Blame: Elected Officials’ Pay

Small children get a pass… you don’t. If you are reading this post then you are old enough to know better. At a minimum, you should know that nothing is black and white… gray1 is the color of the world. I understand how easy it is to blame something or someone else for things that may not be easily explained or understood. Being creatures with a neocortex, logic and abstract thought are types of reasoning we are graced with.2 Unfortunately, common sense has not been scientifically identified in the brain… thus it makes one wonder if it exists at all. When we attempt to shift blame, we have a tendency to look for simplistic cause and effects… or attempt to identify easy solutions.

Elected Official’s Pay

Seems there is a populist “picture” floating around the Intertubes that is attempting to make an example of how much elected officials get paid and how it is large compared to military members and Social Security recipients. The basic premise of this picture is that if the budget needs to be cut, then the pay of these politicians is what should lose some money. Here is the picture:

This is a populist response to the complicated issues associated with the U.S. debt and budget. Populism is an ideology or type of political discourse that, generally, compares “the people” against “the elite.” Academically, populism is identified as political language and action that denotes an appeal to “the people” and is divisive in nature. It is argued that populism dumbs-down complicated issues to simple phrases and ideas to get “the people” to vote or act a certain way.

First, one has to look at the U.S. government budget overall:

This graph shows you that it is not the amount politicians are paid that truly affects the budget, but the sheer volume of the other issues such as Defense and Social Security. Even if every Member of Congress decided to stop being paid for a year, it would be less than $100 million (based on the numbers in the picture above stating salaries). This $100 million is part of the orange “Discretionary” budget item, which overall is $646 billion, and this $100 million is less than 1% overall. Discretionary budget items are everything the government pays for that isn’t Medicare, Social Security, and Defense (excluding mandatory spending and debt interest). In 2008, $615 billion was paid to over 50,000 Social Security recipients. It is about volume, not amount of pay to individuals.

Then there is the issue of what the “average” salary for a military service member to Afghanistan gets paid… there is no explanation of how this figure is reached and not sure if it is accurate, but it is probably close. According to Social Security Administration data, however, the average Social Security recipient does receive approximately $12,000 annually.

Overall, this idea of cutting politicians’ pay is at a minimum misleading, and at the most deceitful. It isn’t about how much elected officials get paid, it is about the number of them versus the number of Social Security and Medicare recipients, and the total amount spent on Defense. The premise seems to be that there is a need to reduce government spending and attacking what populists’ call “the elite” is the way to do it… unfortunately, even my response to this issue is simplistic. We haven’t even discussed the idea of value of work done. $450,000 isn’t enough for me to be President… that job would suck.

1. Grey can also be used because both are used throughout the English-speaking world… but “gray” is more common.

2. Specific reasoning is primarily conducted in the frontal lobe, and spatial reasoning is part of the parietal lobe. Grammar and linguistic rules are supposedly handled by the temporal lobe.


5 thoughts on “Blame: Elected Officials’ Pay”

  1. We’ve got enough rich people dominating politics and elections. Cut they pay any more and only the independently wealthy will be able to afford to serve in Washington. Not exactly my idea of populist nirvana.
    I think there’s a good argument for clamping down on investment activity while in serving.

  2. Well put! Cutting politicians’ pay will make no difference on overall government spending. More annoying is the above graphic ignores the various subsidies members of the public receive, like the mortgage tax deduction. Don;t get me wrong—the deficit and debt are problems to tackle. But many of the folks who are screaming loudest about the deficit have benefited from the government policies that fuel the deficit (e.g., Medicare, subsidized loans, etc.).

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