You get what you pay for?


Thoughts in favor of much better compensation for elected officials

The position of President of the United States should be paid at least $1 billion per year. $10 billion would be even better.

Currently, the President is paid in the mid six figure range per annum. This means that, over the course of four years, your average President will earn a paltry few million. And that's before tax.

Now, compare the President's salary to the tens and hundreds of millions that a presidential candidate will throw away just trying to get elected. Even if most of the campaign financing isn't their money - figure the number of years of work it takes to even build a foundation from which you can run as a plausible candidate. Now figure in the four years of presidency that - for a good President - should consist of four years of non-stop grueling work.

All of that, for what? The chance of earning a paultry figure of a few million? It's many times simpler to do that in just about any other line of business.

Think now about the responsibility of the U.S. President. In terms of general impact, this is certainly, and by far, the most powerful position in the United States. The President oversees an annual budget that now exceeds $2,500 billion. The President oversees how that money is used, and by doing so, exerts influence over about 40% of all work that's performed in the country.

Think about it this way: what Bill Gates earned in a lifetime, the President taxes and spends in a week.

Yet, the net compensation for this position of incredible influence is... a few hundred thousand a year. Or, about as much as the federal government spends every minute.

It's an extremely demanding job. It takes an extraordinary amount of effort to get it. Yet, when you have it, your total compensation amounts to about one ten-millionth of the funds under your command. It doesn't even amount to one percent of the effort that you had to spend to even get the position.

Clearly, if you had this position, you would consider your official compensation inadequate.

So, how are you going to get yours? Obviously, you can't pay it to yourself as a salary. So how do you do it?

Well... you manipulate the budget so as to get some of it into your pocket - that's how. You do it by being sleazy.

Essentially, the only way to benefit substantially from a job like this is by being sleazy. So... the people who are drawn to this kind of career are the ones who are... sleazy!

And this is, essentially, why an honest politician is such a difficult find. The problem is, the worth of political jobs to honest people is low; it's very much not worth the effort. For an honest person, any other line of work will be much more rewarding; it will require much less effort for the same reward, or the reward will be much better for the same effort.

If you are an honest person, you really have to be a zealot to be attracted to this kind of job. You have to value some ideal higher than yourself, or you have to be an egomaniac that's in it for the power and fame. Either way, you can't be a very balanced person, because if you are honest, you can expect no other reward from this job.

But from the point of view of a sleazy person, the payoff is totally different: if you're sleazy, then the office of President of the United States is an extremely good job. Even more so, perhaps, is the office of a Congressman, or a Senator. And that's certainly not because these jobs are paid well; it is because you get to influence the spending of these huge amounts of money. Being that you're sleazy, manipulating a portion of that money into the pockets of yourself and your friends seems like the simplest thing in the world. After all, you aren't here to make the world better, are you? You're here to benefit yourself!

Better rewarding such difficult and high responsibility jobs would not ensure that sleazy people would not get elected. They would. But it would ensure that sleazy people aren't the only people attracted to these jobs. Reward the position of U.S. President with several billion, and it will attract brilliant and ethical people who now see no value in running for it, given how difficult it is, and what the compensations are. Do the same for all positions of high power - you cannot pay each Congressman and Senator $1 billion, but you can easily allocate $25 billion for all of them - and then, perhaps, the Congress and Senate would be run by a greater proportion of brilliant and ethical people, and by a lower proportion of sleazebags and zealots, as now.

Pay people upfront what they'll take out the back door anyway. This way, at least you make the playing field level for people with some degree of personal integrity.

By motivating the brilliant and honest people to participate, there would be more hope for politics worldwide.

And the cost? Perhaps 1% of the overall budget.

Your investment fund manager is paid more than that.


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