Thursday, July 13, 2006

Salary or graft?

A local “scandal” in the news demonstrates how emotional responses overpower logic to produce a system designed for failure. The “scandal” is that the Marion County Sheriff here in Indiana received a $50,000 bonus during a period in which the City of Indianapolis and State of Indiana are tightening their belts for lack of funds. The news stories telling how the sheriff makes as much money as the President of the United States have generated political fallout so bad the sheriff just announced he’s giving the bonus back. I think he should have told them what Babe Ruth said when asked why a baseball player should make more than the President: “I had a better year.” The reason the sheriff makes so much is that both he and the Dept. get a percentage of the delinquent taxes they collect- his $50,000 bonus came from tracking down $9,000,000 in back taxes. The people complaining seem to think it’s pure coincidence that Marion County has the lowest uncollected delinquency rate of any major metropolitan district.

America is schizophrenic in this regard- no other people on Earth are more entrepreneurial, and yet nowhere else on Earth are the words “profit” and “rich” more despised. Performance bonuses and commissions work. No other method of maximizing results in the history of mankind has ever worked better than a simple piece of the action- not even commissars and bullets. It even tends to guarantee honesty; it’s hard to bribe someone who has an easier way of getting rich, just by doing his job- the sheriff’s dept. mentioned above also has the lowest rate of lawsuits filed against it of any major metropolitan police dept. (who would risk losing that kind of money by tolerating brutality or incompetence in his deputies?)

The foundation of the floodwall that failed in New Orleans was only half as deep as specified- had it been built to code, there would have been no disaster. Had the politicians supervising it been given a piece of the action legally, instead of depending on the graft and bribes, would they have missed this little detail? Would the Big Dig have been billions over budget and decades behind schedule and built so shoddily that the first parts built are already failing before the last bits are finished if there had been any incentive to see that it was done right? How many projects have been as bad or worse but not made the news because they were quietly fixed before a life was lost- at tremendous public cost?

I believe that both lives and money- both in large numbers- could be saved by offering our elected officials performance based pay wherever applicable. They’re going to get the money anyway- virtually everyone who spends their entire career in public service at the state or federal levels retires a millionaire. I’ll bet that if the President and Congress were paid a multiple of the national average wage rather than a fixed sum, we’d be a whole lot better off, and Congressmen wouldn’t keep money in their freezers... and the war would probably be over a lot faster, too.


It now seems that the Marion County Republican Party is shosked- shocked!- to learn the sheriff makes that much money, (evidently, they hadn't asked the previous Republican sheriff what he made), and are making hay over it- proposing new laws to prevent the sheriff from making more than the prosecutor, etc. And they wonder why I (and many others) left the party to become Libertarians the last two election cycles.


LaReinaCobre said...

The primary reason I hesitate to embrace your points is that I've seen no evidence to suggest that wealthy people are ever satisfied with what they already have, and don't simply seek more on top of what they lawfully earn.

Chalicechick said...

That aside, is collecting taxes the most important function of a sheriff?

If not, do the other functions pay as well?