DO WE GET WHAT WE PAY FOR?….I tend to believe that members of Congress shouldn’t give themselves pay raises until they start doing more to earn it, but conservative economist Thomas Sowell has considered the quality of today’s lawmakers and has come to the opposite conclusion.

I don’t make a million dollars a year but I think every member of Congress should be paid at least that much. It’s not because those turkeys in Washington deserve it. It’s because we deserve a lot better people than we have in Congress.

The cost of paying every member of Congress a million dollars a year is absolutely trivial compared to the vast amounts of the taxpayers’ money wasted by cheap politicians doing things to get themselves re-elected. You could pay every member of Congress a million dollars a year for a century for less money than it costs to run the Department of Agriculture for one year.

There is no point complaining about the ineptness, deception or corruption of government while refusing to do anything to change the incentives and constraints which lead to ineptness, deception and corruption.

I suppose there’s a hint of a point in there somewhere. Sowell believes the best and brightest avoid public service in Congress in part because they can’t afford to live on $165,200 congressional salary. That’s certainly possible.

I’m hardly convinced, though, that the quality of lawmakers would improve if their salaries grew by a factor of six. For one thing, members of Congress already spend an inordinate amount of their time raising money so that they can keep their jobs. If their annual salary was $1 million, the desperation with which these politicians would approach fundraising would be almost comical. The same thing goes for ethical, above-board campaigning. If these guys embrace character assassination for a temp job that pays $165,200, what would they do for the same position if it pays $1 million?

For that matter, a massive pay raise would seem to undermine the notion that political service should appeal to the most honorable among us. Sowell talks about “incentives” in a system that rewards politicians with mere power. But what would Congress look like if candidates were driven by desire for power and a million dollars a year?

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.