In Thomas Sowell’s collection, The Thomas Sowell Reader he offers an interesting idea in the chapter , ‘Reflections on Term Limits’.
Pay Congressmen $1,000,000 a year. No benefits, no retirement pension.
The biggest problems with the current system, in Sowell’s opinion, is the amount of time that is spent on campaigning and the failure to attract qualified prospects from many fields.
The problem with term limits is that unless the term limit is a single term, too much time will still be spent on campaigning.
Congressmen face several critical issues that demand a lot of thought and mental space. They should not have to redirect those resources to the prospect of campaigning. The more expensive and complicated our campaigns get the more costly the distraction.
Campaigning has become a different skill set from governance and we are learning that we need those who can govern. Top leaders in law, finance, healthcare, and business make more than Congressmen and few can afford to take leave from their careers. The result is that we either elect those who need the compensation, unable to replicate the income in the private sector, or those so rich that they are only attracted by the power. The working wealthy, those most familiar with federal policies’ daily impact, are kept out of the pool.
By paying the Congressmen $1,000,000 a year with no other benefits and limiting the term to a single term, the elected can eliminate the distraction of a campaign and the conflicts of interest that come from it. While this sounds like a big expense Sowell notes that “Paying this salary to each member of Congress for the entire 21st century would cost less than running the Department of Agriculture for one year.”
This salary would also attract the best in the fields whose input we sorely need.
There are for sure some shortcomings to the idea. It may make the campaign for the single lucrative term more intense and may attract the more of the very influences Sowell seeks to minimize. But lobbyists are a byproduct of regulations more so than campaigns. There may need to be some restriction on the ability of the elected to deliver on promises made to get elected.
Those that earn seven figure salaries in the private sector are either selected by boards in some objective meritocratic fashion or are self made and measured by their results. Candidates are selected by a population that is often more motivated by populist appeal than critical analysis. It would be a mistake to assume voters will make the same decision as a Fortune 500 Board of Directors.
Still Sowell’s idea has merit and is worthy of consideration, if only because it addresses serious flaws in our current system.