A modest proposal

Written By: - Date published: 3:35 pm, March 16th, 2008 - 26 comments
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Every year the Remuneration Authority, an independent body, reviews the pay of MPs. It sets the salaries without needing approval by Parliament or Cabinet, to keep the process from being politicised. Every year, our ever mature media gleefully portrays this process as politicians giving themselves a huge pay rise.

What if, instead, MPs pay increases were automatic and the same amount as the median income increase? The pay and annual increase methodology would be contained in legislation, so would not require annual approval. Any suggestion of impropriety would be eliminated and our journalists could get on with investigating real stories.

There could be another benefit too. Our current senior Ministers, who live relatively simple private lives, are not in it for the money but those with a background where income equals success and self-worth, and who live more extravagant lifestyles, may be more concerned with the level of their pay increases. Linking their pay to the median income would incentivise them to seek higher incomes for all New Zealanders. It may even help dissuade these politicians from pursuing their policy of seeing ordinary kiwis’ wages drop.

26 comments on “A modest proposal”

  1. bill brown 1

    How about government ministers get raises tied to the median wage and opposition ministers get whatever the remuneration board thinks is adequate – that may give some incentive to the ones in power.

  2. Pablo 2

    How about the remuneration board sets salaries for the whole three year term. Any wage rises are confirmed before the election and come into effect after it. cf the 27th amendment to the US Constitution.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twenty-seventh_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution

  3. Let them earn the medium salary.
    But they’re worth more in the real world you say…..if what they wants a career then they can go out and build one in the PRIVATE sector.
    They can also do one shift a week of minimum pay, low status WORK for a dose of what their worth as public servants has been with a societal structure that rewards finance and surfdoms work.

    DSC 08.

    P.S. THey would also be worth 10 times more to what’s called democracy here if the above was implemented.

  4. Ruth 4

    Steve – senior ministers and all MPs are not in it for the money. There are far easier ways to make money. They are in it for ego. That goes for all parties. And has been the case for centuries. Shakespeare has a good quote about it which I have forgotten – about good men choosing not to tarry in court.

  5. r0b 5

    They are in it for ego

    Most, but not all. There are some genuine idealists I think.

  6. Hillary 6

    Personally I don’t care how much our representatives are paid, or how big their egos are. So long as they deliver for the people of NZ, for ALL the people, not just the fit and the fortunate.

  7. higherstandard 7

    Steve

    A modest proposal but a very reasonable one as well

    r0b

    Any of those idealists in the two major parties ?

  8. Pascal's bookie 8

    Sound’s fair to me.

    I’ve also thought that it would be nice if in pre-election leaders debates we had the beggars under oath. And with a QC doing the questioning rather than some empty headed journo that’s more interested in the ratings for the show than the answers for the audience.

  9. r0b 9

    HS, a few in Labour but I won’t be drawn on which ones. I don’t personally know any National MPs, so I can’t judge.

  10. lprent 10

    I know quite a few in the NZLP, and a couple in the nat’s at various stages.

    I tend to keep an eye on them to see if they learn the lesson of “politics is the art of the possible”. I tend to regard idealists without self-control, and an acceptance of politics as being a long-term process, as being quite dangerous.

    But that is probably a response to Muldoon, who I regard as being the most dangerous idealist I’ve ever run across.

  11. r0b 11

    Interesting lprent. At first I thought I disagreed, but on reflection it’s probably a matter of terminology. I think idealism in politics is a virtue. It’s idealism that doesn’t know when to quit (fanaticism) that is the problem.

    Yes, idealists have a tough time in politics, which is a pretty dirty business. That makes it all about the art of the possible. But if we were designing the system from scratch, is that what we would aim for? I think the system of “government” and “opposition” is flawed, confrontational, wasteful (at least the way it always seems to turn out in the real world, where most oppositions are not at all constructive). MMP goes some way to fixing the problem, but not far enough.

    I don’t have a better model to propose, I’m still thinking about the problem.

  12. Ari 12

    The best politicians are those with a pragmatic approach to their values, rather than an idealistic approach to what’s pragmatic.

  13. lprent 13

    I think idealism is a virtue as well. I don’t support politicians without a strong streak of idealism, often even when it is at odds with my own values (almost all of the time).

    If you think about it, most idealists have spent considerable time working on their own personal philosophy. That means that have definite positions they’re pushing towards. But politics is as much about resolving conflicts of philosophy in the wider community as anything else. Unless you understand what you are pushing towards, and what is able to be compromised in the short term or deferable, how can you be trusted to come to the compromises required to balance the objectives. Unless the person you are compromising with understands it as well, how can they figure out where the break points are.

    It is one of those strange things in politics that you see throughout history. People with strong idealist streaks often respect and trust each other even when their philosphies are at variance. They often wind up in influential positions, and forge the (compromised) way forward for subsequent generations.

    I think that the process relies both on conflict and compromise. It also requires a degree of respect for previously forged compromises. The concept of the loyal opposition has been one of the best innovations of politics over the last few centuries. It allows for continuous testing of the compromise, and generally assists with the gradualist approach to political changes. In other words, it ihibits revolution and revolt.

    I don’t really trust politicians without idealism. But I always worry about politicians with idealism and an inability to compromise, ie to recognize the art of the possible.

    There is always an opportunity to push later – which is what Ari is implicitly saying.

    Anyway – how did I get to discussing this. I’ve got code to test 😉

  14. r0b 14

    We do largely agree then, except perhaps re the virtue of the “opposition” model. It sounds good in theory, but in practice it seems to me that it all to often devolves into blind knee-jerk opposition, muckraking, and huge amounts of wasted energy (on both sides). There must be a better way.

    Another danger, when a two party system gets “locked in” (as it has in America), is when both parties drift to some extreme of the political spectrum together. America is the obvious example, it’s difficult to tell the difference between Democrats and Republicans on most issues. If I was a voter in America I would be sorely torn between an anti-Republican vote and a “plague on both your houses” vote (Nader).

    Anyway – how did I get to discussing this. I’ve got code to test

    You work to hard. I tried to give up working weekends years ago. I usually succeed (not this weekend though!).

  15. r0b 15

    to two too, I blame the wine too.

  16. lprent 16

    Yeah, but I’m a total nutter when it comes to computer systems. My work is also a large proportion of my play.

    I use the weekends to try out crazy things that I can’t do at work. Just at present, I’m trying to find out how useful the css statement overflow is on a table tbody where it also has a thead:-

    table.TableListing tbody
    {
    overflow: scroll;
    overflow-x: hidden;
    height: 15em; /* must have a height for this to work */
    }

    It allows for a scrolling tbody below a header which would be very useful for displaying table lists where the header doesn’t scroll of the screen. Obviously it is of no use in IE7 which is css retarded.

    But on a modern css aware browser like firefox or safari, it works well. However it requires that you fix the size of the tbody and can’t use the position: fixed css..

    Anyway that discussion belongs in a different type of forum (because few here would know what I was talking about)…

  17. r0b 17

    That all sounds like good clean fun, though not many would put effort into developing for browsers that excluded IE! I don’t do web stuff myself, though I did tinker with Java Applets in the early days.

  18. lprent 18

    diverging from topic… but what the hell

    IE is the odd browser. It is about 70% on websites (and falling) – but that is all it is good at.

    I write webapps rather than websites – so there is always a login. I can restrict the browsers I’m willing to support.

    Generally you can develop for virtually all of the modern browsers (which IE7 is not) according to the standards for HTML/CSS/JS/DOM etc and get a solution that fits everything with minimal tweaks. That allows building a common library set where you don’t spend most of your time supporting browser variation.

    I find that the best system to develop on is Firefox (same across all OS’es) in strict mode. It is quite conformant and has effective debuggers. I do a validation test in windows safari (now that is awesome) to check on a non-gecko engine. Then check back on a 1.x version of safari on a Mac, quick scan of Opera (always has size differences), and some of the *nix browsers. This is mainly to check I haven’t used non-conformant features – usually don’t have to change core code.

    Finally find out what incompatibility IE7 has today. That is usually in its broken css, broken event handler (only operates in one direction!), its rather strange inconsistencies in dynamic DOM, or its other trident engine failures. I usually do a dumbass kludge solution for IE7 that gets around its idiotic divergences from standards. But I tend to make the interface for IE7 simplier because I can’t be bothered learning how to tweak it. I’ll just have to forget it in a few years when it does conform. Besides IE is only supported on windows platforms.

    This is pretty much fun for me at present – last commercial webapp project is online – but I’m back in server side & GUI c++ again for work. But I’m interested in presenting applications using server driven browser applications. Gets around a lot of the drugery of building GUI apps (I write GUI libraries or GDI/xlib extensions a lot).

  19. Phil 19

    With the exception of the cheap shot at Keys holiday home, I pretty much agree with you Steve (doesn’t happen often…)

    I would suggest a minor amendment; run the change in rates off the Labour Cost Index. It takes account of changes to the quality of Labour (hours worked, increased experience, skill etc) whereas the median income doesn’t. If the Gov’t of the day was sufficiently mercenary, they could legislate a 20% increase in the working week, and give themselves a 20% payrise as a result.

    Captcha; “brownstone it”
    Would that better appeal to your sense of architectural style?

  20. r0b 20

    Sounds like The Standard chose the right person to approach for volunteer tech support!

  21. insider 21

    How about linking pay to national productivity?

  22. Steve Pierson 22

    a) productivity is a bitch to measure (in fact, I would argue that GDP, inflation, and producitivty are all masively flawed measures)

    b) where’s the incentive to ensure growth is passed on to ordinary kiwis?

  23. Phil 23

    GDP and Inflation can be measured with good degrees of comparability across the all countries in relative confidence. The same cannot be said of Productivity, but it’s comparatively new to the ‘official statistics’ suite. Once it gets its own version of the “System of National Accounts” (which is about as long as the bible) it should be able to be used with more confidence).

    I see no theoretical problem with moving toward a more holistic measure of national wealth (or at least a range of alternative indicators supplemental to our current GDP methodology) but to abandon a centurys-long measurement in favour of the latest fad is the fastest way to complete unaccountability on a national level, as you lose the capacity to compare “today” with “yesterday”.

  24. Matthew Pilott 24

    Talking of productivity… Most people are disgusted by what they see in the House. The style of debate isn’t what I would productive – the Youth MPs seem to do a far better job (perhaps this links to the above debate on the merits of ‘opposition’ politics) but I think an element of their pay should be based upon conduct and contributions.

    Time to wheel out old Dunne’s naughty list perhaps?

    Can’t think of a practical method of implementation off the top’o’me head but I’m sure it could be done.

  25. insider 25

    Not being an economist you’ll have to excuse my ignorance for assuming that when there has been a lot of talk about NZ’s low rate of productivity, there actually was an agreed way of defining and measuring it! Silly me.

    My suggestion was based on incentivising the kind of economic performance politicians go on about.

  26. Policy Parrot 26

    The reason why NZ’s productivity is so low relative to Australia’s is due to owner’s capital reinvestment rates – i.e. retained earnings in the business – Australians effectively leave larger amounts of money in their businesses for growth purposes.

    Whereas, as a rule, Kiwi employers tend to take more as a profit. Why the hell should national wages be linked to productivity if all growth simply continues to be sucked out as drawings or dividends into [some] selfish employers pockets? Perhaps some of the imputation credits could be withdrawn in order to make withdrawal of earnings more costly.

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