Sunday, September 13, 2009

Bonuses for MPs

But how do we attract abler MPs? Pay them less and reduce their perks is Cameron's answer – I can't wait until he gets his hands on Afghanistan. Steve Punt did a bit of salary research for Radio 4's The Now Show and takes a different view: "Another way of looking at it is that they do a rather thankless and time-consuming job under relentless public criticism and yet they're paid less than the head of estate capacity procurement at the Ministry of Justice or the head of consumer services at Calderdale Council."

The problem, as David Mitchell points out, is not that MPs are exceptionally greedy, or even exceptionally stupid, it is that they are incentivised to appear frugal when they have no desire (and who would?) to engage in frugality.

So: a solution? Performance-linked bonuses. This would mean that how much an MP is paid is reflected in how well that MP is seen to do their job by their constituents.

So: pay MPs a base salary of something somewhat less than they are paid now (say: £50 000/year) then pay them a bonus on top of that.

The bonus is determined by the electorate. So if a voter thinks an MP has done a good job then they can tick the box saying "I wish to contribute £20 to the incumbent's bonus."

If the MP had done a really good job and 15000 of their constituents ticked the box then they'd get a payout of £300 000 on top of their £50 000 salary. This would work out to a salary of around £110 000/year.

One of the good things about this system is it would allow people like me to express personal support for our MP, despite the fact I would never consider voting for his party. It also means that MPs wouldn't have to be childless millionaires in order to get by.

This brilliant idea of performance-linked bonuses for MPs brilliant idea (c) the inestimable Daniel Davies

Update: thanks to @PaulGrahamRaven for this video of Dan Pink talking at TED on why financial incentivisation might actually harm and disrupt creative faculties.

In the speech Pink argues that the kind of non-mechanistic, creative industries of the 21st century will actually suffer under a traditional Taylorist regime of incentivisation. Pink highlights results of the candle-problem as evidence that the prospects of true creativity and innovation are damaged by gross financial incentive.

People, Pink argues, respond better when they are given autonomy: freedom to persue our own projects in our own time and in our own way.

It's a good point.

The question to ask then is: what kind of work are MPs supposed to be doing? Are they performing the (relatively) mechanistic tasks that a good constituency MP is supposed to be doing, like sorting out parking tickets, solving planning issues, and trying to help their constituents with their problems?

Or are MPs supposed to be doing the more abstract, creative job of crafting excellent pieces of legislation?

Considering how royally (no pun intended) screwed-up our political system is the effect (either positive or negative) of any kind of incentive structure would not show up against the huge systemic institutional failure of the safe-seats/marginal-constituency problem.

Dan Pink identifies what is wrong with managerialism in much the same way as Dillow does, with recourse to scientific fact, and offers much the same solutions: more freedom, less hierarchy, no meaningless targets and greater worker power.

Managerialists believe in hierarchy and manipulating symbols, they believe that people must be coralled and controlled and inventivised to work well and be productive.

The truth, as Dan Pink describes, is that people work better when they are simply given a task that they believe is important, and are given as much freedom to persue it as possible.

MPs obviously know what they do is important, so this is an argument for greater independence amongst MPs from the party machine, a weakening of the parliamentary whips, and a rebalancing of power away from the Crown towards parliament, and more independently-minded MPs in general.

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