Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Ask The Philosophical Muser: On MPs' Salaries

Here's my latest Q&A column - if you have any questions for me, you can message me on Facebook, or email them here j.knight423@btinternet.com

Q) When people have been moaning about our mediocre MPs being overpaid, some people have historically argued the opposite: that if we actually raised MPs' salaries we might attract better quality. My question is, what does economics suggest would be more likely, that higher salaries would attract better MPs or that it would just make our current run of the mill MPs even more overpaid?

A) In all probability it would be both. However, while we can all agree that overpaid mediocrity is a bad thing, I'm not sure that raising MPs' salaries to attract better politicians would necessarily be as desirable as you may think.

The reason being, you have to factor in the opportunity costs of having talented people in Parliament. Opportunity costs are the foregone opportunities that occur as a result of something taking place. For example, choosing to go bowling with the lads costs not just the price of the game, it costs in terms of what you might have done instead; a quiet night in with your wife, or a meal out with your family or a trip to the cinema with other friends.

Similarly there are opportunity costs to having very bright and talented MPs in that what is foregone is whatever they would do if they were not an MP. If a talented businesswoman becomes an MP then the UK must lose out on not having her in the business sector where she would probably create more value for society. If a brilliant male scientist becomes a brilliant politician then the UK may miss out on some important scientific discoveries or beneficial fieldwork.

It is far from obvious that a talented businesswoman and a brilliant scientist would do more good in the House of Commons than they would in their fields of expertise - in fact, my off-the-peg hunch is: almost certainly the opposite. Consequently, then, there may even be a good argument for keeping MPs' salaries low in order to dissuade very talented people from entering Parliament and costing society what they would have contributed instead.