Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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The rich vote with their feet


I WAS aghast – £440 for ballet flats? To be fair, from a chic Parisian brand, but I just could not believe the prices for a pair of fall pumps.

My thoughts were corroborated by the Financial Times recently in a piece that highlighted as an example the English shoe maker Church’s repositioning in the market to a higher price point to avail itself of what is known in retail circles as ‘the Veblen effect’. This means consumers are motivated to purchase more expensive items as aspirational or to impress their friends. The phenomenon is described here. According to the FT, those within the higher income brackets have made out like bandits during the pandemic: ‘One of the most profound aspects of the economic impact of the pandemic is that a lot of people at the top of the wealth pyramid have done much better than those further down.’

With higher earners not spending as much on holidays or fancy dinners and so with greater disposable income to splash out on luxury items, the flip side is that the cheaper versions of these goods are more expensive. So, a pair of flats or sandals from a mid-tier brand has now doubled in price since before the pandemic, which eventually hurts everyone.

Along with food and clothing, the price of footwear has long been used as a barometer to determine the effects of geopolitical events on socioeconomic metrics such as income disparities. During the Tories’ attempt to ‘Get Brexit Done’, Jacob Rees-Mogg was vocal in his assertion that since the poorest spend a high proportion of their money on food, clothing and footwear, removal of tariffs on such items would benefit those with the lowest incomes

The economically disadvantaged who have doubtless borne the brunt of Covid lockdowns are likely to buy the type of footwear that costs the least. But people in well-paid jobs who have been working from home will have been wearing mostly house shoes or no shoes at all, which is why it seems so strange that footwear prices are on the rise.

Or maybe not so strange. Some recent commentary postulates that the Government’s Covid policies, along with printing ever more mountains of money, are set to cause an inflationary crisis.This was also addressed by GBNews, who have unequivocally announced that ‘inflation is back’.

The trouble for people in low-paid jobs, on zero hours contracts or working in the gig economy is that there isn’t any prospect of wage rises to keep up with inflation. Not only are the poorest already priced out of buying secure assets such as housing, but costs for basic goods are spiralling out of their reach. The black hole into which we are sinking at an alarming pace doesn’t appear to have any brake mechanism, since a tested strategy of raising interest rates would choke the debt-ridden masses and cause 1990s-style mortgage defaults among homeowners.

My grandmother grew up in the Great Depression when most people were poor. New shoes were a luxury and as her feet grew she had to wear the same pair for years, causing lifelong podiatric issues.

As in those years leading up to global poverty, after a pointless war when young men were sent to die in muddy trenches to feed the egos of their betters, we’ve seen an exploitative war on a phantom enemy ‘terror’, followed by a pandemic which (while not nearly as lethal this time around) has driven a catastrophic response by world governments. As chirpy newsreaders tout the narrative of a bounce-back amid accounts of consumers rushing to the shops post-lockdown, the reality is likely to be different – an inexorable march towards an altered and unrecognisable socioeconomic landscape where those with the least suffer the most.

Rising costs, interrupted supply chains and lower productivity (indeed, a repeat of the stagflation which plagued developed economies in the 1970s) are steering us along to a meltdown that, if footwear prices are anything to go by, will only get worse.  

I further despair about this situation when I realise that due to the rise of tech geek chic, the goofy trainer look and flip flops have replaced elegant strappy sandals. Does anyone still wear glamorous heels, a la Carrie in Sex and the City? I mean if you are going to splash some cash on shoes, they should be impressive. And with the current inflationary scenario a designer pair will set you back almost 800 quid! That is nearly three times what they would have cost a decade ago.

Seeing where it’s all headed, it’s a good thing I saved those Manolos from 2008.

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Bridget Jones 2024
Bridget Jones 2024
Bridget Jones

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