In a recent article, Teen Vogue features Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) making one of the great political mistakes – not asking why the other person is telling him this. What is it that they want from the conversation or law change?
The background is the campaign against fast fashion. This idea that everyone can have nice and new clothes simply because they’re so cheap these days. There’s a lot of talk about how this is bad for the environment and how everyone should instead be buying fewer and more expensive outfits. Even swapping and reselling those expensive outfits online.
Khanna is starting to ask that the federal government get involved in pushing that sort of behavior. But he has not asked the obvious question. His information comes from the founder of The RealReal – he actually says this is his inspiration. What is The RealReal? It’s an online site that sells expensive clothing and which runs a marketplace for used expensive attire.
So, who will benefit from there being less fast fashion out there? The folks who sell expensive fashion. Who will benefit from the resale of used expensive fashion? The people who run marketplaces for the reselling of expensive clothes. So, why is the founder of The RealReal telling Khanna this? In financial markets, this is called “talking your own book.” In politics the first and most important question to ask – as it is in much of life of course – is “Why is this person telling me this?” For all too often the aim is to gain something from having said it.
The Romans had a phrase for this, “Qui Bono” – who gains? Not asking it in public policy is one of those dereliction-of-duty things.
Teen Vogue is a major source of information for the teenage crowd. It’s in the top 500 of news and media sites, gains some 5 million visits a month. They also claim themselves to be educating tomorrow’s influencers. We might also note that they’re a part of Conde Nast, an empire of media devoted to the advertising and sale of very expensive things. Cheap consumables just don’t fit their model.
The real problem here though is not the seeming bias. It’s that they’re – both Khanna and Teen Vogue – being so naïve. Of course a business will try to push public policy to beat up on its competitors, aim to gain from changes in the rules. Which is why the question always has to be, “Why is this person telling me this? What might they gain if I believed it?”
Demonstrating to teenagers how not to pass that test really isn’t educating them in the things that matter.