---WARNING - THIS IS GOING TO BE POLITICAL FOCUSED ON UNITED STATES POLITICS---
As life has sped up and I keep chugging away at fixing my house, being a mom, and working 2.5 jobs and applying for more (heh, there is a chance at getting half insurance with this one, we'll see) the last thing I want to break the silence with is a political post, but Wil Wheaton on G+ (here), Mike Lofgren (here), the New York Times info-graphic (here) and a variety of other posts and personal comments from friends over on Facebook to which I do not have links (although I thought I was saving some, but they are gone now) have pushed me over the edge into needing to discuss this at more length, especially since I have already explained this system to many in real life.
I think it is fairly safe to say that large sections of Congress are rather corrupt. It is easy to say that this probably extends to the Supreme Court (Clarence Thomas anyone?) and into many government organizations and agencies. It's also fair to say that we've built a system that promotes corrupting these agents and that system is very well funded and extensive. The idea of discretion seems to be almost purely Victorian. What we have is a mess. A financial, social, cultural blob of mess that even Mickey Mouse and his magic paintbrush aren't equipped to make a dent in. Once again I have a hypothetical solution, but it's not minor, it's not really on the table, and it's definitely a drastic reorder of the way things are done, but hey what do you expect from the girl who wrote up multiple copies of the Empire's Guide to Government to bring for discussion on "Let's Make a Government Day" in high school? <-- "Fear will keep the locals in line"!
First, we need to stop politics from being a pampered career. A person should aspire to serve their country because it is in their heart to serve the best interests of the people. They want to give of themselves in the same way a soldier sacrifices his life to serve his nation. It is not unreasonable to ask a congressman to give up the "good things" in life in the service of their country, no more so than it is to ask a soldier to miss the birth of his child and the comforts of his home. As such politicians will be granted a modest residence within the city that they are serving (the capital city for state, the nations capital for national), these residences will not be slums, but they won't be penthouses either. They will be safe clean, and the average of what is available to the general populous at the time. This will be provided by their constituents. The representative may turn down this honor and pay for lodgings of their choice from their own savings, and they will still receive the payment for the modest lodging, but this is their choice.
Why don't we currently do this? Because it's believed that representatives need to be elevated. They need to be able to entertain in a regal fashion. Sure this was done a lot in the old days, but if we're all on the same playing ground, with the exception of foreign interests, it's really a mute point. The other reason is that (and my mother told me this) if representatives aren't given the best, they'll be more likely to fall into corruption to make up the difference! Seriously? We have to buy them off to keep them from being more corrupt? Is that like giving kids sugary candy so they won't go buy some with their money? Does that actually work?
Next, we need to continue the financial battery to their pocketbook and health insurance. This is a two-fold reason. Primarily this is to continue in our service mindset as opposed to a career one. Sure a person can make a career at serving and some exceptional people do, but they don't make a fortune doing it, and that is the big difference. By serving others you give up the big bank account (unless you are one of those fortunate silver spoon kids who goes into charity work, then you just maintain daddy's bank account while doing good, and God bless you for it.) Representatives should be paid their state minimum wage + a percentage and receive the benefits and health care offered to the citizens of the state. If the minimum wage is enough for a single mom to feed, clothe, house, and educate her children on then the same should be sufficient for our representative, should it not? Why an extra percentage? To be nice since a representative should be an educated intelligent individual sacrificing for the common good of the people, but it can not exceed 100% and it is still directly tied to minimum wage. This is very important! Without ensuring the dominance and effects of minimum wage changes the incentive to affect necessary cost of living changes is lost. The same is also true of health care and other benefits which are increasingly unavailable for more and more citizens. Of course an independently wealthy politician could live without this modicum of income, but it is my belief that those who are wealthy do not tend to stay wealthy by ignoring the inflow and outflow of money in their daily lives. By forcing them to live in a modest way with a minimum of income (although their housing too, at least while working is paid for so really they aren't all that badly off comparatively speaking) they are better able to connect with those whose lives they have the greatest chance to impact.
Additionally, the lack of significant wages will make any income discrepancies glaringly obvious! I mean it's not like you can go out to a bunch of 5 star dinners without someone taking notice when your income is that of the average hard working individual! Average hardworking individuals just don't eat like that, not because they have no interest (although some don't), but because they simply can't. They can't buy the newest cars, they can't have all the services, they have to be reasonable.
Why don't we already do this? Two big reasons. First, minimum wage is an industrial era union concept. It was brought about because there needed to be a standard that employers couldn't go below when setting wages for those jobs that no one wanted but the growing poor and immigrants would do because they had no other options, not unlike today for many who've been hurt worst by the current job climate changes. So the concept of a minimum wage that affected all people was completely foreign to the founders of the constitution and since a wage was originated in the documents structuring the make up of Congress and mimicked by the states no one's done it (to my knowledge). Second because politics is a career for the upper crust. The educated man. After all mommas are supposed to want their babies to be doctors, lawyers, or politicians right? Then they'll be sure of a comfortable life. How sick does that sound? Being sure of a comfortable life when those whose lives you are in charge of insuring see justice and are protected in law and contracts have no such option? Of course there is that whole corruption angle too, but I think it is much easier to see the mystery money show up in a place where there shouldn't be any, so let's just throw that right out. Oh and those fancy dinners and whatnot, it may be the way it's done, but it could be just as effective over Starbucks as it is over a 5 star dinner, and if not, then it still promotes the idea of prioritization.
Why haven't we even started towards something like this? Well it would actually affect those in power and while a few somewhat altruistic individuals have instigated things such as term limits, the idea of these radical changes makes the corrupt individuals who have made their lives as money hording career politicians faint outright, and realistically they are the only ones that can change it short of a major revolution.
In addition to lodging and minimum wage balanced pay politicians will also receive travel monies and stipends to return to their home districts. This is only right and should be encouraged as it will also remind them of those whom they are representing. This could add a great expense, but it wouldn't be a pocket-able one and would dissuade corruption. Reconnecting with the area and the people of their power is something most representatives could stand to do more of. After all by being connected to those who both voted a person into service and those who stood opposed to their election, but whom they also stand in representation of the politician can do a far greater job than by living in disconnect only hearing talking points from the nightly news, the paper, and the very well paid lobbyists .
One of the more noble ideas in our political system (and that of many other nations around the world) is that anyone can attempt to be a representative of the people. I do not feel that the reduction in paycheck would eliminate this option for a person. Sure who can be more comfortable if you come from money and have a large savings to draw from, but that is true for anything. In fact I challenge that the better representative would not have this background, but would be one to whom the office would be a modest yet realistic sacrifice most akin to that of our soldiers. The servant-like status of his or her position would be a constant, but not uncomfortable reminder of his or her task for the people. It would relate the struggles of the common person while providing some the necessary comforts for the job. In truth it may be harder for the wealthy to enter politics than those who are of more moderate means. Would this mean that the brightest most educated would no longer attempt the task? Possibly, but then those in that situation have many careers available to them and to those who the lack of money would be an obstacle, they would not be good at the job anyway. To serve one must set the needs of others above the comfort and desires of oneself.
Would I live under these restrictions? Sure, but I know full well how to live with limited means, I do it every day. I readily give up luxury and comforts for the betterment of my children. It's what most people call life. I, however; have no aspirations to engage in the arena of politics. I will gladly suggest ways to fix problems, but when it comes to dealing with the system to affect the changes and being with all the people, well the era of the introvert is passed. I mean I could do it if so pressed, but I do not desire the task.
Now if we could just all agree on what the purpose of government is anyway..... oh wait, that's a large part of why there are so many countries!