Thursday, June 13, 2019

If you want better politicians, pay them more

When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez agrees with Thomas Sowell, maybe they’re worth taking seriously.

I agree with Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, that members of Congress should get cost-of-living salary increases.

Of course the salary for members of Congress ($174,000 for most of them) is more than most people in the country make, but it’s surprisingly low for someone with such an important job, who’s raising a family in an expensive city, and could probably be making more elsewhere. That’s not the kind of salary that lets them get rich off government; that’s a sacrifice for public service.

And I agree with Sowell, a conservative economist who rarely calls for any expansion of government, but who argued in 2014 that raises for members of Congress (and other government officials) would improve government at a tiny cost:

What do we do when we want a more upscale product — a better house or car for example? We pay more to get it!

If we want better people in government, we are going to have to start paying them enough that people would not be sacrificing their families' well-being by going to Washington or a state capitol, or serving as a judge.

It is not a question of whether the people currently serving in Congress, the courts or as chief executives at the municipal, state or national level deserve a raise. Most of them don't. It is a question of whether we need far better replacements for them.

That means drawing from a wider pool, including people with real knowledge and expertise in the private sector, who currently make a lot more money than we are paying government officials. Cheap politicians turn out to be very expensive politicians, in the way they waste money, even if they are not stealing it.

We could pay every member of Congress a million dollars a year — for a whole century — for less than it costs to run the Department of Agriculture for one year.

The least we can do is make it harder to bribe them. Trying to bribe a millionaire would at least be harder than bribing some government official with a modest salary and a couple of kids going to expensive colleges.