Effect of salaries on legislative congruence with public opinion

This Salon article, This is how the oligarchy wins: Money, politics, and the perils of part-time lawmakers argues that a well-paid, full-time ‘professional’ legislature is more likely to enact laws that the majority of citizens support.

A professionalized legislature differs from a citizen legislature in several ways: Professional legislatures generally meet for a more extended period of time and are paid enough that they do not have other careers. Professional legislators have larger staffs, more money to research policy and more time to deliberate and hold hearings. Professionalized legislatures also tend to attract politicians interested in working their way to higher levels of government.

Political scientist Patrick Flavin has focused his attention on the question of equality of representation. He created an index of how equal legislatures were in responding to constituents across income groups. He tells me that his still-unfinished analysis suggests that professionalized legislatures might have more equal political representation. One reason may be that professional legislatures are less susceptible to organized lobbying interests.

In recent years, many conservatives have fought to weaken legislatures. Ben Boychuk of the right-leaning publication City Journal argues, “Priorities, ladies and gentlemen. Priorities. A Legislature with [only] 95 days to enact laws is one less likely to spend a great deal of time introducing and passing useless legislation.”

Although the citizen legislature has a certain appeal, seeming to reflect the democratic ideal, in fact such legislatures are more open to manipulation from professionalized interest groups.

The article doesn’t consider what a statistically-representative legislature — a non-professional but well-paid citizen legislature — might do.

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