IT IS an unusual argument, but the poor quality of ladies' knickers is proof positive that global capitalism is bad for us, according to Wales' foremost green economist.
Lamenting the quality of underwear available on the high street in the 21st century, Molly Scott Cato believes it shows profit is being put before quality in our international retail industry.
The economics speaker for the UK Green Party, has written a book called Market, Schmarket: Building the Post-Capitalist Economy, outlining what she sees as the severe drawbacks of globalisation and offering an alternative future.
Dr Cato, a senior lecturer in social policy at the University of Wales Institute Cardiff, illustrates one of her main arguments against globalisation by talking of her experience buying knickers.
A passage in the book says, "It is important to note that, in the late form of capitalism, profit matters to the exclusion of all else, including the product. I am afraid that whenever I think about this, the example that comes to mind is always ladies' knickers, so I hope you will bear with me if you have never bought these.
"There was a time when Marks & Spencer just made good knickers and you could always buy them there. They may have been a little bit more expensive than other people's, but the extra was worth paying because the knickers were comfortable and lasted. In the underwear department, these are important considerations.
"But I challenge you to find a decent pair of underwear in today's high street. If we consumers rule, why can't we find a pair of quality knickers?
"I have created a special underwear test. This involves holding your underwear up to a source of light to check the strength of the weave. You will be shocked by the result. We are living with knickers our grandmothers would have rejected as shoddy and worthy only of cleaning windows.
"Nonclassical economics would suggest that there is a market opportunity here for somebody who produced a decent pair of underwear. I would certainly pay a premium price. But instead, all suppliers of these items are competing on price, outsourcing production to Vietnam or the Philippines, using only the cheapest materials, so that knickers are see-through and fall apart within months. This is the way the best profits are made, and the best knickers are no longer of any concern."
She adds, "On a more serious note, this is an inevitable consequence of the concentration on shareholder value. M&S has come under pressure from shareholders, in part because it was one of the companies which tried to show commitment to an indigenous workforce in the UK.
"Shareholder value forces managers to squeeze the last penny out of the production cycle, sacrificing quality to profits."
Market, Schmarket is available for £13.95 in paperback (£27.50 hardback) from New Clarion Press, 5 Church Row, Gretton, Cheltenham GL54 5HG
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