Jail doesn’t pay very well, though if you are locked up your career is only part of your problem. There are better options. A career as a public servant can be very lucrative. $174,000 a year, the starting salary for members of Congress, is more than three times the median U.S. household income.1 It’s not a tremendous amount of money, but most Americans would trade their jobs for it in an instant if given the chance.
We must not be paying our public servants enough because we aren’t getting much in the way of service from Capitol Hill. The presidential election, catastrophic Democratic defeat, and efforts to undermine the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency have thrown our government into chaos.
How much would we have to pay for dedicated public servants?
Perhaps the solution is to pay less and put our lawmakers in seclusion.
Do we need a congressional jail?
No faith in public servants
We all need to have faith in something. Politicians don’t usually make the list. Quite the opposite. Americans tend to despise elected officials whose actions have destroyed any faith we could possibly have in government despite repeated vows to restore our confidence.
We witnessed their bad behavior and listened to their warnings before the election. Now we are not only being threatened with the consequences of our lawful, constitutionally-sanctioned decision, we are told that the Electoral College is unfair and unjust. Why? Democrats lost.
Who are lawmakers really worried about? It’s not America and it certainly isn’t us.
More pay, less dedication?
Why do we pay congressmen and women so much more than their constituents earn? Because lawmakers decided that’s what they deserve.
There are jobs that pay a lot less than $174,000 and demand ethics on top of dedication. Priests, ministers, and other religious leaders devote their lives to something they can’t even see. Registered nurses keep people alive yet average less than half2 of what a freshman lawmaker earns. Our service members die for a pittance compared to a six-figure salary that isn’t enough to keep lawmakers’ hands out of the public cookie jar.
No pay for two wealthy public servants
Donald Trump says that he will take no pay as president. Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, another Republican public servant who has aroused the wrath of the left, has made the same promise. Both men have lots of money. Does that mean the very wealthy make better leaders because all they want to do is lead? Probably not, but at least we know they aren’t taking public service positions to profit.
Would jail and no pay give us better public service?
We pay elected officials lavishly by Middle America’s standards. Their dedication to serving the public interest still puts them in jail from time to time because the temptation to get their hands on more money was too much to resist.
We should cut to the chase and have our public servants perform their service in a congressional jail.
Imagine members of Congress dedicating their terms to serving the country and nothing else. No media photo ops. No shady backroom meetings with pressure groups or lobbyists. No incentive to stonewall to make sure an issue that delivers lots of media publicity never gets resolved. No relying on others to write their bills so they can claim we have to pass them to know what they contain. Just lots of free time and solitude, sitting in jail and keeping out of trouble. Lawmakers would have nothing to do except come up with ways to make America a better place. Eventually, they just might.
This would not be a punishment. It would be a way to attract dedicated people who really want to serve and don’t care about the perks and publicity. The troops lawmakers can send into harm’s way live in military barracks, tents, or cramped quarters on ships. Think of our congressional jail as something similar, a place where dedicated public servants go to ponder their enormous responsibilities and do good works to move the country forward.
We will feed them, but we will also remove the distractions of money, prestige, media coverage, and all the other things that tempt lawmakers to do a lousy job for the ones who matter, the people who had enough faith to put them in office.
Best of all, once they have served their terms they will probably move on to do other things. If we never pass term limits the ones who stay will be the best public servants we’ve ever had.