Fat Fees


John Banzhaf, the G.W. law professor who thinks there's no problem that can't be solved through litigation, is in a bit of a quandary. His main interest nowadays is in suing our way to a thinner America. Toward that end, he also argues that life and health insurers should be free to discriminate based on weight, charging their tubbier customers more because they have higher disease risks. This is one of the few areas where he and I agree, but it doesn't sit too well with his opposition to other forms of discrimination, such as charging women more for haircuts than men or offering them free or discounted drinks on "Ladies' Night." You can argue that sex, unlike weight, is an innate, immutable characteristic. But there's an important genetic component to obesity too, and some people may argue that the metabolisms they were born with make it well-nigh impossible for them to be thin.

The tension between Banzhaf's commitment to nondiscrimination and his crusade against fat comes through clearly as he considers what he describes as an increasingly common practice of charging fat people more for dry cleaning. You may recall that Banzhaf was adamantly opposed to such price discrimination based on sex, although dry cleaners argued that women's clothes were harder to handle for various reasons (they didn't fit the standard presses, they often had pleats and decorative buttons, etc.). But in the case of fat people, he seems more sympathetic to the dry cleaners.

"Unlike discrimination based upon gender, race, or national origin, discrimination against fat people generally isn't illegal," Banzhaf writes in a recent press release. "Some dry cleaners who charge more to clean large size dresses argue that it costs them more because of the greater amount of fabric which has to be treated….Whether or not special accommodations have to be made for obese people as we do for the blind or people in wheelchairs, whether it's fair and legal to charge the obese more when it is warranted by additional costs, and in general whether obesity is more like smoking or like gender, are important emerging questions."

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  1. My wife’s shirts are mostly made out of sensitive silk/polywhatever fabric – a lot thinner than my cotton shirts. Seems women don’t have the option of laundering them at home like I do. That would account for higher demand/prices. BTW, my wife routinely ignores the care instructions and washes her dry clean only shells in water. Sure they get ruined after 3-5 washings, but its cheaper to replace them than it is to clean them.

    BTW why is it again that we get to decide what is a “fair” price for laundery? If fat people/women/Liberace are being charged over market prices, wouldn’t the dry cleaner down the street just undercut them? Unless there is some vast dry cleaner price-fixing conspiracy…

  2. Jacob, I have no qualm with your post, but Banzhaf should be identified as a “terrorist,” or whatever synonym you consider appropriate. Labelling him as simply a “G.W. law professor” is the equivalent of a labelling a mob boss a “local businessman”: It’s technically accurate, but it fails to convey a true sense of the man and his motives.

    People like Banzhaf are in a position to harm people because the populace at-large (which the media reflects) afford him undeserved respect due to his professional credentials. Identifying Banzhaf primarily as a law professor is a profound insult to the thousands of law professors who don’t advocate the use of force against innocent Americans.

  3. I understand that joe’s mamma’s so fat, it takes her two trips to haul ass!

  4. So…dry cleaning costs more for women’s shirts because the equipment is made for men’s shirts?

    I’m a large woman and a triathlete. I honestly don’t think I’m such a health risk compared to a sedentary Doritos-snarfing person who remains skinny.

  5. Jaime S, the problem as I see it isn’t that women are getting charged extra for shirts that are especially delicate or difficult to press. A higher price for fancy shirts would be perfectly legit.

    My problen, and Banzaf’s, is with laundries that charge a higher price for plain cotton shirts that lauder just like men’s shirts.

  6. My problen, and Banzaf’s, is with laundries that charge a higher price for plain cotton shirts that lauder just like men’s shirts.

    joe, as I understand it from the posts above, the equipment is designed so that even the simplest shirts can take longer to work on depending on which side the buttons are located, simply because the machines were designed to have buttons on a particular side.

    That might not be very nice or fair, but it seems to be a pretty straightforward matter of charging more for a job that takes more time.

    If you want to mandate gender equity in drycleaning costs then you’d have to mandate prices not be based on which side the buttons are located on. (No, I’m not endorsing this, I’m simply pointing out what would have to be done to implement joe’s vision for the drycleaning business.) This would allow drycleaners to still differentiate prices based on fabric and complexity (e.g. shirts with more buttons or adornments or whatnot).

    But I have a better solution: Why don’t some people with strong feelings on the matter open a woman-friendly (um, sorry, I mean “womyn-friendly) drycleaner? I can’t imagine it would be too difficult to make a machine that handles buttons on the other side.

    They could get a machine that handles women’s shirts, specialize in the types of fabrics found in women’s clothing, etc. I find it hard to believe that such a thing doesn’t already exist somewhere. Given how many stores specialize in selling women’s clothing, I’d be shocked if there isn’t at least one store that specializes in drycleaning women’s clothing.

    Finally, I find it funny that drycleaning is considered a significant feminist issue. Aren’t there any bigger dragons to slay out there? Has it really come to this?

  7. Joe,

    I understand the “problem” and I read the article, but my main point remains that the people at the counter charge what people pay! Most of their business is women’s clothing despite the higher prices. I brought up the flimsy material to point out my wife’s alternative method of dealing with the issue. thoreau summed up my feelings very nicely, so I won’t reiterate.

  8. I cannot believe this thread! I think the dry cleaners know best what they need to charge. Or is every dry cleaner in the US is in on it? Ah yes, the dry cleaner cartel…

    You’re just going to give Banzhaf more ideas. “We cannot be proud of America until dry cleaner’s charge fair prices!”

  9. Some really big person should sit on that jackass and smother him. In a non-discriminatory way, of course.

  10. Why struggle to find any kind of consistency in Banzhaf? He is an amoral parasite, pure and simple, lunging after cash-rich targets as opportunity presents itself.

  11. Banzhaf says life and health insurers should be free to discriminate against fat people because of their greater risk of disease. Guess what–we already do. Most life insurance companies offer lower life insurance premiums to those who meet health criteria such as weight proportional to height. Or, if the underwriters consider you morbidly obese, you may have to pay extra under a “rated” premium. If you’re so fat you’re already sick from the diseases which obesity tends to cause, we may refuse to insure your life at all. If Banzhaf doesn’t know that life insurance companies already have medical underwriting on individual policies, he is too ignorant for his comments to be taken seriously by anybody but a newspaper reporter.

  12. “Important emerging issue”? Why doesn’t he denounce the fact that such a stupid issue is important rather than accept it? And why can’t he accept the obvious fact that life is not fair and never will be?

  13. Well, I’m sure you take any fat American and stick them in North Korea, I bet you’ll find after a year they’re not fat anymore, no matter their genes.

    I see nothing wrong with paying different prices for different services, by quantity. I’ve got extremely long hair — if I go to the salon to get it dyed, it will cost me more than my mother, whose hair is about 3 inches long all over. At the laundry, I have to pay twice the amount for two loads that I have to do for one – that’s by volume. Or I can give it to the attendant to do, and they’ll charge me by the pound. When I bring in unusual items to be dry-cleaned, I’m charged more than if it were a standard shirt.

    John Olson is right about underwriting life insurance based on various factors. However, as far as I know, health insurers are not allowed to price according to weight. I could be wrong about this, as I don’t work in that industry (I’m in life annuities, which doesn’t require underwriting), but every quote I’ve ever gotten for health insurance was based solely on my age.

  14. The dry cleaner parallel has a problem: large people’s clothing really is more intensive to clean, because it’s larger. Women, otoh, were being charges the women’s shirt rate even when they were bringing in plain, flat-fronted shirts whose cleaning was indistinguishable from that of men’s shirts.

  15. joe, the thing about womens shirts is that they button on the opposit side from mens shirts. This makes pressing and folding more time consuming.

  16. Um, how do you know that it isn’t the men’s shirts that button opposite the women’s shirts, making the process more time consuming?

  17. joe, stop by your dry cleaners and have them show you the body molds and pressing tables. That should answer your question. /R

    Note to Reason, the link to the Friday Cartoon is not working correctly. /R

  18. Figures. Just checked the Friday Funnies. It’s working. Oh well. /R
    P.S. Good one.

  19. Banzhaf’s support for discrimination against fat people gives me hope. It means that at some point the anti-fat activists will have an internal civil war between the “we are victims, hear us moan!” side and the technocratic Banzhaf types who support discrimination as a form of social engineering.

    The end result will hopefully be the implosion of this movement.

    And before joe accuses me of not caring about obesity, I do care. It’s the reason why I swim a mile every day. I just think that maybe it’s my problem to solve for myself, rather than a matter of public policy.

    Oh, and yesterday I had a wonderful experience. I put on an old shirt and it felt way too tight… in the upper body. The sleeves were way too tight, but the belly was loose. That swimming is starting to pay off!

  20. Why would I do that, t? I don’t really have much to say on obesity threads, other than to pick off low hanging, especially weak (or dishonest) arguments.

    Not really my issue.

    Rick, so since the unfairness is especially ingrained, it’s no longer unfair? I imagine a number of restaurants in the South had to re-sign their restrooms. Boo hoo.

  21. joe, I never wrote whether it was fair or not, you have infered that. All I attempted to do was explain to you why women are charged more.
    A easy solution would be for clothing manufacturers to put the buttons on the other side.

  22. I lack knowledge of the dry cleaning industry, and if this is completely stupid then I’ll hang my head in shame, but couldn’t the dry cleaner just turn the woman’s shirt inside-out to fit it to the equipment? I’m assuming the chemicals make it all the way through the shirt, otherwise it wouldn’t get clean, so wouldn’t it turn out more or less the same?

  23. Trust me on this. It makes no difference which side the buttons are on. And further, as far as cleaning and pressing are concerned, there is no such thing as a man’s or a woman’s shirt.

    The pricing has to do with the fact that most shirts can be finished on automatic pressing machines, which, depending on the type of equipment and skill of the operator, can process 50 to 60 shirts per hour. Maybe even more on a real good day.

    But to be pressed on these machines, shirts must fit within a certain size range. Too small and they will be ripped to shreds. Too loose and they roll up and come put with more wrinkles than they started with. Those shirts need to be pressed by hand and no one, not even on their best day with the finest hand iron, can approach 50 to 60 shirts per hour hand pressing. Thus, the price to finish these shirts is higher.

    Likewise, some shirts have particular features such as pleats or ruffles or they may, as one above poster noted, be made of delicate material that could be damaged in the automated pressing process. These shirts, too, must be hand finished. More labor = higher cost.

    Garments don’t have gender, only the garment owners do. Prices should be based on the garment, not the gender of the garment’s owner. Cleaners who do otherwise can be complained about, but it might help to understand the issue before complaining.

  24. If dry cleaners are charging more for women’s shirts which are physically indistinguishable froma man’s shirt, then how do they know it’s a woman’s shirt? That a woman brought it in? Size? Or maybe there are subtle differences in cut or style that may effect how the cleaner are able to handle clothes? I do not know, but I am dubious that the price difference is simply based on sex.

  25. All prejudice is wrong. As Banzhaf clearly knows. Except for those bastards over there. This is better than an old Robbin Williams routine.

  26. Ah. That makes so much more sense. Thank you.

  27. Well I’m hoping that by hanging around all these dry cleaning places Banzhaf has breathed enough fumes to develop some sort of quickly-fatal blood disease faster than you can say ‘class action suit.’

    Yeah, I know that was mean. But you won’t catch me hanging around those dry cleaning places, no way.

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