The cost to society of a £5 dress is nothing

A puzzling question asked over in the Telegraph:

What’s the real cost to society of a £5 dress?

Nothing, quite obviously. Society doesn’t have a wallet, society’s not paying for the dress, the cost must be nothing.

Boohoo’s festive sales rise might have allayed investor fears that it was going to repeat Asos’s shock profit warning, but the millennial-focused fashion brand is stoking a wider debate about the bigger cost of fast fashion. Few fashion retailers can afford to sell dresses for £5 a pop. The question is should they even be trying?

That’s a slightly different question and one to which the answer equally obviously is - Yes.

Consider what happens when the £5 dress is available. We become richer as we are able to dress ourselves for £5 not £50. It costs us less of our own labour time to enter the Dolly Parton lookalike contest. We’re richer by what else we can gain from our labour over and above that dress.

The person who made it is almost certainly going to be someone much poorer than us who is also made richer by the transaction. We are buying her labour time at a rate in excess of what other local to her opportunities will provide and she is thus able to earn more. She’s richer.

And there isn’t anything else. For all those other costs - say, landfill of barely worn clothes and so on - are already included in our price system. We have got that landfill tax, recall?

The world has simply become more efficient at clothing our nakedness and what’s wrong with that?