Commerce minister and the lipstick theory

Commerce minister Tipu Munshi
Prothom Alo

Eduardo Galeano was a renowned journalist and writer of Uruguay. He once said, "The best language is silence. We live in a time of a terrible inflation of words, and it is worse than the inflation of money." If this had been written in Bangladesh, it would undoubtedly be said that this was in context of the ministers and their jabbering on high inflation in the country.

The commerce minister, for example, said that though the price of essentials has increased considerably in the country, the people in his area (Rangpur) were not suffering. Quite to the contrary, he contended, in his area the "women were using lipstick three times a day, changing their sandals four times." In short, the definition of happiness, to the commerce minister, is using lipstick three times a day. It is not that everyone must be well-versed in economics before they speak, but basic common sense is expected. Also, there has been much written about the 'lipstick theory' over the past two years. One ought to keep updated.

Lipstick theory

In 1998, Professor Juliet Shor of the department of sociology at Boston College in the US, authored the book, 'The Overspent American'. That's where she first brought forward the 'lipstick theory'. And this theory was made popular in the year 2000 during the recession in America, when the cosmetics company Estee Lauder used the term 'The Lipstick Effect'. Actually Juliet Shoe had pointed out that when people's incomes shrink, they will cut down or forgo the purchase of big luxury items, but turn to smaller luxury items. Instead of buying expensive purses and fur coats, for example, people will buy less expensive luxury items. Hence the increase in lipstick sales.

There is another reason for the increase of lipstick sales in times of economic downturns. Cash-strapped consumers want to treat themselves to something that lets them forget their financial problems. This  is when the demand for lipstick goes up. Lipstick is a comparatively cheaper makeup product. The proof lies in the fact that when economic recession emerged in the US following 9/11 or the destruction of the Twin Towers, lipstick sales went up by 11 per cent. Leonard Lauder, chairman of the Estee Lauder, noted the same trend during the 2008 recession. So 'The Lipstick Effect' caught on quite strongly. Later, two professors of Texas Christian University, Sarah Hill and Christopher Rodeheffer, researched this in detail, strengthening the theory even further. Economists even dug up that the same happened during the global recession of 1929. This indicates that inflation has significant influence on beauty care.

Inflation and Bangladesh

Last October the overall rate of inflation in the country was 9.93 per cent. Food inflation was 12.56 per cent, the highest in the last 11 years 9 months. In other words, the reins just cannot be pulled on food inflation. Prothom Alo had reported that for three months food inflation has been above 12 months. That means people with limited incomes were floundering under cost of basic food for survival. That's why inflation is called the silent killer. Former American president Ronald Reagan had said, "Inflation is as violent as a mugger, as frightening as an armed robber and as deadly as a hit man."

If the words of the government's ministers and other policymakers about reducing inflation over the past two years had been put into writing, a large book could have been published. The more assurances they give, the higher inflation spirals. It feels good to hear assurances and sometimes even a spark of hope flares up, but the trouble is when such assurances take the shape of ridiculous farce -- Bangladesh is becoming Paris, Switzerland, Singapore, women use lipstick three times a day, changing their sandals four times.

Now based on the economic theory, if it is said that the people in the commerce minister's area are in the worst predicament in the country, would that be wrong? The women in his areas wear lipstick thrice a day, after all.

Advance warning

Just as the demand for lipstick went up in 2008, there was a reverse observation too. A year ago Prothom Alo had written about the chairman of America's Federal Reserve (Fed) back then, Alan Greenspan. He had noted that people cut down on purchasing underwear during recession. When buying clothes becomes difficult, new underwear poses as an extra burden to people. Alan Greenspan said that American men had a propensity to buy new underwear, and had a particular penchant for certain brands. But recent studies showed that for the last few months American men had significantly cut down on buying underwear, causing economic experts to apprehend a recession. In the US, the men's underwear index is used as a key predictor of recession. Due to the recession of 2007 and 2009, sales in men's underwear in the US fell significantly.

The minister, who runs a readymade  garment business, may now come up with comments about garments. So it would be wise to understand the underwear theory now -- who knows what he says about garments next!

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