An American Hero Dies

A blog about business and economics.
Oct. 7 2013 1:54 PM

An American Hero Dies

73144587
SAN FRANCISCO - JANUARY 29: Freshly pressed shirts.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The New York Times has an obituary for a woman whose name I'd never heard but has now become my hero—Ruth Benerito, a U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist who did some of the key work that allowed the creation of mass-market non-iron shirts.

Read the obituary for more on the science. I want to linger a bit on the fact that ironing sucks. It's a huge boring waste of time. And anything anyone can do to reduce the amount of socially necessary ironing is a huge win. And it's worth dwelling on this particular triumph of the human spirit because it relates to some general issues. Ironing that there is a market for getting someone else to iron your shirts for you. Some fancy people presumably have maids taking care of their ironing, and when you send your stuff to the dry cleaner it comes back nicely pressed.

Advertisement

So in a sense, innovations in the realm of non-iron apparel are job killers. But in a more important sense, they are leisure restorers! In a modern service economy, an awful lot of formal market employment is more or less directly in competition with DIY unpaid labor. For most people most of the time, the alternative to eating out isn't starvation it's cooking for yourself.

But if you think about something like the future robot taxi utopia, then naturally one political impediment is going to be the fact that human taxi drivers and human taxi license holders don't want to see their industry destroyed. Yet it's crucial to see that in important respects the autonomous taxi wouldn't be competing with the human-driven taxi, it would be competing with car ownership and driving yourself in just the way that non-iron shirts mostly displace DIY ironing not maids-for-hire.

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

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.