People love to complain about politicians, and they love to complain when politicians get pay rises, but should politicians actually get paid more?
At a recent social gathering, I spoke with someone who suggested that politicians should even receive more money than they already do. My first reaction was probably yours: “why?", followed by a swift “no”.
Their reasoning followed this logic. The calibre of politicians is not up to scratch. Why would the “big brains” with the capacity to articulate and launch exciting, out-of-the-box ideas go into politics when they can easily make a hell of a lot more money in non-political arenas. They argued that these sorts of people have no incentive to go into politics. To attract the best and the brightest, politics should offer high wages to woo these brainy high-flyers away from other industries.
The idea certainly has some merit. In the private sector, in order to attract the big beasts, firms offer high salaries and other welcoming perks. Could such an idea work in the public sector?
The main flaw is that the public sector is not the private sector. Private sector bosses are not subject to the same public accountability and scrutiny as those in the public sector. A dramatic increase in politicians’ salaries would be met with outcry from the public, even if it was only for the top jobs.
Another weakness in the proposal is that it could attract the wrong sort of people. Yes, it could attract industry leaders with brilliant ideas, but it could also attract people in it for the money and not for their own well-refined sense of civic duty. Call me idealistic, but I think most politicians – at least at first – go into the industry for a love of public service. The lure of power can play a role, but public service comes first. And besides, power allows politicians to enact the changes they wish to see in the world.
That all said, the argument in favour of giving the top politicians even more money is a striking one. There is significant merit to the idea, but there are also serious downsides, the main one being the public outcry, especially if the wages of other vital public-sector workers such as nurses and teachers were to be subject to a nominal wage cap, which results in a real-terms wage cut.
While it is a possible option, now is certainly not the time for such a radical idea.