A Standard Utopia


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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207 Responses

  1. Avatar Damon says:

    If I worked that less, I couldn’t pay my taxes. Or eat.Report

  2. Avatar Vikram Bath says:

    I find Hanson’s claim intuitively appealing, but I am cautious in giving anyone the power to determine which types of variety need pruning. Does anyone think it’s a coincidence that Hanson sees value in the variety of books but not in clothes? I think he should worry about getting shivved at the next faculty meeting by Tyler Cowen for suggesting standardized meals though. Similarly, he should stay away from The Truth About Cars staff for suggesting standardized cars. I don’t think anyone is really trustworthy to identify what variety can be done away with safely other than to choose for only themselves.

    (I’m still annoyed that our local Costco sells only vanilla and not the unsweetened soy milk.)Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Vikram Bath says:

      Costco sells the most popular varietal.
      Yeah, it’s annoying when it’s not what you like.
      But, it’s also cheaper. I like cheaper.

      Do we really need fifteen different types of French Fries from Heinz?
      Oh, sure, shoestring and steak are a little different… but, oh dear lord the vanity!

      I have relatively little problem with cookiecutter standardization…
      so long as one is able to pay more to get custom things.
      So you pay for bridal gear, but otherwise show up in Costco dress pants.

      I think food is one of the worst things with vanity… Double, triple the price
      on products that don’t sell well because you have that variety (honey,anyone?)

      Women’s clothing has the problem of oversupply and unpredictability — but a good fraction of that is the idiotic sizing system used.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:

      Goddamnit, @vikram-bath . I was thinking, “I see the appeal here, but something feels off. Who would ultimately choose where and when variety is allowed? By what process would they choose?” And then you go ahead and write exactly what I was thinking. Damn you!

      What I think this line of thinking demonstrates is that variety is in many ways a luxury. There probably exist places on this planet where cheap, standardized pre-fab housing could do a world of good. And where the alternative we enjoy here in the states is not a reality. However, I don’t think the goal should be this sort of standardization. Rather, it should be seen as an iterative step with the ideal being a world that has both robust variety and accessibility.Report

    • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Vikram Bath says:

      I am cautious in giving anyone the power to determine which types of variety need pruning.

      This. A crucial question is always who decides?

      I think he should worry about getting shivved at the next faculty meeting by Tyler Cowen for suggesting standardized meals though.

      Doubly this. 😉Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Vikram Bath says:

      This is a big part of where software bloat comes from. Pretty much every feature, no matter how useless it may seem to the typical user, is very important to someone, so they can’t cut anything without alienating someone.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Nah, that’s mostly sheer laziness. we put it in, why should we take it out again.

        Unless you’re talking about ADOBE… (our crappy fileformat makes the rest of our code work, so we can’t upgrade!)Report

      • This is something that a lot of advocates for OpenOffice and LibreOffice (which I use) don’t understand. They focus on how 90% of people spend 90% of their time using 10% of an office suite’s functionality. The problem is that everybody ends up using a different set of features off the beaten path, and nobody wants their feature to be missing or poorly placed. For me it was Pivot Tables.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        My company is trying to alleviate some of this. Instead of building a massively complex solver that does everything with wizards, we sell a straightforward solver that can do anything, if you know how to use it & are willing to take the time to write the macros, etc.

        Or you can pay us a little more & we’ll sell you a tool that will make your specific analysis much easier (either off the shelf, or something custom).

        Sometimes I think software companies lose a lot of sales by putting everything in their product & selling it at a high price. Better to build, say, a simple as hell version of Excel, sell it for a song, then also sell add-on apps. Want tools that make finance easier, you can buy that. Need engineering tools, those can also be bought.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        wow, someone who’s using C++’s approach!
        Make it simple, build libraries as needed.
        Seriously, that would get some “snazzy” points
        from me, if I were ever in a position to be making software decisions.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        someone who’s using C++’s approach!
        Make it simple, build libraries as needed.

        And create a syntax so impenetrable, and error message so cryptic that nobody who hasn’t spent years becoming an expert can hope to use it.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        I learned c++ in 6 months. It’s not that hard.
        Now, assembly? That gets irritating.

        And Intentionally Obfuscated Code in either
        language is a sin.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        OK, explain the use of “typename” vs. “class” in template definition, as well as the distinctions between operator=, a copy constructor, and a move constructor. Also, when is it necessary to define a virtual destructor?Report

  3. I agree with you and Vikram, and Hanson came off as smug and dismissive in his response to the first comment on his post. In fact, that was kind of the tone of the post, too. Of course, if you’re going to decide that some grand masters can determine what products are best for everyone, I guess smugness is necessary.

    It’s interesting that as a real-world example he offers Russia right after the communist revolution. I’m not sure I’d be hanging my hat on that.Report

    • Avatar Damon in reply to Jonathan McLeod says:

      “Of course, if you’re going to decide that some grand masters can determine what products are best for everyone..”

      Plenty of that type of effort going on currently in the “democrocies”. How is he any different?Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Jonathan McLeod says:

      He only offers that because he’s not got the business experience to talk about oligopolies.
      If all the capacitors are made by about four companies, why do we really need 500 motherboards? (yes, there are price/value points. but not 500 of them).Report

      • Avatar Rod in reply to Kim says:

        When I was working at Radio Shack they had (still do, for all I know) a repair service for name brand electronics. The claim was they could repair most brands of anything and all brands of VCR’s. The latter was based on the fact that despite the multiplicity of brands in the stores there were actually only three manufacturers worldwide. Same guts with different names on front.

        A lot of our apparent wealth of choices is an illusion. This becomes very apparent when you see this stuff from the back end like I do.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim says:

        by the opposite bent, a lot of our standardization is an illusion too. Sunkist is a cooperative, after all. [And it’s really annoying that you can’t trace the oranges back to the farm. It does adversely impact quality too]Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Kim says:

        A lot of our apparent wealth of choices is an illusion.

        Yes. And I would think this suggests that a lot of the apparent savings available from elimination of variety is also an illusion.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kim says:


        Ahhh… the illusion of choice. I think it was “House of Cards” where one of the characters said:

        “It’s like your mom telling you you can take a shower before dinner or after dinner. Either way, you’re going to get wet.”

        Right or wrong, I often employ this with my students. People like feeling in control. Even if they really aren’t.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Kim says:

        @james hanley

        Yes. And I would think this suggests that a lot of the apparent savings available from elimination of variety is also an illusion.

        In principle(if I remember my tim harford), as long as making products look different is sufficient to charge a premium on apparent difference, removing the apparent differences ought to be sufficient to undermine the basis of product differentiation. Suppose I have a bunch of coffee beans, if I sell some as normal coffebeans and others as fair trade coffee, I can charge extra on the fair trade stuff even if all the beans are identical as long as I “differentiate” the product by contrasting with the “normal coffee”Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Kim says:

        @murali I get what you’re trying to say; but I’m not sure I agree with your example.

        There’s a phenomena of marketing to women — wrap it in pink, and charge a premium, that I call ‘pink slime marketing.’ These are not superior products, they’re often cheaper, inferior products. (I doubt you’d use most of the pink-handled razors to shave your face, for instance.) But they’re pink, and for some godforsaken reason, many women will pay more for that color. There, I agree with what you’re saying.

        Coffee beans, on the other hand, are an agricultural commodity; and not all beans are equal. There’s a lot that can go right or wrong between the place their grown and the cup; weather, improper handling, growing techniques, soil qualities, pollinators, and on and on. Worker’s working conditions, too; for that cup holds some accountability back through the chain of human treatment.

        So I don’t disagree with your point; but I do think you made it with the wrong commodity.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kim says:

        I sometimes don’t understand the “fake variety” aspect that I see. To take the VCR example, a couple friends and I each individually bought VCR’s. They were all exactly the same but with different brand names. We each purchased the model because we were poor and it was the cheapest on the market. I think it was because each store wanted to be the “only” supplier of a particular model. I’ve seen the same with calculators.

        In other cases, though, VCR’s are basically the same from a repair point of view but the price differentiation does lead to some differences. Two heads versus four. But the heads on this JVC are the same as the heads on that Panasonic, so the result is that Radio Shack can fix them both. From Radio Shack’s point of view, they’re the same, but from the point of view of the consumer they might be different (they have different insert/eject mechanisms, though the JVC’s is the same for the 2-head and 4-head while Panasonic’s is the same for its as well).

        A big example of “false variety” that is only partially false is video cards. Almost all video cards are either ATI or nVidia. But when you’re shopping you will see 100 brands. The 100 brands will often do different things with heat management and physical configuration. The “variety” is overwhelming and usually there’s not a whole lot of difference from one to the next, but since I prefer video cards with heat syncs instead of fans, the “fake variety” gives way to an option that might not exist if it were still the case that ATI and nVidia produced their own cards instead of the chips for the cards that others produce.Report

      • Avatar Mo in reply to Kim says:

        And pretty much all calculator chips are made by TI. So those HP and TI calculators you had in school, TI made the guts.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim says:

        don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of having more than one graphics card!!
        But 500 is really too many.
        [Want to get into generic v.s. not generic drugs next?
        Costco vanilla ice cream comes from the Haagendazs factory…
        (it’s overflow)]Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kim says:

        Kim, how many varieties of video card do we need for someone to say “Hey, we should have one that is completely fanless?”

        I think limiting the number of available cards really could put the differences that matter to me in jeopardy. Or if I’m underestimating the general appeal of sync-only, then water-cooled.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim says:

        aren’t most onboard graphics not fan-cooled? So, i’d say your criteria (as expressed) would be the first card, not the last. Otherwise, we’re talking some sort of midrange, aren’t we?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kim says:

        Sorry, I should have been more specific… I want non-fan-cooled that also supports multi-monitor with its own RAM (though these days, without the 3GB limitation, that last is less of an issue than it was). Which means that more variety is needed to meet my needs than I initially suggested.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Kim says:

        While I’m not a coffee connoisseur, I understand that different beans can be different. My point is that even if all he buys are one kind of bean, if he calls one of his products coffee and his other product super special bean coffee he could charge more than if he called both super special bean coffee even if both were really super special bean coffee.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim says:

        How about we eliminate advertising? Because that is really how TJ and Costco get their savings.Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Jonathan McLeod says:

      He uses immediate post-revolutionary Russia – the one with the starving, and the dysentery, and the queues around the block to buy bread – to back his example? Nice.

      Honestly I don’t know that I buy the economics behind his argument at all – I’d have to see some really impressive numbers to believe that there are significant economies of scale left to be had. When Apple already sells 150 million iPhones a year, why are there phones almost an order of magnitude cheaper from Chinese “white box” manufacturers with much smaller production runs? If we all used iPhones, how much could Apple really shave off the price?

      I believe if we truly, collectively, want to work 10-25% as much as we do now, we’ll have to make do with a lot less – no clothes bought on impulse and rarely worn, smaller apartments (and forget houses), a “jet-setter” will be someone who’s flown in an airplane, those currently driving a luxury car under three years old will keep their Tata Nano going for ten years, or else have nicer walking shoes than the rest of us, and the library will need a lot more public Internet access computers. Particularly the wealthiest will have to find happiness with less than they currently have, as they’ll be accepting a lot more redistributive taxation than is going on now, in addition to working far less.

      I think we do have the technology and productive capacity to do it, if only in the first world – and we’d probably be a whole lot happier for it.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to dragonfrog says:

        Try a different example: if we want people to work 25% less, we need to automate more.
        Eliminate All Truck Drivers and Construction Workers.
        Move on from there. Here’s the trick of it though: these people are out of work permanently. So, yeah, we’re getting that 25% less work, but not equally.

        Those are two that have the tech nearly there.

        How about we eliminate farmers? That tech is fun! Anything made with vodka can’t be all THAT bad, can it?Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to dragonfrog says:

        I don’t think that’s really sound – to the extent we can eliminate construction workers while still constructing the same number of buildings of the same scale and type, construction companies have already done so in order to get the low bids on construction jobs. And yet I’ve never met an under-employed person with a journeyman ticket in a construction trade.

        What we can do is live more compactly – more apartments, fewer houses; instead of building a whole new house on the edge of town, remodel an existing monster home to have rooms half the size, so more people can make use of the buildings and municipal infrastructure already constructed.

        Also – farmers are made of vodka? I think perhaps I’m missing something.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to dragonfrog says:

        Give it five years. Construction is so expensive and so shoddy because we’re using the wrong people for the job, by and large.

        3d biological printers seem to produce a lot of alcohol…Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to dragonfrog says:

        @kim you’re arguing for eliminating all the jobs that I think we should be valuing more; the work (farming, construction, etc.) that should provide a good living wage and be recognized as skilled, for it requires skills that most of forgot we need — that is until we’re hungry, our toilet’s backed up, our there’s an axle-busting pot hole in the road leading home.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to dragonfrog says:

        asking anyone to argue against their job is probably a mistake.
        I’m actually not terribly for or against most of this (other than hating Monstersanto, but that’s mostly on a “this corporation might end the world as we know it–accidentally”).
        But it’s coming, and I think for all our sakes, we’d better be prepared.Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to Jonathan McLeod says:

      “I agree with you and Vikram, and Hanson came off as smug and dismissive in his response to the first comment on his post.”

      Agreed completely. Given a product which is already perfect for everyone, it makes sense not to introduce needless variation. Of course most products are not empirically proven to be perfect for everyone for all time for all purposes for all time. Thus variation in features, manufacturing, distribution and so on effectively act as market experiments. Lots of things are tried and a few succeed. These are spread via replication and mimic. This engine of discovery totally dwarfs any imagined gains by forced standardization.

      I enjoy Hanson’s writing, but this was an epic fail, and his reply to the first comment was startling. To imagine that Robin is unaware of the concepts or implications of Universal Darwinism or the works of Donald Campbell has me scratching my head.

      A world market of billions of consumers has large enough numbers for both strategies. Standardization for the masses where it makes sense and differentiation and experimentation for the rest.Report

  4. Avatar zic says:

    This reminds of of The Lathe of Heaven, when the main character dreamed everyone was equal, and woke up to find everyone turned 18% gray.

    But more importantly, is this notion of efficiency so many economists hold near and dear. Efficiency in this cereal factory may well give it an edge over that factory, yes. But perfect efficiency is not a thing to desire; it’s thinking of complex systems a linear and mechanical instead of fractal and organic; and variety is a hallmark of fractal and organic. There are more then three kinds of flowers, three kinds of birds, three kinds of LBMs.Report

  5. Avatar j r says:

    As Vikram alludes to above, it kinda sounds great, but variety serves a purpose. It contributes to individual utility. The Soviet Union put men into space and had many world class athletes and artists, but their government toppled, in part, because the people wanted blue jeans.

    Variety happens naturally and there is a cost to suppressing it. I don’t see anywhere that Hanson shows that the productivity we would lose suppressing variety would be made up by focusing on fewer thing. If there is empirical work backing this up, I would be interested in seeing it.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to j r says:

      I’ve seen costco’s prices on honey, versus a standard supermarkets. I’m not sure we’re actually losing much /productivity/ by standardizing to clover honey. Perhaps i’m just not understanding your terms.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to Kim says:

        If you are going to get to a place where the economy only produces one or three types of honey as opposed to 20 or a 100, then you’re going to have to expend some effort to get there. Either the government is going to have to claim a monopoly on making honey or they are going to have to enforce some sort of strict licensing regime.

        Those things have costs, so it’s not clear that the cost of enforcing the monopoly wouldn’t overwhelm the cost savings to having nothing but Costco honey.

        And that doesn’t even touch on the political economy concerns.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim says:

        I don’t think we need to go there. Economies of scale on honey are such that scaling up clover honey distribution to supermarkets doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to eliminate buckwheat honey production — just distribute it to stores more efficiently (read, less waste from it going past its sell-by date, and more consumption where it is sold).Report

  6. Avatar NewDealer says:

    I am highly sympathetic to the idea that Americans work too much and I think it is a noble policy goal to have more life in the work-life balance thing. I wonder if Americans are inherently work-a-holics or whether we have a culture where the work-a-holics just get to set the pace and demands for everyone else. Unlike libertarians, I don’t see a choice in this much and think people often do the long hours at the risk of being fired or underemployed. This is why I am sympathetic to French type maximum work laws.

    That being said, France also has a wide variety of products and I am confused about why so many people on the left (I don’t know if Robin Hanson is on the left) make anti-consumerism their cri d’ceour. This is why I say I am a member of the not-hippie left.

    The politics of anti-consumerism are interesting because it is also part we “never get over high school” and there are all sorts of cognitive biases at play. Or as we have mentioned before, it is often “Wah!! Why do people have to buy things that I dislike.”

    A few days ago I saw a geeky guy go on a bit of sexist rant on how women are taught to have a bias on geeky guys because women are taught to go for guys who can provide the “white picket fence lifestyle.” The phrasing was highly sexist but there are all sorts of interesting psychological components to the statement. What is about being a geek that makes it impossible to provide or want a “white picket fence lifestyle?” Is the guy implying that geeks are inherently aligned with the working class? I don’t see why someone can’t identify as a geek while also wanting to be upper-middle class and live in a place like Marin, Westchester, or some other tony suburban county. Are all the guys in tech 2.0 not true geeks because of their wealth? Etc.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to NewDealer says:

      I’d imagine that most geeks make enough money to provide the white pickett fence lifestyle.Report

    • Avatar j r in reply to NewDealer says:

      I’m sympathetic to the idea of working less, but I’m not sure why it should be a policy priority as opposed to something that individuals decide on for themselves. Put another way, why ought we privilege your or my desire to work less over someone else’s desire to work more?

      Also, I’m not sure why it is sexist to point out that hypergamy exists anymore than it’s sexist to point out that men seem to like big boobs.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to j r says:

        To a large extent we do privilege the desire to work more, over the desire to work less.

        For example – construction codes set minimum sizes and numbers of rooms as well as whole dwelling units, for no particular reason except that it forces up the price of housing for the benefit of the construction and mortgage industries.

        People who are perfectly happy living in a house that’s barely the size of a “regulation” living room are forced to put the things on wheels so they can be considered “camping trailers” instead of “houses”.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to j r says:


        There are individuals who choose it for themselves but I am sure there are also plenty of people who could like saner working hours but feel compelled to work long hours because they fear losing their jobs by not keeping pace with the work-a-holics. Also bosses tend to be work-a-holics.

        Do you think it is possible to create a set of policies that allow people who want it to work a reasonable set of hours while not feeling like the need to keep up with the work-a-holics? This is one of those issues where it seems liberals, conservatives, and libertarians just talk over each other or are destined to get never agree. It seems to stem from a radically different way of viewing the world and circumstance.

        You see an individual choice and that certainly exists. There are also incentives in some industries that cause long hours. The billable hour in many law firms is an example. You earn money by raking up as many as possible and this causes firms to require 2100-2400 hours from their associates in billables a year. A flat fee or contigency fee creates an incentive towards smart working instead of long hours.

        I also think Americans have a cultural tendency to see working long hours as being a sign of hard work and dedication when it is not. The Japanese are the same way from what I hear. We don’t know how to reward smart work. The French might work fewer hours but from what I hear, they have very little office chatter during working hours. They don’t take 20 minutes to browse the net, etc.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to j r says:

        Pointing out that hypergamy exists is sexist for several reasons. The men who talk about hypergamy tend to portray all women as being hypergamous rather than some. There are usually no qualifiers. Saying that all of class x possesses negative trait y is bigoted. Its also happens not to be really that true. If all women were hypergamous than most heterosexual men would not have girifriends and wives since the number high or even medium status men isn’t that great. Anybody with eyesight and observational skills should see that the hypergamy argument is ridiculous.

        The hypergamy argument is also very self-serving because it deflects the faults from the man without a girlfriend from him to the women. Isn’t it possible that the man might not have a girlfriend for good reason or just random bad luck? A lot of people aren’t in romantic relationships because they are obviously ill-suited for them for one reason. Getting involved with the wrong type of man could have high costs for a woman, more so than getting involved with the wrong type of woman could have a man. There have been more women killed by their boyfriends and husbands than vice versa. The economic cost of divorce and abandonment is higher for women than men to.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to j r says:


        I have no idea how your construction code example means we do make working more a priority. Maybe I am being dense but how will changing that make it possible for people to work less? Microapartments in SF are still pricey. I think the work more has more to do with culture than policies like the ones you describe. Of course culture is harder to change.


        The more interesting thing was he seemed to think that geeky meant having a non-prestigious job and see saw an anthesis between identifying as a geek and wanting to live in Mill Valley.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to j r says:

        “men seem to like big boobs”
        … perhaps you ought to survey more of the internet…Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to j r says:

        Also I am going to concur with my brother. What LeeEsq said.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to j r says:

        Random funny thought of the day, real estate agents that are promoting microapartments should be trained to do so in the fast passed voice that was used in the micromachines commercials.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to j r says:

        The hypergamy argument is also very self-serving because it deflects the faults from the man without a girlfriend from him to the women.

        This is a pretty universal thing, though. Women are not immune from blaming men when they have trouble landing one. (“Men only want women who are a size two” or “Men feel threatened by intelligent women” etc.)

        Hypergamy complaints often overlap with sexism, but are not in and of sexist, depending on how the complaints are voices and where the speaker is coming from.

        Nobody is owed a partner, but the relationship market isn’t exactly a fair one for anybody.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to j r says:

        Will, I am well aware from personal experience that the relationship market is not good for everybody. I never engaged in the hypergamy argument in the past I have vented on how bad it is for short men in the dating market and women are addicted to height. It wasn’t very nice of me to do so but I have been there.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to j r says:

        I have vented on how bad it is for short men in the dating market and women are addicted to height. It wasn’t very nice of me to do so but I have been there.

        How do you feel about women who vent about male preferences for thinner women?

        This isn’t an attempt at a gotcha moment, but the way. I am genuinely interested in what the ethical principle is at work here.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to j r says:

        @newdealer – building codes that require large homes require that the construction of housing take a lot of work by builders, and correspondingly a lot of work by people who wish to purchase or rent housing – i.e. everyone who doesn’t want to be homeless.

        By banning housing affordable by people who work a small number of hours, we effectively ban working a small number of hours.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to j r says:

        The San Francisco example actually I think supports my point – it’s one of the few places in North America where housing is expensive enough that you don’t need building codes to artificially inflate the cost of housing. Just living in San Francisco already rules out working less.

        There is no technical reason micro-apartments couldn’t be built in, say, Duluth – except that building codes ban it, supported by people who already own real estate and are terrified that poor people might be able to afford to live near them and affect the resale value of their expensive houses.

        No one in San Francisco has to fear that people without a lot of money can afford to live near them.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to j r says:


        Fair points but what do you make of the cultural arguments towards working more that I think are part of the problem. I think there are enough work-a-holics and these people tend to become managers and bosses who set the culture of the economy.

        So I think relaxing the codes might help a little but not much. Is this another liberal and libertarian divide?Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to j r says:

        Certainly cultural expectation is a big part of it – for many people, there’s a big divide between the simplest life that’s still allowed, and their current rate of expenditure – so they’re not simplifying by choice, not because a law prevents them.

        But that’s not eveyone – witness the people who do build tiny houses and find themselves having to stick the things on trailers just to avoid legal sanction. Most people don’t have the skill and resources to do that themselves – if they could just search a real estate website for “houses or apartments under 250 square feet” and have a choice of locations, they might well pick them.

        Before you can make something culturally embraced, you have to make it possible without risking legal penalty.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to j r says:

        jr, my feeling is that they are human and humans need to vent from time to time. I actually sympathize with them because I know what its like to be not close to the ideal.Report

    • Avatar veronica dire in reply to NewDealer says:

      The idea that geeks as a class don’t make enough to provide a nice lifestyle is beyond preposterous. I mean, I suppose there are geeks and then there are geeks. However, it seems a reasonably well paid profession, near as I can tell.

      On the what women want versus what men want thing — heh, where to even start on that.

      On how contemporary geek-culture perceives what women want — hoo boy, that is a very dark place. Honestly, I find the whole nerd-bro raging misogyny crowd deeply fascinating.

      Which isn’t admirable on my part. But I can’t help it. It’s train-wreck fascinating.

      (Note, I’m a software engineer at a tech company with 1000+ engineers. This is my world.)Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to veronica dire says:

        We all have our train wrecks.

        I suppose there is a no true scottsman fallacy going on. For every well-paid software engineer, there are one hundred lab techs cleaning test tubes. Or something like that.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to veronica dire says:

        Do you read oglaf?
        It’s answer to “what women want” was hilariousReport

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to veronica dire says:

        On the train wrecks, yes. (I feel sorta like one of those people who watches Horders or whatever. But I can’t look away from manboobz.com.)

        On geek earning potential, I mean, there are a million stories in the clothing optional queer city, but I’d rather be that lab tech looking toward my future than a blue collar fellow from a union family.Report

  7. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Hanson’s model is what the Communists tried to do with consumer products. In China, everybody wore the same jacket and pants outfit because it was viewed as more egalitarian. We even had something like this in the States with the Ma Bell system and the two types of phones.

    People hated it. There is something on the human psych that requires variety and color. It might be economically inefficient but monotony drives humans batty. People have different tastes and needs. If we apply Hanson’s model to books than we would get a lot of romances, thrillers, and pop history but not much else. I’m not sure how he would like that.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Or Henry Ford, that great American communist, and his only making black cars.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Chris says:

        I heard that was a bit of urban legend and that the decision to only make black cars was more of a technical decision than anything else.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Chris says:

        “Communists have seized the IMF!”
        if the paper says it, it’s gotta be true…Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Yeah, I assume it was a way of reducing costs. I suspect that the reasoning behind many communist decisions to produce less variety are as well, though they may sell it in egalitarian terms.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Chris says:

        The Communists seemed to hit an ideological brick wall when it came to consumer culture. Ostensibly communism and socialism are only more just, fairer distribution systems for the delivery of goods than markets. “From each according to his own to each according to his needs and all that.” A lot of Communist intellectuals were deeply troubled by the materialistic nature of bourgeoisie society as they saw it and wanted to change it and elimanate it. Communist wasn’t supposed to be a much more fairer version of capitalist society, it was about something different and better. Consumer culture and people’s desire for material goods presented a bit of an ideological problem.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Chris says:

        Much as people’s intuitions about fairness are a problem for capitalism, though one it generally overcomes.Report

      • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Chris says:

        Thanks for the link to the paper, Kim! It’s obviously a vast exaggeration (more like “some moderate liberals may now be present within the IMF” or “the IMF may be becoming open to evidence-based rather than blindly-ideological policy making”), but the paper itself is highly pertinent to my interests.

        Not sure how it’s relevant to this topic at all, but certainly interesting.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Chris says:

        I heard that was a bit of urban legend and that the decision to only make black cars was more of a technical decision than anything else.

        Colors hadn’t been invented then.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to LeeEsq says:

      “In China, everybody wore the same jacket and pants outfit because it was viewed as more egalitarian…”

      This is often the argument given in favor of school uniforms. The differences between children in a school and adults in every day life are multiple, but I’m still bothered by this justification. Proponents argue that everyone wearing the same thing hides inequality. Not only are many children deft enough to figure out that Johnny has more/better/nicer things than Jimmy, but I think that hiding inequality is the wrong way to deal with the reality of inequality.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Kazzy says:


        School uniforms is one of those weird areas where it seems like a lot of liberals and a lot of conservatives agree.

        Generally I am on your side, I dislike uniforms strongly and for the reasons you mentioned. It doesn’t really do what advocates say it does. A lot of my liberal friends who attended fancy private high schools defended uniforms for the hiding inequality reason and they thought it made life easier for the scholarship students at said fancy private high schools.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        Exactly, @newdealer . I often find it is a way for the elite to A) reinforce their norms while B) scoring points for egalitarianism.

        Wanna know what my school did this past year? It wasn’t enough that we required our upper school students to wear a blazer. This year, they had to buy a specific blazer from a specific company that had the school logo on the chest. This was because — supposedly — some kids had designer blazers and others had bargain basement ones and this was wrong. My concern was that we now forced families — poor families in particular — to buy two blazers: a school one with the logo and a regular one without a logo. They couldn’t exactly wear the logo-ed one to church or non-school events. So, our supposed egalitarian plan actually just put an extra strain on the poorest families.

        FWIW, I think the intent here was genuine but just remarkably short sighted.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Kazzy says:


        This is sort of why I am anti-private school in the K-12 range. There are lots of wealthy liberals who give themselves props by raising their kids in diverse and multi-cultural cities instead of homogeneous suburbs but then they express horror at sending their kids to the public schools in said city and the kids end up going to largely homogeneous private schools.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        While I understand where your objections are coming from, I’d offer some slight pushback, for two primary reasons:

        1.) Your understanding of independent schools is relatively accurate if you look at a lot of the “legacy” schools. The ones that trace their roots back to the 17th century and work really hard to maintain an internal world that no longer exists externally. However, there are a number of schools that don’t fit that mold. The progressive education movement and the liberal tendencies of the 60’s and 70’s have resulted in a number of schools that buck this trend. To varying degrees, they push back against elitism, embrace diversity, and resist many of the trappings of more traditional schools. They’re not without their faults along the vectors that bother you, but they tend to be much better than their older brothers and sisters. In Manhattan, you can see this most starkly when comparing the uptown (old school) and downtown (new school) schools.

        2.) Promoting diversity has become one of the “it” things in education, in part to counter perceptions such as the one you offer. Some schools aggressively and thoughtfully tackle diversity work, some muddle through it, and some provide lip service and little more. Except in geographic areas that are exceedingly homogenous (e.g., Maine), most of these schools are more racially integrated than most public schools. There are still a myriad of issues, including tokenism, embracing the visuals of diversity but demanding conformity, and only accepting students of color of great means because many schools have a de facto “You can be poor, you can be black, but you can’t be poor AND black” attitude.

        More broadly, I think there is a lot of value in your critiques. When wealthy New Yorkers opt out en masse of the public education system, they are more likely to be indifferent or antagonistic to the education system. This is highly problematic.

        Personally, I’ve worked in the hippy-dippy progressive schools and in the old school ones. I greatly prefer the former. They do a better (albeit not perfect job) of accepting people as they are and not demanding a false conformity. In many ways, they mirror public schools in that way, but have much more intentionality to their efforts. For this (and other reasons), I’m making a concerted effort to get out of my current school and back into one that better addresses these issues.

        I’m also seriously considering public schools for the first time in my career. I believe passionately in a strong public education system, but find many of them to be work environments in which I would struggle on a number of levels.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Kazzy says:


        1. Maybe on point one. You are right that there are plenty of newer (or at least relatively newer) independent schools that try to do what you say. In my observations, they are still just as expensive as Philips Exeter. I am thinking of artsy independent schools like St. Anne’s in Brooklyn, Fusion in San Francisco, Urban in San Francisco, and Lick-Wilmerding in San Francisco. Lick-Wilmerding started off as a vocational/industrial high school in the pre-World War II era. Sometime in the post World War II era it became a chi chi independent school where lots of rich progressives send their children. Well not lots but about 80 per a class. However, the school tries to stay true to its roots by requiring vocational courses. So you have a student body that is largely Ivy League bound who also learns to make canoes.

        Urban is also very artsy and progressive but the student body seems very well off to me. It is the kind of individualized education that only money can buy.

        To be fair that also describes my small liberal arts undergrad.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        Elite schools are elite schools. And no matter how progressive their philosophy or liberal their leanings, most will charge $30K if they can. There is no denying that.

        A school you might be interested to learn about is the Manhattan Country School, most notably their sliding scale tuition: http://www.manhattancountryschool.org/about-us/sliding-scale-tuition

        They have a really unique approach but I think demonstrate that there is another way to approach independent education.

        Two caveats:
        1.) A major reason why they work is because they have a self-selecting group of parents who seek out the school because of its method and ideology. Parents are unlikely to complain that their tuition bill is higher than someone else’s because that sort of parent is unlikely to even look at MCS.
        2.) From what I understand, their teachers earn less (possibly far less) than their colleagues in other independent schools*. This, again, is borne out of the idea of people really buying into what the school is trying to accomplish. I don’t have hard figures but I know people who’ve worked there and spoke to the issue.

        * FWIW, independent schools tend to pay their teachers less than public school teachers with similar experience and in the same micro geographic area. It does vary, but the overall average is lower. This is just wages, mind you; I don’t know exactly how benefits compare.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Kazzy says:


        I am also not a fan of various alternative schooling philosophies like Waldorf or unschooling so that is why some progressive education raises eyebrows from me.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        Progressive is an oft-abused word in the educational world. In NYC, damn near every school describes itself as progressive because that is a buzz word in that area. Elsewhere, no one uses it because it’s looked down upon, even schools that are clearly progressive. As someone who believes pretty hardily in Dewey’s idea of progressive education, I bristle at the reputation the approach has engendered. The idea that progressive schools have no rules, no routines, no structure, no anything is so far from what Dewey advocated. In fact, Dewey said those things were even more important because the freedom given to students in other areas had to be counterbalanced. The rules/routines/structures just take a different form.

        Now I’m getting ranty.

        I think your disdain for much of what gets labeled “progressive” nowadays is fair. And I’d likely agree with it.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Kazzy says:

        @kazzy the school my husband worked at last year costs in the neighborhood of $36K+ for a day student, high $40’s for a boarding student.

        It’s a ski school, tends to place students in small liberal arts colleges and then on to the Ivy’s for graduate.

        They pay starting teachers less then a day-student tuition, though they provide housing (often the dorms,) and require essentially being at work all the time you’re living.


        My biggest objection to private schools is that they often fail to make clear to parents that, upon entering, they surrender legal rights that children have in public schools; including rights like have an IEP if you need one, rights to due process if the child gets into trouble. They can, generally, cancel their contract with you to educate you child and keep the tuition you paid. I do not think that most parents who send their children to private schools have any idea how devastating these things can be to a kid if somehow, something goes wrong.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        What makes you say they forfeit the right to the IEP? Everything I’ve learned and seen says that the students retain the right to an IEP, but the independent school has no obligation to fulfill it. IEP’s come from the district.

        More broadly, the model you describe is fairly common for boarding schools. It is one reason I’ve avoided them thus far.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Kazzy says:

        “I am also not a fan of various alternative schooling philosophies like Waldorf or unschooling so that is why some progressive education raises eyebrows from me.”

        My parents’ thinking, and to some extent mine, is that you should favour schools where the parents have selected to send their kid there, rather than to the neighbourhood school, because or the specific thing the school does. Doesn’t much matter what that thing is – French immersion, arts focus, science focus, independent learning, free school, whatever. The thing that matters is that it’s a school where the parents have made a decision other than the default about their kids’ education – which means they’ve thought carefully about it, and have got time and energy to devote to it.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to LeeEsq says:

      We even had something like this in the States with the Ma Bell system and the two types of phones…. People hated it.

      Eventually people hated it. After enormous sums had been invested so that essentially every home had phone service, every business had a phone on every desk, direct-dialed long-distance was widespread, etc, etc. Once ubiquitous cheap phone service was a given, then people decided that lack of choice about color or styling of the phone was an important shortcoming. Black Model Ts were too limited a choice after cars became a mass-market item. Beige-box computers were too limited a choice after personal computers became a mass-market item.

      The normal sequence is: object X is a rarity, each unique, produced by craftsmen for the rich; someone figures out how to make object X at a price the common person can afford, usually with the limitation that they all look alike; the common person begins to want a unique object X that reflects their personal taste.Report

  8. Avatar NewDealer says:

    To quote an old cliche:

    Variety is the spice of life.

    Life would be boring if there were only chucks and New Balance sneakers. I appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into fashion and shoes.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to NewDealer says:

      This inadvertently touches on something else, which is that I cannot wear New Balance sneakers. They hurt my feet. After a while I can’t walk (I can sort of waddle). I don’t know what it is about NB that causes this problem, and I don’t expect that it causes problems for many, but in a world where NB design was the design for sneakers, I wouldn’t be able to wear sneakers at all.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Will Truman says:

        In my perfect world, cobblers would custom-fit shoes to your feet.

        Clothing, too.

        And there would be an eternal ban on polyester fleece sweat pants.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Will Truman says:

        Hand-crafted goods don’t exactly scale well to the current number of people. They are also much more expensive than machine made goods because of the labor involved. Industralization created a populace that was better clothed and shoed than anything else that previously existed.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:


        There are still plenty of places that make bespoke clothing. Some companies like J Hillburn learned to be sort of economical about it but still on the expensive side 99-130 dollars per a shirt.

        Handmade shoes are very expensive. I would love a pair of hand-made John Lobb shoes and a Saville Row bespoke shoes.


        I used NB as an example but I have a similar issue with chucks. They are too narrow for my feet.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Will Truman says:

        I have had a similar issue with Clarks shoes (a pair of shoes x2, and a pair of flip-flops).

        The footwear appeared to be well-made, and Clarks customer service is excellent (they sent me a replacement pair when I was having trouble with the shoes, thinking they could be defective somehow, without asking for documentation of the original purchase or requiring return of the original pair).

        But they hurt my feet for no reason I could discern.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Will Truman says:

        on the expensive side 99-130 dollars per a shirt.

        Dude, that’s not just on the expensive side; that’s approaching the goal line on the expensive side.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Will Truman says:

        not really… just… not really.Report

      • Kim,

        Really, just really.

        Can I even begin to express his bizarre it is to me that someone who is liberal and worried about inequality thinks $100 shirt isn’t expensive?Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:


        Kim is right. Not really.


        I like this shirt. I certainly wouldn’t pay 695 dollars for it but I might buy it if it went on a 75 percent off sale. This is not event the most expensive shirt they sell, though the more expenseive ones were more avant-garde. There is a whole world of expensive fashion out there.

        We can probably also disagree on how much one should pay for a good pair of shoes or a nice suit.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Will Truman says:

        As to whether or not I’m liberal, eh. Liberals will get more stuff done than libertarians will… but free enterprise afficionados will get their shit together quicker.

        $100 shirts are still in the realm of “branded merchandise” — which is a middle class (okay, you read the times. “Not Quite Rich Yet” clothes). Custom tailored clothes from the right tailors are what the rich folks wear.

        Besides, if I buy a $75 shirt, and wear it every other day for a month (while washing it in the hotel sink), I consider the extra expense worth it. If nothing else, for not having to carry around the other 7 shirts. And less time spent at laundromats.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Will Truman says:

        What are liberals if not relativists?Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Will Truman says:

        James and ND,
        anything that goes on 75% off sales is not being retailed at a price they expect humans to buy it for. Better to understand that is a $200 shirt that you can pay an extra $600 to be “in fashion” with.

        Also: that looks like it would totally be a nipple shirt.Report

      • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Will Truman says:

        ND – The fact that more expensive shirts exist does not mean that a $100 shirt isn’t really expensive. It is. The vast majority of people in North America would not have the financial resources to spend that kind of money on their shirts.

        My typical range for a shirt is $10-20. $5 if I’ve found summer t-shirts on sale.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:


        I don’t see what you are getting at. How much should the maximum price for a shirt be? I get that it can get me labeled as a champagne liberal or some such but I never said I was an outright communist.

        You can find ways to combat inequality and still have variety. I think you are making a case for the issue that Vikram brought up. I totally get you are not a clothes guy and that is totally cool but you are making a value judgment on what should and should not exist based on your preferences. How much should a shirt cost? Why is it good for everything to not exceed Jos A Bank levels of style?Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Will Truman says:

        I totally disagree. You can wear ExOfficio clothing through hell and back. The upfront expense is well paid for by lasting longer, and looking better while doing it.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Will Truman says:

        I don’t see what you are getting at. How much should the maximum price for a shirt be?

        I think it should be whatever some sucker is willing to pay.

        You can find ways to combat inequality and still have variety

        I’m pretty sure you can’t cite me saying differently.

        you are making a value judgment on what should and should not exist based on your preferences.

        Pretty sure you can’t find a verifiable citation for that, either.

        Why is it good for everything to not exceed Jos A Bank levels of style?

        Or that. (Is Jos Bank bad? I see their 28 suits for the price of 1 ads and I have to wonder about their quality. And who the hell pays full price for a Jps Bank suit instead of waiting 3 days for the next sale?)Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Will Truman says:

        Thank you, @katherinemw

        @kim, I’ll put my $25 Carrharts or Dickies up against your Ex Officio stuff for wear any day.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Will Truman says:


        As to that shirt you linked to, if I wanted a button down shirt that showed my nipples, I could get one a J.C. Penney for about $15. If it wore out faster, that’d just be a plus!Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:


        I guess I was being a bit rude. Sorry. Maybe it is naive of me but I believe that one can fight inequality while also having a solid welfare state. France and Sweden produce some very expensive and nice clothing. Plus I admire the craftmanship of good clothes.

        We could have a nice universal healthcare system by cutting the military budget.

        This is possible a dispute that I do see on the left though between bourgeois-bohemian liberals like me and more radical liberals who do seem morally affronted at the idea of expensive clothing. There is craft in Isaia even if the prices are too much.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:


        I do recall posting a picture of some expensive Paul Smith shoes that you liked over the summer. So you are not just strictly a Dickies and Carhart kind of guy. It is not being a fool parted from his money to pay for artistry and craftmanship though I admit artistry and craftmanship is in the eye of the beholder. This is sounding awfully like Palin sneering at urban liberals as strawmen.

        I don’t understand the point of your sneers. If you don’t like the shirt fine, I just picked it as a random example.

        This is more my style any way but still expensive:


        Maybe this is all a difference in background? Maybe.Report

      • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Will Truman says:

        ND – What James (and I) was getting at wasn’t opposition to the existence of expensive shirts. It was the irony of anyone who’s liberal or leftist or supportive of greater economic equality claiming that something that’s unaffordable for the vast majority of people even in the developed world isn’t expensive. Regular people cannot afford to buy $100 shirts for everyday wear.

        Median income for a single person in Canada is $23,000. From my experience living at that income level, $100 was more like “a week’s budget for groceries”.Report

      • Avatar dhex in reply to Will Truman says:

        i have to wear suits every day, and I’m a 50-52L. the josiah a bankster factory store is my friend. i have a local seamstress who is good enough. and the store at least does braces buttons correctly for very little money.

        i can pay for mtm from brooks or whatever at 800-1200 a pop or pay 100-200 per suit from the factory store and get something that a good 95% of people don’t realize isn’t a “good suit” because most people don’t look at men’s businesswear very closely. i also no longer live in nyc so it really, really doesn’t matter.

        durability is partially a factor of use and care, and partially a factory of build. i have a few “nicer” but still not very expensive suits i save for big deals – board meetings, weddings, funerals, etc.

        i only buy on sale – shoes, shirts, socks, ties, whatever. no one knows better because a) the clothes fit well and b) no one here (or most places, nyc included) actually know what looks “good”, much less the various class identifiers involved.

        as far as most people are concerned, a shirt is a shirt and pants are pants.

        for shoes, i like a-e, but won’t pay full price ever. nordstrom rack is helpful in this regard as well.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Will Truman says:

        shit, really?
        That’s nearly a month’s groceries for two people around here.
        And I KNOW ND’s digs have cheaper groceries.
        (ours are fairly expensive around here).Report

      • Avatar Mo in reply to Will Truman says:

        @newdealer Dude, Raja Fashions bespoke shirts are less than half that price at ~$50.Report

      • I don’t know what a reasonable price for a shirt is, but I can say that I think people (including me) probably own more than twice as many shirts as they need. And I don’t think that is an error the poor avoid entirely (though I haven’t seen enough closets of poor people to know).

        Also, I wonder to what extent quality is defined by price in this product category. Calvin Klein makes expensive clothes, but I don’t think they wear well. (In fact, I think they are below average in durability.) Meanwhile, the $15 JC Penney shirts are survivors.

        I have no idea how the Barney’s shirt will wear, but in my experience, if you are buying an article of clothing for $695, you are primarily buying it because you like the style, not because you expect it to be the one shirt that will survive a nuclear explosion.
        Incidentally, Patagonia’s stuff is an example of stuff that is expensive but will last a lifetime. That’s the length of the company’s warranty too. I only buy their stuff when it’s in the sale section and at least 50% off though.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Will Truman says:


        All I was really saying was that $130 for a shirt is expensive. Not “on the expensive side,” but flat-out expensive. As KatherineMW said, the great majority of people even in a rich country like the U.S. cannot afford a shirt at that price point. That’s all, it’s expensive.

        Taste is a different issue. I think that first shirt is not just ugly, but gross (I’m not looking too see nipples or obvious undershirts in a business setting or even most social ones. But that’s subjective. That second shirt is pretty cool. But if I can get something that looks awfully similar for about 1/8th the price, I honestly wonder if it could be 8 times the quality, or if I’m just paying for signaling (and if that’s what people want to pay for, that’s their business.) Shoes I’m grudgingly willing to pay more for, due to knee pain, but shirts can’t add that much bonus for me.

        But let’s not pretend we’re not talking real world out-of-reach-of-the-masses expensive.

        Me, I’m a goddamed FYIGM libertarian (not that you’ve ever said that), but I bought my Dickies and Carrharts at WalMart, standing in line with the unwashed masses getting their $10 dress shirts. It’s a different view of the world.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Will Truman says:

        A new Honda Accord with all the trimmings gos for more than 30K. That’s a heckuva lot of money, and I am completely sympathetic to anyone who buys cars used and looks for bargains instead of laying that out. Regardless, a Honda is not an expensive car.Report

      • In my view, there’s not the slightest thing wrong with spending over $100 for a shirt. It’s only when they think of their $100 shirt as emblematic of the taste that they have that others don’t, as opposed to being emblematic having the money and choosing to spend it on that.

        Okay, okay, sometimes I do get snarky on how people choose to spend their money on clothes. But ND’s rationale makes sense to me. Not my bag, but there’s no reason that it should need to be.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Will Truman says:

        I do recall posting a picture of some expensive Paul Smith shoes that you liked over the summer. So you are not just strictly a Dickies and Carhart kind of guy

        I’d wear those shoes with my Dickies. Not my Carrharts, though.

        I do dress up for work…usually. But academics are a notoriously badly dressed bunch, so I can get away with a lot. Some professions, I know, would necessitate a little more stylish clothing than what I wear.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:


        I looked at their fabrics. Nice enough but nothing amazing. I’ve used J.Hillburn for the bespoke shirts.

        For me it is largely about aesthetics. I like things that looking interesting and a bit artsy. Now this might not be standard for guys. A lot of guys (especially heterosexual ones it seems) seem to take pride in not giving a damn about aesthetics. Maybe it is because I am a theatre major and not a STEM person but I like aesthetics and craftsmanship and value them.

        The thing that makes an item of clothing interesting is the craftsmanship, the feel of the cloth/texture, and the detailing. The detailing is key:

        Again, I probably wouldn’t pay retail but this shirt has amazing detailing that is simply absent from most other designers. It is kind of static looking which is interesting:


      • Avatar Mo in reply to Will Truman says:

        @newdealer I wouldn’t go by their website. It has a tiny fraction of their selection. I just went and flipped through what was on their site and I realized that of the ~20 shirts of theirs that I have (acquired over the course of 5 years no blowouts yet) not a single one is on their website. If they tour through your city, I would recommend checking them out.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Will Truman says:

        “What are liberals if not relativists?”

        So you *are* Siths.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:


        When you say “craftsmanship” what do you mean exactly? I’ve bought clothes at a variety of price points, from a variety of sources, and found only the slightest correlation between price and quality. And once you pass a certain price threshold, there is no correlation. Are you meaning something other than “quality”?Report

      • Only siths deal in absolutes.

        (Lucas really couldn’t keep the relativism straight.)Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to Will Truman says:


        I don’t know about artsy, by the items that you linked to it looks like you dress like a communist. I hope you never have a girlfriend who names names and gets you banned from your favorite Chinese restaurant.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Will Truman says:

        Paying over $100 for a shirt just to be seen as Bohemian is TOTALLY missing the Point!
        Sorry, had to get that out of my system.

        I’ve just started buying Carharrts for workwear (still need to wear dress shoes. blergle). But those are cotton (at least what I’ve been buying), and that means they’re a lot less likely to dry quickly (and are less stain resistant. if you’re taking two shirts on a 30-day trip, you want stain resistance!). Plus it helped to look like a Silicon Valley Executive trying to dress casually and not quite doing it right.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

      well, i had to google that one.
      I think we’re basically talking about scaling back on the completely silly stuff. One color leather (that you can get dyed after the fact?) How does that sound? Is possible, even?Report

  9. Avatar KatherineMW says:

    Given the existence of persistent high unemployment, I don’t think reducing the number of work-hours needed would, in an of itself, be beneficial to people’s quality of life. If we could find a way whereby more people were employed, but worked less hours, but yearly salaries remained the same, that would be great. But that’s a completely different question.Report

  10. Avatar Patrick says:

    It’s all a question of what you want to consider baseline for your society, I suppose.

    Look, if you sign up for the Navy and you get on board a ship, you’re going to have a lot of your personal choices heavily constrained. If you decide you want to be an Antarctic researcher, you’re going to have a lot of your personal choices heavily constrained. If you sign up for the first Mars colony, expect your personal belongings total weight to come in at a small percentage of your body weight.

    The thing about all those things are that you’re making a (probably under-informed) decision to join something with severe constraints on certain types of choices.

    Master-planning communities don’t always work out well. Sometimes they work better than others. What generally makes them work is a pretty desirable opt-in bonus. You have an even better track record when you have fairly close access to stuff on the margins that you don’t have in the master-planning community.Report

  11. Avatar zic says:

    A Standard Utopia request:

    (This could be an OTC, if anyone is so inclined.)

    One of my utopian requirements, a standard, is the family dinner hour. What we eat; how we gather, what dinner-hour rituals we might have.

    I wonder, what are yours?

    In our house, dinner is probably my primary job. I generally prepare it; though others occasionally have the honor. Everyone who’s here sits down together. Generally, we let others know if we won’t be here, though that’s not a rule or requirement, it’s a courtesy.

    We eat very little prepared foods; long before it was recommended, I shopped the edges of the market. Tonight, it will be home-bread (it’s rising now, I started it last night, it contains white flour, whole wheat flour (60/40%), water, salt, and yeast, with salad and or as BLT. Only the younger sprout and I.

    And we’ll talk about the day, and anything else that comes to mind, next to the wood stove where the bread baked.Report

  12. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    Also: Why are we spending all this money making new movies that cost so much to go see when we already have Earnest Goes to Camp?

    We can surely get Earnest Goes to Camp licensed to be the only movie we watch at home or in the theaters for real cheap. It would be way less expensive to go see Earnest Goes to Camp than it would be to go see American Hustle of 12 Years a Slave.


    • Avatar zic in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Ha. I wouldn’t mind it if we were still all listening to bebop.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to zic says:

        I don’t think there was ever a time when most people listened to bebop. Jazz used to be more popular/promenient but it is my understanding that bebop was always on the avant-garde of jazz and only popular with a small and select audience.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to zic says:


        I’ve never seen Earnest Goes to Camp; so if Tod gets to recommend the Utopia movies, I thought I’d volunteer the music. Because bebop’s what brought the Berlin Wall down; it’s the language of freedom.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to zic says:

        Zic, don’t even joke about standardization in jazz or the HepCats union will make you hand in your card.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to zic says:

        I should note that I have never seen the Earnest movies ever, nor do I really have a desire to do so.

        I’m just pretty sure that if what we’re looking for is the lowest possible cost, it’s gotta be right up there.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to zic says:

        I bow to zic’s knowledge of jazz, but not sure that bebop is what brought the Wall down.

        Unfortunately for us all, this was more the scene in 1989:


      • Avatar Patrick in reply to zic says:


        I should note that I have never seen the Earnest movies ever, nor do I really have a desire to do so.

        Oh, man.

        Next time we have a wager, I think we have our loser’s task: “Watch, and then blog a recap, about Ernest Goes to Camp.”Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to zic says:

        Don’t you realize the importance of seeing Earnest?Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to zic says:

        Should I admit that an ex- of mine and I cackled uproariously at Ernest Scared Stupid?

        “How about a bumper sandwich, boogerlips!”Report

  13. Avatar LWA says:

    The article is correct, just irrelevant.
    Why do we crave brand variety? Ego and vanity.
    Is that wrong? It doesn’t matter- it exists, always has and always will.
    Should we posit a world in which we select products based on logic?
    Why bother?

    We can, however, understand and accept that our ego and vanity leads to waste and impoverishment and misery, and we can embrace cultural attitudes that reward thrift over waste.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to LWA says:

      While I think we should be environmentally conscious, I think people over value thrift. There are all sorts of things that you can do to be thrifty and doing all those things generally makes life less fun. We probably only have one life to live.

      I might as well admit to being more of an epicurian than a stoic.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to LWA says:

      I really don’t think the article is correct. While most varieties may indeed be unnecessary or cosmetic, the few that aren’t are noteworthy. Variety is how innovation happens. Innovation is kind of important. I don’t consider it to be vanity to want cars with better mileage and more space, phones that let you walk around the house or the country, Internet access at your fingertips, etc., drugs with fewer side or different side-effects, and so on.Report

      • I think it’s worth mentioning this quote from someone: “All improvements are changes, but not all changes are improvements.”

        I think the lesson if it were to be applied here is that variety is necessary for their to be innovation, but variety in and of itself is not innovation.Report

  14. Avatar NewDealer says:


    Re: Craftsmanship

    Yes there is plenty of expensive clothing that falls apart quickly. That needs to be watched out for as well.

    Part of it is durability but I was thinking more about design and such. Little details that are interesting.


    These shoes for example. Craftsmanship goes into the differences. Grey leather and the quality of leather, a contrasting blue sole instead of a standard brown or black sole. The stitching and brouging, etc.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer says:

      Details and such. That makes sense. And if you’re into that sort of thing and have the money, by all means…

      I dated a girl who insisted — insisted! — that her $1000 purse would last 10 times as long as a $100 purse. That’s just nonsense. She was paying for look and style and brand recognition. Which is cool! To each their own. I just don’t like when people deny that fact and insist it is an objectively superior product.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Kazzy says:

        She is not always incorrect. A 1000 dollar purse will often last longer than a 100 dollar purse. The problem with a lot of H and M suits is not that they look bad, they often look quite nice but they burst apart at the seams within a year from my observation.

        Here is a more reasonably priced example of good craftsmanship:


        That sale seems to be done. I purchased these at half off. But the detailing on this is rather good from the rivets at the pocket seams to the nonstandard pocket shapes, and the red thread stitching.Report

      • Avatar dhex in reply to Kazzy says:


        it may or may not have been nonsense. it may have been some wishful thinking on her part.

        the thing i think “signaling” misses in this context – and in most of the contexts it’s used in – is that when it comes down to it everything or nothing is a form of signalling. either we’re all communicating with each other by how we dress, look, act, etc, or we’re not.

        generally speaking, i think it’s used by laypersons like “luxury” is used; what you and i do is natural; what they do is signalling. it’s another way to say peacocking by the general public.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        Longer? Sure. 10x longer, as she insisted? No chance. I mean, I’m sure you could find a particular $1000 purse that lasted longer than a particular $100 purse. But all in all, there just isn’t the 1-to-1 correlation that some (not you) people think there is.


        Even if it was wishful thinking, I’d still probably file that under nonsense.
        As to what is and isn’t signaling, you bring up an interesting point — one we discussed recently on a post @vikram-bath wrote — but I think the intention matters. Left completely to my own devices when it comes to dress, I put literally zero thought into what other people think. Not in a “I’m going to thumb my nose at perceptions and try really hard not to try” sorta way. But literally in a “Here is a pair of pants I like, here is a shirt I like, here is what I will wear today” way. Will people make assumptions about me based on that? Sure. Will some of those assumptions be accurate? Probably. Is it possible that there are some subconscious forces at work? Absolutely. So maybe we really all are signaling in one way or another, but perhaps not all signaling is the same.

        Allow me to offer this: I recently attended a job fair in Boston, where I went to undergrad. I wore a fine suit, a tamer shirt than I would generally prefer, and a tie with my alma mater’s shield on it. I chose all these pieces very carefully and very deliberately. The suit communicated that I understood the basic expectations; it also helped signal that I was serious about taking a step into admin work. A loud shirt risked communicating that I was a rebel, a firebrand, or something of the sort; the tamer one was a must. The alma mater tie said, “I’m from here. I’ve thrived in the educational world here. I ‘get’ here. I will fit in.” Lots and lots and lots of signaling. Unabashed signaling. Because, on that day, signaling mattered a great deal. Both to me and to those I was signaling to. On most other days though, it matters very, very, very little to me.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Kazzy says:

        @kazzy @dhex

        I think it is a bit sexist how handbag’s always come up as the example of a Veblen good but I suppose the price range for them is huge from 20 dollars to thousands of dollars.

        There is signalling and there is signalling. Certain brands like Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Gucci seem to be obvious signalling brands. They are expensive and generally well-constructed but the branding is obvious. Almost anyone can spot items by said companies from a mile a way and if someone said otherwise, I would probably accuse them of lying.

        There is a whole different range of products where the branding is less obvious but the expense is just as high or higher. These are often nicely designed and well-constructed but the wearer is trying for less of a signal. Guidi, Henri Begalin, and Henry Cuir are examples here.

        These brands are trying to get a more knowing glance from a completely different audience.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Kazzy says:


        Maybe and not only in terms of physically holding up but also how it looks. A lot of really well-made stuff has a classicish kind of look that makes it always stay in fashion and even look kind of constantly contemporary and never old fashioned.

        I have a leather jacket that was really expensive and I got it has a gift when I was 15. That was 18 years ago. It still looks good and fashionable and has stood the test of time in terms of wear and tear and not looking outdated. I also had a pair of leather boots that lasted from 18 until I was 32.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        I use handbags because that was the particular item we argued the most over. And Louis Vuitton was her choice. LV is all about branding. And she was not the type of girl who actually took the time to research how LVs compared to other things. There are a number of things — clothes included — where more money gets you better quality. I spent 6 months shopping at Old Navy before I realized their stuff (at the time, at least… the late 90’s) literally fell apart after a few washings. No more for me.

        If someone were to say to me, “I sprung for the X because it is demonstrated to last longer/wear better/remain in style,” I’d actually probably agree with them. But when someone latches onto a brand and then tries to reverse engineer a rationale for why the expense is justified, the BS detector goes off.

        And, again, I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about my ex and people like her.

        Also, I sometimes spend money for what probably seems like dumb reasons to people, but at least I acknowledge it. We have a really nice set of pots/pans. They are worth the cost for all sorts of reasons. You know what wasn’t worth the cost? The matching utensils. But I bought them anyway. Why? Because I like things to match. I love the look of my kitchen when everything goes together. Just who I am. Many folks — my wife included — thinks its crazy. But, hey, we all have our weak spots. But I’d be *really* crazy if I wrongly insisted the utensils were better than their cheaper brethren so I could pretend to have a real reason for doing what I do.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to Kazzy says:

        @kazzy — The handbag I most commonly wear is in that price range (my second most common is about half that price range). And yes, I suspect they both will last substantially longer than cheaper bags. 10x longer? Haven’t measured. But details matter, and the best zipper is miles ahead of the cheapies. Waaaay better. And I zip and unzip my bag constantly.

        Another consideration: how easily it opens and closes. I open and close my bag a lot. It is easy? Does the zipper get stuck? The zipper on my bag never gets stuck, even when I am manipulating it with one hand on a crowded train.

        My other bag has one of those magnetic clasps things. Really handy. Fits together like a dream. Easy to open. Easy to close. Almost no effort. This is not the case for cheaper bags.

        Plus, style, which again matters. My most expensive bag was the only good quality one I could find that really wears well on my body. (I’m large.) For most bags with a shoulder strap, they end up hanging somewhere mid-waist, which is really awkward. This bag has a long, adjustable strap which hangs on my hip. It looks great.

        Great quality leather. Has aged well. The strap is entirely unfrayed. The hardware is solid. Nothing is bendy or breaky; nothing seems strained.

        I have a reasonable hope that if someone tries to snatch this bag, the strap and hardware will hold on. (Giving me a chance to beat the ever-loving-fuck out of them.)

        Worth every penny. Find a better example.Report

      • Avatar dhex in reply to Kazzy says:


        A thought – is it possible that given the cost and care that she might have taken that many more thoughtful precautions when using said bag, and it might indeed last 10x as long? (presuming the 100 dollar bag only lasted, say, a year) that said the lv stuff seems to be kinda crap, or perhaps i just hate step and repeat logos a lot and its clouding my judgement.

        “But literally in a “Here is a pair of pants I like, here is a shirt I like, here is what I will wear today” way.”

        no one’s aesthetic sense is an island. all clothing “says” something, and your likes and dislikes come from somewhere. it is a different beast, likely, than your other example of dressing for a part in a social role. and i think this underscores what i find kinda bleh about the term “signaling”.

        (which itself may be a signal. zoinks!)Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Kazzy says:

        Almost anyone can spot items by said companies from a mile a way and if someone said otherwise, I would probably accuse them of lying.

        I hope I’m one of the exceptions to your general rule. 😉Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Kazzy says:


        Here we seem to agree. It seems to me that people say they are not interested in clothing or appearance to signal that they are above-the-fray, independent, serious, and for some guys it is probably also a way of saying they are not gay or feminine.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to Kazzy says:

        The best example of a Veblen good is probably college. Handbags are a pretty good example, though, as is fashion in general. Generally speaking, women spend more money on goods where the primary purpose of differentiation is signalling. Men spend lots of money on signalling as well, but they tend to signal through things like gadgets where price points represent an actual difference in performance. Of course, men often spend for way more performance then they will ever need just to signal that they can. A lot of this comes down to ideal strategies for attracting mates.

        At the heart of Hanson’s theory is the idea that lots of what we spend, and therefore lots of what we work towards, goes into purchasing goods where a healthy portion of the price goes toward signalling. And if we could cut out the signalling and just buy things solely for consumption, we would all be wealthier, or would work less, and happier.

        The theory is suspect, though, because signalling is built into who we are. It is an integral part of how we socialize. Try to stop people from signalling in overt ways and they will just sublimate those tendencies into other forms of signaling. One of the mysteries of human evolution is why we have such large brains that consume so many resources. We don’t need them to survive or even thrive in nature. The answer is likely that we evolved big brains primarily to facilitate social competition. So, getting people to give up variety becomes one big prisoners dilemma.Report

      • Avatar dhex in reply to Kazzy says:


        “It seems to me that people say they are not interested in clothing or appearance to signal that they are above-the-fray, independent, serious, and for some guys it is probably also a way of saying they are not gay or feminine.”

        maybe. some people do the whole “i don’t even *own* a tv” routine because they’re prats. but most of us just ain’t innarested in most stuff. it’s simply not possible to care deeply about everything.

        i don’t care too much about cars. i mean i care when i’m crossing the street and i’m scared most of the time while i’m driving because everyone else is signalling “i don’t care if i die today” while they drive. (often by not signaling, oddly enough)

        but i can’t be bothered to learn much about which cars are what or what makes this styling cool or this one not cool, etc, beyond what i need to keep the car running and get the kid to school or whatever, and only because i now have to rely upon one to get from a to b without risking serious injury. maybe that’s a coastal elite signal, or maybe you can only stuff so much interest in topics into one head before you run out of room. dunno.

        clothing is a bit more overt, however. it projects from a distance. and it is important to consider what is and isn’t appropriate for the effect you’re looking to project, as well as the utility required from your day’s activities (or lack thereof). and sometimes you realize what you project, what others take away, and say eh whatevs.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Kazzy says:

        It seems to me that people say they are not interested in clothing or appearance to signal that they are above-the-fray, independent, serious, and for some guys it is probably also a way of saying they are not gay or feminine.

        And some of us genuinely don’t give a shit.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        I just want to say you’ve been en fuego today in the way you’ve pushed me (and what look to be some others) to thoughtfully reconsider their positions on things. Not unexpected given the source… but really stand up work.

        I don’t know shit about handbags. So I probably should have chosen a better example. Don’t get me wrong… I’m a big believer in spending money for quality items when one is positioned and cares enough to do so. I own a lot of “nice” things. I’m just generally not a fan of branding. If this bag has the LV on it and costs $1000 and that bag doesn’t and costs $500 but they are otherwise identical, I’m going to opt for the latter. If the LV is important to you… important enough for you to spend the extra $500 on, I won’t begrudge you doing so. As I said above, I spent extra money to buy matching kitchen utensils that offered no value other than the fact that they matched and were aesthetically pleasing. Pay for utility. Pay for value. If the name on the bag or the aesthetics provide you utility and value, that’s great. If the zipper is indeed better, awesome. Just don’t delude yourself into thinking you are getting more utility and value than you actually are. That’s what my ex did. “LV would never use the same zipper as ACME.” Nonsense.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to Kazzy says:

        I don’t know shit about handbags. So I probably should have chosen a better example.

        No. The handbag example is quite good. It’s funny. I wrote that comment earlier about college and handbags as both being good examples of Veblen goods. And just now I was searching on the internet to see if I could find anything on the pricing decisions that luxury brands make or the methodologies for calculating brand value and I came across this piece in The Week: http://theweek.com/article/index/256872/how-a-louis-vuitton-bag-can-explain-the-higher-education-bubble

        As you say, people can rationally choose to pay extra for a good that signals something to the world, or even to themselves. To some extent, most all of us do. There’s no shame in it.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to Kazzy says:

        @j-r — You don’t know what you are talking about.

        @kazzy — Yeah, the “labels” issue can go round and round. For what it’s worth, I prefer luxury items that do not splash some obnoxious logo on everything. For example, I’m unlikely to ever buy Michael Kors, since his “MK” label is just so obnoxious.

        (It’s like, dude, get over yourself. Plus I’m very meh on his designs.)

        And one might call this “signalling,” and then they sound just sooooo analytical. On the other hand, one might call it “style” and be just as correct.

        Take the two handbags I mention above; both have very distinctive designs, and that definitely signals something. They also lack a gaudy logo. That signals something else.

        But so what? The reason I like them is they are stylish. They look good and make me look good. (And I’m a 6-foot transsexual; I need all the help I can get.)

        And I’ve sat in too many swank bars next to douchy sales guys bragging about their golf clubs to take men seriously on this issue.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

        Am I wrong, or do they sell Gucci (etc.) handbag knockoffs at outlet stores (yes, still same company. very different quality)?

        wow. you’ve really put a lot of thought into your handbag. I am in awe, even though I’d probably not do the same thing… (being geeky about anything is pretty cool)Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        My favorite is the line “Michael Kors by Michael Kors”. Just in case you forgot who he was.

        For what it’s worth, I don’t object to signaling. I object to bullshit. If someone says, “I want to be part of the ‘in’ crowd and that means having LV over everything,” so be it. That’s not how I roll. But different strokes for different folks. I’m the guy who makes sure his shoes match his belt and his socks match his shirt. And not just in the “Brown belt-brown shoes” combo. I mean the, “Okay, I’ve got my red-and-blue sneaks on today so I need to make sure I get some red in the belt!” Because I like how that looks. And I like to like how I look. So I guess I signal that. Most people just think, “That guy has too many pairs of sneakers,” or “That guy dresses like a 12-year-old.” Meh.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to Kazzy says:

        @j r— You don’t know what you are talking about.

        Point to one thing that I wrote that is factually incorrect.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Kazzy says:

        @veronica-dire talks about handbags and labels; so I wondered if you all knew this:

        IP law in the US does not protect the design of useful objects. Theoretically, this means that nobody can make and sell shirts or pants or socks, and own the rights so that no other soul can make or sell these items.

        The exception to this copyright exclusion is separable art. The logos on clothing; the tee with Nike on it, the Gucci interlocking G’s, etc. are all separable art, and they’re also trademarked logos. So plastering those logos all over high-end stuff not only helps with branding, but it brings the exceptions in copyright law for fashion into action, and enables those high-end companies to go after some of their cheaper competitors by bringing the force of the state into play through both trademark law and copyright law.

        Every once in a while, you’ll hear about some poor schlub getting busted for selling counterfeit bags, etc.; and that’s what it’s all about. Plus the publicity is awesome advertising; this bag is good enough to counterfeit. Get’s the images out there.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to Kazzy says:

        @zic — Is “distinctive design” covered? For example, most Balenciaga bags have a distinctive placement of the buckles and studs; scroll through the images here:


        Could I release a bag with the same buckles and studs and sell it as a “v diriaga” and get away with it?Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Kazzy says:

        @veronica-dire you probably could; but you’d want to make sure that there were no trademarks involved first. Design elements can be considered trademarks.

        Forgive me for linking a Ted Talk, but this is a really good look at fashion and IP restrictions:


  15. Avatar NewDealer says:


    See if I ever treat you to Santung’s dry fried chicken wings.Report

  16. Avatar NewDealer says:


    It seems to me that Veblen goods are in the eye of the beholder.

    “Men spend lots of money on signalling as well, but they tend to signal through things like gadgets where price points represent an actual difference in performance.”

    This is debatable and kind of sexist that you assume that men’s goods are the ones with actual differences even if you backtrack and say that men will pay for more performance than they mean. Aesthestics are important and you seem to be discounting them.Report

    • Avatar j r in reply to NewDealer says:

      If it’s debatable, then debate it. The sexist claim doesn’t really sway me. I am guessing that we have fairly different understandings of that that word means. At the end of the day, I’m making a characterization that is perfectly accurate, though not very precise. And I fully admit it. This is an internet comment. There is limited space. The actual dynamics of how individuals signal and compete for status is complicated and varies greatly by form, if not necessarily by function. Social competition among men is different than it is among women. Social competition among rural blue collar men is different than it is among white collar city-dwelling men. You can divide these categories and mix and match these categories for days and each iteration of that process will tell you something interesting.

      And of course, value is to some extent in the eye of the beholder, but not really. There is a market clearing price for any good that is a function of the consumers’ willingness to pay and producers’ willingness to sell. The individual decisions regarding how much someone is willing to pay is built into the price, but the price is not purely subjective.

      In other words, there is a set of calculations that businesses make when setting prices. This stuff is verifiable. It is quantifiable. A brand has a dollar value, as in how much above the cost of inputs a company can charge for its goods and how much the brand counts for on a company’s balance sheet. The aesthetics of a Coach bag are quite similar to the aesthetics of a LV bag, but the LV brand can fetch a much higher markup over the cost of inputs than can the Coach bag. Why? Because LV customers are paying for the signalling value of the bag along with whatever consumption value it has.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to j r says:

        @j-r — Thing is, there is an enormous difference in quality between a good handbag and a cheapy, which I detailed above but you blithely ignored, and then went on to suggest that handbags are purely signally and men’s stuff ain’t.

        Which is bullshit. Ever been around golfers and their clubs?

        Ever been to a rifle range? Seen all the people with their shiny guns. That dude with the sleek Ruger rifle, stainless steel barrel glittering in the sunlight, black carbide stock.

        He is signalling.

        And sure, that rifle probably has a tight group, but so does the rifle held by the guy next to him, who has a well oiled old Garand with custom machined action. Which is signalling something quite different.

        And really, does it matter? These guys spend thousands and thousands of dollars, and hundreds of hours, to make holes a few millimeters closer to other holes.

        How frivolous!

        Let us not speak of audiophiles.

        You should try using handbags for a few months. Well, use a backpack or something more masculine. That’s fair.

        But no pockets! That’s cheating. Get a cheapy backpack and hold everything in there: phone, keys, wallet, everything.

        Now try again with a nice one, one carefully chosen, with nice material, quality hardware, convenient zippers. You’ll see a difference.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to NewDealer says:

      It seems to me that Veblen goods are in the eye of the beholder.
      @newdealer , This is not true. You know something is a Veblen good if increasing the price increases demand (or alternatively decreasing the price reduces demand).

      This is a testable proposition, by the way. Get a nice bag and then go out on the street and ask ten people if they would buy it if they were looking for such a bag for $200. Then ask ten people if they’d buy it for $500. Then $1000.

      Of course, if absent such evidence, I think you’re probably right that “Veblen good” is a sort of epithet that educated people use. 🙂Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Vikram Bath says:


        I suspect that there is a high amount of crossover into epithet that educated people use to feel superior. Then again, I’ve pointed out that I am an unrepentant Freudian who looks for subtext via a combination of biography, career, action, etc. I get that status is multi-faceted and in some work cultures caring about clothes is a sign of being unserious while in others you are supposed to care about your appearance. Lawyers who dress in a slovenly manner are generally seen as being unsuccessful professionally unless they are ultra-successful corporate defense attorneys who are trying to come off as being just folks. A commonish corporate defense trick is to wear your more threadbare suiting and have a bus pass at trial. Said person probably hasn’t been on a bus in 30 years. Plaintiff’s lawyers seem to make a point of looking sharp and not like shlubs.

        Burt Likko might have some more insight on this considering he is the more experienced lawyer.

        What I meant by relative is that it seems rather easy to come up with reasons why the cost of something is not just signalling but worth it but others might not buy it. I’ve gotten into this conversation over suits (Why pay 800 dollars or more when you can buy one at the Burling Coat facotry?) and college education when people questioned my need to go to a small, private liberal arts school over a large state school with 500 person lectures. Yes, I have pride and like that people generally have heard of my school and are impressed that I went there but I would have drowned in the large university environment both academically and socially. Vassar was exactly what I wanted: a good liberal arts school with an excellent theatre program but not a BFA conservatory based one. Vassar’s drama department was equally focused on theatre history and dramatic lit as it was on practical production. The small classes were also good. I can tell you that many Vassar students felt their time there was being among like minded souls for the first time including myself. Yet most people seem to think this stuff unnecessary and have a more utilitarian view of college choice.Report

  17. Avatar NewDealer says:


    Fair enough but how does one decide who sincerely doesn’t give a shit as opposed to those who think it is morally and intellectually superior not to give a shit about fashion/aesthetics?

    Anyone can say anything and I believe there is always subtext.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to NewDealer says:

      Pretty much the way I’ve figured out you’re a huge Game of Thrones fan, or you wouldn’t feel the need to deny it so often.Report

    • Avatar dhex in reply to NewDealer says:


      “Fair enough but how does one decide who sincerely doesn’t give a shit as opposed to those who think it is morally and intellectually superior not to give a shit about fashion/aesthetics?”

      1) one has to decide that it matters how sincere their pronouncements are.
      2) one has to decide whether to care if it matters or not.

      since we can’t crack open peoples’ heads – stupid laws – we’re stuck with taking them more or less at face value.

      people use their tastes in all sorts of ancillary things – tv, music, movies, books, “cultural goods”, whatevs – to help stake out a larger social and often moral world. draw a big circle, and then make up a bunch of frameworks based around that.

      it’s kind of vapid.Report

  18. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    The only way that we make as many cars, etc. as we do is that demand for them makes it possible to make money (in the long term) doing it. And a necessary part of the reason that that demand exists in a way that can be met with real goods in the actual marketplace is that our productive capacity exists in such a way as to be able to deliver an infinite variety of goods that meet every one, or very many, of our infinite variety of shades of demand – for infinite variations of product features. If there weren’t so much variety, we would actually demand far less stuff. So less stuff would get made, so the hypothetical fails to maintain what it proposes to keep constant by undermining the means to keep it constant.

    If the same amount of stuff that it is proposed could be made by massively reducing variety actually did manage to get made per the hypothetical, it would have to be under one of two basic scenarios as I see it. Either, 1) we’d end up with lots of stuff lying around that people basically don’t want (so that storage costs might end up exceeding the market-clearing price) – or, 2) there would have to be a centralized buying program that purchased the surplus and distributed it to those who couldn’t/wouldn’t buy the products at the going (low, low) price, but would accept it free – and that still might end up looking a lot like scenario #1. The question of why to keep doing this rather than switch to giving everyone the purchasing liquidity to just demand the kinds of products they actually want via a guaranteed basic income would become pretty pressing pretty fast. Meanwhile, we’d have to be figuring out what to tell producers who knew they could make money by producing many varieties of various items about why they must not, ought not, will not be permitted to do so.

    It’s more or less a nonsense hypothetical that, even if it were plausible, wouldn’t really get us all that much of anything that we really want. Though it would be more useful if our population still massively outstripped our productive capacity, and would have been a much more compelling hypothetical to use to explore trade offs with when it still did.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

      Shorter: Are three of what you kind of want usually as good as one of what you really want? Not usually. Often, you’ll just save your money for when you can get what you really want. If the market couldn’t meet our demands for what we really want (sometimes by firms speculating about that with new varieties of products they’re not sure people will actually want), we’d simply take as much as we want of what we only kind of want, which we won’t buy as enthusiastically as what we really would have wanted. The market will respond to that lesser enthusiasm by producing it with less enthusiasm (i.e., in lesser quantity), and we’ll just make less stuff (have a smaller economy).Report

  19. Avatar Will Truman says:

    I’m headed to bed but will mull this over. Wanted to mention though that I think Hanson assumes a smaller economy because he starts this by talking about how we’d work less.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:

      Indeed. He puts it this way: “What fraction of us would prefer to live in a world where they work only 10% as many hours, have just as much high quality stuff, but lose most of our product variety[?]”

      I’m sympathetic to the idea of various measures that will allow people to work less if they choose, but not a massively value-destroying constraint of the ability of producers to meet desires (which, yes, they do seek to create). Do I think a few people who are unhappy at their jobs might choose this? Perhaps. But even I, who see none of the romantic value in work that seems to govern our discourse about it (dignity and the like), think that, ultimately, even those who choose this path on its face will undermine it with subsequent choices. what will people with ten times as much free time and a tenth of the variety of products do with their new free time? I’m guessing they’ll spend a not-insignificant amount of it altering the standard products into ones that meet their needs or desires better. I.e., they stop doing one (or two or three) jobs, and start doing 10, 20, or 100 other little ones to recreate some of that variety.

      Perhaps there is something of the coordination problem Hanson lays out, but I suspect the natural balance is something considerably closer to where we currently find ourselves than to the world of bland idleness he lays out.

      My proposal would be to find out where the balance lies by printing enough scrilla for everyone and distributing it that they can demand a very considerable amount of variety from the existing capacity (and, of course, develop more privately) and also more or less choose how many hours they want to work in exchange for more scrilla (keeping an eye on inflation, which IMO could be managed).Report

  20. Avatar Rod says:

    If we have as a societal goal that people will at least have the option of working less, I see three ways to get there plus one basic requirement.

    We can either 1) all work somewhat less by, for instance, shortening the standard work week, 2) have fewer people in the workforce, i.e. create an underclass of permanent un/under-employed, or 3) shorten the standard work life by lowering the retirement age.

    Personally, I favor some combination of 1 and 3.Report

    • Avatar Rod in reply to Rod says:

      Meant to add, basic requirement is that we get paid more for the work we do. This will only happen naturally by constricting supply. Basic econ 101.Report

  21. Avatar NewDealer says:


    Stuff sold at Outlet stores are usually factory seconds with slight imperfections. They could also be remainders from previous seasons or samples.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to NewDealer says:

      Not all.

      A lot of the stuff sold in outlet stores is stuff leftover from the last season or two; first quality stuff that didn’t sell at full price.

      I used to have a log-in to a database of customs shipments; this tracks every item through customs by and ID number that indicates what the item is, and at the time, it was maintained by the UMa Amherst. They would sell access for $30,000/year; this is valuable information. I got one for free because of the writing I was doing.

      In researching an article for an international trade mag, I made an astonishing discovery; one of the biggest imports through customs (this was particularly true of Northeastern ports) was products shipped overseas to sell that didn’t sell, and were re-imported; this is much of this is the supply chain for the outlet stores Maine and NH are famous for.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to zic says:

        Factory seconds and overstocks are sometimes in outlets, but the vast majority of the stuff there these days is made to be shipped directly to the outlet and sold there. Faster production cycles have drastically reduced overstocking problems, and production process improvements have cut down on seconds. Outlets, meanwhile, are more popular than ever and need to be stocked with stuff. Manufacturers will typically make a version of their clothes with somewhat cheaper materials or fewer details and sell things at outlets that never would have made it to their regular stores. That’s why outlets always have something of everything in stock instead of 500 purple jackets and absolutely no pants as would be the case if it were only overstocks.

        I have one such item, by the way. I have a Burberry trench coat from an outlet store that I paid $400 for. It’s missing some details that the real $1300 trench coat sold in their mall stores have. As much as I would like to believe that I got 70% off, it was built from the start to end up in the outlet I bought it from.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to zic says:

        @vikram-bath I suspect this is a result of the problem I described (I quite journalism a decade ago); the better production/supply chain resulting in high-end off the rack and outlet production would seem a natural result. There were obviously two markets, so might as well meet them both.

        I also suspect a lot of the ‘outlet’ production stuff ends up filling out the racks in the boutique shops; same goods available at two price points, just to make cohesive lines without over investment.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to zic says:


        I did mention remainders in my post.

        There is a discount department store in the NYC-Metro area called Century 21 that sells a lot of stuff that is half a season or a season or two old. After 9/11, a lot of Century 21’s merchandise from their Fi Di store ended up in outlet stores in Maine.

        There was a Talk of the Town coloumn dedicated to this in the New Yorker but I can’t find it on-line right now.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to zic says:

        the supply chain often sends older stuff to other countries, because they’d rather not have their older stuff competing with the new stuff.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to zic says:

        *curses self for not finishing reading zic’s post before responding*Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to zic says:


        How about factory outlet stores for department stores like Bloomingdales or Barneys? Do they sell the slightly modified stuff or are those remainders from their branches? Barneys now also has Barney’s Warehouse which seems to get the stock that does not sell from their main department stores in a timely mannerReport

      • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to zic says:

        ND, I don’t know about those two in particular, but I can take some educated guesses.

        Here are the locations for Bloomingdales outlets.
        They have 13 around the country in shopping malls along with other outlet stores. From elsewhere on the same website, it seems like they have only about 35 regular stores in the United States (and one in UAE!). Unless they are the world’s worst production planners, they are selling clothes designed to be sold at their outlets at their outlets. On occasion, you might see something that was produced for their main stores and simply didn’t sell well, but almost all the stock in the outlets have likely never seen a regular Bloomingdales. (Not that that should dissuade you from buying something if you find something you like. My coat garners compliments after all.)

        It’s worth noting how many options these days retailers have to get rid of stuff that hasn’t sold well. They all have clearance racks after all, and that doesn’t require them to count and re-box all their inventory, ship it to an outlet store, unbox it, and relabel prices. Once upon a time, retailers had to commit well in advance to a whole season’s production run in whatever colors they hoped would be popular six months later. Now, they can decide shortly before the production run starts, and they can order in smaller quantities initially and re-order if demand materializes.

        Hmm, maybe I should have posted about this rather than Arrow and Alias. 🙂Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to zic says:


        I would very much be interested in an essay like this. I have become interested in this stuff because I have noticed massive changes in how stores both large chains handle sales and stuff. There are some local stores that used to do a standard line of discounting. Start at 20 or 30 percent off and then go to 40, 50, 60, 70, etc to get rid of merchandise. Now they seem to rotate stock in and out of sale. I purchased a pair of sneakers that were on-sale around Thanksgiving and then went quickly off of sale and never went back on even as the store went into end of season discounting to get rid of merchandise.

        Interesting note about the stuff being slightly off, I did not know that before.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to zic says:

        please write about supply chains!Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to zic says:

        I live right near a major outlet center. So we frequent it somewhat regularly. There is no doubt that the stuff sold there is different than what you find in regular stores. They’ll tell you as much. It’s really just a different store model.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to zic says:


        Woodbury Commons?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to zic says:


        Indeed. I live in Monroe and am about a 5 minute drive from the main entrance. Have you been? Naturally, they are working on a huge expansion project. Because, ya know, traffic isn’t nightmarish enough in the area on weekends and holidays.

        Oh, and I recently read a proposal to build one of the newly-approved casinos a few miles south behind the Harriman train station.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to zic says:

        I’ve always struggled a bit with whether I should write about what I know or what I find interesting. Back when I was on the Blog We Shall Not Speak Of, I wrote about everything that was of interest to me. At the time, I think that was the right choice.

        I do wonder sometimes whether the situation here at OT is different. We have writers who do culture politics, gender, and philosophy better than me. The result is that I’ve been embarrassed by some of my posts here, which was never a concern when I was the lone voice on a blog working with 200 hits per day and at least one new post each day.

        So, yes, I have been considering refining my focus, which would include this stuff. (At the same time, I’m cognizant of the fact that there are better pure econ bloggers out there.)Report