Would Paying Politicians More Attract Better Politicians?

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the G20 Cannes summit in 2011. (Photo: Pablo Manriquez)

Whenever you look at a political system and find it wanting, one tempting thought is this: Maybe we have subpar politicians because the job simply isn’t attracting the right people. And, therefore, if we were to significantly raise politicians’ salaries, we would attract a better class of politician.

This is an unpopular argument for various reasons, in part because it would be the politicians themselves who have to lobby for higher salaries, and that isn’t politically feasible (especially in a poor economy). Can you imagine the headlines?

But the idea remains attractive, doesn’t it? The idea is that, by raising the salaries of elected and other government officials, you would a) signal the true importance of the job; b) attract a kind of competent person who might otherwise enter a more remunerative field; c) allow politicians to focus more on the task at hand rather than worry about their income; and d)  make politicians less susceptible to the influence of moneyed interests.

Some countries already pay their government officials a lot of money — Singapore, for instance. From Wikipedia:

Ministers in Singapore are the highest paid politicians in the world, receiving a 60% salary raise in 2007 and as a result Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong‘s pay jumped to S$3.1 million, five times the US$400,000 earned by President Barack Obama. Although there was a brief public outcry regarding the high salary in comparison to the size of the country governed, the government’s firm stance was that this raise was required to ensure the continued efficiency and corruption-free status of Singapore’s “world-class” government.

Although Singapore recently cut its politicians pay drastically, the salaries remain relatively very high.

But is there any evidence that paying politicians more actually improves quality?

A 2009 paper by Claudio Ferraz and Frederico Finan (abstract; PDF) makes that case:

In this paper, we examine whether higher wages attract better quality politicians and improve political performance using exogenous variation in the salaries of local legislators across Brazil’s municipal governments. The analysis exploits discontinuities in wages across municipalities induced by a constitutional amendment defining caps on the salary of local legislatures according to municipal population. Our main findings show that higher wages increases political competition and improves the quality of legislators, as measured by education, type of previous profession, and political experience in office. In addition to this positive selection, we find that wages also affect politicians’ performance, which is consistent with a behavioral response to a higher value of holding office.

And a new working paper by Ernesto Dal Bo, Frederico Finan, and Martin Rossi (abstract; PDF) finds that the quality of civil servants is also increased when higher wages are offered:

We study a recent recruitment drive for public sector positions in Mexico.  Different salaries were announced randomly across recruitment sites, and job offers were subsequently randomized.  Screening relied on exams designed to measure applicants’ intellectual ability, personality, and motivation.  This allows the first experimental estimates of (i) the role of financial incentives in attracting a larger and more qualified pool of applicants, (ii) the elasticity of the labor supply facing the employer, and (iii) the role of job attributes (distance, attractiveness of the municipal environment) in helping fill vacancies, as well as the role of wages in helping fill positions in less attractive municipalities.  A theoretical model guides each stage of the empirical inquiry.  We find that higher wages attract more able applicants as measured by their IQ, personality, and proclivity towards public sector work – i.e., we find no evidence of adverse selection effects on motivation; higher wage offers also increased acceptance rates, implying a labor supply elasticity of around 2 and some degree of monopsony power.  Distance and worse municipal characteristics strongly decrease acceptance rates but higher wages help bridge the recruitment gap in worse municipalities. 

I am not willing to argue that paying U.S. government officials more would necessarily improve our political system. But, just as it seems a bad idea to pay a schoolteacher less than a commensurately talented person can make in other fields, it is probably a bad idea to expect that enough good politicians and civil servants will fill those jobs even though they can make a lot more money doing something else.

Leave A Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.



  1. José Bautista says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    Disliked! Like or Dislike: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 40
    • Rob says:

      You are ideologically spot on… and as with most other ideologically driven arguments, your idea falls apart on implementation. In the real world, those politicians are working risky, high profile jobs that expose themselves and their families to high stress, relentless criticism, and burdensome levels of personal scrutiny. Any reasonable person would (rightfully) expect to be compensated in proportion to the demands of the job.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 50 Thumb down 5
      • brent says:

        My preference would be to reduce their stress and burdens by restricting their access to power and money. That way their compensation would match up as well.

        Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 5
      • Malcolm says:

        It’s a balancing act, but if you don’t feel that $174,000 is a fair wage, I don’t know what to say. Yes, it is less than what many politicians could make elsewhere but a lower wage does have benefits in the right kind of people. Political office is it’s own reward, as is public service. In business school we were taught about the value of intrinsic rewards (respect, authority, purpose) over extrinsic reward ($,$,$). When you reward people with money you get more people who only value money. Do we really need more of the people who run Wall Street banks running our government?

        Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 12
      • richard says:

        You are still thinking of it as a JOB rather than a SERVICE. If the highest vote-getter gets paid “market rates”; shouldn’t the people be paid for voting? Isn’t that a related JOB?

        In order to help everyone “get it”, perhaps it is time to OUTLAW volunteering. Make all functions PAID ONLY. Every PTA leader, museum docent, fire fighter and other first responders, national guard member (market rate–i.e., mercenary pay and benefits), etc.

        Everyone LIKES volunteers (and discounted service) UNTIL it’s their turn. Worse, most people (including professional, highly paid politicians) just don’t understand how many functions in this country DEPEND on incredibly skilled volunteers. Why can’t we return POLITICIAN to that same category?

        Thumb up 7 Thumb down 9
    • Lou says:

      I actually think that a high pay salary can attract people with more competences and will make them less leaned towards corruption. People will always be attracted by money. So it is better we attract people who are interested by money and who are actually competent.Being politician is risky and hard. So the competent people will not want to do politics unless the cost of doing it is much lower than the cost of not doing it( since they are competent they may be able to make more money elsewhere). So to attract more competent politician, we need to offer them a high salary.

      Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1
  2. jonathan says:

    The idea is wholly unattractive if speaking about elected office versus an appointed or hired-for job. People run for office because of the power inherent in the office.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 4
    • Enter your name... says:

      It might depend on the office you’re thinking of. I don’t think that junior state legislators find that there is very much power inherent in their office.

      IMO legislative salaries ought to be high enough for the elected official to support a family as well as a decent, middle-class home near the capital (unless your district includes the capital, or unless your government had enough sense to build official residences for legislators). A legislator who is worrying about how to pay the rent, or who has to sleep in his office because he can’t afford to keep up two homes on the salary, isn’t going to be effective.

      Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0
      • Darrell says:

        The Jr. State legislators have long since sold off any power the position may have held.

        Look at Illinois and tell me the currency isn’t power. Illinois is held in the hands of Michael Madigan. He controls the purse strings of the Illinois Democrats…if you are a Jr. State Legislator with a differing opinion and you want to speak up about it, you risk losing campaign dollars. Try introducing a bill he doesn’t approve…it dies a silent death.

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
    • Zane Geiger says:

      Ideally, they’d be running for office because of the potential benefits they could bring to the state/country, rather than for the inherent power.

      We need to provide better incentives for politicians to do good work, since they are perfectly capable of getting re-elected without doing so.

      Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  3. richard says:

    Being a teacher is a career. Being a politician isn’t (wasn’t) supposed to be one. When you structure government so that it *requires* fulltime politicians (not the same as appointees/employees who can be paid), then you CREATE the PROFESSIONAL politician.

    This is how we destroyed representative democracy. Instead of “choosing” representatives, we “hire” them…and it turns out that they are hard to terminate (who knew, right).

    Now you can argue that unpaid political service favors the wealthy….but the current system creates the wealthy….is that any better?

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 29 Thumb down 9
  4. SFOtter says:

    No, it would only continue to attract those that want money and power and would do nothing to ensure ‘good stewardship’. What might work is having the pay & benefits for Federal representatives and Senators taken out of the Federal government’s hands and given to the states they are from. That would keep congress from voting themselves pay raises and having platinum-plated benefits while the rest of us suffer.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2
  5. richard says:

    “…it is probably a bad idea to expect that enough good politicians and civil servants will fill those jobs even though they can make a lot more money doing something else.”

    The military?

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3
    • Rocketman says:

      What about everyone else that is in civil service that gets paid no where near the wage of those in office? They give there lives everyday for the greater good of society and don’t expect too much in return.

      Yes a higher wage will attract a smarter, more educated person to the position but then they are doing it for the wrong reasons. Working as a politician is supposed to be for the greater good of the Country. Not for monetary gain.

      Making 174,000 a year will be more the 90% of the people they represent. Yes they are in the public light, but who knows where there Senator stands on issues or who there Senator is for that matter.

      Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4
      • Enter your name... says:

        “Everyone else that is in civil service” does NOT get underpaid. Some civil service positions in the United States are seriously underpaid (congressional staffers spring to mind) and others are paid more than they would get in a private sector job (janitors, for example).

        It’s important to remember that accurate comparisons are based on total compensation, not on paychecks alone. The typical civil service employee gets a generous, lifelong pension with decent retiree healthcare plus a moderate paycheck. The typical private sector employee gets a better paycheck but no pension, no retiree healthcare, and often no (or very little) contribution to non-pension retirement savings.

        When you add it all up, the typical civil service employee’s total compensation is better (except for teachers, which are usually about the same as private sector employees in the end). The civil service employees feel worse off while they’re working, because their neighbor doing similar work has more cash now, but they’re actually far better off in the end, when they’ve got their retirement pay and healthcare package, and their neighbors are wondering why they ever spent that cash on a new car or fancy clothes instead of saving for their retirement years.

        Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3
  6. mike law says:

    Doesn’t the respective political party’s selection process have a greater influence on the quality of MPs and other elected officials?

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0
    • Christina says:

      Well, you have the best and brightest running the top jobs in the most lucrative sectors such as Bankers for example. And when they are so smart, they can outsmart most people, including the heavily guarded regulators, even under watchful eyes. And see where these people get us in our world economy today? How many of the failing banks are the citizens bailing out now, enabled by the governments?

      So imagine the reverse, you have the brightest running the country with the most power. And if they also outsmart the citizens and business community to enrich themselves, eliminate their civic liberties and freedom, how do you get rid of them (other than election every 4 years) if they are even good at gerrymandering? What do you get? You get business elites and the govt elites in cahoots, and you the poor citizens having to bail them out and paying through their nose!! Don’t believe me, just go ask the Singaporeans, how free and happy they really are.

      Thumb up 8 Thumb down 8
  7. Max says:

    Have skyrocketing executive salaries resulted in better executives? Certainly, it’s not good to pay officials too little to support themselves – take, for example, Texas, where legislator pay hasn’t been increased since the state was formed. However, top-ranking federal officials are already paid a handsome salary and provided with excellent benefits; they may not be as good as top-ranking corporate positions, but holding a political position dramatically increases a person’s earning power afterward, giving them everything from book deals to highly-paid lobbyist positions.

    It’s not likely to make them more resistant to moneyed interests, either. It’s already quite clear that no matter how much money someone has, they’ll always be tempted by more. After all, it’s not like the many millionaires in the Senate are relying on bribes just to pay their bills – but that doesn’t stop them from taking the bribes.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 5
  8. Dan Aris says:

    It seems to me that part of the problem with the way things are set up now is not so much that people could become Congresspeople and make $X or become (say) lobbyists and make $X*Y, but rather that people can become Congresspeople who make $X, and then, *because they were Congresspeople*, become lobbyists making $X*Y.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0
  9. D says:

    It isn’t that the quality of representation is bad, it’s that the people have a the feeling that they aren’t represented well.

    The two party system makes it easy for the economic powers-that-be to fund both sides of the aisle. This results in a never-ending back-and-forth political signalling that never actually goes anywhere.

    Change the electoral system to one that doesn’t result in only two parties.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1
  10. Eric M. Jones. says:

    I think if we pay our CEOs more they will spend their time trying to run the business better instead of thinking about how to make more money…oh, never mind.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1
  11. MikeM says:

    Is this a joke? Any politician can make many times their salary in awarding of contracts or “consulting” as a side business … at least until they’re indicted.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1
  12. ZNS says:

    It’s a complex question. One side of it would suggest that paying them below the market wage would insure that the only people who participate in politics do so because of their genuine interest in public service.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3
  13. Steve Gibson says:

    In the US the cost of running for public office is often multiples of the pay while in office. So, the basis of what constitutes compensation should be better defined. We need a variable loosely defined as “increase in wealth as a result of holding office.” Also, positions are taken as a springboard to jump into other positions so pay might not be a factor at all.

    The key question though might also apply to the corporate world. Salaries levels are set too maximize competition for the position and are not based on actual performance which comes later. So , until we can peg pay to actual performance, reason would have it that the politician or executive would perform the minimum amount necessary to keep his job as there is little added compensation for exceeding base expectations.

    My suspicions are. in politics or business, that pay and performance are loosely correlated at best, but I would yield to available data.

    Could the efficiency and “corruption free” status (if true..) in Singapour be from other factors such as harsher than usual punishments for criminality?

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0
  14. Jay says:

    No. Our system has wealthy individuals running for positions having salaries that are only a fraction of the amount spent running for the position. The economic incentives provided by the salary are clearly irrelevant, otherwise why would the politicians (and those seeking their election) be willing to spend more than the positions pay? Clearly it must be the “power” (meaning the ability to provide favors to those willing to return the favor through campaign contributions or other forms of allowable payments — even if those payments are received after leaving office) that attracts people to political office, not the salary paid by the government.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1
  15. Kevin H says:

    I believe that is not a linear correlation as it is an U shaped curve. Better salary may attract people with higher education, but too much money can at the same time create division among the public servants and the people they serve. I would like to see the cases of Sweeden, Denmark and Finland included in this ecuation.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0
  16. Breno Lara says:

    All this seems to make sense. However, I guess both researches are kind of misleading. What is the point of measuring the quality of any services by the background or IQ of the managers/politicians? The real point is: does a better background correspond to a better service?

    In a system like ours, here in Brazil, that provides high incentives to cheating, I doubt that could be true. In fact, when integrity is missing, a better background or IQ actually make things worse!

    Is there any research connecting these points?

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1
  17. Bodger says:

    It might be more beneficial to go the other way. Pay them nothing — every one that I’ve had experience with or read about is on a power trip of one sort or another and most are willing to do or spend virtually anything to get into office to feed their needs. If the money being spent is from bribes (I use the term quite advisedly and with full knowledge of its meaning) paid by the monied select buying future influence then so much the better for the would-be pols. Then if we could find some straightforward way to execute the really bad ones we’d be home free…

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
  18. Joe J says:

    Nope I doubt that would help at all. The problem is with any elected position, it is more importaint to be able to fake sincerity , look good, hide the skeletons well, and talk well, then actually to have any kind of intelligence or morals.
    We live in a world of soundbites, and politicians with body language coaches and groomers. That is what wins elections.
    I know I could never be a politician, has nothing to do with pay or benifits. I’m not great infront of a camera, and I’m frankly too honest. And when looking at their full benif

    As to the ‘ pay a schoolteacher less than a commensurately talented person can make in other fields” it is laughable. What other field works only 180 days in the year and as Chicago is arguing, for sometimes as little as 6 hrs a day. Are you really comparing someone working 30 hours a week, for with a job that is over 60 hrs.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3
  19. vicky says:

    I think Bernard Williams wrote about politics and moral character. It’s a very interesting point of view and of course he was a grate philosopher.
    Here is the information were you can get the article! Public and Private Morality ed. Stuart Hampshire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978) 55-73.

    Regards from Argetina.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  20. Joe J says:

    A corrilary question would be, how much would one have to pay someone to run for an office.
    Most people who run don’t win, but you have to spend a lot of time efffort and stress on trying for the job.
    Take the upcoming Presidential election. we had, 8 people initially spending months trying for a chance to be nominated. Let alone actually winning.

    It reminds me of the research done on the economics of drugs sales. That it is very much a slanted lottery, only the top person, makes real money, while the bottom level get very little, but do get an apparent chance at reaching the top one day.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  21. Tony J. says:

    I don’t think any U.S. politician is hurting for money. I do understand the economic logic though of raising a wage to attract a higher quality applicant. This could work wonders in the education system. Rather than students wanting to be doctors, lawyers, bankers, etc. they may instead pursue teaching. Many a great mind is pushed to pursue higher paying jobs solely for the sake of the higher pay.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1
  22. JohnnyK says:

    I would say that the Bell, California debacle where locale leaders paid themselves in the high 6 figures shows how bad it can be to pay politicians more. It might be an issue of taking a few elections to get the best politicians.
    I live in San Francisco and they raised the Board of Supervisors pay a few years ago and I still have not seen any good results.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1
  23. Matt says:

    The “right” people aren’t avoiding politics because of the pay. All our presidents have advanced degrees from Ivy League universities. Heck, Jimmy Carter worked on nuclear reactors in submarines… Attracting people who can do whatever they want or make whatever they want isn’t the issue with politics. The issue is that power corrupts. Always has.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2
  24. Mark says:

    While the concept that higher pay attracts better applicants makes sense, it misses a fundamental concept. Do you get paid more for higher achievement? Simply looking at recruiting efforts does not retention. Civil service jobs have a higher appeal to those looking for stability and longevity, not those seeking upward mobility. While a higher entry salary may be attractive, initially, to talented prospects, the reality of meager cost of living increases and limited opportunity for merit-based advanced will quickly push them into the private sector.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  25. John says:

    Not so. Many high-level elected officials and civil servants do not rely on their public service jobs as real sources of income. The ones that I have met left lucrative private-sector jobs when they were asked to serve. Rather, a successful person should be quite prepared to temporarily cease his normal level of earning for a few years in order to hold office and perform a public service.

    I think we don’t get better quality politicians because the job just sucks: more time has to be spent fundraising and campaigning than actually governing; the media is a nightmare to deal with and destroys any sense of privacy for oneself and one’s family; and partisanship, career politicians, and entrenched interests make it almost impossible to actually accomplish anything.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  26. Tim F says:

    Seems to me that the problem with politicians has more to do with the hiring – and firing -process than the salary. The best paid politicians are dictators and not many people would claim that North Korea has a great leader.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1
  27. Andrew B says:

    No way. We have the highest paid city councilmen in the country in Los Angeles, and very highly paid state legislators in California, and most nonpartisan observers would say those are among the worst run elected bodies in government.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  28. Ellen K says:

    This flies in the face of what Daniel Pink states in “Drive,” In his studies higher pay doesn’t equate to better function. In fact the best work was done for free because the individual had a passion for the topic involved. Apply this to government and it makes it where we reinstate an oligarchy onthe assumption that they are our intellectual and moral betters. That’s not a real big step from reinstating royalty. I prefer Pink’s view.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
  29. Pronghorn says:

    I suggest that each State pay the salary and benefits for their Senators and Representatives. See what happens, if the States paying $1,000,000 get better politicians than the States paying $100,000.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  30. mike law says:

    I’ll give you an example from here in the UK where higher pay doesn’t equate to quality representation.

    I live in the London Olympic host borough Newham . We have an elected Mayor who’s a blatant self promoter. He is a Labour Party candidate (no other political party would get voted in in the borough). He’s created a number of highly paid positions on the council and put hush close friends in the posts. Not one has any worthwhile abilities.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  31. Zach says:

    I live in Singapore and this is just one of the examples of the country using the lesson of freaknomics: The power of incentives. Through taxes, subsidies and other regulations the government influences traffic congestion, the supply of taxis during peak hours, consumption of alcohol and cigarettes, education, public transportation, population growth, family planning, investing, saving for retirement and is also attempting to cool an overheated housing market.

    The locals jokingly say of the government that there is no problem they can’t solve with taxes but it seems to work.

    There are some unintended consequences however as the ruling party clings to their high paying jobs through gerrymandering and manipulation of the media (which it controls).

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  32. Deepak Nagar says:

    There is no “cause and effect” between salary and effectiveness. Why should it work this way for politicians when it does not seem to work in corporate world?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
  33. Mattia Pole says:

    I live in Italy. Our politicians and public sector “chairmen” have the highest wages in UE and, believe me, our public services SUCK.


    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  34. Andrea Canidio says:

    On a related note: why politicians should be paid cash? Why not paying part of their salary in long-term government bonds? There has been a lot of discussion about using pay packages to correct for CEOs short-terms incentives. I guess similar insights are valid when discussing politician’s pay.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  35. Andrew W Roy says:

    If money is a contributing factor for someone to consider becoming a politician then that someone shouldn’t be a politician.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2
  36. Cornelius says:

    This is ridiculous: “…as measured by education, type of previous profession, and political experience in office” – that is NOT how most people understand the “quality” of politicians. A politician’s quality is based on what she does, not what her background is.

    And the reason Singapore’s Prime Minister is paid so highly is because Singapore is more totalitarian than other developed nations.

    The public economics literature actually suggests that lower pay in the public sector may cause more “high minded” and “service driven” people to enter the sector.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1
  37. Horatio says:

    I’ve always thought that you could use salary as a form of term limits. What if for example a congressman was paid a $million his/her first term and it decreased dramatically ever year after. Rather than having them hang around for 30 years making $170k(?) year after year. After 6 or 8 years it would be zero. If they still want to ‘serve’ fine but they won’t be receiving a salary. It certainly would limit a portion of those who get in and stay in forever. That alone would- in my opinion- improve the performance as I feel perpetual incumbency is a big part of the problem with the way our government performs.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  38. Jason says:

    There are numerous studies comparing politicians’ net worths when they enter office and when they leave or currently if they’re still in office. They beat the S&P dramatically, Harry Reid being a prime example.

    So it seems their non-salary compensation is quite large and the money is perhaps already a reason many are entering. More money is unlikely to attract better men & women for the job.

    Let’s consider term limits instead.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  39. Colin says:

    Here in Singapore the politicians are just as corrupt and lazy, and are disconnected from normal people because their exhorbitant salaries shield them from the harsh consequences of reality. Paying more just attracts greedy and corrupt.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1
  40. Art says:

    Politician’s pay should equal the average income of the people being governed. Hopefully that would give them the motivation to increase that number in order to get paid more themselves.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  41. Enter your name... says:

    You will get more talented people, but they may be very talented liars.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1
  42. JayM says:

    On its face, as an incentive to get smarter people into politics, this makes sense. On the other hand, an increased salary would increase the drive for reelection which requires campaign financing which gets us right back to where we started politically. In the end special interests and lobbying groups would still control politicians bc we are swayed by their spending.

    -not an economist but still I have two hands

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  43. Susan says:

    Pay isn’t the problem; corruption is. My solution would be to disallow any political contributions from non-constituents–representative government can only function if those in office actually represent those who elected them rather than those with deep pockets. Set representative pay and privileges at the mean for their constituents.
    The current system breeds distrust and contempt, as our purported representatives ignore their constituents in favor of their corporate paymasters, obscuring their bought-and-paid-for favors with endless, incomprehensible layers of taxes and deductions. Time to clean House (and Senate).

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  44. MRB says:

    Should we pay the members of our armed forces more? I’ve always felt that being a politician should be considered a sacrifice akin to being in the army/navy/etc; why not put our politicians in bunkhouses and require them to eat in the chowhall like we do with enlistees?

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  45. Hoss says:

    This assumes people enter politics for the money.

    And most of the pols have done just fine, congress is clocking in at a 47% rate of millionaires. Plus, once in office they get to trade on what would be insider information in the real world, and all those sweetheart deals steered towards friends and family.

    I think if we want better politicians we should ensure that none of them have law degrees, and that they’ve held a job in the private sector for at least five years (over the course of their lifetime).

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  46. Daniel says:


    Where’s the market? Is the market people looking for work? So either we pay them more money or they go somewhere else?

    If the market is built on a scarcity of money, then why are we electing these fools? Would we send fat people off to guard a candy factory?

    Sorry for the hyperbole, but money simply cannot be the motivating factor here. The reasoning gets way too twisted.

    So is the market about changing the world? Yes, that seems like that’s it. Lots of people want to change the world. There are a few positions. People compete for them.

    This is one of those sounds-good-when-the-guy-on-tv-said-it things. I’m not sure it really holds up under closer inspection.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  47. gjohnd says:

    Many studies have been done on intrinsic vs extrinsic rewards. It seems that jobs that require creativity have a better outcome if the reward is intrinsic. His talk on the subject is available at TED Talks …. Daniel Pink. Rather go on …. as Jose Bautista has …. I will let this talk address the topic.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  48. Shane L says:

    I know anecdotal evidence doesn’t prove anything but:

    A counterexample to the Singapore one is here in Ireland, where the former Taoiseach (prime minister) Bertie Ahern was earning €310,000 a year by 2007, more than the prime minister of Britain, the president of France, or even the US President. That is, the head of government of a country of 4 million was earning more than the head of government of a country of over 300 million.

    So he must have been a brilliant leader! Nope, he ruled throughout the construction bubble and helped push the country into serious economic distress. His successor has cut his own salary, which is now down to €200,000. I won’t be calling for a more generous salary.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  49. Jtancw says:

    Politicians are voted in, NOT hired in. Please, you need to know there is a difference between politician and civil services.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  50. Paula says:

    There is a free way to increase the quality of our politicians – require them to be appropriately qualified. EG I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask that the a Chancellor has a degree in economics or accounts, for example. A Defence Secretary has some background in, well, defence. A Health Secretary is a qualified Doctor. And all should have some demonstrable financial capability. And maybe an MBA. I don’t think that is too much to ask from people who run the biggest company in the country. We can still vote, we can still have choices, but the candidates must be qualified for the job they’re going to do. Not rocket science, really.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  51. Quentin says:

    Shouldn’t politicians be running because they want to make an impact or difference and improve their country/community. Most politicians have made decent amounts of money before they run for a position. Broke people are not seen often running for president. The money should not be an extra incentive as they already have enough of it. It just shows how corrupt they are and that no matter what it is usually people who want power and money. No matter the political party.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  52. Joseph says:

    I suspect there is a difference between paying a salary that is reasonably necessary for a relatively comfortable standard of living and paying a a salary that is on par with to or higher than salaries for comparable private sector jobs. Paying below the former might not get you decent quality civil servants or politicians to serve, but paying the latter might just attract the wrong type of talent for public service jobs. I wonder of the studies referred to in the article drew that distinction.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
  53. Marc Tan says:

    1. The second highest income inequality in the developed world after Hong Kong.
    2. 6th most expensive city in the world.
    3. Most expensive public housing in the world. Half a million for 90 square meters.
    4. Longest working hours in the developed world according to International Labor Organisation.
    5.Most expensive cars in the world.
    6. Second highest electricity tariffs in the world despite most of it being generated from natural gas.
    7. Wages that rank 41 out of 73 countries based on a survey by UBS.
    8. Purchasing power that ranks 50 out of 73 based on a survey by UBS.
    9. 133rd on Press Freedom ranking.
    10. 10 of the highest paid politicians all comes from Singapore.
    11. Lowest spending on public healthcare among developed countries.
    12. Fifth largest arms importer in the world despite being only a country of 5 million on an island no bigger than 272 sq miles.
    13. 9th most indebted country in the world despite having close to no social safety nets or public welfare spending.

    So yeah, if you think paying more attracts better politicians, come join the party. We singaporeans couldn’t be “happier” with the “excellent” job our millionaire politicians are doing.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  54. AJC says:

    Interesting. It makes a lot of sense, and seems that it would attract people who are willing to do something hard that currently has less reward than something easier, such as brokering. Overall, I think that if politicians got paid more, more people would go into politics rather than, say, business or medicine.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  55. Terry Arthur says:

    I would be more than happy to pay three times as much to MPs if they can cut total taxes to those paid in Singapore, which at some 15% of GDP are less than a third of those in the UK. In addition Singapore’s living standards are getting on for double those of ours.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  56. george shen says:

    Pay teachers more, not politicians! if you want better politicians, you need better voters, well-educated voters, which requires better teachers!

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
  57. Martin says:

    There are many types of compensation other than money. For a politician, these include power, influence, ego, “doing good,” deferred compensation (e.g. as a lobbyist) and in the worst case, patronage and corruption. There are also drawbacks already mentioned. I think that $$$ is a small part of the equation.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  58. Witold says:

    This theory seems to presume that salary listed is the whole story. But there are at least two additional reasons why listed salary is just a meaningless number:

    1. Elected jobs generally carry very generous benefits packages. Very few jobs require ~150 days per year in office – and that includes 1/2 day Fridays and generous stipends to hire your own staff and fly home each weekend and retirement pensions after only a few years of work. Total compensation packages are much higher than salaries listed.

    2. Some jobs look good on your resume and others do not. A widget maker needs higher compensation because that is all he has, with minimal advancement prospects after their job ends. In contrast, many elected officials end up with lots of very profitable opportunities when they leave. There is no former president of the USA who is not a multi-millionaire as far as I know.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  59. William Stuart says:

    I always have trouble with these sort of simple treatments of irrational systems.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
  60. Bobo says:

    This is an incomplete analysis. I wholeheartedly agree our congress, senate, and President should be paid more. But what is more? How much? And can the salary be based on measurable performance? But the problem between service to the country and higher pay can be balanced with term limits. One term for these guys and they are done. No lifetime retirement salary, no top notch elitist healthcare program. One and done. Now the extra money can allow them to legislate without the distractions of making this a career.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  61. Tony J. says:

    I would prefer to focus on politicians that are more qualified. It’s hard to watch elected officials that make statements that are inaccurate because they never learned economics or history, or even geography. How about we require they be trained after the election, and tested. You know, like the rest of us are when applying for a job? Even with the best of intentions, it’s hard to do the right thing if you don’t know what that is, and depend on partisan advice to make those choices.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  62. Fabio Cerina says:

    There is actually another paper by Fisman R., Harmon N., Kamenica E. and Munk I. ”Labor Supply of Politicians” (forthcoming in the Journal of European Economic Association) according to which, using data on Members the European Parliament (MEPs), ”[..] high salaries reduce the quality of elected MEPs (as proxied by the quality of the colleges they attended) [..]”. Moreover Hoffman and Lyons (2013) find almost no correlation between salary and politician performance or quality of US governors and state legislators. Finally, using data from the Italian Members of Parliament (MPs) provided by the Fondazione Rodolfo De Benedetti, we find that in the period 1948-2007 the pay of italian MPs in real terms increased by a factor of 12 and at the same time the ratio of MPs with at least an undergraduate degree steadily decreased from 95% to 68%. Broadly, it looks like the sign of the relationship between pay and quality is more likely to be positive at local level than at national level. In a recent working paper “Reward from public office and selection of politicians by parties” (https://ideas.repec.org/p/cns/cnscwp/201414.html) me and Luca Deidda proposes a rationale to these empirical findings. Our idea is that the sign of the relationship between pay and quality of politicians is might be the result of two opposing effects. First, a selection effect, whereby more skilled citizens enter politics, leading to an increase in average quality. Second, an information manipulation effect such that parties have incentive to manipulate information to increase the probability to be elected of unskilled activists, from whom they can extract higher rents. We find that, for a plausible range of parameters values, the information manipulation effect dominates the selection effect when: 1) The cost of manipulating information is low enough (which is the case of Italy according to several indexes of Press Freedom); 2) The degree of awareness of citizens is low enough (which is the case of Italy according to the IPSOS-MORI ignorance index https://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/3466/Perceptions-are-not-reality-10-things-the-world-gets-wrong.aspx). As far as we accept that manipulating information is easier at the national than at the local level (where citizens have often a more direct knowledge of candidates), our model predicts that the relationship between pay and quality of politicians is more likely to be positive at local level than at national level.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0