'It takes, quite simply, longer time with women,' said Connie Mikkelsen, chairwoman of the Danish organisation for independent hairdressers and cosmeticians.
But Alex Hern of the NewStatesman did the 'hard work' of actually reading a translation of the ruling. It turns out the ruling is due to a complaint from "a woman with a short, boyish haircut, who was nonetheless told she would have to pay the price for a 'woman's haircut.' " The facts appear to be a little more subtle than they seemed at first blush. The woman was being charged more for being a woman, not for having long hair. This would be 'gender discrimination.' But what is in it for a hairdresser to engage in gender discrimination?
It could be gender bias, essentially mere bigotry. It seems quite likely, though, that there are significant differences between men's and women's cuts that are independent of hair length. These differences could be based on costs (on average, even women's boyish cuts take longer than boy's cuts) or based on customer value (on average, women care more about a good cut than do men).
Regulating price equality has a few pernicious effects:
- If the difference is cost based, then price equality codifies an inefficient distortion. Markets abhor a distortion. We would expect innovations to surmount the distortion. Perhaps hair dressers refuse male customers so as to charge higher prices to high cost women. Perhaps less time is spent on women making their cuts less stylish. Perhaps the shops absorb the hit, become less profitable and the marginal shop closes.
- Suppose it was value based. Without going into detail, Hal Varian showed us that price discrimination usually increases social welfare because more of the good is exchanged. The alternative single price is a single monopoly price.
- Suppose it was a mere bigotry against women. Price equality could rob women of the most important weapon they have to fight discrimination: choice. If the higher price was simply due to a bias against women, then price equality would not inform women who held this bias. They would keep patronizing bigots and bigots would suffer no consequences of their bigotry. It robs unbiased entrepreneurs of the opportunity to undercut these prices and drive biased hairdressers out of business. The greatest threat to bigots is having to compete with non-bigots.