Thursday, April 8, 2010

Fixing gvt by giving politicians... pay raises?

I rail on politicians, a lot, and periodically come up with ideas for how to get better quality, less groupthinky congresspeople.
Some of my ideas I'm quite proud of - sealing voting records until a few months before elections to weaken political coalitions, for example, or making all political contributions anonymous to reduce reciprocity. However, turns out I may be very, very wrong about one of my ideas.
I wanted to make politics a lower-status job - living in barracks, unpaid, etc - to reduce the number of "politicians for life". If politicians saw it as a term of service instead of a cushy position, i thought maybe they'd do more work towards good policy instead of good politics because reelection mattered less.
However, turns out that a pair of studies (one in Brazil and one in Italy) has indicated the reverse. Making politics higher paid draws higher-quality candidates in terms of education and in one case, experience and previous profession. Both articles concluded that these better politicians were more efficient and did a better job overall.
Of course, the type of people who go into politics in Brazil and Italy may be different than in America - we have a lot of millionaires in Congress as it is - so I'm not sure if it means I'm definitely wrong. However, it definitely raises the possibility.


  1. Some of it might be a difference of political systems. Here in Canada, parliamentary backbenchers are there to basically sit around and do what leadership tells them to. Very little autonomy, prestige, or public profile attaches to those outside leadership roles, even in their home districts.

    In the US, especially with the US Senate, there are substantially more of these social rewards (individualized power over the legislative process, prestige, etc.) that come with the job than I would imagine is the case in most parliamentary democracies.

    I could be making an overbroad generalization here, but I think that this reduces the applicability of the Italian/Brazilian situation to the US.

  2. probably true, I agree... it's just interesting to hear the exact opposite solution as mine to the same problem