From Seth Roberts -an unlikely source- comes this observation:
…the denizens of The Devil Wears Prada appear slightly defensive about the social value of fashion. They seem to believe that fashion is less useful than “curing cancer” (by which they mean doing research to learn how to cure cancer). Actually, high fashion, with its hard-to-make skirts, belts, and accessories, is the same as curing cancer – they’re two ways of increasing the human skill set. Art is the old Science.
Seth is an interesting person, I thought I’d mentioned him before but an F-I search returns nothing. He’s an associate professor of psychology at the UC Berkeley who invented a diet. Kind of a weird diet, effortless, but it seems to work. It’s called the Shangri La diet, “the no hunger, eat anything weight loss plan”. He’s a very humble, self effacing person, down to earth, not a “personality” of any sort. I haven’t tried his diet but I suspect it’s genuine judging from the character and integrity of the entries on his blog. His entries don’t flog his whiz-bang diet which I think gives him more credibility. Also, we’ve corresponded so I feel certain that he’s not someone with an agenda, but I digress. Returning to his entry:
…Humans are the only animals with occupational specialization – we specialize, and trade. It started with hobbies. Hobbies became part-time jobs. Part-time jobs became full-time jobs. To support full-time jobs – to generate enough demand – there has to be enough expertise, which builds up slowly. To build up expertise, our brains changed so as to cause creation of special events like Christmas, Japanese New Year, Spring Festival (in China), and a thousand other examples around the world. Such events increase the demand for high-end craftsmanship, thus helping the most skilled craftsmen – the ones most likely to advance the state of their art – make a living.
I don’t know that I entirely agree with his summation, that holiday gift giving traditions have effectively created market conditions favoring the development of high end craftsmanship but it is an interesting idea. A factor in favor of his argument is that we tend not to buy fanciful things for ourselves (most of us anyway), the acquisition of luxury items stems via gift giving from loved ones. Also, kind as his words are toward the fashion industry, few of us will let ourselves off the hook as gently as he has.
A related discussion of gift giving comes from Jon Miller’s entry Holiday Shopping is Wasteful -an argument for leveling- which although I agree with, I tongue in cheekly describe as another in the grinch series preceded by my friend Tyler’s intimation that gift giving -particularly by the elderly- is wasteful. Are left leaning sustainability anti consumption activists appalled to find themselves in league with libertarian economists? I’ve always been curious about that. I know I shiver all over when I find myself agreeing with Eric :).