Paying Our Politicians Hunger Wages

Political careers in Venezuela are reserved to the wealthy and to the corrupt.

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How much would you guess a member of Venezuela’s National Assembly makes?

Go ahead, guess.

Had a guess? Here’s the number – forty thousand bolivares per month. Yes, really. A suplente (stand-in) Assembly member earns BsF 1,500 per session. That’s about half the cost of a carton of eggs – less than what a typical taxi ride costs in Caracas.

This makes Venezuelan lawmakers among the worst paid in the region.

These are the men and women who we trust to draft and revise the social contract in which we will operate as a society.

It’s bad enough if you’re from Caracas. But of course most Assembly members represent other parts of the country. 

The outgoing National Assembly had the benefit of being able to use downtown hotel Alba Caracas (formerly Hilton) when they came for the sessions. That benefit is no longer. This of course is no surprise given that Alba Caracas is run by no other than Cabello’s wife. So now Assembly members travelling to Caracas must search for their own place to stay on their own dime.

This is a detail we tend to gloss over when we consider the performance of our Assembly members. These aren’t just poverty wages, they’re hunger wages.

In practice, what this means is that anyone pursuing a political career must either be independently wealthy or, worse, rely on an “sponsor”: selling services and trafficking influence. You can have your politicians privileged, corrupt, or hungry: your pick.

Is it any wonder so many National Assembly members spend half their time positioning themselves to run for governor or mayor somewhere? Executive posts like those at least get a budget to play with. The Assembly? No joda…

What kind of social contract will be created if only cronies or the very wealthy are those creating it? If we are to have a legislative body that is able to truly represent the values of the Venezuelans, one free of conflicts of interest and sleaze, you have to pay them. Isn’t that obvious?

 

23 COMMENTS

  1. Great post. My guess was way off, 100k.

    I’m almost sure the salary was about 40k last year, and I guess it just hasn’t been increased. Whose responsibility is that? I know the Assembly is in charge of the budget, but who decides what they’re paid?

  2. Por algo el “cursus honorum” no es tal.

    Si les pagaran bien, por lo menos para que compraran una canasta básica con algunos lujos, se desincentivaría fuertemente el robo al tesoro nacional, además de no fomentar tanto esa hermosa tradición de saltar de una diputación a la gobernación o a la presidencia para manejar a discreción el presupuesto.

    Aunque también tenemos un régimen presidencial, así que, bueh. Contra la tradición poco se puede hacer. Uy, ¡y el petro-Estado!

    Y (más importante que el factor cultural) volaron todos los resortes y mecanismos de control, como la Contraloría General, además.

  3. I have never understood the logic of paying elected officials poorly. There is none. If you want talented people who have something to lose running for elected office (rather than the corrupt, the spokespersons for money, or the insane), you’ve got to pay them well. Of course, if they voted on a pay increase, that would be held against them. It is a vicious circle.

    Well said.

    • I have never understood the logic of paying hunder wages for important, difficult jobs. Specially in Venezuela.

      That’s why we have corrupt folks at every corner, while having taxi drivers who are able to make a living out of RENTED cars, either renting the car or paying the rent of said car, according to many drivers I have asked.

  4. This results in situations such as that at the time that we signal the corruption of the chavist elite and summon ministers to the an Freddy Guevara arrives in an Audi to the AN, and when questioned answers than it belongs to a “friend”

  5. The wages may be different elsewhere, but it is fundamentally the same. People who typically run for office anywhere are corrupt, wealthy already or ideological fanatics.

    Hell, just look at the US presidential elections and you see a dilation of those exact things.

    In the end, politics is all about gaining power to pursue your own ends. The age of real statesmen (or stateswomen, or is it better to call them statespeople?) has long since passed away into history. Believing otherwise is just setting yourself up for disappointment.

      • Not to propose it as evidence in itself of anything, but you might have a trip reading the first chapter of plato’s republic. See if even those guys trusted “statesmen.”

        • Oh, there’s been plenty of fairly honorable folks who did what they did largely for the betterment of their nation.

          Taking a cue from the Greeks you cite, Themistocles comes to mind. You know, the guy who spelled his name for someone to inscribe on an ostrakoi.

          One could argue that Cato sought to serve his country, even if it was somewhat more obstructionist. If you want someone more moderate, but generally considered honest, you could do worse than Pliny the Younger. Of course, then there’s Cinncinatus; a bit more esoteric, but nonetheless a statesman.

          Others, arguably, would be folk such a Ghandi, Mandela, Churchill, Lincoln, Franklin; I’d even throw Bismarck into the mix despite his authoritarian leanings.

          History is replete with competent politicians who pursued strategies of nation-building that included benefiting the country ahead of themselves. Just because much of the last century has been full of jackasses (regardless of the country, such as Chavez, Trump, Clinton I/II, Maduro, or my new favorite, Duterte), it should not color historical perspective of what was accomplished in the past.

    • At the very least, there is a positive marginal effect of wages on politicians’ performance, and there is some evidence backing this claim. The effect operates through both the improvement of the quality of candidates and an increase in the effort of those that have selected themselves into political office. This paper does a nice job in proving this effect for the case of Italian mayors: (http://ftp.iza.org/dp4400.pdf)

      • I liked the paper (as a weekend read), and the results should be somewhat expected, given that the higher wage lowers the opportunity cost of the more qualified candidates.

        I cannot speak to Italian specifics, but I know that locally, first hand, in the larger municipalities, there is a blend of “full-time” mayors that are paid a significant wage (in some cases upwards of $100,000/year) and “part-time” mayors that are paid a token wage, typically between $10,000 and $25,000 a year. Regardless of which type of mayor, the majority of the candidates are business owners, or established enough in their profession that they can do both their regular job and the elected duties.

        In almost all cases, there is significant money backing them in the elections, typically from special interests in the community (developers, financial services and the charter schools are generally first in line with donation checks). In the last twenty years or so, this has become especially apparent; I’ve seen disclosures of spending over $200,000-$500,000 on a single election cycle for a job that will officially net the elected mayor a total of $40,000 – 120,000 over 4 years. More often than not, there is the backend of influence peddling or modifying policies that benefits those that…well, have a vested interest.

        The local legislature is much, much, much worse. And when they leave office, the return as lobbyists making double what they ever did as public servants. There have been many scandals of late, but the voting public keeps returning the same idiots again and again.

        There are exceptions to the above, but they are very few, something along the lines of less than 10-15% of the whole. I can count ’em all on one hand and still have left over fingers.

  6. Well I would predict another posts like this if these deputies were earning monarchy like salaries, including perks like housing, security details, private healthcare and so on…

    and then we will be outraged!!!

  7. This is one of the reasons most Vzlan politicians are highly corrupted. The vast majority. And you can bet most of the MUD is already corrupted too, accepting Chavista bribes, and/or special favors.

    Heck even the general population, not just the politicians are vastly corrupted. Tigres, segundas, guisos, bachaqueos, palancas, favorcitos.. how can they survive with $12 minimum salaries, or even 10 x that much?! Mostly through corruption, bribes, under-the-table deals. Yes, even “el pueblo” is complicit and guilty of stealing left and right. By the Millions of regular people, private and public sectors, everywhere. Not just the underpaid, corrupt politicians. Almost everyone participates in EL GUISO one way or another.

    Or try living with those salaries honestly, with just hard work: Impossible. And without much education, or decent family values, almost everyone, everywhere, ends up getting into twisted, dirty, illegal practices.
    That’s how the country went to hell, not just because of the suspect politicians.

    • But, that is how such systems survive for so long. Because everyone participates in the corruption to a greater or lesser degree, everyone is morally culpable. You can’t be “a little bit pregnant”. This saps the moral will of the people to object and to resist such a regime.

  8. I have LONG argued that if you want politicians that are both competent and incorruptible, you HAVE to pay them same or even more than what their skills might earn them in the private sector. But, at the same time, they need to be carefully scrutinized and held to very high standard.

  9. Can AN salaries be compared to CNE, TSJ, and Los Generales de Fuerzas Armadas? How about the salary of Maduro’s wife and her regular shopping trips to Milan?

  10. During the Roman Rebublic (4th to 1st centuries BC) Senators of Rome were not allowed to charge salaries, being a senator was considered a “public service” and as there was no pay, well, only people who were already rich held those posts. Venezuela starting to look like Ancient Rome? 😉

  11. As it happens, I was eating lunch yesterday and stopped to figure out exactly how much the plate cost. It was a quality plate of food, nutritionally balanced, but the ingredients were sourced as cheap as possible without waiting in line or buying at regulated prices. We typically get our vegetables from the street market on a Sunday afternoon just as the vendors are closing up shop and pricing things lower to get rid of them.

    Here’s how it tallied up for ONE serving / plate:

    –> Strips of beef heart (140g): 350 bs
    –> Roasted potatoes & onions 50+67 = 117 bs
    –> Salad from cucumber, tomato, and watercress: 20+83+100 = 203 bs
    –> Sprinkle of olive oil: 80 bs

    TOTAL: 750 bs, for a single HEALTHY, balanced, well portioned lunch plate. multiply that by 31 days in the month, and your cost of eating just lunch is 23,250 bs monthly, not counting the lighter breakfast and dinner meals.

    For the sake of argument, lets suppose breakfast and dinner each average out to half the cost of a lunch plate, at 375 bs each. That would cover two eggs (200 bs) and a piece of toast.

    375+750+375 = 1500 bs daily, just to feed yourself well (pero no rico), without buying regulated goods or losing your life in the lines. 46,500 bs monthly to feed yourself. Just food. That’s more than a National Assemblyman makes. Doesn’t count rent, transportation, clothing, medical, etc etc etc.

    Sure, you can eat cheaper if you sacrifice nutrition, or your life in the lines. But I’d say that’s a pretty good ballpark minimum cost for eating simple, but healthy and no lines.

    Food for thought. 😉

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