[OPINION] Catriona Gray, David Ricardo, and the law of comparative advantage
Thank God for the smartphone, which allowed us to listen in to a special session of the Econ 101 class of Prof Ben Nojoke at UP Diliman.
Student X: Sir, I’d like to ask a question about the fuel tax and inflation…
Prof Ben Nojoke: Later. Today, I’d like to discuss Ricardo's law of comparative advantage and Miss Universe. You see, the recent Miss Universe contest again validated this law, which says that the most successful countries are those which specialize in developing their natural endowments. Malaysia has lots of land but few people. Thailand has a great culinary tradition. The Philippines has many poor people, bland food, but lots of beautiful women.
Each of these countries has leveraged their endowments to gain advantage internationally. Malaysia has leveraged its high land-to-population ratio to reduce its poverty rate to 2.8%. Thailand has exported its cuisine, and it has now displaced French cooking as the world’s most desired cuisine. And the Philippines has leveraged its abundance of beauties to win one Miss Universe title after another.
Student X: Ok, sir, but about the excise tax…
Prof Nojoke: Quiet. Ang kulit mo! Anyway, our Miss Universe industry is now the most competitive in the world. Our training of contestants is the most rigorous. We’ve perfected the “lava walk” on the runway. Our designers have come up with the perfect outfit for every occasion. We have nutrition packages that bring our contestants’ vital measurements to less than a micromillimeter of perfection. We have laser tech to sharpen that flat nose without it looking siliconized. Our social scientists have designed the perfect answer for any question that is likely to come up in the Q and A, the rule of thumb being “project some social consciousness in your answer but nothing too radical.” And of course, we have it all sewn up on the genetic front.
Student Y: What do you mean by that sir? Parang eugenics yata 'yan.
Prof Nojoke: I mean we must have the appropriate breed of woman to compete. It is no longer politically correct to give the crown to pure white women. At the same time, the white woman is still subliminally the judges’ standard of beauty. So, presto, our Miss Universe industry now mainly fields half breeds or mestizas, with a few exceptions of course. The mestiza or Eurasian meets the white standards except, of course, when it comes to skin color. But, then, a shade darker than pale white may, in fact, be an advantage because the mestiza comes across as having a nice tan, which the white or white-conditioned mind values a lot.
Student Y: You mean, sir, that the dark or dusky kayumanggi beauty doesn’t stand a chance?
Prof Nojoke: Well, it may be politically correct to praise kayumanggi, but our Miss Universe industry would be out of its mind to field someone with that kutis.
So you see, we have been faithful followers of the great David Ricardo. We have specialized in developing our comparative advantage into the fine science and fine art of producing Miss Universes, and we are now the world’s top producer of beauty queens. We have left the Colombians and the Venezuelans in the dust.
Student Y: But, sir, Ricardo was talking about a country becoming wealthy from specialization. I don’t see how specializing in producing Miss Universes has made the country richer or reduced poverty.
Prof Nojoke: That’s the one flaw in Ricardo’s theory, since beauty is a form of wealth, and according to Imelda’s amendment to utility theory, when given the choice among different goods and services, people prefer to bask in the national prestige that comes with winning an international beauty contest than consuming food. Up to a certain point, people are willing to substitute identifying with beauty to eating.
As Imelda once observed, “Our people love to consume beauty.” So, because it is a good, like other goods, the national psychic pleasure from winning Miss Universe must be factored into the Gross Domestic Product.
Student Z: But sir, surely, if we put our mind to it, we can be successful in all 3: reducing poverty, producing fine cuisine, and producing Miss Universes.
Prof Nojoke: Unfortunately, not. That is what is called Nojoke’s trilemma, which must not be confused with Triffin’s trilemma. You can only have one of the 3 and not even two of the 3. It’s either less poverty or fine cuisine or Miss Universe. Didn’t they tell you that economics is the science of scarcity, the dismal science? Didn’t you know that even more basic than the law of supply and demand is the law that says you can’t have your cake and eat it too?
Student X: That’s all well and good, sir, but can we go back to the excise tax and its inflationary impact on the poor?
Prof Nojoke: Killjoy talaga itong nerd na ito. Sorry, class dismissed. – Rappler.com
Walden Bello occasionally dabbles in the sociology of the Miss Universe industry and the economics profession.