Those who make the final decisions affecting the very lives of their citizens and the security of their nation carry an awesome responsibility. Elected officals have more influence over our destiny than the vast majority of “personalities” whose identities fill the airwaves; but they earn a pittance, compared to some entertainers. Despite how entertaining some politicians may be, they earn far less than “stars.” One would think they should be worth more than a businessperson engaged in a boring local commercial enterprise. If they really exercised their authority as decisively as the typical corporate CEO, politicans would legitimately deserve orders of magnitude more than business leaders earn.
“Political pay” involves more than money, however. Those who engage in national politics, especially the ones who run for election to a public office, are not generally thought of as particularly concerned with cash compensation; but they still make good money. State legislators earn less, of course. The principal rewards for elected leaders take a different form from what normal employees seek. The chief payoff for politicians tends to be power, which they can later parley into book deals, high-honorarium speeches, fat-paying lobbyist jobs and lucrative board of director posts. Ex-politicans routinely leverage the inside information and impressive contacts they acquired while in office into financial wealth. It doesn’t hurt if they get to keep control over all the unspent money raised by their political campaigns, either.
As it is, however, politicians usually run for office making promises which they all too often promptly abandon upon election. Unlike executives accustomed to MBOs and other output result expectation lists created by corporate board compensation committees, pols typically seem reluctant to permit scorecards (even unbalanced ones) showing how their performance results compared to their original objectives. Oh, all right… “reluctant” might be an overly gentle description of their nearly universal refusal to be held accountable for actually delivering on the promises that won their election.
A friend of mine has long advocated sortition as an option for choosing citizen legislators. There is a certain logic to the proposition that selecting leaders for public service by lot rather than by election will produce better representatives more in touch with reality than the current political process permits. He originally proposed that they should be paid the national median household income figure; but I prevailed upon him to raise that figure due to the onerous requirements of the position and the anticipated cost and inconvenience involved.
How much would you set as the salary for effective politicians at different levels?
E. James (Jim) Brennan is Senior Associate of ERI Economic Research Institute, the premier publisher of interactive pay and living-cost surveys. After over 40 years in HR corporate and consulting roles throughout the U.S. and Canada, he’s pretty much been there done that (articles, books, speeches, seminars, radio/TV, advisory posts, in-trial expert witness stuff, etc.), serves on the Advisory Board of the Compensation and Benefits Review and will express his opinion on almost anything.
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