Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Novel Solution to the Problem of Ministerial and Parliamentary Wages

In Singapore, ministers are paid considerably more than any of their global counterparts; wages for even a junior cabinet position work out to at least a million Singapore dollars. Now, that sum is a considerable premium over the median wages of Singaporeans, and therefore the policy of benchmarking ministers' pay to top earners invites much criticism and causes much dissatisfaction.

This is not to say that the policy is ill-founded even in principle. I think that it is preferable for a nation to be governed by the competent, and if the competent are discouraged by the low wages of serving office, then the disincentives ought to be removed and office holders compensated.

Yet the devil is always in the details. How much compensation is sufficient? Clearly no compensation is madness, unless one is a supporter of plutocracy. Conversely, paying too much is distasteful to public sentiment and may divert public funds from other useful ventures. Some middle ground is the best solution, but deciding this proper price point is difficult.

I am quite a believer in the free market, and I think that free market principles can be exploited to solve this difficult problem. The general principle is the same- you get what you are willing to pay for. If you don't think that something is not worth it, then don't buy! This basic idea is elegant.

My idea is this: Each candidate for a position (be it parliamentary or cabinet) sets a price at which he would work for. This price must be publicized openly; if and when he wins office, his wages are fixed at that level throughout his current term of service (with perhaps an increment corresponding to inflation). For the voters, everything remains the same- they vote for the candidate they deem most suitable for office. Implicitly, though, the decision criteria has changed; instead of selecting the best candidate, it has shifted to selecting the candidate that provides the best bang for the buck.

What do you think of my idea?

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