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President Halves Pay

Okay, so it's the newly-elected President of Bolivia, one of the smaller South American nations, but boy, do I hope it sets a precedent: Evo Morales made an election promise that he would halve his pay cheque upon election, and when he was elected (as the first indigenous President of Bolivia) - he kept his promise.

(The interesting bit is, it's apparently Bolivian law that no public sector official can be paid more highly than the President, so now that he's taken his pay cut the rest of the government and branches of the public service will have their salaries reviewed.)

I've been reading about this President Evo Morales recently, and there seems to be a lot of hope surrounding him - if there's anywhere in the Americas with nowhere to go but up, it may well be Bolivia. He is a Socialist, for what that's worth, but as long as he is a humanist as well, I think Bolivia will be okay. He's also doing his darnedest to cast himself as a man of the people, even wearing llama-wool sweaters on the job.

The knee-jerk reaction is to immediately start lobbying our pollies to take cuts in salary. Not that I know how much they earn, but it's a tempting thought.

I remember, though, hearing Alan Jones on the radio one morning back in Sydney talking about the PM's pay. I don't remember the exact words, but I think I have a pretty good handle on the sentiment - that you couldn't pay enough to the person whose job it is to make sure our country runs. On one hand, I can understand that sentiment. I have no doubt that, as much as we like to savage politicians, heck, probably in no small part because we like to savage politicians, their job must be one of the worst jobs a person can earn money for doing. I have no doubt that the recent shock resignation of Western Australia Premier Dr. Geoff Gallop was due in no small part to the stresses of the position and a career in politics. Hell, as much as we really hated the Carr administration for letting Sydney and New South Wales get so run down, I can't help but feel some sympathy for the grey-haired, stress-lined wreck who fronted the cameras to tend his resignation last year.

On the other hand...

You know, I keep coming back to Starship Troopers whenever I think about shit like this, and no matter what you may think about the political model the novel lays out, I usually find it's a good springboard when I think about politics.

For those of you who don't know, Starship Troopers presents an interstellar society whose franchise - the right to vote or hold office - is restricted to those who undertake Federal Service for at least two years (which can be extended until retirement if the government requires it). As presented in the novel, Federal Service is either military service or one of "a whole list of dirty, nasty, dangerous jobs" that will make prospective citizens "remember for the rest of their lives that citizenship is valuable to them because they’ve paid a high price for it."

So, basically, you're putting yourself into the service of the government doing highly dangerous work until your term comes up or you retire (and in at least some positions you can choose to go career, which means you're in until retirement and - in the military - can apply for commission), with basic pay and only the vote and the opportunity to hold political office as a reward. You can quit at almost any time, though (in the novel's Mobile Infantry, this is any time you're not on a mission), but you never get another chance to apply. The idea behind this is that resultant citizens have exhibited a pattern of behaviour that demonstrates a willingness to accept unpleasant duties for the greater good, and are as such likely (not guaranteed, mind you, but as they've had an easy out throughout their service and refused it, I'd say such a system is as close as you can get) to vote against comfort for its own sake when it comes time to exercise their franchise.

And if you wind up with political parties filled with such people actually working for the public good, instead of "career" pollies who are in it for the power and / or benefits, I think you might wind up with jobs that, while still not paying enough, people would do even if they weren't paid, jobs where the stresses were manageable instead of backbreaking.

Of course, the Yes, Minister TV series did a very good job of showing through satire how the non-officeholding members of a government administration can bend said government to their will. But, I suppose the question is then, would a government like that of Starship Troopers, where the actual officeholders are unlikely to act out of pure self-interest, reduce the impact of such corruption on the running of a nation?

I guess we'll only find out when a nation tries it.

So, going back to Bolivia for a second - I suppose President Morales' move, although perhaps discouraging corruption on one hand, might encourage officeholders to seek out / accept kickbacks and gratuities to supplement their now-reduced incomes. Here's hoping he's a good enough man and President to attract staff who'll be in it for the work rather than the money. Of course, when I mentioned the pay cut at the office, someone made an offhanded about how he probably makes it up through corruption anyway, which I was initially a bit thingy about - until I read that one of his intended policies is a relaxation on restrictions of growth of the coca leaf, the source of cocaine, in the name of allowing the indigenous population to continue "traditional uses" of it. Might Morales' wage reform send some of his own people into the arms of the drug trade in order to supplement their newly-reduced wages. especially those forced below a livable wage as the new wage ladder shakes out?

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