Are Less Attractive People Victims of Inequality?

Of course not, but it's the same line of thinking that leads to income redistribution.

I’m currently in Monaco, which is a remarkable place for two reasons.

  • First, it has an unusual economic model. There is no income tax, and you won’t be surprised to learn that I think this helps to explain why it is the world’s richest jurisdiction. Makes me wish we could reverse that terrible day in 1913 when the income tax was imposed in the United States.
  • Second, there are a lot of beautiful people in this small nation, especially relative to the small overall population.

With one exception, I’ve never commented on the looks of a population for the simple reason that it has nothing to do with public policy.

But that may be changing, in part because some ostensibly unattractive young men (known as “incels” because they are involuntarily celibate) are dealing with their frustration by killing others.

That strikes me a crazy reaction. I’ve endured many periods of involuntary celibacy in my life and it never occurred to me to murder anyone.

But let’s deal seriously with this issue. There’s no question that some people are lucky because they won the genetic lottery. If you’re naturally attractive, you have many more relationship options, whether you’re looking for one-night stands or marriage. And it’s not just sex and relationships. Being physically attractive makes life easier in all sorts of ways.

That’s not fair. But does that unfairness justify intervention?

Professor Robin Hanson of George Mason University doesn’t think so, but he wonders why people concerned about income equality aren’t similarly concerned about access-to-sex equality.

I’ve long puzzled over the fact that most of the concern I hear expressed on inequality is about…income inequality… many seem to be trying hard to inform those who rank low of their low status. Their purpose seems to be to induce envy, to induce political action to increase redistribution. …They remind the poor that they could consider revolting, and remind everyone else that a revolt might happen. This strengthens an implicit threat of violence should redistribution be insufficient. …One might plausibly argue that those with much less access to sex suffer to a similar degree as those with low income, and might similarly hope to gain from organizing around this identity, to lobby for redistribution along this axis and to at least implicitly threaten violence if their demands are not met. …personally I’m not very attracted to non-insurance-based redistribution policies of any sort, though I do like to study what causes others to be so attracted."

Hanson’s column generated a lot of response.

Ross Douthat addressed the topic in a column for the New York Times.

…it brings me to the case of Robin Hanson, a George Mason economist, libertarian and noted brilliant weirdo. Commenting on the recent terrorist violence in Toronto, in which a self-identified “incel”—that is, involuntary celibate—man sought retribution against women and society for denying him the fornication he felt that he deserved, Hanson offered this provocation: If we are concerned about the just distribution of property and money, why do we assume that the desire for some sort of sexual redistribution is inherently ridiculous? …Hanson’s post made me immediately think of a recent essay in The London Review of Books by Amia Srinivasan, “Does Anyone Have the Right To Sex?” Srinivasan, an Oxford philosophy professor, covered similar ground (starting with an earlier “incel” killer) but expanded the argument well beyond the realm of male chauvinists to consider groups with whom The London Review’s left-leaning and feminist readers would have more natural sympathy—the overweight and disabled, minority groups treated as unattractive by the majority, trans women unable to find partners and other victims… Srinivasan ultimately answered her title question in the negative: “There is no entitlement to sex, and everyone is entitled to want what they want.” But her negative answer was a qualified one. …like other forms of neoliberal deregulation the sexual revolution created new winners and losers, new hierarchies to replace the old ones, privileging the beautiful and rich and socially adept in new ways and relegating others to new forms of loneliness and frustration."

Writing for Slate, Jordan Weissmann had a very sour reaction to Hanson’s column.

If you’ve ever heard of George Mason University economist Robin Hanson, there’s a good chance it was because he wrote something creepy. …Last week, Hanson was back at it again. In a post that left many readers agog, he decided to use a heinous incident of misogynistic violence as an opportunity to contemplate the concept of “redistributing” sex to men who have trouble getting laid. …His brief post is more or less a lame attempt to compare people who worry about income inequality with incels who worry about “sexual inequality,” and suggest that they’re maybe not so different. …Some people have read Hanson’s piece and concluded that he believes women should be forced to have sex with men who strike out on Tinder, like some sort of giant socialized harem. I don’t think that’s the case. The professor, again, leans libertarian and, as he clarified on Twitter, opposes all sorts of government redistribution, including in this case."

By the way, I can’t resist commenting on the absurdity of Weissmann stating that he doesn’t “think” that Hanson believes in coerced sex redistribution.

Of course he knows that Hanson is opposed to that route. But since Weissmann presumably believes in coerced income redistribution, he wants to lash out at Hanson for pointing out that there’s an unseemly link between the two ideas.

I’ll close by pointing out that attractiveness helps with income as well as sex. And Omar Al-Ubaydli of the Mercatus Center asks, in a column for the Washington Examiner, whether that justifies redistribution.

Do attractive workers get paid more than unattractive ones? Some labor economists think so, having clearly demonstrated the existence of the “beauty premium,” which shows attractive workers have higher wages and more job opportunities. So, should we look to implement a “ridiculously good looking” tax? …what truly leads to higher wages for our photogenic friends. Is it because our beautiful colleagues are more effective at their jobs? Or is it because we are biased toward them… If physical attractiveness brings about superior productivity…then the beauty premium is morally justifiable. Employers pay for productivity… But if, on the other hand, earnings differences can be attributed to bigoted oppression of those blessed with less beauty, then there may be moral grounds for some positive discrimination and equal-pay legislation."

But if there’s a tax on beauty, what about other natural traits, like athletic skill?

If I deserved a subsidy from Gisele Bundchen for being less beautiful, would I deserve one from Lionel Messi for being a less capable soccer player?"

Or a tax on height?

If the idea of a beauty tax seems strange or unlikely, then you may be surprised to learn that several respected economists have argued in favor of a height tax, whereby tall people are forced to subsidize the short."

As a libertarian, this isn’t a difficult issue. Like Robin Hanson, I don’t believe in coerced redistribution, whether for sex or money.

I have zero sympathy for violent “incels,” but I also recognize that life can be very unfair for people who lost the aforementioned genetic lottery. This is not a problem with a solution, but it’s one of the reasons I support legalized prostitution.

P.S. The U.K. actually has decided that some people have a right to sex, though fortunately there’s no coercion (other than the threats needed to collect taxes).

Reprinted from International Liberty.

More by Daniel J. Mitchell

{{article.Title}}

{{article.BodyText}}