Externalities
Externalities

Beautiful people are such a pleasure to watch. It’s funny how the sight of them can make complete strangers smile. But truly beautiful people seem so few and far between. It obviously begs the question of why are there not more of them? It has been shown that attractive people earn more than ugly ones. Surely that would be incentive enough to increase the proportion of attractive people. Maybe it has, but not enough. Unfortunately, when people decide whether to go to the gym, get plastic surgery or purchase that particularly nice outfit, they do not factor in the benefits to society from their looking good. They therefore under invest in goods and services to make themselves prettier.

In technical jargon, peoples looks produce positive and negative externalities. But when making decisions people only factor in the private costs and benefits, leading society as a whole to under invest in beauty enhancing goods and services. Clearly the government ought to do something. It subsidizes education and regulates significant sections of the economy because of externalities and yet has neglected personal appearance. The government has to correct market imperfections wherever they lie or we all suffer. It is morally obliged to ensure public decency is maintained and to maximize social welfare. It must alleviate the suffering of its citizens. Besides, how can any decent person not stand on the side of beauty and against ugliness? Doing otherwise would not just show a total lack of aesthetic taste but a callous disregard for human suffering.

It is unfair for people not rich enough to afford plastic surgery to be forced to struggle through life being ugly and discriminated against. It is not just income levels that vary between the beautiful and ugly. So does the number of potential sexual partners. The best way to be sure of reducing the poverty of potential partners experienced by the most aesthetically challenged is to make them beautiful. Administrative problems make a National Sex Act banning discrimination on the grounds of appearance impractical. But even making beautiful people ugly would be better than the status quo. The negative impact upon the welfare of beautiful individuals and on the rest of society from replacing their positive externalities with negative being outweighed by the beneficial effects of living in a more just and equitable society. The socially useful employment created by bodies enforcing the regulations is an added bonus.

Correcting the market error in personal appearance through regulation is doubly beneficial. Not only does it remove the negative externalities of an ugly person, but can on occasion turn them into someone beautiful and thereby create positive externalities. Designer clothes, plastic surgery, makeup and gyms ought to be heavily subsidized or even supplied free of charge to the end user. The Environmental Protection Authority needs to be expanded and its investigators given authority to monitor and control visual pollution. As medical technologies improve the incidence of turning the negative externalities into positive will increase. The greater the investment in this area the more frequently this will occur and the safer the procedures will become. The government ought to implement a national research program into personnel redevelopment and environmental protection.

The amount of visual pollution given off by an ugly person is partly a function of the amount of people they come into contact with. Thus an ugly person in a city causes significantly more damage than one living as a hermit in the country. This suggests that to maximize the benefits from the resources used investigators ought to concentrate on cleaning up the cities first. But this would be grossly unfair to country residents. A group which already has problems accessing many government services. Social justice demands that equity considerations be taken into account when determining the optimal mix of services between city and country residents. It also means that any system has to be compulsory. We all have the right to live in a just and fair society and this means no selfish individual can say “I am happy the way I am, leave me alone”. Selfishness must not be allowed to stand in the way of the noble goals of equality and social justice.

But forcing ugly people under the surgeon’s knife and into the gym could prove problematic. Even something as simple as legislating compulsory use of makeup by men could have negative electoral implications for the government. The usual mix of civil libertarians can be expected to stand in the way of progress and claim that compulsory plastic surgery is a breach of human rights. These groups never ask what right they have to force their views upon the government. Because people often do not know what is best for them, let alone society, they might listen to the libertarians and throw those trying to create a fairer society out of office. Even though this means they stand against something which is clearly in the best interests of society and the individuals concerned.

If public perception is misguided then it needs to be educated until it forms the correct opinion. There is less likely to be public protest at an educational campaign than more active intervention. As an interim measure the government could fund a public awareness campaign to increase voluntary participation in appearance enhancing activity. Initially it could concentrate on more socially acceptable areas such as encouraging exercise. A successful campaign could have the additional benefit of making people more willing to accept the role for government in making people exercise and undergo appearance-enhancing surgery. Eventually this could translate to greater support in the community for compulsory cosmetic surgery and exercise. As the merits of a national policy on improving standards becomes fully understood and taught in schools, any lingering doubts will soon be put to rest. Increasing the chance of bi-partisan support for the measures.

Left leaning parties will be attracted to the ability to do good and the increase in social justice that the policy offers. Right leaning parties could be expected to succumb to the blandishments of beauty therapists and other private sector vested interests. A greater emphasis on keeping up appearances has the potential to benefit concerned parties in both the government and private sector. The growth in the government and private sector can be expected to stimulate the economy with flow on benefits to the rest of society.

At the least intervention in favour of beauty will have the effect of righting the historic wrongs committed by government against the sector. Traditionally governments actually discouraged the use of gyms, cosmetic surgeons and designer clothing by maintaining excessive taxation rates. These taxes being used to fund its bureaucratic regulatory enforcers and subsidization activities. It can’t have an unfunded arts community, because cutting them free of the government teat would make them less likely to tow the government line. As for education, health, “charitable organizations” and the plethora of other worthy government activities, few are as worthwhile as more beauty, social justice and an end to ugliness.



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