So, I visited the barber last week for the regular trimming and getting that clean shave, advertized in the Gillette Mach 3, Turbo Mach 3, Vector Plus, etc commercials, which I consistently fail to achieve by myself. There was this new chap there instead of my regular barber and his first glance at me was that of utter disappointment – not because I happened to drop in at his breakfast time or because it meant additional work. This was a different sort of disappointment – the kind that I would feel if I was asked to do a menial task like data entry – of being underutilized and more importantly under-challenged. Professional that he is, my thin shwet-shyamal hair offered him little challenge; little room to style and all you see.

The barber’s reaction was new because of his selfishness. But, I am not unaccustomed to reactions to my hair. I could fill libraries with volumes of books about the care and concern that people have shown towards my balding. Indeed barbers all over the country, from Mumbai to Guwahati to Chennai to Bangalore never fail to point out to me that “bahut safed baal ho gaya hai” or “bahut patla ho gaya hai baal”. Duh! And then there are those concerned friends, estranged school acquaintances, relatives, etc who on every meeting do not fail to suggest remedies ranging from wearing a topi to protect from dust, going completely bald so that the new fasal can grow, daily usage of some maha-bhringaraj oil, consumption of hair-growing tablets, visit to Dr Batra's Clinic, etc. Most concerned are my parents and first-cousins: “kes aahet tovar lagna karun ghey” (marry while you have hair). Indeed, this concern for hair is a proxy concern of not being thought of as handsome; (similarly, there are proxies for beauty in case of girls) and the indisputable importance of beauty (or handsomeness) with marital prospects of a girl or a guy.

This chain of thoughts reminded me of a beauty arbitrage, some friends had told me about. What is it all about? Let’s have a look at the marital prospects market. Each marital prospect will be valued based on different parameters including beauty like earnings potential, compatibility, etc. The mix of these parameters will determine the valuation. Thus, someone who may be beautiful but have low earnings potential could be equally valued as someone who is not-so-beautiful but who has earnings potential.

However, as the hair raising concerns described above show, beauty is perceived as a relatively more important parameter (especially when both parties are young). This perception distorts the marital prospects market. There is a greater demand for beautiful prospects. Two prospects, one beautiful and other not-so-much, who are valued equally (Vactual), will be valued differently because of the excess demand for the beautiful and the lack of demand for the not-so-beautiful. People will be over-valuing a beautiful prospect (by a premium p) and under-valuing the not-so-beautiful prospect (by a discount d). What will happen over time is that the perceived value of the prospect will approach actual value (consistent with my economic theory of relationships).

Herein lay the opportunity as Buffet would say. We have an undervalued marital prospect which not many want to engage with. If one gets engaged and stay so for the long term, while those who had paid a premium for beauty will see erosion in value of their relationship, one would see an appreciation in one's relationship value. This gap in actual value and market value is the beauty arbitrage.

So, to all those people and barbers who are interested in making someone not-so-beautiful or not-so-handsome into beautiful or handsome, all I have to say is this: They are good as they are, in fact they are the best marital investment opportunities around. If you are really care, then find them some intelligent investors.


soulitary reaper said... @ April 29, 2009

Well here is a potential marital economist... I can see in future, people will use this theory to weigh diff options.. And someday, there will be a software which will do all the calculations, once you have entered all the attributes of both the parties:D Lotsa business potential, what say you AP?

Daffodils said... @ April 29, 2009

Hair, there, everywhere! Jokes apart, its indeed is irritating how people react to hair or the lack of them..."Haiconomics" shud be a compulsory subject for all those marriage marketeering auntijies as well...geez they are such a pain!

Adi said... @ April 30, 2009

Good theory - Beauty Arbitage. Worthy of being published in Mint as many more would be enlightened with your hair raising haironomics.

AP said... @ May 01, 2009

@Soulitary Reaper: Very true! That's the bigger game plan.

@Daffodils: "Hairconomics" - that would have been a cool title for the post. Thanks Komal.

@Adi: Yes, the world needs to be enlightened.

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