Monday, November 19, 2007

Affordable Democracy

The recent furore over pay rises for politicians and senior civil servants raises a number of interesting questions about democracy in Ireland. One thought struck me while reading about an interesting experiment in the United States - what if, instead of paying the politicians, we paid the voters for their vote? It might be a lot cheaper - the going rate in the US is $1 million for life: but one in five would sell their vote for the price of an iPod Touch!

I am joking of course. Still we do have a fundamental problem in that we simply have too many politicians, according to a recent European study. So I was relieved when the Constituency Commission decided to leave the number of TDs unchanged at 166. What about a deal with our political representatives: we'll increase your salaries if you reduce your numbers?

Perhaps the most annoying thing about the recent pay rises has been the simple fact that our representatives are not doing a particularly good job. The World Bank's Governance Indicators for Ireland show that the efficiency of the Irish government has actually deteriorated in recent years. Pay more, get less indeed ...

A final thought on politics: new in from the field of neuroeconomics and psychology - first impressions matter in choosing our political leaders (as much as in choosing our mate and in choosing washing powder). In fact, the first quarter of a second (250 milliseconds to be precise) is the most important time to make a good impression. Though giving yourselves unjustifiable pay rises may just undo those initial, favourable impressions ...

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