The Blog

Fringe Benefits

10:43 AM, May 28, 2008 • By JAIME SNEIDER
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Members of the British Parliament don't just earn a fixed salary; they receive a salary plus $44,000 a year in expenses for a second home. Fortunately, for rabble-rousers, a list of these expenses has just been released. My guess is if he had known his expenditures would see the light of day, Gordon Brown would not have submitted that receipt for $30 worth of light bulbs. The most curious expense, however, is not the thousands spent on dishwaters, satellite television, and window cleanings. Rather, it is disgraced Liberal Democrat Mark Oaten's bunk-bed. For his two children? Or his rent-boys?

David Cameron has played this smart. Having only submitted receipts for his phone bill and mortgage, he managed to avoid the appearance that he's living it up on the public dole. It would seem Cameron never even submitted a receipt for the mini-windmill that he installed atop his London home to establish his street-cred in the green community. That means Cameron's either too rich to be bothered with clipping coupons let alone pocketing receipts, or he's been plotting the release of these expenditures for years. Perhaps both are true.

While fringe benefits allow pols to pretend they earn far less than they do, they also expose them to withering political attack when such benefits are itemized. Therefore it is unsurprising to learn Parliament is weighing a proposal to raise compensation in lieu of such stipends. Whether or not MPs are entitled to higher pay, it would be a mistake to assume political wages are just a conspiracy to further entrench wealth in the upper class. Charles Beard made such a frivolous claim about congressional salaries in An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, and undoubtedly, some MPs (probably the wealthiest) will argue there is no need to incentivize the privilege of public service. But of course, this analysis fails because without salaries, only the rich can afford to represent their communities.