There are two big problems in American politics: gerrymandering and lobbying influence. Gerrymandering has caused us to elect more and more polarizing politicians, as seen in this great visualization from the Pew Center. And lobbying has created politicians who support bat-shit crazy policies that aren’t in the short- or long-term interests of anyone except the lobbying corporation.
So how do we cure these ills? Politicians have no incentive: Getting rid of gerrymandering and lobbying is like saying to a 6-year-old “I need you to voluntarily stop taking your weekly allowance from your parents, and also invite these new kids onto your jungle gym, who probably don’t like you.”
For a solution, we can look to incentive programs of start-ups and some large corporations. How do start-ups motivate employees and prevent them from jumping ship? Stock options that don’t vest for a certain period of time. And in large corporations (at least, in my experience), year-end bonuses, which often constitute the bulk of an employee’s earnings, and are tied to how the company performed that year.
So, what if a politician’s salary, similarly, was incentive-based? This might sound good, but we still have the issue of how you get a spoiled 6-year-old to change his/her mind, right? How do we get a congressperson to reject a comfy, guaranteed salary, and take on a risky idea? Well, we can make the risk really, really, really appealing.
Currently, a member of Congress, dependent upon positions held, earns a salary of between $174,000 and about $225,000. Obviously, they also take home a lot more in the form of gifts, kickbacks, etc. But what if we make the top possible salary for a Congressperson something like $10,000,000? I don’t know the details on how much a politician earns from “outside income,” but I’m guessing it’s usually less than this. So, as a result, we’re not asking politicians just to take sort of self-sacrificing penalty. We’re providing a real, and realistic, upside.
Of course, the tricky part is, how do we determine the bonus for a given year? We could tie it to GDP, but then this might only make corporations even more influential. We could also tie it to average household income, but again, this doesn’t necessarily reflect the success of the entire country, as a CEO earning 300x more than an employee can drag up the average.
Rather, I propose tying it to median household income. By taking the median, rather than mean, then the outlying salaries, e.g. the CEOs’ salaries, get discarded from the calculation. The important number becomes only what the truly mid-50% earn. And we then set some multiple, maybe something enormous, like 100x, and say, a Congressperson will get paid 100x the median household income.
In this scenario, politicians have a very real incentive to lift up the entire country, and further, this can be even more lucrative for the politician than current lobbying incentives.
The idea of start-up and corporate pay structure is, “If the company does well, the employee does well.” Let’s bring that idea into politics, as a version of the Gekko-esque philosophy, “Greed can be good.”