Politicians Should Have No Monetary Incentive - Excerpt from Plato's "Republic" - Paragraphs 417-419
Politicians and Incentives
One question that I have been thinking about recently was sparked by listening one of Joe Rogan's podcasts where he made the comment that in a nation of such talented people why is it that we end up with the same political figures for decades, even when they are clearly impaired or simply not good candidates. I began to ask myself the same question ... there are certainly many qualified and smart people who would be great leaders, where are these people? Then Rogan went on to say that he thought the reason that they weren't in office was because no one would want the job of a politician, and the ones that are attracted to it are attracted for selfish and nefarious reasons. Then I began to think of what seems to me to be political dynasties in American politics, the backdoor lobbying deals involving large amounts of money, and the weaponizing of the intelligence agencies. The question then became in my mind, why do we incentivize being in political office? How are many of these career politicians worth tens of millions of dollars? To make it into Congress is to almost guarantee a certain status of money and power for the rest of one's life.
And, in this regard, I agree with Plato. There are not many things that I agree with in The Republic in general, but I think that this one is wise. During the time in which people come for public service, they should receive no salary, and not be allowed to increase their financial wealth by any other means through endorsements, lobbying, stocks, or whatever ways they acquire wealth. I think that making a career out of public service also contradicts the spirit of it in most cases. If they are to receive no money, except maybe the basics to live on, then it could be a short period of time in which they are focused on giving their best/all for the benefit of the country as a whole.
Life of the Guardians
Plato makes the case that those who are the Guardians of the city (those who have been trained from birth in the arts, philosophy, education, etc in order to be part of the ruling class) must not be able to own or be around gold and precious metals. If they can own these things, or even use them, their relationship to the people will change. They will change from civil servants to owners, treating the state and its people as their own property, and abusing them. In this shift in relationship paranoia sets in, and the leaders begin to worry more about losing their power than any threat from without. In doing all of this they will run the city down into decay.
Socrates is challenged, though, with a claim that owning things and being able to entertain friends and enjoy life are what makes one happy, and so this is going to ruin the lives of these Guardians if they can do none of the things that people enjoy. Socrates actually strengthens the argument against him, reminding his interlocutor that the Guardians receive no salary, only money to live, and thus they will not be able to travel or enjoy gifts, and many other things.
In response, Socrates says that the just city is about bringing harmony to the whole city, as one does to the body. And, therefore, one must consider the good of all the citizens, not just a few of them.
The well-being of the city as a whole depends especially on certain classes/roles doing their jobs with justice and virtue. Socrates mentions farmers and potters, also, who are necessary to the well functioning society. If they were corrupted with too many bodily pleasures that they did not fulfill their jobs, then the city would starve. Likewise, if the rulers of the city are engaged in selfish debauchery, then the city itself will be destroyed. And thus, we must prevent their corruption at all costs. "What we have to consider, then, is whether our aim in establishing the guardians is the greatest possible happiness for them, or whether—since our aim is to see this happiness develop for the whole city—we should compel or persuade the auxiliaries and guardians to ensure that they, and all the others as well, are the best possible craftsmen at their own work; and then, with the whole city developing and being governed well, leave it to nature to provide each group with its share of happiness."
Likewise, Socrates does mention that while they may not partake of these material pleasures, nevertheless the Guardian who is good at their job and brings justice will be happy in that role and with his own reward of the accomplishment of justice in the city. "You see, our reply will be this: it would not be at all surprising if these people were happiest just as they are."
Excerpts From The Republic 417a
"...they alone among the city’s population are forbidden by divine law to handle or even touch gold and silver. They must not be under the same roof as these metals, wear them as jewelry, or drink from gold or silver goblets. And by behaving in that way, they would save both themselves and the city. But if they acquire private land, houses, and money themselves, they will be household managers and farmers instead of guardians—hostile masters of the other citizens, instead of their allies. They will spend their whole lives hating and being hated, plotting and being plotted against, much more afraid of internal than of external enemies—already rushing, in fact, to the brink of their own destruction and that of the rest of the city as well. For all these reasons, let’s declare that that is how the guardians must be provided with housing and the rest, and establish it as a law. Or don’t you agree?"
Continuing in 419a
"How will you defend yourself, Socrates, he said, if someone objects that you are not making these men very happy and, furthermore, that it is their own fault that they are not? I mean, the city really belongs to them, yet they derive no good from the city. Others own land, build fine, big houses, acquire furnishings to go along with them, make their own private sacrifices to the gods, entertain guests, and also, of course, possess what you were talking about just now: gold and silver and all the things that those who are going to be blessedly happy are thought to require. Instead of that, he might say, they seem simply to be paid auxiliaries established in the city as a garrison, and nothing else.
SOCRATES: Yes, and what is more, they do it just for upkeep and get no wages in addition to their upkeep, as other men do. So, they won’t even be able to take a personal trip out of town if they want to, or give presents to their girlfriends, or spend money in whatever other ways they might wish, as people do who are considered happy. You have omitted these and a host of other similar facts from your list of charges.
ADEIMANTUS: Well, let them too be added to the charges.
SOCRATES: How will we defend ourselves? Is that what you are asking?
SOCRATES: I think we will discover what to say if we follow the same path as before. You see, our reply will be this: it would not be at all surprising if these people were happiest just as they are. However, in establishing our city, we are not looking to make any one group in it outstandingly happy, but to make the whole city so as far as possible. For we thought that we would be most likely to find justice in such a city, and injustice, by contrast, in the one that is governed worst. And we thought that by observing both cities, we would be able to decide the question we have been inquiring into for so long. At the moment, then, we take ourselves to be forming a happy city—not separating off a few happy people and putting them in it, but making the city as a whole happy.
Suppose, then, that we were painting a statue and someone came up to us and started to criticize us, saying that we had not applied the most beautiful colors to the most beautiful parts of the statue; because the eyes, which are the most beautiful part, had been painted black rather than purple. We would think it reasonable to offer the following defense: “My amazing fellow, you must not expect us to paint the eyes so beautifully that they no longer look like eyes at all, nor the other parts either. On the contrary, you must look to see whether, by dealing with each part appropriately, we are making the whole thing beautiful. Similarly, in the present case, you must not force us to give our guardians the sort of happiness that would make them something other than guardians. You see, we know how to clothe the farmers in purple robes, festoon them with gold jewelry, and tell them to work the land whenever they please. We know we could have our potters recline on couches from right to left in front of the fire,3 drinking and feasting with their wheel beside them for whenever they have a desire to make pots.
And we can make all the others happy in the same way, so that the whole city is happy. But please do not urge us to do this. For if we are persuaded by you, a farmer won’t be a farmer, nor a potter a potter, nor will any of the others from which a city is constituted remain true to type. But for most of the others, it matters less: cobblers who become inferior and corrupt, and claim to be what they are not, do nothing terrible to the city. But if the guardians of our laws and city are not really what they seem to be, you may be sure that they will destroy the city utterly and, on the other hand, that they alone have the opportunity to govern it well and make it happy.”
Now, if we are making genuine guardians, the sort least likely to do the city evil, and if our critic is making pseudo-farmers—feasters happy at a festival, so to speak, not in a city—he is not talking about a city, but about something else. What we have to consider, then, is whether our aim in establishing the guardians is the greatest possible happiness for them, or whether—since our aim is to see this happiness develop for the whole city—we should compel or persuade the auxiliaries and guardians to ensure that they, and all the others as well, are the best possible craftsmen at their own work; and then, with the whole city developing and being governed well, leave it to nature to provide each group with its share of happiness.
ADEIMANTUS: Yes, I think what you say is right.
Plato. The Republic. 417-419