Sentences to ponder

Oregon lawmakers are considering raising their annual pay by nearly $20,000, a move the sponsors say will attract more diverse candidates to the statehouse.

“We’re a diverse state, we need a diverse legislature,” Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, one of the legislators leading the effort, told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “Because of the low pay, we are automatically screening out people who really should be represented here.”

That may sound cynical, but in fact the case for doing this is not crazy, and in general the U.S. underpays many (not all!) of its public sector employees:

The move comes only a few weeks after a 28 percent legislative pay raise went into effect. Lawmakers were not behind that raise, and the increase was tied to collective bargaining agreements that affected nearly 40,000 state employees.

Legislators now make $31,200, plus an extra $149 a day when the Legislature is in session.

Here is the full story, with further detail of interest, and for the pointer I thank Mark West.


Singapore pays six to seven figure salaries to their public servants. Meanwhile Oregon's legislators make a barista's wage.

CA & NY pay their legislators over $100K/year and they get all of the corrupt (esp. NY), crazy (esp. CA) incompetence that money can buy.

Amen to that!

Oregon's legislature is part time, a few months a year. They have in fact been guilty of increasing their active time to exploit the $148 per diem. IMHO they should be paid nothing.

I might also add that they spend most of their time pursuing unconstitutional legislation. I will be their this Saturday to protest their latest gun confiscation legislation. Join me at the Capitol building this Saturday afternoon to demand our civil rights be preserved.

Good man!

Molon labe!

California representatives are term limited to 6 years and senators 8 years. Once they get effective at the job they have to resign (or seek another office). Lots of people believe this has been a factor in CA’s decline in quality of government (although I would add that all the propositions have also made things worse).

Singapore's public servants are better at it.

Pay is only 1.

How do you price in the near 100 percent employment insurance?

...and pension benefits with cola that are basically salary for life, in addition to killer health insurance for life.

If I knew then what I know now, I would have gotten gubmint job at age 18.

This is easily double or more than what a barista earns.

You suck at math and facts.

Singapore is an aristocratic, authoritarian city-state, not that there's anything wrong with that.

The Libertarians love to point Singapore as an example of many of their cherished notions, yet Singapore is the outlier of all outliers.

I thought Lib economists understood math.

Probably safe to say that no libertarian has ever claimed that Singapore was an example of any of their cherished notions.

Had I maintained your capitalisation, then my points would be without doubt. Expanding it to small l libertarians does open the risk that there is a single idiot out there, but it is still unlikely

There's nothing wrong with being on the spectrum.

Probably safe to say that no libertarian has ever claimed that Singapore was an example of any of their cherished notions.

I see you haven't been paying attention to the moderators of this blog

If the aim was to attract more 6-figure earners and fewer baristas to the Oregon legislature, then you might have a point. However, the proponents are claiming the opposite. One assumes that a more "diverse" legislature is one with more minorities and low-wage earners.

When legislators make $31k, then the opportunity cost of becoming a legislator is zero for someone whose private sector salary is $31k. It's $70k for someone with a private sector salary of $101k.

Maybe, the proponents want more $50k earners and fewer lower-wage earners (baristas and retirees). That would not be the usual definition of diverse.

I'm not convinced high pay isn't a good (not perfect, just good) proxy for intelligence and talent. I'm more worried by people unable to command any sort of decent living in the private sector becoming legislators.

There are additional screens you can add which might chip away at that problem. See below.

'and in general the U.S. underpays many (not all!) of its public sector employees'

Absolutely true - the SEC does not use the GS system. Which means a top senior SEC employee receives basically twice as much as a top senior federal employee. As a matter of fact, a senior SEC official is paid more than a senator, member of the House, and vice president, and also receives basically the same pay as a Supreme Court justice.

They do a shitty job. Why pay them at all?

If someone's contribution is negative, they are overpaid at nothing.

In this regard, the U.S. overpays most (not all!) of its public sector employees

At 32k I would assume that anyone running mostly has evil intentions

Is the 32k per month or per annum?

"Burdick is proposing a measure that would raise wages by 63 percent, to more than $50,000 per year."

Using latin looks bad when you don't even read the linked article =)

32k minimum. There is a 149 per day stipend when they are in session. This is 160 days in odd years and 35 days in even years.

They can and probably do have other jobs when they are not in session. Otherwise it is a lot of paid vacation.

And of course this doesn't include benefits.

So annualized, about $120k a year.

If it were full time

More like 87k. There are only about 250 work days in a typical year. Still that is well above median household wage.

On the other hand, they have to spend a considerable amount of time not in session meeting with people, working on issues, and campaigning. It is also possibly a temporary job.

In the even numbered years they can possibly hold down other jobs, but their legislative pay drops to 41k. Not bad for 50 days of actual work.

I get 64k (over 2 years) for 190 work days for 337 a day + the 149= $486/day Times 250 days = $121k

Yeah, $31K is too low but my guess is that this idea will be very unpopular with voters in Oregon. They're certainly not Kansas, but compared to WA and CA the voting taxpayers like to keep taxes low, with a corresponding lower quantity and quality of public goods being provided. The lack of school days and contact hours in public schools in Oregon has been an open and notorious disgrace for decades.

Good for Oregon. I support a reduction in hours for all prisoners, er, I mean students.

Here in CA, public schools are basically day care centers with an indoctrination topping.

Interesting, it is called compulsory education, and we have to pay an arm and a leg for a shitty product.

It IS good for school employees.

For the rest of us?

California has a lower median effective local and state tax rate than Oregon, it’s actually pretty close to Tennessee’s effective tax rate.
Kansas btw is one of the highest, only beating out CT, NY, IL and PA.

While CA obviously has high income taxes, property and sales tax (at least in SD) are significantly lower than every other city i’ve lived in. Just looking at say Kansas where the average state+local sales tax is 9% and i’m sure the property taxes are higher than the 1.25% I pay.

At the end of the day, you pay taxes in $ not %. The KC home is half the cost, but twice the tax rate, so you pay the same (not exactly, but...)

"you pay taxes in $ not %."

Numbers is not your strong point.

Paying 1.1% on a crappy $500,000 home is a big expense, especially if all you get in return are wealthy government pensioners. The pension payments crowd out other services in the budget. As a result almost all of the services are provided by the private sector. About the only thing left for government to do is road maintenance and law enforcement, and they don't do road maintenance. We have lots of rich retired cops.

CA is a f*cking disaster. I want out.

500k buys a pretty nice home in lots of regions in CA. Want to work for a top company in a tier 1 city with a short commute? Good luck finding a nice 500k home anywhere in the world.

Good, leave and take your whining elsewhere. There's 1000s more that wouldn't mind taking your spot.

I have many friends who work in the public sector (some of whom make six figures plus) and all of them are just soooo convinced that they would make a lot more money in the private sector.

Not so sure about that.

Whether they made more money or not, they would certainly work more hours. My wife worked for the state a few years back. At one point I did the math and figured out she worked about two thirds of the hours as I did working "full time". For the state full time was 37.5 hours per week with a lot of holidays, vacation, sick days, etc off.

Now ask them their hourly pay. They work far fewer hours in government jobs. Their jobs are far less stressful and far more secure.

And with no insult to your friends intended, many people in public employment could not get or keep jobs in the private sector. They are the low end of the bell curve.

>Now ask them their hourly pay.

And ask about their defined benefit pensions (including "stuffing-friendly" benefit formulas and 'full retirement' age).
And their health plans.
And how many layoffs have occurred in the last 5 years?
And how often their employer has gone out of business?

Personally, I'm kicking myself for *not* taking a government job out of school.

"...kicking myself..."

In fact, when you examine the precariousness of private sector employment for MOST people, it doesn't look good.

"Personally, I'm kicking myself for *not* taking a government job out of school."

Hmm, I do wonder in hind sight if the easiest path to life would have been to have gotten a PhD in Education, moved to California and taught a high school class. Then I could retire at 55 on a $90K pension + whatever money I had actually invested.

You don't need a PhD - a BA and teaching credential are all you need.

You could have a PhD in math/physics in you couldn't teach middle school math. However, a BA in ______ Studies and a teaching credential and you can teach high school math, even if you have absolutely no insight into or appreciation of the beauty of math.

It's good for the unions but bad for students, but it's not about the students anyway.

You wouldn't get $90,000 a year at age 55. My wife taught for 35 years in elementary school, retired at 63, and makes apprx. 70,000 a year.

And I guarantee you she worked harder than you do or did, no matter what job you had.

That's an astounding yearly income in retirement. You've proved his point.

In his dialogue at Harvard last week Peter Thiel made the point that today's public employees do not have the talent of those who went to work for government in the 1930s and 1940s - some of the most talented scientists and economists in the country went to work for the government back then to help develop solutions for the very large challenges facing the country. It's for that reason that Thiel lacks faith in government today to carry out any meaningful policies to boost American business, not his disdain for government per se. That may come as a surprise to his libertarian friends. If paying public employees more would result in more talented public employees, then by all means pay them more.

Who pays for Palantir, John Galt?

Who is John Galt?

Major character in Atlas Shrugged.

So why did they spend so many pages trying to find this out?

Thiel is no saint and, like all of us, is a hypocrite (my observation in my comment about the Harvard dialogue linked by Cowen several days ago). He profits if government employees are not sufficiently talented and, hence, government must outsource to companies like Palantir. His dialogue partner was Cornel West, who seemed to be sleeping through the whole thing. But Thiel's hypocrisy revealed an important point: the need for government to recruit better talent with better pay.

It is funny. America always has enough money for bombs and wars, but not for good government. Yet, good government is the root of public prosperity. As famous French financist Baron Louis said, "give me good politics, and I shall give you good finances". In Brazil, public workers are well-paid so that they can steer the Ship of State skillfully and honestly.

Indeed, Brazil is the shining beacon to which all nations aspire.

Evidently, there are problems in Brazil, but, all things considered, the Brazilian people, under the President Captain Bolsonaro's correct leadership, is marxhing on the road to development and real freedom, building a prosperous, democratic, thriving and fair society.

"marxhing on the road "

Marxing on the road? Isn't that what Venezuela did?

Maching on the road. This keyboard is too small.

Ah, a Brazilian keyboard.

No. It is a Korean-designed device.


"Surely you're joking Mr." Ribeiro!

No, I am not. Brazil pays above-market wages to its public workers so they can steer the mighty ship of State to victory. Feynman famously pointed out that Brazilian students were very well trained.


I have a big extended family in Brazil - in Rio, Sao Paulo, Brasilia, and mostly in Salvador - and that is not the case.

Maybe you are smarter than Richard Feynman.

It is funny. America always has enough money for bombs and wars, but not for good government. Yet, good government is the root of public prosperity. As famous French financist Baron Louis said, "give me good politics, and I shall give you good finances". In Brazil, public workers are well-paid so that they can steer the Ship of State skillfully and honestly.

They are indeed paid well, well enough to invent the "viagara effect".

The phenomenon is so common in Brazil’s vast public bureaucracy that some scholars call it the “Viagra effect” — retired civil servants, many in their 60s or 70s, wed to much younger women who are entitled to the full pensions for decades after their spouses are gone.

Ray Lopez, but paid for it?

Evifently, there are distortions, which President Captain Bolsonaro's administration is hard at work to address. Suffices to say President Captain Bolsonaro is implementing the most radical free market reform since the Perestroika. One must remeber that, by paying well public workers, Brazil achieved political and economical stability. We must no throw away the baby with his water.

In Virginia, state legislators are paid virtually nothing, and so they all have a "real job" on the side. Many of them push for protections for their real job.

The state legislature in Texas only meets for a few months every other year. IIRC pay is pretty low. They seem to do better than most.

I understand that the need to believe in the Texas miracle (hint: you'll find the face of Our Lord in some sedimentary rocks) is strong, so I'm sorry to disabuse you, Engineer, but the Texas lege are perhaps worse by most people's reckoning (although, curiously, not Tyler's - a professional class of lawgivers - is that a libertarian thing? who knew?). The cagey "gentleman legislators" of Texas disguise their actual remuneration by loading it onto an astonishing benefits package. Basically, in it for the long con. If they can provide that de minimis service to the state for 12 years, they need never work another day in their lives.

There are some other little quirks too, like their kids get healthcare until they're 35 (at which point they've often segued into the state agency job that was waiting for them while they toiled as a lobbyist or staffer for their dad, a la Christi Craddick).

Oh, and unless things have changed (they occasionally make a run at this, but never (!) retroactively): we don't discriminate against legislators or other public servants with a few pesky "public corruption" felonies. By tradition you can look for creative ways to make a little extra on the side, and still collect that sweet pension.

Paying more for “diversity” means Whites are supposed to support their replacement by vibrant Browns. Sounds like a good deal. Brown government is always a technocratic improvement.

I don't know if they qualify as "browns", but Hong Kong and Singapore Chinese did better with British institutions than the white British themselves.

Why do you exclude the Malays? Does race matter?

Hong Kong is dead btw bye without the British. You know nothing. Visit.

Malays are definitely brown, Honkies probably not

Yes, race matters. For example, Indian and Chinese immigrants to white countries tend to be better-educated, more law-abiding, and higher-income than the white population.

Malays have the unfortunate burden of Islam, so sadly aren't going to be as good as other groups.

"Brown government is always a technocratic improvement."

Not Kate Brown's government!

My experience working for government is that the whole package for a government worker, salary, vacation, benefits and workload is about right. It would be nice for an economist to take a look at this since the usual way price is decided in business is what do you pay and what do you get -- not whether people are paid "fairly," or diversity or whatever.

1. It is a myth that public sector employees are underpaid. Their total compensation, rock solid job protection, and low expectations make their jobs extremely cushy. While I could have made more money (and do now), I spent decades as a public employee. Clearly my decision reveals a preference. I know many lawyers who left law firms to take jobs in government with 40 hour workweeks instead of 80. I worked 80 per week in my government jobs because I was single and loved my work.

2. There are generally two types of people who take government jobs including elected positions, a) those who are rich and value the paycheck less than the power, b) those who are poor and see a massive pay increase their skills would never garner in the market. People in the middle generally wouldn't run for office. Mitch McConnell is a perfect example of the former, AOC the latter. These measures, propounded by liberals, is nothing less than a means to siphon off more taxpayer money to people like themselves. Congress is a millionaires club. The sheer number of lawyers we have in Congress, which pays 174k per year, tells us that money is not a limiting factor.

3. $31k sounds pretty abysmal. The daily stipend amounts to 24k in odd numbered years and 9k in even numbered years. 56k is pretty good pay for the average person but probably way too low for professionals. They probably should increase pay, but lawyers would still scoff at the resulting salary. Why pay more to people who will do the job for less? Which people would want to do the job but for the low pay? Theoretically they exist but practically speaking, who are they? No business owner except one who is rich would leave their shops.

You really think there are charismatic young lawmakers with millions of followers and no interest in power? I doubt it!

I wasn't aware that I stated or implied that.

So long story short, you agree $31K is way too low? Of course it is. The rest of your analysis is more or less correct. Oregon can't afford to pay its legislatures huge salaries. But federal congressman should see pay in the $300-500K range. Then you would attract normal professionals and get a better quality legislature.

As opposed to ex-bartenders from the Bronx, he means.

After doing a little math, it is about 87k annualized. Again it is not 31k. It is 31k plus 149 per day that they are in session, which is 160 days and 50 days in alternating years. The average work year is 250 days.

I'll accept arguments that it is hard to replace income from a lengthy hiatus, e.g. teachers with summers off, but the RATE of pay for these legislators is very good, particularly in the short session years. They can and most probably do work other jobs.

If you're very rich, you can substitute power for money. If you are a bartender, this is a massive pay raise. People in the middle are the ones most likely to be squeezed.

Congress makes 174k. That is pretty good.

Don't most local & state legislators have other sources of income? Implied by the argument it seems and something I thought was the case: local elected representatives (and to some extent state and federal) are largely part-time jobs.

If so, raising the wage will likely do little to change the demographics of the legislature. The issue there is probably more about campaign costs and complying with election laws and requirements.

If I am right here, this is really just a bonus the current group is voting to give themselves (rich getting richer) sold under the guise of diversity and assisting the less enfranchised.

I would suggest two alternatives that might have better ability to accomplish the goal -- thought I suspect both can still be gamed.

1) Compensation would be based on total income and set to some level. If you make more than that already and you run you don't get paid except for the in session per diem amount.

2) Leave the compensation the same but put all that money into some form of open election campaigning infrastructure that all can leverage. Election campaigns are all about communications. It is the 21st Century. I'm sure we can find a technology somewhere that largely has near 0 marginal costs for allowing such campaign communications to reach the people.

Legislating has always been a part time job for wealthy people.

These proposals are intended to bring more worthless scumbags to the state capitol and feed them taxpayer dollars.

Legislating has always been a part time job for wealthy people.

And talking out of your ass has always been a vice for combox denizens.

Much better screen name, Art. Less overt murderous violence and a bit of humor.

The historically low wages for public servants in Oregon has damaged their prospects non-trivially. Some kind of Reparations bill would seem to be in order to compensate them for this long-standing unfairness.

It might be better to make the legislators pay to hold the job. That sort of thing worked pretty well for the Romans for centuries, until the burden of office became too great and people started avoiding it.

That sort of thing worked pretty well for the Romans for centuries,

Nothing about the Roman constitution worked well.

Hmmm, this recent video - "Rude Seattle City Council" - making the rounds - if you pay more for your public servants, should they have to undergo customer service training like the rest of us? - or is this the way you'd hope they'd behave, as our professional betters? I mean, it's not like he was going to sing and play an original composition on the guitar like used to be commonplace at my town's council meetings. He was just going to unburden himself for precisely 2 minutes.

You're conflating legislators and bureaucrats. The ideal of self-ruled republics is private citizens meet in annual session to pass the minimal laws necessary for civic order and budget for the very few truly public goods and then returning to their real jobs. They should be recompensed for their expenses--nothing more. Nobody should be able to live year-round off a legislative salary because then the only thing they'll do is legislate.

>in general the U.S. underpays many of its public sector employees


Why doesn't someone do a comparison with states that pay their legislators the most with those that pay them the least and see how those states compare in, say, fiscal condition, etc.?

Why would you expect that to matter?

“We’re a diverse state, we need a diverse legislature,” Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, one of the legislators leading the effort, told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “Because of the low pay, we are automatically screening out people who really should be represented here.”

--which means what, exactly or approximately, about the status of American "representative democracy" itself?

How much post-secondary/post-graduate excremental sociology have we allowed to creep into our political discourse (I consciously refrain from invoking "American political thought"), by these Oregonian metrics?

If no elected representative can be trusted to represent constituents without first meeting proffered sociological and demographic criteria, why bother with the pretense of "representative democracy", at any price?

BTW, Oregon is a whitopia of 3.8M people ranked 39th in population density. It's not a very diverse state at all. It's even whiter than Reagan's America.

Wench is using the term as a synonym for 'kew-el'.

1. Pay your legislators as well as you pay a pharmacist, pro-rated per the number of hours a year you expect them to work on legislative business.

2. Insist anyone running for a supralocal office be between the ages of 39 and 72 on the day of the election.

3. Insist also that no one hold any discrete elective office in your state for more than ten years in any bloc of twelve or be permitted to stand for election to said office if they will reach that limit some time during the term to which they seek election. An exception can be made for judicial positions (which would still be subject to mandatory retirement). Apply this rule to certain appointive offices whose qualifications may be specified in statutory law, e.g. state bureau chiefs.

4. Elect only the lower house of your legislature. Have the upper chamber chosen by areal caucuses of the lower chamber. Functionally differentiate the chambers, having the lower chamber concerned with compacts, statutory legislation and appropriations and have the upper chamber concerned with parliamentary inquiries and reviewing and revising administrative rules. Require that anyone elected to the upper chamber be eligible to have been elected to the lower chamber that year, so you don't have career pols alternating back and forth between the chambers to game term limits.

5. Permit a modest corps of legislators to seek injunctions against a particular executive appointment on the grounds that the appointed officer does not meet statutory qualifications for a given office. Limit advice and consent requirements to offices outside the executive branch, to regulatory commissions, and to a modest core of bureau chiefs concerned with civil regulation, law enforcement, tax collection, or oversight. Also, allocate some advice and consent functions to local legislative bodies.

6. Have the officers of a state legislative chamber (other than the floor leaders and whips) be drawn from outside the chamber's membership. Elect the speaker from the ranks of elderly or retired judges.

7. Scrap specialized elective offices in the state executive. Eliminate quasi-elective Lt. Governors as well. Allow the governor permission (which he may elect not to exercise) to appoint a corps of Lt. governors to assist in supervising state agencies. Each so appointed would receive a portfolio whose composition was at the discretion of the governor. Should the governor's office fall vacant, have in law an order of succession among state bureau chiefs and department heads. The succeeding governor could hold office until an electoral college composed of county legislators convenes to elect a new governor.

8. Require people in tainted occupations petitioning to run for legislative bodes or standing as a candidate at party caucuses and conventions to run with an understudy who is not from a tainted occupation. The state chairman of each party would be compelled when nominating processes are complete to submit the roster of candidates nominated to the state board of elections. If the share nominated from tainted occupations exceeded 20% of the roster, lots would have to be drawn among those in tainted occupations to replace a sufficient number of such candidates with their understudies that the ratio on the roster falls below 20%. Tainted occupations would be (1) member of the bar and (2) public employee.

Legislators are often only as good as their staff. You think AOC is clueless? Try polling the average congressperson about every issue.

My summer as an intern in a large state assembly tonight me that Legislators generally pick a few pet issues to become well versed on. They then either rely on their party’s position, or lobbyists/think tanks.

I think this issue has partly contributed to polarization and stronger political parties. Increasing their staffing budget to brung on more policy staff would be money well spent IMO. I’d even say cut the number of representatives in the House to increase the staff of the remaining (say maybe 350 representatives) and we would have a better trade off.

"They then either rely on their party’s position, or lobbyists/think tanks.

I think this issue has partly contributed to polarization and stronger political parties. "

Political parties are in my opinion much weaker, while polarization has increased. The limitation on money from political parties, for instance, has definitely weakened the parties while strengthening outside sources. I cannot understand someone who claims that parties are stronger, that seems utterly contrary to fact.

Polarization is much lower in states with a higher number of reps per population, especially those with a tremendous number like New Hampshire. I absolutely disagree with you, and would massively increase the number of legislators.

A bunch of staff members each with a few pet issues sharing one vote between them seems similar enough to each of those staff members being a representative. Indeed, perhaps we could put Representatives on groups reflecting their pet issues, called committees, and let those committees play a role in crafting policy.

" in general the U.S. underpays many (not all!) of its public sector employees"

This is the argument that public sector employee pay is too equal, if anything overpaying at the lower end while underpaying at the high end?

Legislators are paid according to their productivity. Oregon has it right.

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