The Last Shall be First

A heartwarming Christmas fashion story:

Even seasoned bargain hunters were startled to see Saks’s wood-paneled main sales floor mobbed with consumers nosing like truffle hounds through shelves of marked-down cashmere sweaters and racks of designer clothes with prices seemingly too good to be true.

Will shoppers ever again want to buy luxury goods at full price? The depth of the challenge was suggested by the incongruity this week of seeing Prada wallets, usually kept under glass at Saks, dumped into display stands that at Wal-Mart are known as “end-caps”; lizard handbags at Bergdorf Goodman jumbled on counters as if that Fifth Avenue landmark were an outlet of Loehmann’s; and Ralph Lauren dress shirts at Lord & Taylor thrown together and offered at prices roughly equivalent to the cost of two McDonald’s Happy Meals.

I’ve been skeptical of fashion’s real contribution to the economy. These developments remind me a bit of Keynes on Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren:

When the accumula­tion of wealth is no longer of high social im­portance, there will be great changes in the code of morals. We shall be able to rid our­selves of many of the pseudo‑moral principles which have hag‑ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues. We shall be able to afford to dare to assess the money‑motive at its true value.

The love of money as a possession ‑as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life ‑will be recognised for what it is, a some­what disgusting morbidity, one of those semi­criminal, semi‑pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease. All kinds of social customs and economic practices, affecting the distribu­tion of wealth and of economic rewards and penalties, which we now maintain at all costs, however distasteful and unjust they may be in themselves, because they are tremendously useful in promoting the accumulation of capital, we shall then be free, at last, to discard.

The articles of fashion mentioned in the article are losing none of their beauty or design elegance–only their ability to signify their acquirer’s wealth. This is one area where deflation is overdue.

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