The Washington Post: What women’s underwear tells us about our trade system

Article published: 9 February,  2023

IB Economics syllabus: The Global Economy (trade protectionism, tariffs), Macroeconomics (inequality)

Sexist and regressive tariffs in the US

“U.S. trade barriers appear unusually sexist and regressive, and have been for many, many decades.”

A trade researcher, Ed Gresser looked up the tariffs on underwear and found that men’s underwear have a tariff on average at around 11.5%, while women’s underwear tariffs stand on average at 15.5%. Just check out the graph below.

As the article states, “Unfairness on underwear reflects a broader, bizarrely anti-lady pattern in our trade system: With a few exceptions, men’s apparel items are more lightly tariffed than women’s.”

What’s even more stunning is that the tariffs seem to be regressive: those on low incomes are taxed more than those on higher incomes. This is evident when looking at tariffs on underwear categorized by material: silk, an expensive material, has a significantly lower tariff compared to the other end of the spectrum, polyester, when it comes to underwear. But more importantly, products other than underwear are also manifesting a biased approach towards those on higher incomes. Just check out this table, showing how the US tariff system does little to reduce income inequality, by taxing the poor more:

IB Economics Internal Assessment (IA) Commentary

Dear IB Economics students, while this is a superb article, it is not a news article, but an opinion-based one. As such, this itself is already a “commentary” so this is not too suitable for an IB Economics IA.

Source of image:Julien De Rosa/AFP/Getty Images

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