Would raising MP’s wages reduce sleaze?
Another week and another scandal has emerged involving Members of Parliament. Two former foreign secretaries, Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind, have been caught out trying to sell influence to a fictitious Chinese firm. The list of political scandals is a pretty long one and even recent high profile exposure does not seem to act as a deterrent. There was public anger surrounding the 2010 cash for question scandal, where 9 out of the 15 MPs approached by undercover journalists were recorded flogging access to the levers of power. As there was too with the widespread abuse of expenses that was unearthed in 2009. However, since then, David Laws, Liam Fox, Jeremy Hunt and Maria Millar have all had to resign from the cabinet due to corruption. One line of thought is that you can end these issues by paying more money to politicians. The argument goes that, these individuals could make a lot more in the private sector and as such it is only human nature that they attempt to beef up their salaries. Therefore if you wish to have the most talented people in politics then you have to pay more. As Geoff Hoon stated on camera in 2010, when being filmed offering cash for influence, he wanted to:
make some real money
And MPs are just like the rest of us, they will compare with those surrounding them and try to keep up with the Jones.The lobbyists and executives who buy them lunch will earn vastly more than them. Even many of the Whitehall civil servants earn greater sums. So I can see how in a meritocracy, if you want to get the best people you would be tempted to pay more.
However, we don’t live in a meritocracy. The idea that the people who are the most talented and work the hardest rise to the top is a fallacy. It is true that most people who do make good have talent and work hard. However, the myth of the meritocracy ignores all of the people who were equally talented, and worked equally as hard, but don’t enter the upper level of earners. Many random events make up our success or lack of. There are numerous examples of this, take Harry Potter for instance. The first manuscript was rejected by every publisher it was sent to. It probably wasn’t even read until it was taken home by Nigel Newton of Bloomsbury. He didn’t read it either. Instead he gave it to his daughter, who, over a period of months pestered him that she wanted to know what happened next. So Rowlings fate, to remain a struggling single mum living off the state or to become a multi millionaire philanthropist, was decided by the persistence of an 8 year old girl. And while most of us don’t play for as high a stake, randomness has a massive effect on all of our lives. From the skills we are born with, to the environment we are brought up in, the people we happen to bump into, the company we get a job for and a million other coincidences, mostly unnoticeable. And some of the most successful people, like Erick Schmidt, CEO of Google, are aware of this:
Lots of people who are smart and work hard and play by the rules don’t have a fraction of what I have. I realize that I don’t have my wealth because I’m so brilliant.
Politicians are well remunerated. An MP, with no additional responsibilities, who serves a 5 year term, walks away with an effective annual salary of £77,738. The salary puts them firmly in the top ten percent of earners. On top of this they receive a very generous benefits package. They are paid more than the average doctor, dentist, solicitor, academic or scientist, the kind of jobs the brightest people I know opted for. And they receive far more than the current average wage which is £26,500. And , this is before we mention the extra money many make by having second jobs outwith politics. Not bad for a role which doesn’t require you to have any qualifications.
If we truly lived in a meritocracy then we pay them sufficiently enough to ensure that the top ten percent of talent goes into running the country.
However, it is doubtful looking at their competence that they are all in the top ten percent. The brightest go down other routes. And they do this because they are smart enough not to be driven primarily by power and money. They know that they are likely to earn less than the average politician but they don’t care, as they know that they will earn enough to have a comfortable life. And that they will be rewarded by doing something they love and by feeling that they have contributed to society.
However, it is this myth of meritocracy which is often peddled by politicians which allows us to let them off the hook. It is a fallacy that serves them well. They know that soon after the scandal the anger will die down and they will still have the status that their misdemeanour has granted them. A status equating wealth with worth. And many of us have subconsciously ingested the idea. And deep down, we keep kindled a hope that one day if we work hard we will be able to have that status too. Ignoring that the odds are stacked against us. Ignoring that there are more important things in life.
In my opinion, politicians who are not content with earnings that are in the top tenth percentile are exactly the wrong people for the job. It displays that they don’t have the wisdom to know they are already in a privileged position. They are not smart enough to see the luck involved in their success. That they have lost the commitment to serving society that probably made them want to go down the route in the first place. That they will never be able to address the great inequalities that blight us. For there are no inequalities when the only thing that separates the rich and the poor are ability and hard work. In hospitals, laboratories, courtrooms and universities up and down the country there are many earning less money but acting with more wisdom. So instead of rewarding our leaders by paying them more, there may be an argument for trying to encourage many of their more talented and more grounded constituents to take over.
Please comment below and enter an email address to receive notifications of new articles. Also, if you enjoy our content you can find out how you can help support the site by clicking here.