Fictional Hillary Clinton and the Real Cost of Political Egalitarianism
By Garett Jones
In fiction politicians can say what they really think of voters. Two examples:
1. The Onion reports Hillary Clinton’s thoughts on whether she should run for President (questionable language):
…while I can’t definitively say what my plans are one way or another, I can say that, at this point in my life, I’m strongly weighing whether or not I want to endure the absolute hell of appealing to you mindless, dumb-as-dirt simpletons again.
2. In Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, a military hero pushed into running for office can’t bring himself to pretend to be one of the people–his well-deserved pride gets in the way. He launches into a tirade in front of the voters; his words are more eloquent that that of the typical U.S. senator, but I imagine more than one senator has felt the same way:
You common cry of curs! whose breath I hate/As reek o’ the rotten fens, whose loves I prize/As the dead carcasses of unburied men….
Then he complains to the voters, criticizing
Your ignorance, which finds not till it feels…
Coriolanus apparently thought there were lots of intuitionists out there among the voters.
The fictionalized HRC and Coriolanus both think that voters aren’t all that rational, all that informed. And both think that it is beneath their dignity to act like commoners just to get elected. HRC doesn’t want to drink beer with the guys; Coriolanus didn’t want to (as another Shakespeare character put it)…
strip his sleeves and show his scars.
And say ‘these wounds I had’
…defending Rome’s freedom. The candidate’s quest for dignity, the candidate’s rejection of egalitarianism, raises the cost of running for office.
And in modern politics, the demands for public egalitarianism are incessant. France’s gauche caviar scandal is the latest: Hollande’s former budget minister turned out to have a hidden Swiss bank account. Part of the scandal is the tax avoidance, part of it is that it shows he’s not one of us, he’s a rich guy.
All of these demands for equality get in the way of good government. That’s a theme in Coriolanus, and it’s a theme in economic theory. Economists usually think people should be paid in some kind of proportion to the value they create. But how much extra value does a great finance minister create compared to a mediocre alternative? France is a two trillion dollar economy, so if she raises economic growth per year by a mere one thousandth of one percent (0.001%), she would create $20 million in value each year she stays in office. And I don’t think it’s outlandish to believe that the best possible finance minister could raise France’s GDP by two or three times that amount.
While you and I might disagree on who’s a good choice for finance minister and who isn’t, we can all agree that it would be easier to get a better shortlist for the job of finance minister if the job paid $20 million a year and it didn’t require you to drive a Citroen while you were in office.
Crazy, you might say, no nation with a modicum of democracy could pay top officials like that, you might say, and if they did it would lead to corruption, you might say. In some cases you’d be right, but one nation with a modicum of democracy (I make no claims beyond the modicum) pays its top officials just under a million dollars a year and seems to get good results with relatively low corruption: Singapore. Quoting Bloomberg, though Wikipedia has more:
New ministers will make about S$1.1 million [$0.9 million US], down from S$1.58 million…
And note this embrace of elitism with just a dash of egalitarianism:
The salary of a new minister will now be benchmarked to the median income of the top 1,000 earners who are Singapore citizens and with a 40 percent discount “to signify the ethos and sacrifice that comes with political service…”
There’s some evidence that when it comes to politician quality, you get what you pay for; Besley finds that higher pay for U.S. governors predicts governors with more experience in politics, and Ferraz and Finan look at Brazilian data and find a slower revolving door and better educated politicians in regions where politicians get better pay. But alas the egalitarian ethos in democracies makes it difficult to raise the pay of politicians.
The voters’ love of egalitarianism is expensive.
Coda: This is my last full week guest blogging here at EconLog; I’m here through the end of April. It’s been a wonderful experience, and I want to thank my readers and my co-bloggers for making it so rewarding, and to thank the excellent Arnold Kling and the good people of Liberty Fund for creating EconLog and making it such a vibrant place for candidly discussing free market economics.
My big project over the next year is finishing my book Hive Mind: How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own. It’s under contract with Stanford University Press with tentative plans for release in Fall 2014; I discuss some of the big ideas behind the book in this article (PDF). Stanford has published two other books by my GMU colleague Chris Coyne, do take a look.