What is Democracy? (54): Kalocracy?

Beautiful people have a number of advantages in social life. They earn more, even in occupations where appearance does not seem relevant to job performance. And, somewhat surprisingly, the beauty premium – and the corresponding ugliness penalty – are higher for men than for women. (I say surprisingly because we usually think that women are more often judged on the basis of their looks). A related effect is heightism: tall people, who are often considered to be more beautiful, also earn more.

And it’s not just in salaries that beauty makes a difference. Beautiful people are also more successful in democratic politics. They are more likely to be elected and, again, the marginal effect of beauty is larger for male candidates than for female candidates. So democracy is in fact kalocracy, rule of the beautiful (from the Greek “kalos“).

But why is there a political benefit of good looks? Probably because there’s a general benefit of being beautiful and because people generally – and hence also in politics – value good looking people more than the rest of us. Psychological experiments have shown that a snap judgment of whether we like someone’s face determines what we believe about that person’s character. And character is important in politics. There’s also the fact that the visual media give more attention to beautiful politicians, something which probably translates into a higher voter share.

Makes you doubt the value of democracy, doesn’t it? And makes you wonder whether we wouldn’t be better off handing over politics to some kind of elite. More positively, perhaps we should start seriously considering a type of democracy that isn’t focused on the selection of candidates through the means of a media circus.

More posts in this series are here.

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