Clothing Is Incredibly Cheap

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
Dec. 16 2011 12:18 PM

Clothing Is Incredibly Cheap

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I don't have a good Christopher Hitchens anecdote, so I thought I'd share one from my friend Mark Goldberg who says "I met Hitchens once in 2004/5. I told him I wrote for the American Prospect. He replied, 'I'm surprised you can afford clothing.' That's it."

Certainly to any of us who've worked on TAP's meager salaries it's a funny joke. But one very interesting thing about the market for clothing is that while when Hitchens was in his twenties the price of clothing was rising relative to overall prices, since 1990 clothing has been becoming incredibly cheap. That's your third world sweatshop labor, your Wal-Mart efficiencies, etc. The things a person with a meager income is going to have trouble affording under modern conditions is health care, housing, or college tuition. This is interesting, in part, because there's a great deal of interpersonal diversity with regard to those items. All kinds of people no matter where they're living or what they're doing need some clothing. But people generally buy health care services because they're sick, housing costs vary considerably from place to place, and college costs are huge deal for some people but irrelevant to others. I had no student loans and no health problems during my TAP years, so in practice having a low-paid job meant living in a high crime neighborhood.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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