B is for Beauty

It's not easy being beautiful. Even if you were blessed with the right parents (sparing you the expense of the right plastic surgeon), preserving one's looks takes the constant effort of diet and exercise, and maximizing their effect requires careful investment in clothes, hair products, and cosmetics. And after all that, if you show your dazzling face in public, everybody who sees it enjoys the fruit of your labor, but nobody has to compensate you for it. Nobody, that is, except for the citizens of Khazaristan.

In that country, wherever twenty or more people might gather (busy intersections, parks, restaurants, stadiums, and so on) there is a hidden camera, programmed to go off at random times of the day and night. The tireless belletometrists at the Department of Aesthetic Compensation study these crowd scenes, scoring the face, dress, and comportment of everyone in them. The citizens who were photographed can go to the Department, and if they can be identified in the picture, they can claim a royalty, proportional to their score and the number of other people present. Similar programs reward the owners of attractive cars, houses, and speaking voices.

Since these rewards are paid out of general tax revenues, the plain citizens are effectively subsidizing the good-looking ones. The most beautiful of them all can live off the royalties from the Department, a practice that gives new meaning to the phrase "walk the streets for money".

Ever since instituting this policy, Khazaristan's tourism industry has boomed. In addition, its clinic for plastic surgery is the most highly regarded in the world. The clinic has two departments. One corrects the accidents of nature with face-lifts, nose jobs, liposuctions, and so forth. The other specializes in reconstructive surgery for acid burns, to help victims of the country's most common violent crime.

At the most recent meeting of the World Trade Organization, the Secretary of Aesthetic Compensation, a former Miss Universe, attended a panel on cross-border intellectual property rights. After the US representative spoke about the social benefits of patent and copyright protection, and the need for all countries to cooperate on enforcing these rights, the Secretary rose to her feet. She spoke of the public benefit that beautiful people can perform for an ugly world, and challenged the other countries to follow Khazaristan's example, and to ensure that alongside the catchy tune and the innovative drug, the handsome face get its due reward. When the US representative laughed, the Secretary stormed out of the meeting in disgust.

Seth Gordon / sethg@ropine.com / 23 September 2001 / comments?