Democratic Monarchies and International Aristocracy

05 Jan

I like Kings, I mean I like Aragorn. More accurately, what I like are guillotines, and with good reason: incumbency was a very straightforward process back then.

The romantic in me sighs at the idea that we are done chopping heads off in displeasure, because nothing says power of the people like off with their heads. The pragmatist in me accepts, regretfully, that such spontaneous effusions of public outrage are only acceptable nowadays to lynch pedophiles, murderers and adulterous (raped) women (sic), but that as a society, political castration through democratic defeat is preferred to decapitation. Sigh…

The 2007 Financial crisis, not to mention the 1999 Asian banking crisis, and the still ongoing European Financial Crisis, and the Fiscal Cliff, have all exacerbated the already tense relations between the middle class, the super rich and the poor, and has drawn government officials into a class war wedged along ideological partisan lines:

Tax the rich! They’re thieves!

Huh? What?! Last I checked no rich people stole MY wallet! Tax cuts for the job creators!

Occupy Starbucks!

Tea Parties!


In the midst of this highly moralizing as opposed to moral debate, something substantive is missing, a careful consideration of what wealth means, what it means to be rich, to have purchasing power and privilege, and that is relative, because when the French president says he hates the rich, after taking a 30% pay cut that leaves him with a measly: 14910 €/month, you are right to wonder who’s talking?

Figures came out in France, much to everyone’s surprise, showing Supreme Court ushers and gardeners making in excess of 4000€/month in addition to rental subsidies, subsidized utilities etc.

US Presidents, on top of being Mr. President forever (true in most places, I’m sure Hosni Mubarak wishes they still called him that), which tells you just how fragile powerful egos are, pockets an annual 450000$/year for the rest of his life.  The same is true in most countries, the pension is relative.

International Organizations’ budgets are paid by Member States, and projects funded by international donors: understand taxpayers’ money. The average Civil servant with a UN P grade (which are the same as embassy grades-G,P,D,E) makes roughly 5000 USD/month. He/She does not pay taxes (although his salary comes from taxes) and is offered a host of other subsidies such as  additional hardship pay (meaning you work in a developing country, local staff-G-will make 1000$ for the same job as you, but you couldn’t expect a Swede to suffer the hardships of a Congolese in Senegal) and a host of financial benefits such as additional pay for missions, rental subsidies, health care, free schooling etc.  As a civil servant on sabbatical, I speak from experience.

Any of these luxurious life styles, and they are, just ask anybody who visited me in Brussels, make the average citizen cringe. Yet Jean Marc Ayrault (French Prime Minister) can call Gerard Depardieu (the only word foreigners can pronounce in french besides baguette and menage a trois) a loser, Obama can tell you that you haven’t built it. UN and international staff, working in development and humanitarian situations of all places, still manage to complain about job security, and unequal pay and benefits. I kid you not.

Because millionaires have become more common (riding the very same wave every government, every stock market investing citizen, was surfing for the past twenty years), richness has become relative to the top, not to the bottom, where it actually matters.

The going was good, money was flowing in, never mind the naysayers, diversify your bonds and everything will be all right. Well it wasn’t, but it wasn’t only the super rich’s fault, many were just smart enough to make bank when things were good. It was our entire fault.  Collectively. To various degrees obviously but, the fact that some are super rich, and some are super poor, allows a class of rich to play the victim, and that is wrong.

Private citizens complaining don’t bother me, it does when government officials do.

Civil Service has become, some will argue it always has, the aristocracy to our democratic monarchies, a class of citizens, jet setting on tax payer money, then turning on other citizens for making choices guaranteed by their human rights, such as the freedom of mobility, and to refuse government’s decisions. We elect servants of the people, not moral judges. We elect people to improve our national lot, not to blame citizens for their lack of accountability.

I’ve heard too often that responsibility, and national representation warrants high pay and benefits. I’ll agree with that, sure, it’s not easy being on the front line of tomato throwing comic drawing angry newspapers with very little understanding of the difficulties you experience in practice. This blog is no different, but let me ask you then: If a high salary is the collateral for responsibility, what is the collateral for poor performance? Returning the money? Loss of benefits? Decapitation? No. A life long salary and privileges.

The same applies to the UN projects, if your 12M€ project fails to accomplish the unreasonable results promised in the project document, you file in a report and move on to the next 12M€ project.

I’m sure that cutting government salaries and government affiliated salaries won’t help fill in the financial gap, or stop us from jumping over the fiscal cliff, but it would do a lot to even the playing field between elected servants of the people and the people, and do away with the hypocrisy of an over privileged class posing as champions of the people.

“For democracy to function, he argues, elected leaders should be taken down a notch.”-NY TIMES article on Uruguayan President Jose Mujica 01/05/2013


Posted by on January 5, 2013 in Uncategorized


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2 responses to “Democratic Monarchies and International Aristocracy

  1. Kevin

    January 5, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    At the same time, if you don’t pay your civil servants well they just act as independent contractors and make their living off of what we call bribes.

    • illbuddha

      January 5, 2013 at 6:22 pm

      Thank you sir. So it’s high pay against the possibility of corruption. And I thought I was cynical. IMO That is true as long as there are big benefits expected from the position, I am not suggesting not paying them well, I’m suggesting a balance between the benefits of government service (utilities, rent, education subsidies etc) and what you get paid in cash, if both are high, as they are in the developed world, then you have a system of civil service that is for profit de facto, you don’t need to engage in commercial activities or corruption. It’s a cultural issue, how we think government should reasonably operate. It is not just the salary as such. Also, a high salary doesn’t preclude corruption, in fact corruption is one of the leading problems related to government service because of the confluence of private and political interests.


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