30 December 2005
On the cheap
While Thomas Sowell is usually among the sanest columnists around, he has seriously misfired with this Townhall item:
I don't make a million dollars a year but I think every member of Congress should be paid at least that much. It's not because those turkeys in Washington deserve it. It's because we deserve a lot better people than we have in Congress.
The cost of paying every member of Congress a million dollars a year is absolutely trivial compared to the vast amounts of the taxpayers' money wasted by cheap politicians doing things to get themselves re-elected. You could pay every member of Congress a million dollars a year for a century for less money than it costs to run the Department of Agriculture for one year.
On the face of it, this would seem to be a good argument for cutting Agriculture's budget.
But Sowell seems to be assuming that we have cheap politicians because anyone who's any good is working elsewhere:
You are not going to get the most highly skilled or intelligent people in the country, people with real-world experience, while offering them one-tenth or less of what such people can earn in the private sector.
Base pay for a Congressman in 2005 was $162,100, which will rise to $165,200 next year under a 1989 law which provides for an automatic annual cost-of-living increase unless Congress should vote to decline it. Considering how ingeniously this anticipated and circumvented the 27th Amendment, Sowell is clearly underestimating Congress' smarts.
Besides, there is scant evidence to support the premise that someone earning a million a year is less corruptible than someone making a meager $165k. Scribe points out:
While I won't quibble with Sowell on his comment that "we deserve a lot of better people than we have in Congress," I donít think a bigger salary will solve the problems of corruption in our government. The majority of our current Congressmen are already better off than most Americans.
If anything, you'd probably have to bribe them more to be able to get their attention.
In the overwhelming majority of instances, persons pursue the positions they seek principally for their intrinsic satisfactions: the specifics of the work they hope to do. Extrinsic rewards such as money have a lesser part in their decisions.
The problem is not that we're failing to bid an adequate amount that would secure us the services of adequately wise and prudent officials; it's that we've failed to grapple successfully with the power of the libido dominandi itself.
And I propose a hypothetical question.
Suppose someone poking around the Library of Congress found an old document which, when analyzed, proved to be a legitimately-passed bill which fixed the compensation of Representatives and Senators in perpetuity at one dollar per year.
How many of them would resign their seats in response to this massive pay cut?Posted at 6:02 PM to Political Science Fiction