December 27, 2005

Pay members of Congress $1 million a year.

Says Thomas Sowell. He notes that the persons we should most want in Congress are the ones who will have to make the biggest financial sacrifice to leave their current careers. This means we end up with some combination of mediocrities and folks who are really interested in wielding power. I do think there are also at least a few public service types in Congress, the sort of people who wouldn't take high-paying jobs if they were not in politics. But I'm thinking Sowell doesn't trust these people to make decisions about our money.

19 comments:

James R Ament said...

It's an interesting idea. One potential problem with it is the liklihood that large numbers of people would run for offices... for the money, not the desire or duty to help the nation. Weeding out all the lousy candidates would be a challenge; finding the right person would still be difficult.

Goesh said...

I still like the idea of term limits, and age limits - no more hauling them in on a hospital gurney to cast a vote - 10 years and out for Senators and Representatives, and the Supreme Court. And it's out to pasture for any of them upon their 75th birthday.

DEC said...

We should pay all members of the U.S. Congress in Iraqi dinars. Then members of Congress would say nothing but nice things about the country to keep the value of their paychecks up.

Dave said...

I think Sowell's point is that businesses which pay executives one million dollars per year highly value those executives' intellect and financial acumen.

People may quibble with the substance of Sowell's argument, but if you believe, as he does, that free markets price labor correctly, it should follow that people who can earn a million dollars per year in the business world should be more talented than most people who toil on Capitol Hill.

Again, one may disagree with his assumptions (i.e., that the labor market prices talent accurately), but on the whole the argument sounds reasonable.

Pooh said...

How does raising the direct compensation change the incentives for shady dealings to stay in office? Cynically, I might suggest that raising the price will just buy us smarter criminals.

EddieP said...

Jon Corzine spent $70,000,000 of his own money to get the US Senate seat from NJ which pays $165,000 per year. Would we be better off if we paid him a million?

It's not the money that they run for. It's the power and prestige. We could pay them zero and they'd still flock to it. They should have to play by the same rules they make for the rest of us. Social Security, Medicare and a small pension.

Simon said...

While we're talking about pie-in-the-sky ideas (and Sowell's is proverbially a pie-in-the-sky idea) I say go precisely the other way. Either go back to a per diem allowance, or index their salary to the budget deficit.

In regards to goesh's comment, I would again tout my proffered 28th Amendment, which would, inter alia, enforce consecutive term limits. Term limits were the single most important part of the Contract with America, in my view, the one ting that had to pass, and the failure to pass it remains the emblem of the failure of the Republican Revolution, IMHO. That is the thing above all else that has to be fixed to fix our system of government: the end of entrenched career legislators.

Ross said...

Having to scrape by $165,000 keeps members of Cognress in touch with the lumpen down in the 95th percentile of household income. It's a brutal sacrifice we demand of them, yes.

Eli Blake said...

What, you mean the value of all those lobbyist and industry paid junkets, free meals, plane rides and other 'gifts' isn't worth a million dollars a year? I'm shocked!

Considering that these paragons of fiscal 'restraint' manage to cut funding for healthcare while they themselves enjoy a miniature socialist utopia for themselves and their families-- an all expense paid first class healthcare system, with no need to worry about how much it will cost if someone gets sick,

and considering that there was a move afoot earlier this year to cut our Social Security benefits but they have the best retirement system in the country-- financed by Social Security taxes, at that, but much better than Social Security,

It seems that socialism works very well-- for United States Congressmen.

I would suggest this:

Let them have a raise, if you will, but make sure that they have an HMO, no different from the managed care plans that the rest of us have (complete with premiums, copays, deductibles and drug formularies), and get rid of their retirement system and put them on the same Social Security as the rest of us. Then if they want to make changes in these plans, I might trust them a bit more.

vbspurs said...

It's an interesting idea. One potential problem with it is the liklihood that large numbers of people would run for offices... for the money, not the desire or duty to help the nation. Weeding out all the lousy candidates would be a challenge; finding the right person would still be difficult.

Agreed 100%.

Haven't you ever wondered why politicians, cops, and judges around the world are so corrupt, and North Americans are not?

Well they are, obviously, but not to other nations' levels.

Part of that is the ethos each country has, with its attendant expectations and standards.

But another part is the generous but not exorbitant wage earned by each powerful person.

Whew, now that Ann has a new, faster Powerbook, she's gone nutso with the posts (hurrah!), but I think I can't read them all, let alone comment on them all...

So I'll stop here for tonight. :)

Cheers,
Victoria

Mickey said...

Pay members of Congress $1 million a year..... or they`ll steal it

DEC said...

Vbspurs: "Haven't you ever wondered why politicians, cops, and judges around the world are so corrupt, and North Americans are not?"

I don't know where you got that idea, Victoria. According to Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index for 2005, here is how the U.S. and Canada rank:

Least corrupt countries:

Canada - Number 14
U.S. - Number 17

(On a personal note, I travel the world. I know a lot of countries with less corruption than I see in the U.S. and Canada.)

DEC said...

Victoria,

By the way, Mexico,which also is part of North America, ranks Number 65 on Transparency International's list of least corrupt countries.

Bruce Hayden said...

Maybe because I am on the right, but my optimal politician does public service as just a part of a much broader career. In short, citizen legislators.

We have a history of this in our country. I remember the Davy Crockett song growing up, where he went to Congress for a term or two (ignoring that he left because of corruption).

We seem to see this ideal much more on the right than on the left. There is still some of this remaining with the Republicans in Congress, setting term limits for chairmanships, etc. But, not enough, as power corrupts...

Here in Colorado, our Republican Senators tend to serve one to two terms (with the exception of recently retired, former Democrat, Ben Campbell). And then they go and do something else, despite the probability of walk-away reelections. Hank Brown, interim CU president, is a good example - leaving the Senate with sky high approval ratings. So, you sometimes even see first term Senators as being the Senior senator from the state.

Contrast this with MA and WV. Both Jay Rockefeller and John Kerry have been in the Senate longer than any Colorado Senator of my memory, yet both are still, to this day, junior Senators in their respective states.

I frankly don't think that the caliber of Senator you get when they can buy their offices and then keep them for the rest of their lives to be very high. The Senate, esp. on the left side of the isle, is filled with people who have had no real life experience outside politics, and in, particular, outside the Senate. For many of them, the only thing in their favor is that they inherited or married a lot of money that can be squandered in buying a Senate seat.

My worry about the proposal is, as suggested above, that it will attract people who want to server primarily for the money. Fine for a CEO, but I would prefer that serving in Congress be onerous, in order to dissuade as many as possible from spending much of their lives there.

Goatwhacker said...

Looking at Transparancy International's site, their rankings are based on surveys of how corrupt people think their country is. I would think this would introduce a significant amount of potential error since public perception is often different than reality.

On dilettante's comment: Weeding out all the lousy candidates would be a challenge; finding the right person would still be difficult.

This would describe our current situation as well.

Henry said...

A salary for serving in office was a basic goal of the labor movement in England. Labor activists had a horrendous time supporting one-time delegations to parliament, let alone full time politicians.

The patricians arguing against a salary used many of the arguments above -- that it would degrade the office; that it would attract selfish riff-raff; that only the rich were disinterested enough to "help the nation."

The Corzine example misses the mark. It doesn't matter if Congress attracts power-hungry millionaires, if it can also attract a slightly higher percentage of smart professionals. Pondering dillettante's worry about weeding out lousy candidates is misplaced; you can't weed out anyone if you don't have competitive races (as many seats don't).

That said, I think eli blake is absolutely right: politicians should also have to live with their own laws.

I would give each member of congress a million dollar salary and another million dollars to run their own office as a non-governmental, for-profit business. So no free office space in marble-faced buildings, no civil servant staff, no gyms, television studios, or free postage. And if the congressperson wants to live cheap and invest the money, I'm fine with that.

DEC said...

Goatwacker: "Looking at Transparancy International's site, their rankings are based on surveys of how corrupt people think their country is. I would think this would introduce a significant amount of potential error since public perception is often different than reality."

I have worked in international trade for more than 30 years. I was VP of export services at one of the world's largest banks. I have visited 62 countries, many of them 20 or 30 times. In all, I have traveled more than 2 million miles outside the U.S.

Transparency International's survey agrees with my experiences. In my view, the survey is pretty accurate.

Goatwhacker said...

I have worked in international trade for more than 30 years. I was VP of export services at one of the world's largest banks. I have visited 62 countries, many of them 20 or 30 times. In all, I have traveled more than 2 million miles outside the U.S.

I haven't done any of those things, but still think public opinion polls are a flawed way to find out how much corruption is in a country. Your points are well taken and you're probably right, it just bugs me to see shaky studies and statistics held up as the final word.

Slac said...

That's really interesting, DEC.

I LOVE this article. It suggests that there is an economic solution to the politics of economic policy!

And in very basic economical terms. The quantity of good politicians supplied is restricted by a market price ceiling. This ceiling prevents from reaching the equilibrium of demand and supply, so our focus should be in finding out where the equilibrium price is.

The author is suggesting that that equilibrium price somewhere close to or above $1 million, and raising the price ceiling to that level will at least bring us closer to equilibrium.

Oh, it's just fascinating. I wonder if any public finance journals will accept a paper written by a new graduate on this. ;)

From the article:

"Cheap politicians are expensive politicians, currently costing the taxpayers more than a trillion dollars a year.

If you have trouble visualizing what a trillion is, just remember that a trillion seconds ago, no one on this planet could read or write."

Those are some of the best consecutive persuasive sentences I've ever read about politicians.