Using the state to counter social conformism

Women in search of fashionable clothes the world over have a similar problem: What do you do if you are not a size 6?

Some government leaders in Argentina have an answer.  They have passed a controversial law designed to break what they see as the tyranny of tiny sizes.  Starting Dec.21, Buenos Aires province, which includes the capital’s glitzy suburbs but not the fashion-forward city itself, will require shops catering to adolescent girls to stock clothing in a minimum range of sizes roughly equivalent to sizes 6 to 16 in the U.S.

Provincial inspectors will scrutinize merchants’ clothing racks, "tape measure in hand," says Ana Serrano, the province’s director of commerce and designated sizing sheriff.  Shops that don’t have the prescribed sizes in stock will face fines of up to $170,000.  Officials maintain that the small clothes put pressure on young women to take up extreme dieting.  That in turn contributes to one of the highest rates of anorexia and bulimia in the world, they say.

In a nation where stylishness is a national religion, the sizes law is triggering a fevered debate…Argentina women who aren’t extremely thin have an unusually tough time finding fashionable clothes.

There is another angle:

Some of the problem has to do with the fragmented structure of the local clothing industry, says Donna Reamy…High tariffs, along with Argentina’s history of economic instability, have kept many big foreign chains out of Argentina, leaving only one department store in the city of Buenos Aires and provincial suburbs.

Argentina, by the way, is a leader among Latin American nations in plastic surgery, exercise, eating disorders, and psychoanalysis.  This new policy is a funny kind of paternalistic anti-paternalism: "hey, you, I pull out my gun: tell her it is OK to grow a little fat." 

That is all from the 26 November Wall Street Journal.  A good micro question would be to outline the underlying (implicit) theory of market failure here.


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