According to the old cliche, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." But according to economists, beauty is a measurable trait that can deliver a huge profit to someone who's easy on the eyes. One study found that American workers who ranked in the bottom seventh in looks made nearly a quarter of a million dollars less over their career than a colleague who was considered to be in the top one-third. "Most of us, regardless of our professed attitudes, prefer as customers to buy from better-looking salespeople, as jurors to listen to better-looking attorneys, as voters to be led by better-looking politicians, as students to learn from better-looking professors." In light of such findings, making sure the homely aren't discriminated against could be the next "legal frontier," writes economics professor Daniel S. Hamermesh in The New York Times. "Economic arguments for protecting the ugly are as strong as those for protecting some groups" — like the handicapped or racial minorities — who are already covered by legislation. "So why not go ahead and expand protection to the looks-challenged?" Here, an excerpt:

We actually already do offer such protections in a few places, including in some jurisdictions in California, and in the District of Columbia, where discriminatory treatment based on looks in hiring, promotions, housing and other areas is prohibited. Ugliness could be protected generally in the United States by small extensions of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Ugly people could be allowed to seek help from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and other agencies in overcoming the effects of discrimination. We could even have affirmative-action programs for the ugly.

Read the entire article in The New York Times.