TAKING STOCK : Should beauty be penalised?
Sapna Malla Pradhan, Nepal’s foremost women’s right activist is a person I respect. We see eye to eye on a number of issues. Both of us would like to legalise the right of sex workers to pursue their profession. However, there are some issues on which we disagree. Pradhan is for protecting workers by law, and for men and women once hired to be allowed to stay in their position until retirement. I want the government out of the hiring and firing process, and for employees and employers to decide between themselves what their relationship will be.
Let’s take Hong Kong. Prior to the 80’s, their were no labour laws ‘protecting’ the island state’s worker. Hong Kong absorbed immigrants from mainland China by the millions. Between 1945 and 1987, its population grew from 7,00,000 to 5.6 million — a compounded annual increase of 5.08 per cent. This population explosion was unparalleled in the world’s history.
This increase in manpower was absorbed into the work force easily. Instead of poverty and destitution one might expect, Hong Kong grew at such a pace that its people became richer than those in UK, or Canada. It prospered even as its population zoomed. Its workers, including its women, were fully employed. Even though Hong Kong, with its 7,000 people for
each of its square kilometres, is one of the world’s most crowded places, its per capita income is almost $25,000, Britain’s barely nudges past $22,500. Canada’s people are also behind earning $23,500 annually. Let’s contrast this with Europe which, with its stringent labour laws, wanted cradle to grave security for its people. Because it was so difficult to fire workers, businessmen in Europe hired only when it became absolutely necessary. Unlike Hong Kong businesses, which hired as soon as they could productively employ someone, the European industrialists waited until it become absolutely clear that additional workers would be required forever. The result was chronic unemployment of 12 per cent or more.
America, which though not as free as Hong Kong, allowed hire and fire subject to some
‘safeguards’. The US unemployment at around five per cent, was significantly lower than that of Europe’s, though even it could not match Hong Kong. If in Nepal we truly want to protect workers and enhance their well being then do not let the law take sides. Let voluntary contracts rule. Adopt business friendly policies and it is competition amongst employers which will continuously raise productivity and the wages of the Nepali workers. Why should government force hotels, airlines, and casinos to keep old ladies, when survey after survey has shown that customers prefer smart, young, and beautiful girls to serve them. Is it necessary that RNAC and IA retain aged and overweight airhostesses? Are we reducing unemployment, or are we merely blocking the positions which should go to the young? What would be wrong in explaining to new hirees, that their jobs are for five years and not more?
Don’t we hire men based on their intelligence? Would we want a dumb pilot to fly us, or have a moron perform brain surgery on us? To some God has given brains, to others beauty, and if we let market forces value these traits, what’s wrong?
I want to enquire of Sapna, “doesn’t society and the law accept that, in some fields, beauty and youth are legitimate grounds for hiring?” In movies does a youthful Rani Mukherjee dance, or, does the honour go to elderly ladies? Should the government force filmmakers to hire me in the place of Aishwarya Rai, in the name of equity and fair play? And should Aishwarya once hired by a movie producer continue to be given work upto the age of 60?
Obviously, this doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense to put old and worn out faces on films, TV, or on the ramp for modeling. So, is it sensible to have grandmothers walk up and down the aisles of our national airlines serving us coffee? It would be best for government to keep out of what should be done by voluntary consent. And as long as we continue to value beauty, the market, which merely aggregates our wishes, will continue to reward it. This, Sapnaji, is ok.
(The writer can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org)