Thursday, April 18, 2013

матрёшка in 東京

Having several irons in the inferno prevents me from watching a lot of documentary films lately. In its stead, I have partially outsourced this liable pleasure (it's not quite guilty in the same sense as listening to old ABBA 8-tracks) to Mrs. Spivonomist. Though it's probably not quite what Adam Smith had in mind with his parable of the pin factory, it does save me time and she's an excellent filter. The most recent flick she screened had to  do with the seedy underbelly of the fashion trade. NPR reviews the film here, CEI shares their opinion here. The Grey Lady chimes in here. The version I got from Ramute was like this: recruiters head out to the wilds of Siberia (more like Novosibirsk, really), entice girls as young as 13 to fly to Japan, then leave them to their own devices in a country where they don't even know how to dial a telephone to call home. Contracts not guaranteed, income not guaranteed, safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.

This is not euvoluntary. Full stop.

The BATNA disparity should be trivially obvious to anyone who has spent any time in Eastern Europe, particularly in Siberia. Japan is wealthy, Russia outside Moscow is backwater hinterlands. And regret? Even when you've got a decent middle class family background to fall back on, runway and magazine work is risky as all get-out. Fashion is a bit like sports. Boys have their hoop dreams, girls have cover girl aspirations. Both are suffused with availability bias: we see LeBron James and Kate Upton, but we never see the hordes of mediocre folks who waste (sometimes) years working towards a goal they've no hope of ever reaching.

To put it another way, winner-take-all contests, in private industry just as surely as in government, create rents. The contest over these rents can dissipate their value. Tullock was right (yet again). How strange. The only winning move is not to play. But it is hard to resist the lure, particularly if you're a) young and a bit stupid (apologies to my younger readers) b) possessed of above-median talent (and yes, East European women are more likely than the world average to be endowed with exceptional beauty) and c) low on decent alternatives.

So the Russia-to-Japan model pipeline isn't euvoluntary. I pose Andrea's Question to you: what to do about it? Boycott the fashion industry? Encourage some sort of international treaty that bans the practice? What exactly is the problem? Is it the rents? The BATNA disparity? The regret borne by failed aspirants? All or some of the above? Is there even any plausible remedy at all? Can this problem be disentangled from larger problems of stunted economic development in sovereignties with weak institutions?

Lots of questions here. And it's probably a topic folks feel strongly about. Think of the link between failed fashion modeling and other, more sordid forms of human trafficking.

Here's a trailer for the film:

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?