The old curmudgeon, H.L. Mencken, once wrote that "In the United States, doing good has come to be, like patriotism, a favorite device of persons with something to sell."
If only H.L. had met Ralph Lauren, the multibillionaire fashion baron known for his line of preppy "Polo" clothing. Ralph recently made a big news splash for "doing good," having written a $10-million corporate check to the Smithsonian Institution to help restore the original Star-Spangled Banner.
Does Lauren have "something to sell," as Mencken cautioned? Well, he did get a ton of positive publicity, standing in front of Old Glory for a photo-op with Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, but at least the restoration will not include replacing the old flag's stars with his Polo logo. But instead of something to sell, he has something to hide.
The First Lady gushed, "The phrase ‘Ralph Lauren' has become an adjective for a certain kind of style. Now it will be a symbol of another aspect of the American way: good citizenship."; ;
Oh? Ask some of the 300 young women at the sweatshop in Shenzhen, China, where some of Mr. Lauren's $50 Polo shirts get made. They toil from 7 a.m. 9 p.m. six days a week. They're paid 23 cents an hour, plus 6 cents more for mandatory overtime. They total about $20 a week -- poverty wages and they live in company dorms, jammed six to a room.
So you see, the dirty little secret behind Mr. Lauren's $10 million "philanthropy" is that it's the product of thievery. He pays 23 cents an hour to impoverished Chinese women to make shirts he then sells for 50 bucks a pop and up. Some philanthropist. Yet, at the flag ceremony in Washington, Ralph Lauren declared: "I'm a product of the American dream, and the flag is its symbol."
Symbolism aside, Ralph, the reality of the American dream -- and of middle-class aspirations everywhere -- is a fair wage.