According to Wikipedia, either a senator or a representative to the United States House of Representatives is paid an annual salary of $165,200. This year, the United States Senate was scheduled to be out of session for over 5 months. Even assuming they worked an above-average number of hours each week (and we’ve all seen C-SPAN, so I don’t think they can reliably say they do) – say 50 – they are only working about 1500 hours per year, not counting time spent on vacation, campaigning, giving speeches, attending rallies, and building dedications.
Being generous, it could be said they work 1500 hours per year, and are paid approximately $110 per hour. They also get preferential benefits, retirement packages, assistants, and the ability to spend other people’s money (they do control the nation’s purse, which is funded by taxes on our wages). They typically get free transport to and from home (via car and plane).
The United States has 435 representatives, and 100 senators (just for the states). So, we spend $88,382,000 on just raw salaries for those in congress annually! I find this appalling, personally. I think everyone should be entitled to whatever pay they can legitimately claim, but only when contributing to the profitability of their employer. The government’s job, though is not to be profitable, but to provide a legal system under which the citizenry can live, work, learn, and play. The government is supposed to be in the business of protecting its citizens. This means punishing crime, maintaining a military, and opposing oppressive activity. Beyond these, it should stay out of the way, and let its citizenry go about their business.
Unfortunately, governments also view themselves to be in the position of furthering their own power – even to the detriment of legitimate activity on the part if their citizens. Overall, I believe our government is among the better ones on this planet, but it still seems to go out of its way to impose more restrictions on its citizens than encouraging freedoms and liberties. In general, we have enough laws – we don’t need more, though we could probably use fewer. Our elected lawmakers, though, seem to think that if they don’t enact some form of legislation, that they’re not doing their job.
But spending tax dollars on pet projects, funding social programs, and attacking each other (and the citizens) is ridiculous. A cursory inspection of the federal budget shows a large number of programs and projects which could be better-run, -executed, and -managed by private industry. The same is true of state budgets. Beyond providing for basic services like police, military, roads, courts, and setting basic rules for those activities, I think the US federal government, and the state governments to large extent, waste fantastic amount of taxpayer money.
Several months ago, I wrote an article outlining a way of replacing our current, progressive tax system with a flat tax. What I left out of that article was a more focused reduction in spending. Especially the federal government, but states are guilty, too, funds projects that have no business belonging to the government. I’m all for funding research, the military, courts, police, and basic services like keeping roadways in good shape. But I think we spend far to much on other things that should be handled by private organizations – either mostly or entirely.
I think that most of the medicare and medicaid system should be turned over to private insurance companies, with an accompanying reduction in medical lawsuit fines and awards through capping and deauthorizing medical professionals from practicing medicine with too many formally-filed complaints and censures.
I think that airline passenger screening – the job that was federalized following September 11, should be returned to private contractors who report to the airlines, not the government. The airlines have a large vested interest in their passengers not being crazy, and paying for screeners, already being (I think exorbitantly) funded out of ticket costs ($5 per flight), should be passed-on to passengers directly from the airlines. I find it hard to believe that each of my flights really costs $5 to screen me – it only takes three tickets to pay one screener for an hour. Factor in some overhead for equipment, and I think we’re being overcharged.
My previous thoughts about social security, as outlined in my article on the flat tax, still stand. I think we’re paying into a system that can not provide for its users in a sustainable fashion. We should be able to leave social security and invest our own money for ourselves – or not. America was built on strong individualism, and if someone won’t provide for themselves, I think they shouldn’t be mollycoddled by the government. Those who can’t provide for themselves should be taken care of by their families when possible, charitable organizations, and only by the government as a last resort.
Before I am accused of being a military fanboy, I do want to say that I think the military has excesses, too. I believe soldiers are underpaid for their service, but that the military encourages a wasteful approach to using supplies. Training is very important, as is proficiency in a soldier’s occupational specialty. But the famous $20,000 coffee pot on the C-5A Galaxy is nuts. Put a Mr Coffee in there for $30 from Walmart. Some things have to cost a lot of money, like airplanes and tanks, but firearms don’t necessarily have to. In the quantities the US military purchases rifles, an M16 should be a couple hundred bucks at most. They could even switch to using something like the ubiquitous AK-47 which can be manufactured for less than $200.
Closing the loop, I think elected officials who are only scheduled to work 7 months out of the year need to start thinking about how much benefit they can bring to those who elected them. Not by building some bridge, or monument, or rail yard in their district, but by encouraging those who voted for them to help themselves. If they’re going to continue to be paid $165,200 per year, they can afford to buy their own plane tickets – they don’t need taxpayers to subsidize government VIP transports. Senators, representatives, judges, etc are civil servants – not masters. They’re supposed to be serving us, and I’d like to see them start doing it.