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In a recent Linkedin story written by Richard Branson, the billionaire of Virgin Atlantic fame, he defends Democracy and calls on Democracies everywhere to consider looking at successful businesses and their structures as a role model presumably for better government. He makes note of China’s speedy economic growth and how they are able to move quickly and without gridlock. He then goes on to suggest government could cut costs by eliminating so many representatives we have now, and instead paying the remaining fewer representatives more money.
According to Branson:
“..Research has shown paying politicians more improves quality, and a talented, diverse new generation of people who would be attracted to positions where they could make a difference.”
First off I am not sure what research he is referring to but that sounds like a terrible idea. If anything we already pay politicians particularly US Congressmen far too much for too little return on investment. I fail to see how having less representatives somehow gives people equal or more representation than they already have now. It would appear Branson would like to see power concentrated into the hands of just a few representatives and given a freer hand to get things done. What “things” would remain to be seen, but you can be sure you and I won’t have a say in it if he gets his way.
Also, how does offering more pay for abysmal performance make for better representatives? For far too long we have elected people whose self-interest was the primary motivating factor for going into public service. You want to really start fixing things you have to change this paradigm. Political office currently attracts those seeking power, influence and money. How does that equate to good representation for the people? In the private sector money attracts more talent but does the type of person drawn to money, power, and influence make the best representatives of people who come from diverse backgrounds, cultures and economic conditions?
In today’s society once these money and power hungry people take office is it rational to believe that they will somehow shelve their own personal interests that have driven them their entire lives, and expect them instead to suddenly become altruistic and put their country and constituent’s needs first? I don’t think so. Offering more money like Branson suggests to attract a new diverse generation will only attract different sharks to the same pool, not better representatives.
We have drifted from the principle ideas of true representative government, perhaps out of ignorance or apathy I don’t know but we have grown too comfortable electing and putting our blind faith and trust in these type of people. The very same kind that thinks it’s okay to spy on you, lie to Congress, and ignore the Constitution.
In my view the compensation for any elected politician should be primarily the opportunity to serve the people. That should be reward enough. A small salary plus costs reimbursement should be in place but that’s it. Also there should be cumulative term limits for all those in public service. After eight or ten years in public life, that’s it, you’re off the public dole and you have to go find a real job or start a business of your own. The days of career politicians should be numbered.
The Congress is supposed to be a snapshot of the American people. All of them not just the successful power hungry ones that come from five or six different career professions primarily. One of the major problems I have noticed and have written about in the past is the demographics of the USA and the demographics of Congress are dramatically different.
In John Adams’s Thoughts on Government, Adams wrote about Congress saying
“..It should be in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large. It should think, feel, reason, and act like them.”
Ask yourself the question, do our current Congressmen and woman think, feel, and act like you? They probably don’t and most of you would probably have little in common with them.
I wonder what kind of people would then be attracted to public service if pay for elected office was nominal, had little perks, and service was required to end after a few years. Would we be better off represented by Joe Citizen, the plumber, the baker, the teacher, or the software guy who took four or six years off from his live to “serve” a bigger purpose? Would we get a better return on our investment than leaving it in the hands of the “political professionals”? Would people step up and do the job? I think they would despite what other political hacks might think.
Lastly, while I oppose government bureaucracy just like the next guy, some gridlock is not necessarily a bad thing, despite what Richard Branson, the business mogul thinks. Our system of government was built with gridlock in mind to prevent hastily written laws that have bad consequences later. The intention was not to put laws in place that could easily be changed or circumvented at the whim of the people, businesses or political influences of the moment. The government was structured so that the passions of the people and various special interests were to be given time to cool off, and rational discussion and input from all interested parties could follow before legislation was to be enacted. As Justice Scalia once said in support of the argument that the Constitution should be interpreted as the framers intended “If the Constitution means whatever we think it means today, why have a Constitution. Just have a legislature.”
In summary Branson’s off the cuff idea would further disenfranchise the average American citizen and would concentrate more power into the hands of an elite few and keep it there. I think he should stick to his business and leave We the People’s business alone.