Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A Modest Proposal

I saw a discussion the other night on TV posing the question, "Why don't we have any great leaders these days?" The usual blathering ensued about how the human spirit is built for the cream to rise to the top when humanity is faced with unique and acute crisis situations such as those faced by Lincoln and Truman and Washington, and we haven't had a real "crisis" to force a call for strong leadership in a long time.

I'm not buying it. I'll tell you what the problem is. The great leaders can't afford it. The jobs suck.

Expecting a highly qualified, proven leader to be a public servant simply for the greater good of humanity is pie-in-the-sky bullshit. The leadership jobs in all levels of Government are crappy jobs. I think that the job of Councilperson or Mayor or Governor or President should be a desirable career move. The number one issue on the desirablility of a job is, in most cases, salary. Let's look at Tennesse Governor for example. There are many highly educated, bright, articulate people with both common sense and extensive business experience who would do a great job running the state. But why would they want to take the pay cut?

Let's say you're a Tennessee native, you busted your ass through undergrad at Sewanee, then put yourself through graduate school at Vanderbilt to get your MBA or your J.D. You spent four years in the Navy. You've been running a multi-million dollar company for the last 15 years, making it lean, mean and profitable, and you're looking for a new challenge. There's a $30 billion dollar company that needs someone to run it, it's called the State of Tennessee. If you want the job, you have to go through the dog and pony show required to raise millions of dollars to run a campaign where half the people in the state will automatically call you an idiot if you don't own a gun, and the other half will call you one if you do. Then when you get the job, it pays a whopping $85,000 a year. But you do get medical and dental, two weeks paid vacation, and free admission to Dollywood for life.

Meanwhile, the Nissan headquarters that is moving to Franklin is bringing in a thousand jobs averaging $80,000. You'd be better off taking a middle management job at Nissan than running the state. Why would anyone that's not a rich, egomaniacal power grabber want, or even be able to take, that job?

This is why you have the Frists and the Bushes and the Kennedys and the Bayhs in a revolving door of power. They're really rich. They can afford to take the pay cut required to have the top jobs.

Back to the Governor job. I say let's pay the Governor, oh, I don't know, $775,000. Or $2.63 million. Or $4.6 million. Something to really attract the best people to the job. And put a bonus package in there, where if he or she cleans up the bloated government mess, cuts a bunch of fat and everything comes in on time and under budget, he or she can make another million or two. And let's do this on a relative scale with the City Council. And the Mayor. And the Congress. And the Senate. And the President. Let's bring the payscale up to modern standards to be in line with the requirements of the jobs. How about a little capitalism mixed in with our democracy? I'd rather pay them up front than have developers and contractors and lobbyists pay them under the table. Maybe we'd get some really qualified people in those jobs with vision and nerve who are more interested in getting things done right and less interested in opinion polls and having their egos stroked at the First Methodist Spaghetti Dinner back home.

I know that this approach could create its own set of problems. You might argue that it would make them even more interested in opinion polls. But could it really be worse than what we have going on now? One thing is for sure, the young Jack Welches of the world aren't going to have any interest in trying to get those jobs until we change the jobs themselves.

If you think it's too much money, read my post from yesterday.


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