Thursday, 19 December 2013

MPs, peanuts, and monkeys

A common reaction amongst the very few who were willing to defend a pay rise for MPs last week was that if we want to attract the ablest into politics, we need to pay them more.  One or two even trotted out the old chestnut about ‘getting monkeys if you pay peanuts’.
Leaving aside the not entirely inconsequential fact that anyone who considers a salary of £60,000 a year to be ‘peanuts’ isn’t inhabiting the same world as most of us, there are at least two major fallacies with the argument.
The first is that ‘attracting the best’ is not at all the same thing as ‘deterring the worst’.  In the political world, what determines who gets elected has more to do with the popularity of a particular party in a constituency than with the ability of the candidates.  In the absence of any mechanism for assessment of ability in the election process, any increase in salary could end up, to over-work an already tired cliché, simply increasing the peanut ration for the monkeys.
And the second is that, even if we could agree on the definition of the word ‘ability’ (and that’s a big question in itself), where is the evidence that paying higher salaries attracts more of it?  There’s plenty of empirical evidence that higher salaries attract the greedy and the reckless (just look at the banking sector), but I’ve not seen any that justifies the claim that ‘ability’ follows money.  Indeed, some of the most ‘able’ people I’ve ever met have been academics and researchers; not amongst the highest paid in society very often, but then it isn’t money which motivates them to apply their ability in the way that they do.
In any event, do we want laws made by people who have only been attracted into the legislature by the high salaries paid?  Doesn’t that put a premium on those who are there for their own self-interest rather than the interests of society as a whole?

1 comment:

Spirit of BME said...

I agree with the points you put forward.
There is an assumption that the best in “attacking the best” are already on big pay, which I do not think is always the case.
I have said before, no matter what level of pay is recommended the way to ensure we are getting value for money, is for the local constituency committee to determine the level of pay for their M.P.(after all they hire them) and the decision and who took it, be put on line and printed in the local paper. The surplus can be diverted into the constituency funds.