One of the worst aspects of the proposal to give MPs a big pay rise is that it revives a very dubious argument - that higher pay will attract better candidates. I say this is dubious because it rests upon (at least) three questionable premises.
The first is that skill is transferable, so that "good" GPs, headteachers or businessmen will make good MPs. This isn't clear empirically: Glenda Jackson, Archie Norman and Louise Mensch, to name three that come to mind, had successful careers before they entered parliament but were not obviously better MPs than others.
MPs are not unusual here. It's common for football managers or TV presenters to go from stars to mediocrities (or vice versa) when they change jobs. The same is often true for equity analysts, company managers and heart surgeons. If skill isn't portable even within careers, it's not likely to be portable across careers. To paraphrase Arrigo Sacchi, if you want a good jockey, don't hire a good horse.
One reason for this is that what makes success isn't skill alone but organizational capital - having square pegs in square holes. Another reason is that what looks like skill is sometimes just dumb luck.
The idea that "good people" can move across jobs rests upon a nasty form of elitism which believes that distinguished men with first class minds and innate ability can apply themselves to any problem. This ignores the fact that skill is often context-dependent, if it exists at all.
The second assumption is that there's no motive (pdf) crowding out - that stronger financial incentives won't reduce the non-financial incentives to enter politics. But they could, in two ways, as this paper (pdf) shows:
- Public-spirited people might be less likely to become MPs, because thery don't want the stigma of being seen to be greedy.
- People who enter politics for the money are likely to do other things for money too, such as take bribes from lobbyists.
Thirdly, there's the assumption that politics requires high ability. This too is dubious. "Ability" has a downside: it can lead to overconfidence, complacency and a lack of empathy. A humble awareness of the ingenuity gap - the gulf between the complexity of the world and the inherent boundedness of human rationality - might lead to better government than the ambition of men of "ability."
These assumptions of course, are not confined to politics. They are part of the ideology which helps sustain the wealth, power and self-love of our the managerialist parasites who rule us in business as well as politics.