Tracing consequences both seen and unseen.
Iris ManhattanThe Lesson Applied: Halloween Edition
Posted at 1:46 pm on November 6, 2010, by Iris Manhattan

When is the best time to buy Christmas presents? Obviously December 28, when stores are desperately trying to move the remaining Christmas merchandise off their shelves, and they combine sales with markdowns from gifts people are returning. The best time to buy a Halloween costume is right now, when Wal*Mart Discount City, herald of efficient commerce, is selling their Halloween stuff for 75% off. This is because the demand for costumes is very high on October 29, while in early November, they don’t even have dedicated aisle space for the many carts of leftover Lady Gaga costumes. So obviously I got a whole bunch.

Normally I wouldn’t even want to pay $8 for some of these prepackaged Halloween costumes–they’re usually not very good. (If they are $8 on sale, it’s because they are the fancy $35 costumes) I find it especially interesting to compare the photo of the model in the costume with the actual garment–often there are telling details that the model isn’t even wearing the product advertised. It is a given that the model’s back is covered with clips pinching back the fabric so that the somewhat shapeless product can hug her body attractively, as though it were a well-made garment. Another trick is that, if it is a “sexy” costume, the model probably has breast implants. This is important, because if the outfit seems supportive enough to hold up your boobs, keep in mind that implants stay up on their own, so if your tits are subject to gravity (and boy, mine sure are!), they are not going to look so perky in that Halloween costume that offers no chestal support.

So one of my new discount treasures is this awesome Supergirl outfit made of stretchy velvet and metallic spandex, the kind used for swimsuits and overpriced dance costumes. The “S” logo is this really thick, sturdy applique` (patch). What does this costume tell me about the state of the world today? It tells me that Capitalism has gotten so efficient at coming up with and efficiently using resources, that the most expensive resource is human effort: in other words, the time of a Mexican child is worth more than specialty fabrics.

When sewing a garment for retail, after you cut out all the pieces, you use a really fast, weak stitch to go around all the edges of the fabric so that they won’t unravel while you are working on the garment. Then later you go back and sew everything together, and you hem (make the edges look pretty) the edges that are exposed. Still with me? Well on the Supergirl skirt, they just left the crappy preparation stitching on the edge, no real hem. On the cape, they didn’t even do the crappy edge stitching, leaving it completely unhemmed, and the edges aren’t even cut out quite right, with snaggles hanging torn at the corners.

It’s not expensive, in terms of materials, to hem a garment. It just uses more thread. My mom used to always tell me to make sure I leave enough extra thread on sewing projects, because you can always cut it off, and “Thread is cheap.” That was her motto. That and, “Don’t talk to boys!” So why would this costume manufacturer spend the money on the expensive fabric and then sell the product half-finished? Because in his shady, exploitive (check out the positive connotations to the word “exploit,” by the way) little factory, what he has to ration is the precious time of his underage, uneducated employees. Sure, they could hem that cape at no cost and in next to no time, but even that would take away from his profit margin. This really makes me wonder what the real cost of the materials could be at the source, since the metallic fabric alone, if purchased at an American fabric store, would certainly cost more than the $8 I paid for the finished, multi-piece outfit that has been transported hundreds of miles for my convenience and entertainment.

I think it also says something about the prosperity of our nation that this fancy garment can’t really be washed (although you could probably sponge it off). This makes it almost disposable, a one-use dress like Marla Singer’s bridesmaid dress. (Side note: Marla, no one intensely loves a bridesmaid dress for one day. Of course, Marla’s probably never been to a wedding, so she wouldn’t know that.)

So put that lesson in your pipe and apply it.

Filed under: Efficiency, Labor, Trade
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Henry Hazlitt"[T]he whole of economics can be reduced to a single lesson, and that lesson can be reduced to a single sentence. The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups."
Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson






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