Tuesday, March 15, 2005

To float as the clouds on air do

The problem with addressing a non-issue like "gender-based pricing" with legislation is that it assumes that - all other things being equal - prices are set higher for women out of, well, spite, rather than valid economic reasons: TORONTO - Haircuts, dry cleaning and clothes could soon cost the same for men and women in Ontario if a bill currently before the legislature passes. Liberal Lorenzo Berardinetti, who is pushing the bill to outlaw what he calls "gender-based pricing," says there is no good reason why men and women should pay different prices for similar products and services. "It's a form of discrimination ... that should have been removed a long time ago," Berardinetti told the Toronto Star. Women across the country are overcharged a total of $750 million for their hairstyling alone, according to Joanne Thomas Yaccato, a marketing consultant. The bill, which would impose fines of up to $5,000 for charging women more than men, will be debated on April 14. The recently married Berardinetti said he didn't know how much more women paid until he went shopping for clothes with his wife, and noticed a men's suit that cost 30 per cent less than a similar women's outfit by the same designer. California passed a similar law in 1996, but critics question its effectiveness. Perhaps the price of women's haircuts and clothing are set higher than those for the equivalent goods and services marketed to men. So what? On average, women tend to have longer hair than men. No matter what quality of haircutter, from discount strip-mall barber to upscale stylist, a greater quantity of hair is going to take longer to properly and professionally cut; time is money. I have short hair, keep it short, and very basically cut; a good barber can finish cutting my hair in about ten or fifteen minutes. If it takes longer or is more complex for women's styles, what's wrong with charging more? Setting a marginally higher price prevents having to engage in theatrics like charging by length, measured for each and every customer. The cost of performing the job is reflected in the price. That's how the free market works. As for goods rather than services, I find it difficult to see how a direct comparison can effectively be made. Unless each and every article of clothing has the equivalent of the nutritional information chart found on food - "This shirt contains exactly A% of cotton valued at $B/kg at time of manufacture, styled in the manner of hot current design X valued at a fashionability index of Y for year Z" - how can you determine that it's "discrimination" for one to be priced higher than another? Even for simple items like a T-shirt, what if it genuinely costs more at wholesale in labour, in wasted material, in time due to sewing complexity, to create a form-fitting women's shirt? Because they look the same to the untrained eye, does that make it right to tell a manufacturer that they may no longer charge more for the women's shirt? Imposing equal prices for unequal costs is simply a means of redistributing wealth based on gender, which is arguably more discriminatory than anything the market on its own could informally establish. Government shouldn't be establishing price controls at all, let alone ones with such silly justification. Such an imposition would mean only that prices for menswear and male-marketed services will increase to match women's, which doesn't actually solve the dilemma, except for a certain type of socialist mind. (Also, is it my imagination, or do the circumstances of the private member's bill seem suspiciously like Berardinetti might be pandering to his new wife, rather than being possessed of a great moral need to eliminate the scourge of the market's invisible hand?)

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