What does it mean that so many rich pop stars affect the dress of the poor?

Take David Beckham, a filthy rich sports figure, whose income is estimated at $25 million a year–he goes in for designer jeans with artfully poked holes.

Writing last month in the Wall Street Journal (I somehow missed it at the time), Theodore Dalrymple notes:

“The fashion of torn jeans is an insult to all those who must wear clothes with holes in them for lack of better ones: of whom, unfortunately, there are still many millions in the world.

“When I think back to the heroic efforts of poor Africans I have witnessed to make themselves smart and tidy for special occasions — efforts that filled me with admiration — I feel an anger at this frivolous assumption of false poverty by people who’ve never had to wear rags. Once, only Marie Antoinette played at being shepherdess; now, it’s a mass phenomenon.”

Our modern Marie Antoinettes (Michael Moore also comes to mind) are making more than a fashion statement with their expensive poverty duds:

“[T]he idea behind the affectation — that economies are zero-sum games, that my wealth is your poverty, and vice versa — has done incalculable harm, far greater than any slight economic benefit that it might have brought to the tearers of jeans. One could say, in fact, that a high proportion of the 20th century’s historical catastrophes resulted from this stupid notion.

“Gestures can be important; those of solidarity may bring relief, even without material benefit. But thoughtless or condescending gestures may enrage. The rich do the poor no favor by wearing rags, even by famous designers.”

My guess is that they care more about making claims for the evils of capitalism than they do about helping the poor.