Thursday, September 8, 2011

Deceiving Appearances

In what I presume was an attempt to create some media buzz, a University of Texas economics professor proposed that ugly people should be treated as if they had some type of disability and legally protected from discrimination that results from their unfortunate physical appearance.
I know that the data show that attractive people receive higher pay, better mortgage rates, and typically end up with higher earning spouses. But why that should be remedied by a federal law, and more importantly, how the law could remedy it, are questions the professor doesn't really answer. In fact, given the population I just saw walking around the Atlanta airport,  the adoption of such an appearance standard would put a significant majority of the country in the legally disabled category.
By way of full disclosure, I put myself in this "protected" category, too, just so you know.
Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The professor indicates that there would be widespread disagreement in most cases, but that there should be almost universal agreement on perhaps 1%-2% population who are truly repulsive.  How you pare those folks out from the others is something I wouldn't want to deal with.  The fact the courts have to do something like this with respect to disability claims is no argument--I don't think we should reasonably expect judges to measure physical attractiveness, as well.  And appearance measurements are cumbersome--how long does it take to pick a Miss America, for example?
On the other hand, there are municipalities that I am aware of that have banned so called "lookism" or discrimination based on appearance. These ordinances typically focus on protecting people with tattoos, body piercings, or other self-inflicted appearance issues. And there is no doubt that any number of businesses have faced litigation for not hiring or terminating people they consider unattractive by virtue of weight or age. Is it such a big step to include appearance as an outright protected category?

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