Your Country Might Work Better If The Politicians Were Better Paid
Never a stranger to offbeat or unconventional wisdom, Freakonomics co-author Stephen J. Dubner explains why it's beneficial to pay politicians a high amount of money to encourage good behavior.
Stephen J. Dubner is an award-winning author, journalist, and radio and TV personality. He is best-known for writing, along with the economist Steven D. Levitt, Freakonomics (2005) and SuperFreakonomics (2009), which have sold more than 5 million copies in 35 languages. Their latest books are When to Rob a Bank... and Think Like a Freak (2014).
Dubner is also the author of Turbulent Souls/Choosing My Religion (1998), Confessions of a Hero-Worshiper (2003), and the children's book The Boy With Two Belly Buttons (2007). His journalism has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Time, and elsewhere, and has been anthologized in The Best American Sports Writing, The Best American Crime Writing, and others.
Freakonomics, published in April 2005, was an instant international best-seller and cultural phenomenon. It made numerous "books of the year" lists, a few "books of the decade" lists, and won a variety of awards, including the inaugural Quill Award, a BookSense Book of the Year Award, and a Visionary Award from the National Council on Economic Education. It was also named a Notable Book by the New York Times. SuperFreakonomics, published in 2009, was published to similar acclaim, and also became an international best-seller.
The Freakonomics enterprise also includes an award-winning blog, a high-profile documentary film, and a public-radio project called Freakonomics Radio, which Dubner hosts. He has also appeared widely on television, including a three-year stint on ABC News as a Freakonomics contributor. He also appeared on the reality show Beauty and the Geek. Alas, he played neither beauty nor geek.
Dubner's first book, Turbulent Souls, was also named a Notable Book, and was a finalist for the Koret National Jewish Book Award. It was republished in 2006 under a new title, Choosing My Religion, and is currently being developed as a film.
The eighth and last child of an upstate New York newspaperman, Dubner has been writing since he was a child. (His first published work appeared in Highlights magazine.) As an undergraduate at Appalachian State University, he started a rock band that was signed to Arista Records, which landed him in New York City. He ultimately quit playing music to earn an M.F.A. in writing at Columbia University, where he also taught in the English Department. He was an editor and writer at New York magazine and The New York Times before quitting to write books. He is happy he did so.
He lives in New York with his wife, the documentary photographer Ellen Binder, and their two delicious children.
Stephen J. Dubner: If we want politics to be the kind of arena where you’re attracting and encouraging really competent people who do a job well because that’s what they’re supposed to do, then you have to pay them a salary that’s commensurate with that. If I want to hire a software engineer at Google to be world-class or if I want to hire someone at a bank or someone at an environmental firm or someone at a utility that I want to be really, really, really good, I don’t say well, you know, I’ll let these people kind of pick themselves with the popular vote and then I won’t pay them very much and I’ll just see how they do.
Singapore is probably the best example. Singapore pays its elected officials a lot of money on par with what you’d make as, you know, a banker, a lawyer, a management consultant, or something like that. And so that changes A, the pool if people you are drawing from and B, the way that people feel about the job. It’s no longer like, "Well, I got into this for public service, but it’s really hard to serve the public. So I’ll serve myself a little bit and then I’ll do the job in order to enrich myself now or later." Instead you have a bunch of people who treat it like a real profession. Our politics is, in fact, not very professional even though it appears to be from the outside. Then additionally I would like to say well, you know, wouldn’t it be nice to reward politicians or officials, government officials if they actually do a good job? Because right now they get paid exactly the same whether they do really well or do nothing or do really poorly. So what about this? What about, let’s say, for every piece of legislation, for every project or for every panel that you’re involved in why don’t we put some measurables on it, right.
Why don’t we decide what are the goals? What are we trying to accomplish with this new piece of, let’s say, education legislation? And if let’s say our goal is to raise the test scores of U.S. children by 10 percentage points. That’s our goal, right. Why don’t we put a timeframe on it? Let’s say 10 years from now that’s our goal. Well I would love nothing more as a citizen and as a taxpayer to say that, you know, Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan — let’s say he’s responsible for this plan and he’s got, let’s say, 100 or 200 or 500 people working with him. I would love to treat that like a project, like a goal that’s got a deliverable. And if they reach that goal 10 years from now long after he’s Secretary of Education, we’ll write him a check. I would love to write Arnie Duncan a check for $2 million from the U.S. taxpayers for having taken a job and done it well and accomplished a goal. That’s the way the real world works, right. You get hired based on how good you are. You get paid based on how well you do. If you don’t do well you get fired or you get paid less. If we treated politics like more of a profession like it should be we would all be a lot better off.
If we treated politics more like a real profession, we would all be a lot better off, explains Freakonomics co-author Stephen J. Dubner. Never a stranger to offbeat or unconventional wisdom, Dubner argues in favor of paying very high salaries to politicians in order to encourage stronger candidates to enter the market.
Both schizophrenics and people with a common personality type share similar brain patterns.
- A new study shows that people with a common personality type share brain activity with patients diagnosed with schizophrenia.
- The study gives insight into how the brain activity associated with mental illnesses relates to brain activity in healthy individuals.
- This finding not only improves our understanding of how the brain works but may one day be applied to treatments.
It's a development that could one day lead to much better treatments for osteoporosis, joint damage, and bone fractures.
- Scientists have isolated skeletal stem cells in adult and fetal bones for the first time.
- These cells could one day help treat damaged bone and cartilage.
- The team was able to grow skeletal stem cells from cells found within liposuctioned fat.
Gut bacteria play an important role in how you feel and think and how well your body fights off disease. New research shows that exercise can give your gut bacteria a boost.
- Two studies from the University of Illinois show that gut bacteria can be changed by exercise alone.
- Our understanding of how gut bacteria impacts our overall health is an emerging field, and this research sheds light on the many different ways exercise affects your body.
- Exercising to improve your gut bacteria will prevent diseases and encourage brain health.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.