An unhealthy characteristic of many politicians today is that they have spent their entire lives in government. In the past a political career was something successful people embarked on later in life as a service to the community in which they had attained their wealth and position, and this model had the advantage of ensuring politicians had experience of the real world outside politics. I was reminded of this the other day when I read an article on the Stuff website reporting that veteran Member of Parliament Trevor Mallard has his eye on the position of Speaker of the House should his Labour Party be elected in next year's election.
Mallard is 62 years old and has been in politics all of his working life. He has been an MP for thirty years and prior to that was a Labour Party official, and he has never had any sort of career outside politics. I have nothing in particular against Mallard and he seems a decent fellow, but he is a good example of his type. Former prime minister Helen Clark is the same and is now attempting to cap off her career with the world's top bureaucratic sinecure, the job of Secretary-General of the United Nations.
The problem with this lack of real-world experience is that politicians come to believe that they have the capability of solving any problem better than people left to their own devices. They believe they are smarter than the rest of the population and that we all need their interference to be able to manage our lives. They think they can make better decisions than all of the rest of us and they arrogantly assume they have better judgement than the market - better than millions of people working in free association with each other to test ideas and to come up with ingenious solutions that no single person could conceive of on his or her own. Such delusions are unsurprising in people who have never had to work in a real job where their income depends on their ability to collaborate with others to produce something of real value to customers.
I think we need to return to the old model of drawing our parliamentary representatives from the ranks of the most successful in society and discouraging them from making long careers in politics. The obvious way to do this is to reduce or eliminate MP's remuneration. I would propose paying them only a small stipend, say around $20,000 per year plus expenses. That would ensure only those who genuinely wished to serve the country and who had a track record of success in other fields were likely to stand for election. It is probably the only job where paying the office-holder less would raise the calibre of the applicant.
The other change that would be needed to make this work is a significant reduction in the amount of time Parliament meets. I think Texas has a model for this - the Texan legislature meets for just 90 days every two years. Not only would this allow for MPs to continue to work in other jobs, it would have the benefit of considerably reducing the amount of legislation that Parliament could pass in the time available. It is no coincidence that Texas is also the most prosperous state in America.