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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A pay raise for congress

The horrible health bill Obama signed Tuesday is a brutal demonstration of our congressmen's ignorance of economics and constitutional law. We should reward them with a pay raise. The current congressional salary is $175,000. A congressman receiving this salary must maintain two households, one in DC and one in his home district. He leads a life which is extremely harsh for family life, often enduring a commuting marriage. Successful professionals in many fields earn comparable or larger salaries without a massive disruption of family life and without having to listen to Nancy Pelosi every day. Hence, in the absence of a significant greed motive, who is attracted to serve in Congress?
  • Those who love power
  • Those who actually enjoy committee work
  • Those who are unable to succeed in other professions
  • Those with no family life
  • The independently wealthy
  • Saints and retirees
I would like to see more honestly greedy, successful, intelligent candidates attracted to office.

As long as we are attracting more talent with monetary incentives, why not introduce a reward structure that encourages positive outcomes. Let's double congressional salaries to $350,000, but let's make the last $125,000 a bonus for work well done. For example, to earn the bonus, Congress must balance the budget. Perhaps a segment of the bonus should also depend on rising GDP (although given the time lag between votes and economic outcomes that idea has some equity issues.)

I like this bonus idea. Let's extend it to Social Security. Let's raise the social security payments significantly, but only as a bonus. The bonus is once again dependent upon a balanced federal budget. I suppose this abuses the usual concept of bonus, since our seniors are not all intimately involved in setting our economic policy. On the other hand, it would certainly provide a strong incentive for seniors to vote for sound fiscal policy. (Of course, in order to balance the budget, they would probably first vote to exclude my generation from social security.) Should we introduce welfare bonuses next?

Perhaps these ideas are more suitable for an essay by Swift than a policy prescription, but contemplating them is more fun this week than imagining the future of my family's medical care.

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