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Thinking about thinking: Glenn Beck and Thomas Sowell on Congressional Pay

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Glenn Beck and Thomas Sowell have both weighed in on the issue of congressional pay.  They have arrived at completely different points of view. 

What’s even more interesting is how these two individuals arrived at their positions.  And further, the influence that each of these people have on the general populace and voting public.  That is, how many millions of people do each of these people influence; how does it affect the views of society in general; and how are elections influenced by these ideas?

Glenn Beck

According to the Wikipedia Glenn Beck is described as “… an American conservative[4] radio and television host, political commentator, author, and entrepreneur. He is the host of The Glenn Beck Program, a nationally syndicated talk-radio show that airs throughout the United States on Premiere Radio Networks; He is also the host of a self-titled cable-news show on Fox News Channel. As an author, Beck has had six New York Times-bestselling books, with five debuting at #1.   Beck is also the founder and CEO of Mercury Radio Arts, a multi-media production company through which he produces content for radio, television, publishing, the stage, and the Internet”

Glenn Beck provides these data points related to his postion of congressional pay:

The typical pay of a soldier in the Military – $22,000/yr
The average pay of a working american – $50,000/yr
Congressional Pay – $174,000/yr  ( read it )

The Pitch

Glenn Beck wants to limit the pay of  individual members of congress to no higher than what the average americanworker  makes – $50,000.  He further wants to point out the disparity of pay between an individual serving in congress and an individual serving on the front lines in Iraq or Afghanistan – $174,000 vs $22,000.  Limit congressional pay to no more than an average working american.  Sound like a good idea?

Thomas Sowell

According to the Wikipedia Thomas Sowell is described as  “… an American economist, social critic, political commentator and author. He is currently a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. In 1990, he won the Francis Boyer Award, presented by the American Enterprise Institute. In 2002 he was awarded the National Humanities Medal for prolific scholarship melding history, economics, and political science. In 2003, he was awarded the Bradley Prize for intellectual achievement.” 

The Pitch

Thomas Sowell says we should pay every member of congress $10 million/yr.

If we pay every member of congress $10 million dollars a year that would not increase the federal budget by one percent.
Chances are that it would reduce the federal budget considerably, when members of the Senate or the House of Representatives no longer needed campaign contributions or the personal favors of special interest groups and their lobbyists.

One term in the Senate would bring in $60 million, which most people could live on for life, without being beholden to anybody and without having to seek a job afterwards for special interests, much less having to sell their soul to continue a political career.

Members of Congress have not only trillions of dollars of our tax money in their hands, they also have in their hands our lives and the lives of our children and our nation.  Are you going to worry about their incomes or about the caliber of people we can attract to make the monumental decisions that have to be made?

Yes, it would be nice if all public officials were self-sacrificing individuals who had no other thought than doing their best for their country.  In would also be nice if voters watched elected officials 24/7.  But the best is the enemy of the good.  The road to Utopia has repeatedly turned out to be the road to hell, in countries around the world.

The Take

So, here is the difference.  Glenn Beck sees congressional pay only as compensation.  In a sense Beck wants to say that your “reward”, the “value of your contribution” (compensation) should not be higher than an average american worker.

Sowell sees the underlying problem.  Individuals serving in congress can be “bought” by lobbyists and special interest groups.  The potential problem (risk) of “being bought” is that these folks in congress then pass legislation favoring these special interest groups over what may be a better decision (doing best for the country).  So, Sowell’s solution is to remove the ability for these lobbyists and special interest groups to influence congress by paying Congress such a level of compensation that it mitigates the risk of “being bought”.  In a sense, congressional pay of $10 million / yr is a small price to pay when decisions are being make on how to spend billions and trillions of dollars of taxpayer money.  Underlying Sowell’s argument is the presupposition that it is human nature that people are prone to corruption.  And so, we must face reality and take that into account – what motivates people – when making decisions on compensation.

So, who is right or wrong (really,  good or bad outcome).  Is Congressional Pay a Wicked Problem ( read about Wicked Problems )

Glenn Beck and Thomas Sowell differ on this issue of Congressional Pay.  What other things matter?

The Influence on societal points of view and voting

Beck and Sowell have different levels of influence on the general populace and the voting public.

Beck and Sowell both have recently published books.  Here are some rankings from Amazon  indicating popularity and influence

Beck’s book Broke: The Plan to Restore Trust, Truth, and Treasure

 Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #9 in Books
#1 in Books > Nonfiction > Social Sciences > Political Science > Political Doctrines
#1 in Books > Nonfiction > Politics
#1 in Books > Entertainment > Humor > Political

 Sowell’s book Dismantling America

Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,667 in Books
#14 in Books > Nonfiction > Social Sciences > Political Science > Political Doctrines > Conservatism

So that is quite a difference.  Beck is #9 overall and #1 in multiple categories.  Sowell is #1,667 overall and #14 in one category.  Which book will be most read and have the higher influence in shaping the point of view of the average citizen, and collectively, the american public in general?

Glenn Beck’s position of lowering congressional pay falls right into Sowell’s argument that this would make Congress even more vulnerable to “being bought” by lobbyists and special interest groups.  It exacerbates the problem. The less you pay people in congress wouldn’t that make them more vulnerable to those who have,  in hand,  money for campaign contributions or the promise of a high paying job at the end of their term in trade for supporting this or that legislation that benefits those with money in-hand?  If you pay people less, then what caliber of people can you attract?  This is the same argument that corporate boards give activist shareholders when these shareholders try to limit executive pay.  Executive pay is what it is because of scarcity of the people who have the experience and track record of success in leading the countries largest corporations.

Glenn Beck has no love or charity for “academics” – Thomas Sowell, for example.

Of Glenn Beck and Thomas Sowell, who see’s the real root cause of the problems of the risk of mis-direction of taxpayer money influenced by lobbyists and special interests?  Of Glenn Beck and Thomas Sowell, if each of their recommendations on congressional pay were put into action then which would produce the better outcome for the american people on directions of congressional decision-making?  Of Glenn Beck and Thomas Sowell, which one has the most influence?   Do those people with the greatest influence have the best ideas?

Think about thinking and the interplay of popularity, influence, decision-making, how we got into the mess we are in, and what groups will provide us a clear vision of the best outcome for the future.  Who will take us further down the path of misallocation of taxpayer money?  Glenn Beck and Thomas Sowell – what a difference.


Glenn Becks Web Site –
Thomas Sowells Web Site –

One Response

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  1. I posit that the real problem is a populace that does not know how to reason. Campaign spending would not make the slightest difference if people based their votes on the positions of the candidates. Then lobbyists would have no effect because the populace would watch to see whether the candidates did what they promised.

    Representative governments don’t work if the population does not value reason. By any measure, the US population has been getting dumber for the past several decades. Now we see the consequences.

    Elwood Downey

    November 15, 2010 at 7:26 pm

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