Congressrats? Congress Hasn`t Had A Real Raise Since 1900: Anyone Think It Deserves One?

[James Fulford writes:
Peter Brimelow called this the

"Most unpopular
Brimelow article ever"

when he

updated it earlier
this year for MarketWatch

Forbes, August
11, 1997

SO YOU THINK members of Congress
are rats. But won`t starving them make them more
vicious? Congressional salaries, currently set at
$133,600 for both senators and congressmen, have been
steadily losing purchasing power since they were last
fixed in 1993 (see upper chart). More strikingly,
congressional salaries in inflation-adjusted terms are
barely above their level at the beginning of the century
(and in those days there were no federal taxes on
income). Compared with average real income per capita,
congressional salaries have inexorably lost ground (see
lower chart).

Compared with top salaries in
business, congressional take-home is pitiful. The gulf
between congressional salaries and those of the heads of
major corporations, as measured by the Forbes 800 chief
executive officers (see chart, p. 53 top), has yawned in
the Clinton years (funny thing). Chief executives`
salaries recently averaged $1.6 million, up from about 8
times to about 12 times congressional salaries since

Why would anyone on a chief
executive track make this kind of sacrifice? Politicians
can make chief-executive-type sums only by retiring and
cashing in on their human capital–lobbying skills. This
gives them a perverse interest in exacerbating the
modern trend to pass complex and vague legislation. Of
course some professional politicians clearly go into it
for the psychic income–prestige and power. They are, in
short, sociopaths. But is this desirable?

Modest proposal: Revolutionize the
incentive structure by rewarding success in
congressional elections with a capital sum. Which, after
all, is what chief executive officers have now contrived
to reap.

Naturally, no one except us thinks
this is politically possible, least of all the
professional politicians. But guess what? The
unrecognized reality is that we already pay congressmen
a capital sum. The per-politician cost of running
Congress is that high (see chart below) even excluding
fixed costs like the Library of Congress.

Note carefully: This is not
strictly comparable to chief executives` total
compensation. It includes essential support staff. But
congressmen`s lives are governed by impossibly complex
regulations that force them to spend only on petty
perquisites and armies of aides.

Rewarding electoral victory with
this sort of lump sum, which they could spend as they
please, pocketing the savings, might attract a different
kind of candidate. It would tend to limit terms because
there would be no pensions to hang on for. It might even
help solve the campaign finance conundrum because more
congressmen would be able to finance their own
campaigns. And it would no doubt cause some congressmen
to abscond immediately to the south of France. Where
they would do less harm.