# Should politicians take a vow of poverty?

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Should politicians take a lifelong, legally-binding vow of poverty? A vow tying them to a state-provided one-person bare subsistence income from the beginning of their elected term until the end of their lives, with strict restrictions on gifts they are allowed to receive from others. This would cut corruption down dramatically; there's no $500k/yr industry job waiting for them after their term. Once you take away material gain, the politicians would have to serve only because they feel they can improve things. Of course, it would only be practical above a certain level; it's probably not practical to give every minor official a lifelong stipend, even a small one. So, it would be applied only from the level of town commissioner on up. And, there would be no ban on politicians taking later jobs for their own enjoyment, so long as they don't get to keep any income above their minimum stipend. Last edited: ## Answers and Replies Related General Discussion News on Phys.org russ_watters Mentor No. I don't see what being poor by choice has to do with corruption. Politicians, for the most part, don't become politicians because of the money, they become politicians because of the power. In fact, many politicians do take a pay cut by being politicians - most of the ones in Washintong included. rachmaninoff Too many million-dollar lobbyists, it wouldn't do any good. Some people, the best of the best, wouldn't take the job because of the low pay. We would be losing out. Is the power-hungry kind of person who runs because he enjoys the power of being in office the kind of person who would take a vow of poverty--to, say,$15,000/yr in today's money, just enough to survive?

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Moonbear
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
BicycleTree said:
Is the power-hungry kind of person who accepts million dollar campaign donations because he enjoys the power of being in office the kind of person who would take a vow of poverty?
No, but can you honestly say you believe anyone else would be willing to do the job either if it meant taking a lifelong vow of poverty? The person who really wants to make a difference, fix the system and make fair decisions while avoiding corruption still needs to be able to put food on their table. Also, if they were the sort who believed in doing something to elevate people out of poverty because they recognize the horrid conditions those in poverty live under, why on earth would they volunteer to live under those conditions themselves?

I edited before you replied. $15000 is enough to live on for a single person with no work obligations in the USA. Pengwuino Gold Member I dont think this would work, we'd be shutting out a lot of people from office. When your intelligent and very well versed in what you do, you end up being rather successful and make many contacts. These are the kinds of people you want dealing with larger issues. We do encouter some corruption this way but any accountable multi-party system is by nature, anti-corruption. You see some crap happening on 'the other side' and all of a sudden theres$200 million worth of free publicity and a great way to advance your career if you can expose them with some real evidence. Unfortunately now, you can just lie your butt off and still get attention because no one really cares so maybe that idea doesnt work as well either. Of course, the Soviet Union already makes a good case against any kind of "work for the people" eddict. Crap happens... the people are probably more to blame then the politicians for all i know.

Pengwuino said:
but any accountable multi-party system is by nature, anti-corruption. You see some crap happening on 'the other side' and all of a sudden theres $200 million worth of free publicity and a great way to advance your career if you can expose them with some real evidence. Unfortunately now, you can just lie your butt off and still get attention because no one really cares so maybe that idea doesnt work as well either. So the current safeguards against corruption are not so good. I think your argument boils down to this: is it more important to have ruling officials who are well-connected and powerful, or is it more important to have ruling officials who are free from corruption? I think all you would be doing is taking the temptation away from the good people. The corrupt ones will still exist and they will still find ways of making the money you are attempting to keep them from making. I think there are plenty of politicians and people in government employ that make more money then they ought to for what they do. I would agree that some of these people need to have their pay rate and job description re-evaluated. I think that your idea here is a too extreme though. TheStatutoryApe said: I think all you would be doing is taking the temptation away from the good people. The corrupt ones will still exist and they will still find ways of making the money you are attempting to keep them from making. But at least they would be out of the government. That would take power from them. I think there are plenty of politicians and people in government employ that make more money then they ought to for what they do. I would agree that some of these people need to have their pay rate and job description re-evaluated. I think that your idea here is a too extreme though. It is about removing corruption, not just ordinary reductions in pay. I don't think it's corrupt to be making$75000 as opposed to $45000. The official in that case is merely overpaid, not necessarily corrupt. It's when you reduce it all the way to$15000 that the corrupt officials will jump ship.

Math Is Hard
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
BicycleTree said:
I edited before you replied. \$15000 is enough to live on for a single person with no work obligations in the USA.
heh... I know you're not talking about California. In the major cities, that barely even covers the rent on a decent apartment.

BicycleTree said:
But at least they would be out of the government. That would take power from them.
What I meant was they can still be in the government and finding ways of getting the money. If they're crooked they're not going to care if what they are doing is illegal. They may even feel more justified in doing so since they are being made to live in poverty. I know that you would say we will make sure it wont happen but no system of doing so would be perfect and there will always be ways around it. Also after they leave office they can leave the country and find a job some place else that wont enforce a low stipend. Any way in which you could curb the possible ways around the system would only serve to take away this persons liberties and freedom. What a reward for doing a service to your country that premotes liberty and freedom huh?

So by all means, curtail their personal freedoms. Prevent them from ever leaving the country legally. Take legal action against them if they acquire money illegally.

Why would you want to reward politicians for doing a "service"? Half the politicians are working against the other half. Nobody is authorized to say who is the one accomplishing anything and who is the one destroying progress. The whole "public servant" thing is propaganda. The only thing politicians do is promote the interests of their respective groups.

I'm begining think this may have been better placed in the politics forum.

Politicians are supposed to be doing a job. They're supposed to be improving their community/state/country. They should be paid for what they do and on a pay scale equivilent to their job. They should not be made slaves of their country.
To say that a politician only works against other politicians and promote an agenda is almost to say that all politicians are corrupt, or at the least not doing their jobs. There are politicians out there working to help people and their community, not just to promote an agenda.
It would be really ironic to represent a country based on freedom and liberty that you would have to give up your freedoms and liberties. It just doesn't make sense.

There are politicians out there working to help people and their community,
Doesn't that sound a little like the politicians' "respective groups" to you?

I am not saying that defending one's group is corrupt, but it is not altruistic.

I do think politicians should be made slaves of the state. The sacrifice of the freedom of the few is sometimes needed to ensure the freedom of the many.

Math Is Hard
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
BicycleTree said:
The sacrifice of the freedom of the few is sometimes needed to ensure the freedom of the many.
I remember when Mr. Spock said that at the end of the movie. That was so sad.
Or he said something like that. I forget now.

Moonbear
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
As I think about it more, this would actually make the system more corrupt and more filled with "old money." You can give up all your worldly possessions quite easily if everyone else in your family is filthy rich. Never own a thing, live in a bedroom of their home, rent-free. They buy the food and you happen to eat it. Yep, you can live in the lap of luxury on next to nothing if you have the right connections to mooch off of. The most corrupt will always find a way to beat the system, and the honest will be honest enough to realize they aren't going to risk venturing into politics if it means living a life in poverty. This seems far too extreme, especially when it's life-long, not just during the time they are in office. Who would want to live like that? I lived on that sort of stipend (less, but with inflation adjustment, it's probably about the same) in grad school, and there's no way I'd have done that if I had to live like that the rest of my life. What you'll probably wind up with are a bunch of do-nothings running for office as a way of obtaining that life-long stipend instead of applying for welfare assistance. They're the only ones who would think such an arrangement was a good deal.

I did mention "strict restrictions on gifts" in the original post, Moonbear.

And if the only people we can find who will truly give their lives in service to their nation are those seeking welfare... well, I think that's a very pessimistic attitude.

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Moonbear
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
BicycleTree said:
I did mention "strict restrictions on gifts" in the original post, Moonbear.
Is it a gift for your family to take you in when you're destitute? You need to specify what you mean by "strict restrictions on gifts" then.

And if the only people we can find who will truly give their lives in service to their nation are those seeking welfare... well, I think that's a very pessimistic attitude.
Why would that be pessimistic? Be honest here; would you do it? Can you think of one person who would? What motivation would they have?

One more thing, there is very little corruption in the US. Overseas there is a lot more.

Pengwuino
Gold Member
BicycleTree said:
So the current safeguards against corruption are not so good.

I think your argument boils down to this: is it more important to have ruling officials who are well-connected and powerful, or is it more important to have ruling officials who are free from corruption?
They arent very good at all but we've already seen how most vows of "do it for society" are pretty screwed up as well in real world use.

And the real argument is not what we want... its what the real world tells us we can have. The real world dictates that it is almost impossible to find people who are successful, smart, intelligent, and capable of handling a country while at the same time not being well connected and not being powerful and are also incorruptable.

If we could find people like that, then they need to be lifelong president and have a parade for them every week... but real world says no now-a-days.

There is actually one country that does have very non-corrupted politicians. I cant think of it though! its a really big nation but its not ... its not like other countries. I cant freaken think of it! I know its not a european country or an american country.... its either an african nation or a southeast asian country... i cant remember though. If anyone thinks they know what country im talken about, give me some help. otherwise, i must have dreamt it up. I dream a lot of things up....

Gokul43201
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Math Is Hard said:
I remember when Mr. Spock said that at the end of the movie. That was so sad.
Or he said something like that. I forget now.
Not sure what movie you are talking about, but one of the axioms of Vulcan logic is that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one (or something like that). This line reappears more than a few times in different episodes of the original series. I guess the Vulcans were a socialist people.

Gokul43201 said:
I guess the Vulcans were a socialist people.
Socialist? Isn't it an idea behind the "Patriot" act? And, indeed, behind the whole (idealistic) concept of an "army"?
Moonbear said:
Is it a gift for your family to take you in when you're destitute? You need to specify what you mean by "strict restrictions on gifts" then.
I have stipulated that the politician will receive enough to live on. You are grasping at straws. "Strict restrictions on gifts" means exactly what it says.
Moonbear said:
Why would that be pessimistic? Be honest here; would you do it? Can you think of one person who would? What motivation would they have?
Would I do it? If I had the option at around age 50, I think I might indeed do it. The motivation for the people taking vows of poverty as politicians would have to be great faith in their nation, patriotism, and the prime motivation to improve things.

Pengwuino, maybe the only reason we have not found intelligent people who are willing to become uncorruptable is that we have never tried a serious search.

BobG