Five Best Monday Columns
James Surowiecki on the twilight of brands, Robin Givhan on do-gooder fashion, Paul Krugman on the long-term unemployed, Jonathan Cohn on Republicans' immigration bluff, and Dave Weigel on the libertarian shell game.
James Surowiecki at The New Yorker on the twilight of brands. "Twelve months ago, Lululemon Athletica was one of the hottest brands in the world," Surowiecki explains. "But then customers started complaining about pilling fabrics, bleeding dyes, and, most memorably, yoga pants so thin that they effectively became transparent when you bent over. Lululemon’s founder made things worse by suggesting that some women were too fat to wear the company’s clothes. And that was the end of Lululemon’s charmed existence: the founder stepped down from his management role, and, a few weeks ago, the company said that it had seen sales 'decelerate meaningfully,'" Surowiecki writes. "Brands have never been more fragile," he argues. "The reason is simple: consumers are supremely well informed and far more likely to investigate the real value of products than to rely on logos." The Atlantic's Derek Thompson tweets this line: "The rise of brands was a response to an information-poor environment."
Robin Givhan at The Cut on do-gooder fashion. Maiyet, the luxury fashion brand launched in 2011, "was the brainchild of Paul van Zyl, a South African human-rights lawyer who frequented the World Economic Forum at Davos ... but who did not know a peplum from a pannier," Givhan, a longtime fashion critic, explains. "He wanted to save the world. And had decided he would do it through fashion," she writes. And so Maiyet would become a "womenswear line that would bring impoverished communities into luxury fashion’s lucrative food chain. The company would build partnerships with producers of hand-woven silks, lush embroidery, and batik in Kenya, Peru, India, and elsewhere and work with a New York-based design team to incorporate them into high-end creations: a $1,750 small leather satchel, a $1,495 beaded silk sheath, a $2,400 lambskin vest," Givhan notes. Amazingly, the collection was well-received by fashion's elite, including Barneys. And the artisans in developing countries set the prices for the goods they provide, making the process ethical.
Paul Krugman at The New York Times on the unemployed. "It's difficult to find a better example of the hardhearted, softheaded nature of today’s GOP than what happened last week, as Senate Republicans once again used the filibuster to block aid to the long-term unemployed," Krugman argues. Long-term unemployment is "still at near-record levels. Historically, the long-term unemployed — those out of work for 27 weeks or more — have usually been between 10 and 20 percent of total unemployment. Today the number is 35.8 percent," he writes. Half of those people are non-Hispanic whites. Further, "in a weak job market long-term unemployment tends to be self-perpetuating, because employers in effect discriminate against the jobless," Krugman explains. So the long-term unemployed are primarily victims of unfortunate circumstances. "How can politicians justify cutting off modest financial aid to their unlucky fellow citizens?" Krugman asks. Business Insider political reporter Danny Vinik tweets, "Krugman is right about unemployment insurance here but I wish he'd admit that UI has had a slight negative effect on employment."
Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic on Republicans' immigration bluff. Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer "is trying to call [House Speaker] John Boehner’s bluff over immigration reform — but in a way that should, in theory, help Boehner bring along his antsy conservative allies," Cohn argues. "Appearing on 'Meet the Press' Sunday, Schumer ... floated a new proposal designed to win Republican support for an immigration bill — a proposal designed specifically to address concerns that Boehner raised last week, when the Speaker essentially declared that efforts to pass reform were at an impasse. At a press conference, Boehner indicated that his fellow House Republicans won’t support an immigration bill because they don’t trust President Obama to enforce it. Fine, Schumer said on Sunday — let’s postpone the new law's effective date until 2017, when Obama isn’t president anymore," Cohn explains. But "nobody knows is how badly Boehner wants [a deal] —and what he'd have to do to get his caucus to agree."
Dave Weigel at Slate on the libertarian shell game. "Every few years, when a political battle becomes a slog for the left, the media recalls the existence of Berman and Company. The venerable right-wing marketing firm and its related network of 'think tanks' (bare-bones organizations that place ads and op-eds) is not especially mysterious. Berman sat for a 60 Minutes profile in 2009, happily revealing how he churns donations from corporations into conveniently pro-corporate libertarian activism," Weigel explains. Now "Berman's time has come again," as the Employment Policies Institute has issued a new "report" that raising the minimum wage would do more harm than good. Reports like this one are funded by Berman and involve very little actual research.
Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to the Economic Policy Institute, which is not related to the Employment Policies Institute.
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