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From the Runways of Austria ...

July 16, 2009

Tags Free MarketsMedia and CultureOther Schools of ThoughtPhilosophy and Methodology

 

It's Economics Week here in Austria and I am reporting on the hottest brands burning up the runways of political thought. All the big names have come out for this star-studded event: the always confused Friedrich Nietzsche, the minimalist and objective Ayn Rand, and the German bohemian-hippie Karl Marx have all graced us with their presence. However, the two haute couture lines creating the most buzz are "Laissez-Faire," by Ludwig von Mises, and  "Après Moi le Déluge" by British export, John Keynes.

For years these two competing brands have been catfighting it out for dominance in the fiercely competitive international scene. Although both lines will turn heads, they couldn't be less alike. Mises's Laissez-Faire has, as usual, turned out beautifully — it is classic, simple, elegant, and understated. No contradictions. No delusions. No trying-too-hard-to-make-this-work, Betsey Johnson–style market manipulations. Just clean lines and universal truths. With Laissez-Faire, less is always more.

Keynes, on the other hand, puts his loud, garish mark on everything he touches. In typical razzle-dazzle style, Déluge will be the talk of the town all season, only to be regretted, discarded, and replaced with the newer, hotter, and edgier trends of next season. With every line overcompensating for the mistakes of the past, the prima donna is shameless in his denial of failure. When Keynes was asked recently about Mises's "Laissez-Faire" line, the diva quipped, "It is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong."

Young, naive, overly intellectual, and cocky, Keynes has, over the years, managed to produce nothing but overly complicated intellectual litter that is ripe for racks of sample sales; Déluge is fodder for the herds of wannabes desperate to fit in. The standard fare for Keynes is akin to stripes, patterns, and polka dots, leaving the wearer in a position similar to the titular character in "The Emperor's New Clothes" — perhaps not à poil, but similarly risible!

In contrast, Mises has always been a realist, maintaining discipline and control, giving his styles a timeless touch. Mises sets a high standard. He doesn't just see this season or next season: the ideas in Laissez-Faire are not tied to any short-term trend or fad — they are meant to be worn for decades to come. Unlike Keynes, Mises will never force an unflattering — although popular — style into his line. He knows and sticks with what works.

When it comes to a label's reputation, these designers have taken wildly different tacks. While Mises has maintained his label's currency by backing it with strong brand assets, using quality fabrics, and controlling supply, Keynes has chosen an alternate plan. He has insisted on making sure every young Hollywood starlet is clad in his styles. He doesn't care that his Chinese manufacturers are sweat shops using the cheapest fabric available. And he has no idea that they are diluting the value by throwing even cheaper knockoffs to the black market. Let's not even start with the gray market! The man doesn't understand business at all.

Just who are these two men designing for? Let me sketch you an outline. John Keynes designs for those who want what's trendy and want it now — whether it works for their body type or not. Inappropriate for almost every occasion? They'll take it! Keynes doesn't care, so why should they? After all, the man did arrogantly state in a post-show press conference that "in the long run, we're all dead!" Keynes's designs are based entirely around the instant gratification, quick-fix culture that is currently in vogue. His frequent centerpiece is a psychedelic mini-skirt of a feel-good program, which will be lauded by the sycophantic press as being ahead of its time. His overly inflated ego fed once more, Keynes will continue to put out more disastrous, clashing choices.

And Laissez-Faire? Mises designs with longevity in mind. He approaches his line with maturity and responsibility. Despite the recent assertions by French critic Nicolas Sarkozy that "Laissez-Faire is finished," it has continued to remain a firebrand, reserved for the strong and the self-assured. Mises's designs are for those who know what they want, and what works and what doesn't. You can do business in Laissez-Faire. You can be successful in Laissez-Faire. You can prosper in Laissez-Faire.

Not so with Keynes. Keynes is popular with the crowd who plays at life. His styles are immature and perfectly suited for socialites who gossip, fight, envy, get jealous, and steal each other's boyfriends. The ones who stir up drama and entangle themselves in things that aren't any of their business. His line exudes a certain lack of responsibility or concern for consequences. He designs for the spoiled beauty queens who walk around on a moral high horse wanting to save the world but spend their days shopping and maxing out their credit cards — and then calling their parents to bail them out.

I can't look at his cheap easy-evening looks without picturing partying till dawn, breaking windows à la Britney Spears (as Bastiat rolls in his grave!), collapsing, and waking up in a state of depression with no money and a heck of a lot of debt. I cringe at the image of evenings spent taking advantage of well-meaning, hard-working businessmen who buy the drinks because it's the chivalrous thing to do — and of evenings spent being taken advantage of by not-so-nice men who are looking for some quick favors. Morality … thats all relative!Download PDF

It is always painful for me to sit through a Keynes show. The Iron Lady of high economics herself, Margaret Thatcher, sat next to me concurring that "nothing is more obstinate than a fashionable consensus." The designs are great in theory on a 5'10"-size-2 model, but I cannot help but think of the countless women who will spend entire evenings sucking in the stomach of market realities, constantly tugging and pulling at the skirt of human nature, and trying desperately to walk in the broken heel of a failed government policy. It all adds up to one giant, unfashionable moral hazard that is certain to land anyone on People Magazine's Worst Economics List!

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I apologize if I have hurt Mr. Keynes's feelings. I know I have been a tad bit harsh, but someone had to rip his metaphorical clothing to shreds. Darling, this is the cutthroat world of economics where you must leave your emotions at the door.

I applaud Ludwig von Mises for a wonderfully inspiring show. For me, he has been the highlight of the week. His designs are not about himself or even about the outfit, but rather are meant to emphasize the unique personality of the person wearing it. Mises designs for the individual, not the masses. He knows that simplicity, conservatism, restraint, and freedom within parameters are what make his brand so consistent, so powerful. Mises understands that these are pearls of wisdom and gems of truth: the large, high-waisted, oversized belt of tight fiscal and monetary policy.

Mises is also acutely aware that it is only within the strict laws of good economic style that a person's free spirit and brilliance may truly shine through.

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