Saturday, July 15, 2006

If Looks Could Kill

Why does a country restrict the presence of foreign workers in its domestic labor market? Usually the reason would fall into one or two of these categories:
a. driving down the domestic wage (the case of US immigration law debate, not so long ago)
b. local customer protection against low services provided by foreigners
c. cream-skimming and creating inequity
d. crowding out the domestic worker's employment.
Okay, you may say, in the end, it is all about fear of competition.

But after reading a short article in The Jakarta Post 13/07/06 (alas, no link) on Malaysia's recent policy to lift the ban on Bangladeshi workers, you may want to add up one more reason. But let me quote part of the article first:
Malaysia restricted the number of Bangladeshi workers in the country in 1996 and banned them entirely two years ago, after it said they were creating social problems by entering into romantic liasions with local women.

Officials have said the Bangladeshis, who looked like Indian movie stars to some local women, had seduced and eloped with them.
Yes, it is love and good looks that prevent a country from gaining profit from international trade in services.

For me, it doesn't sound right for two things: First of all, it undermines fair competition both in labor market and, more importantly, love market. Second, it implies that foreign workers with good looks actually don't have as big an opportunity as those who are less fortunate in that area.

Talk about male chauvinist pigs. Come off it. Let the competition go on

A self-reflection on our profession, for university teacher, does looks matter? Yes, it does for having higher instructional rating, as Hamermesh and Parker (in pdf) say (via Greg Mankiw's blog), particularly, alas, for male teacher. Yet whether it reflects productivity gap or discrimination is probably impossible to judge. Gosh, somehow I feel relieved by this caveat.

p/s: From that paper, I like a punchline from supermodel Linda Evangelista: It was God who made me so beautiful. If I weren't, then I'd be a teacher. Yes, yes, we call it division of labour. It'd be more efficient this way.



  1. Amazing reason. How far humans can go!
    Rabah Q

  2. This is contradictory to what we have in Singapore. Foreign Domestic Workers (FDWs) or better known in earth language as "maids" here all come from neighbouring countries like Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Srilanka and Malaysia with the majority coming from Indonesia. I once asked someone in the Ministry of Manpower office here and he confirmed that none of the FDWs in this country are in fact Singaporeans, be it good looking or not :-) And so far, I haven't met/know of any!

  3. okay, might be a little late but, since most of you guys are teachers, what do you think?

    always thought that teachers are like the no 1 fetish, or at least second to nurse. economist... damn, can't get any better than that really.


  4. rizal, if you must know, the condition does not apply to the female teacher. Somehow students feel that there is no way such good looking female teachers could exist. And that's not just on being teacher. People think that ia good looking economist/researcher is impossible... good looking and brain substitutes that's what they say.
    no hard feeling, just need to complained out loud!!

    but life is hard for smart good looking women everywhere...

    as for me, i like having a good looking teacher... i'm enjoying the view... =D

  5. Smart and pretty? Ugh, I know: Catherine Tramell. But again, she's psycho...

  6. rabah qial, it is

    dew, there must be some goodlooking FDWs somewhere, I am sure

    treespotter, I think she made a point on how to pick a profession. We call it comparative advantage. That teacher is a #1 fetish, I don't know. Maybe.

    dhani, life is hard for smart good looking women? are you sure? :-)

    aco, and she's not even majoring in Econs. And you forget Maria Bartiromo, dude

  7. Rizal, you totally missed my point. Maybe you should read my comment again :-)

  8. Dew, me reading it again. Let me try to have proper response then.

    Both Malaysia and Singapore invite foreign workers to do the low skilled works, because they're short of people to do this kind of jobs. And this is why Malaysia eventually has to lift the ban of those goodlookings, the labour shortage. Not because they're now less discriminative against the goodlookings.

    Due to this shortage, the price of locals is higher. They don't accept such low paid positions. That explains why no Singaporean works as maid.

    On the other hand, labours in those neighbouring countries are in excess supply, they're willing to accept low wage overseas and fill the gap. Despite the lower wage than their local counterparts', the migrants take the jobs, because they have higher overseas wage than in their own countries -if not simply unemployed.

    The country in shortage may restrict the foreign workers to move in for various reasons, goodlooks included, and prefer the locals to do the work. But she will end up with higher cost of services. Why? Because the locals, which are short in number, would work only if you pay higher.

    So can you see that, almost, everybody's happy in this story?

  9. What a good topic bang Rizal !!!

    It remind me with Ape when he was our lecture assistant in Microeconomic introduction class. Most of my woman classmates admire him so much, though sometime he made a "garing" joke in our class. Ah ah ah ;-).

    Ape, welcome to Jakarta again guru!!!

    Special information for you, bang Rizal. Don’t be so sad bang. Your egalitarian and “informal” teaching style, as well as, your good explanation, such as the “junkies” example of microeconomic theory (read: productivity) have also made you so “sexy”, and thus you also has been adored by many woman students in your class.

    A testimonial of:
    Ape’s former student as well as Rizal’s former lecture assistant

  10. LIF, you should've told me this earlier :-).

    I thought, when I was giving them examples of marijuana, instead of boring pizza and hamburger, the students might assume I am one of the junkies mumbling before their class.

    I know they'were bit stunned, but I don't think they took it as sexy --oh, what a word :-), But it's good to see them laughing at ease, for sometimes I feel they're just too serious during the lecture.

  11. If I'm not mistaken, the seminal paper on the topic is the "Beauty and the Labor Market" paper by Hamermesh and Biddle (AER 1994). They find that the penalty for being plain is larger than the beauty premium. The message: if you're not beautiful, at least try not to be plain.

    I'm being nice here. Slate's Steven Landsburg put it rather bluntly:
    Ugly women tend to attract the lowest quality husbands (as measured by educational achievement or earnings potential). The effect is not symmetric, though: Beautiful women do no better on the marriage market than average women. For men, looks don't seem to affect marriage prospects at all.

    Dan Hamermesh and Jeff Biddle have written other papers that make one chuckle long before the Freakonomic craze. One of their earlier papers is on "Sleep and the Allocation of Time" (JPE 1990). Sleep-deprived Treespotter might be interested in knowing that according to these economists, sleep is not so much a biological decision than it is an economic one: one sleeps because he/she has nothing more productive to do.