In 2011, Zimbabwe’s finance minister, Tendai Biti, was shocked to discover many Zimbabweans bought used underwear from flea market stalls.
He immediately had a full-on meltdown, in the style of Marie Let-Them-Eat-Cake Antoinette.
“How does that happen? If you are a husband and you see your wife buying underwear from the flea market, you would have failed.”
“If I was your in-law, I would take my daughter and urge you to first put your house in order if you still want her back.”
He then passed a law forbidding the importation of second-hand undergarments of any type.
The move was billed as an opportunity to help protect Zimbabwe’s struggling domestic textiles industry and a chance to improve public hygiene and self-esteem.
But here’s the reality: Zimbabwe has no textiles industry to speak of so the primary beneficiaries of the new law are importers of cheap Chinese undergarments. And corrupt government officials who can now collect a bribe for allowing bales of second-hand undergarments to be smuggled across the border.
The losers? Zimbabweans were buying used underwear because they couldn’t afford anything else. Passing a law does not change this fact.
And by the way, even the poorest Zimbabweans take hygiene very seriously. They don’t need a law for that, either.