Tag Archives: Lawrence Lessig

Is It Time to Pay Politicians More?

A few months ago, I saw this very argument made in Slate. At first, I’m sure you’re doing a double-take? Why would we pay them more? They are hardly doing the job that we elected them to do in the first place. Why would we reward failure, stagnation, and an inability to get stuff done? That’s absurd!

All natural reactions, yes, but when you take a second to think about it, the idea isn’t that bat-crap crazy. For instance, consider the Governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell. Josh Barro over at Business Insider makes the case that the Governor is underpaid. Why? Well, look to the incentives! The Governor of Virginia has a salary of $175,000, which is in the 90th percentile for Governors in the USA. That’s certainly a lot of money — almost triple the median income in Virginia. So, again, you may be thinking, why would we pay them more?

Well, consider the kinds of people that the Governor interacts with on a daily basis. Plutocrats. Governor McDonnell, on a daily basis, interacts with people who have income/wealth that far exceed the Governor’s “measly” $175,000 salary. You may be thinking, why is this a problem if the Governor got into politics for purely altruistic reasons?

Even if the Governor did do such a thing, research tells us that unethical behavior has to do with the kind of person you are and more to do with the situations you find yourself in. For instance, you may be the most ethical person in the world, but if you happen to find yourself in a bind financially and a whole host of other variables are weighing on you, there’s probably a situation that you may find yourself in where overlooking a conflict of interest may seem like an okay thing to do.

That’s the argument for increasing the salaries of politicians — to remove the incentive to be unethical. Of course, there’s still likely to be unethical behavior conducted regardless of what the salaries are raised to, but it may eliminate some of it. How much, I don’t know. What would be a fair salary?

The article in Slate discussed Sinagpore, which is known for being one of the most efficient governments in the world. He explained that in Singapore, the Prime Minister earns more than four times the salary of President Barack Obama and the President gets $400,000 a year! Government Ministers (akin to cabinet Secretaries), earn over $1 million a year. The highest paid cabinet Secretary (Secretary of the Treasury) gets approximately $190,000. So, government Ministers earn more than 5 times as much as their American counterparts.

I’m not advocating this particular raise, but I think it’s a conversation worth having.

I suppose the other option would be to remove the influential plutocrats from the equation. Although, I don’t know that with the American political system arranged in the way that it is, if that’d be constitutional. Larry Lessig, someone who’s been working tirelessly on the option of getting money out of politics was asked what a question about salaries for Congress. I’ll leave you with the question and his answer:

Question: You advocate in your book that congressmen should be paid much more than what they are right now (about $175,000/year). How much do you think they should be paid to make them lose the incentive to become a lobbyist? Does 250-300k sound better?

Lessig: Oh please don’t out me on this. Ok, but DON’T TELL ANYONE I SAID THIS: They are lawmakers. Why aren’t they paid as much as a first year partner at a DC firm? In Singapore, gov’t ministers get paid $1 million a year. Where is corruption in Singapore. NO-where.

The Pitfalls of a Political Duopoly

I follow almost 400 feeds on Twitter. While I usually don’t see every tweet from every feed, there are some that I am sure to look out for. One of those is Big Think, which often tweets links to articles on their site. These articles aren’t usually very long, so you can quickly digest the gist of it. I like it because it’s a great way of keeping abreast of different information and if you find that information intriguing, you can dive further into it.

This afternoon, I saw a this tweet:

I’ve heard Larry Lessig speak — he makes quite a compelling argument. The content of this post wasn’t anything I hadn’t already heard from him, but I scrolled down to the comments to see what people had to say. (That’s another benefit to Big Think: the commenters usually contribute something useful to the discussion.) There was one comment that I thought was particularly interesting. I’m not quite sure of my opinion, but I think it’s worth sharing with all of you. I invite you to leave your thoughts on the comment with a comment of your own below:

Well no wonder we keep failing to attain real change.  Lets ignore statistically verified and observable reality and hope and love our way to a solution?  Contrary to what telenovellas like to tell us, when doctors say there is nothing that can be done for a patient, they are usually right, not always I admit but almost always.

So what equivalent of spontaneous recovery are we going to hope for with our crooked political and economic system?  Are captains of industry going to suddenly develop social consciousness?  Perhaps the rich and powerful will all suddenly get plagues and die?  Mr. Lessig isn’t really offering us a realistic solution, in fact he is only offering us yet another of the many accurate analyses of what is wrong with our system in the hope that we hope our way to a better one.

What Mr. Lessig isn’t acknowledging is that the Supreme Court was right, we do have the ultimate say, still, as the people, in who gets elected.  There were nineteen candidates for President on my ballot this year an admitted decrease from the twenty-seven I had in 2008, but still a lot of possibilities and I know for a fact that at least fifteen of them and as many as seventeen of those nineteen candidates weren’t in the corrupt hands of the monied interests.  Some of my other choices were more limited only three to five candidates for Congress, and the State Legislature (both houses), again with a few candidates I knew to be free of the monied corruption of the major parties.  And you know what!?  When I voted for those candidates, there were no earthquakes, or tornadoes or locusts or men in black at my house punishing me for making those choices.  Duvurgers law isn’t a natural law like gravity or evolution, we need not confine ourselves to political duopoly and coercion by monied interests through strategic voting.  We do have the ultimate say, and if you confine yourself to not voting, or to only voting strategically, than you are demonstrating that perhaps you aren’t ready for real democracy.  The “aristocracy” only has power because we collectively let them have it, if the best answer you can come up with for overthrowing that power is to hope it away…. well then I would just as soon let them continue to be in charge, because your input is certainly not going to lead to a prosperous beneficial society.