarajevo and regularly expose them to coal soot and muddy bomb craters in the sidewalks. (Hi Carrie and Todd!)

    I hate wearing suits. In fact, I hate being told what to wear, whether at church or at work. An earlier post states that we should want to dress nice if we want to look rich, powerful, and important. That’s fine and I understand my employer wanting me to carry that look. So I’ll wear a suit. But since I hate wearing suits, and since I could care less whether people think I am rich or important, I probably won’t keep them in tip-top condition or find the perfect tie to go with them every day. I’m obeying the letter of my employer’s law, and that’s enough for me.

    Although I understand my employer telling me what to wear, it seems strange to me that at church we have dress rules (they are ‘rules’ if you can’t pass the sacrament without a white shirt and tie). Jesus and John the Baptist weren’t concerned with what they wore, at least as far as the scriptures seem to indicate. I understand that we need to be in Sunday Best, or in respectful clothing, but since when does God only consider business dress respectful? What makes a suit more neat and reverent than nice pants and a button-down shirt? The fact that it costs more? If so, then that flies in the face of the “costly apparel” admonition. The fact that it is acceptable to the world? Then that contradicts every scripture that says I should pay no attention to what the world thinks.

    So what I am saying is that I am absolutely fine with Carrie’s comments. It’s useful to know what a fashion-minded woman thinks of various options for church garb, even if fashion is item #534 on our priority list. As Todd pointed out, we can take our advice or leave it. I have nothing to lose by reading it. I would rather have someone tell me that she doesn’t like short-sleeved shirts with a suit than have someone tell me that I can’t pass the sacrament because my shirt isn’t white or that I need to wear a full suit now that I am in the bishopric.

    Keep up your comments, Carrie, but please don’t be disappointed the next time you see me at church. I am not losing my $50 plastic Casio. It is analog and digital, has a stopwatch, alarm, two time zones, date, and fits my puny wrist. The fact that I’m on my third of the same model (three of the same watch in almost ten years) tells me that it’s a classic, and that’s enough for me.


  118. Oops, posted to the wrong thread. This was meant to go in Carrie’s ‘fashion tips’ discussion. Sorry.

  119. The point of the “costly apparel” remarks in the Book of Mormon has little to do with what you paid for your clothes. I can’t imagine anyone today thinking that anything they wore in BofM times could be nicer than what the average American wears daily.

    Think of it more in the sense of the ebonics term “bling”. Are you wearing it because you like it, and it performs its function well? Or, do you wear it because other people will drool over it.

    It is like so many other problems they had then, and we have now. Are you just doing it to seem better than someone else? Because if you are, you have a problem; not the guy without costly apparel.

    That said, related to post 128, we show our level of respect in our manner of dress. If I wore flip-flops and an old T-shirt to church, when I could be wearing a suit, I make it clear that the things taught there are not important to me. Of course, we don’t wear Tuxedos and formal gowns to church because they are designed to elevate the impression of the wearer above the others around them. So, middle ground is a nice suit or dress.

  120. An article in GQ magazine said

    “You spend only 3 hours average in your car per day, but you spend 24 hours a day in your clothes.

    Spend accordingly.”

    GQ being the polestar of morality that it is in my life, I’m buying some fab new clothes!

Comments are closed.

“Costly Apparel” or Just Good Economics

In one of my fashion classes in college, we were all given the assignment of doing an inventory of all our clothing. We had to write down a description of each item, when we bought it, what it cost, cost of care (dry clean vs. washable) and the number of times worn. Then, with all this information, we had to figure out the cost per wear of each piece. Depending on the size of your closet and how full your dressers are, this could be an overwhelming task. For me it definitely was. But what I learned from it has shaped my view of fashion and purchasing. The most expensive piece of clothing in my closet (a beautiful wool and cashmere winter coat from a small boutique in Paris) cost me less per wear than many of my other articles of clothing which were all purchased on sale (back when I thought I was the queen discount shopper). Eight years later, I still wear this coat every winter and the cost per wear is probably in the pennies now. It is my only dress coat. It is still in great condition and I will probably end up passing it down to my daughter when I die or when it no longer fits me.

So this study begs the question “What is the definition of ‘costly apparel'”. I really don’t think it has to do with the inital price of something.
It also begs the question “How much do you think the GA’s spend on their suits?”