Bonuses to Government Officials?

Only recently has it come to my attention that certain government agencies provide bonuses to certain of their employees. To say the least, I was astounded and shocked!

On what basis could a public agency justify providing bonuses? Now, the answer may be given that private enterprises not infrequently do provide such extra compensation. But those private enterprises (or most of them) are, by definition, profit-making ventures; their purpose, in addition to providing a valuable product or service, is to make money.

The only reason for the existence of a government agency is to perform functions that its citizens are unable to, or at least can only inadequately, perform for themselves. Thus, its purpose is but to minister in the interest of and upon behalf of its citizens. Consequently, private enterprises and government agencies have different characters and postures, and thus must need be organized on different principles.

Perhaps most saliently the private enterprise is paying bonuses from its own monies; and its shareholders have the capability to directly control awarding, or not awarding, such compensation. The government agency though would be paying these bonuses from someone else’s money, that is, from the pockets of its citizens. And who could possibly say the citizens have the de jure, much less de facto, power to countermand such awards?

Yet someone may say: But certain of our officials perform long, arduous service and thus are entitled to this extra compensation. If so, might not the answer be to appoint additional personnel and divide the work between them?  so that the volume of work is now more in proportion to the compensation? Not only would this seem to resolve the putative objection, but would have the further salutary benefit of allocation of authority between numerous officials and, thus, division of power.

WAYNE A. SMITH
Forester Twp, Michigan USA
27 April 2014

1 thought on “Bonuses to Government Officials?

  1. Wayne A. Smith

    Since posting of my earlier message, I had occasion to reflect further on the appropriateness of bonus awarding. This resulted in a reinforcement of the hypothesis that they generally are unjustified.
    A person agrees to render services for a specified compensation. He then performs his obligation and a benefit, theoretically at least, is realized by the person with whom he contracted. If the benefit is greater than might have been anticipated, and if this might be due to the ingenuity and perspicacity of the service renderer, is not the result and is not the nature and extent of the services but the scope to which these parties earlier agreed? If so, why is the one due anything more than what he agreed to accept? (Though the dynamic and principle is different, one could look to Matthew 20:1-16 to see a parallel scenario.)
    But, for argument, let us accept that a bonus might be able to be justified in an activity performed in the For Profit Arena. While it should be carefully structured — because of the great possibility of abuse if loosely granted and administered — it might be permissible under limited situations where a significantly greater-than-expected result is produced. But is this what is expected in the Governmental Arena?
    Here, the dynamic and principle is to unilaterally provide benefit to the citizens, without a corresponding benefit to the government; a government exists only to do what the citizens cannot easily and efficiently do themselves, and thus it is to serve, not to itself benefit.
    Further, because it is the agent of many, it has been delegated extraordinary power, that must be carefully controlled and exercised. Authorizing bonuses for its personnel, because a personal benefit would be received by them as a consequence of the performance of their duties, only encourages potential excessive and onerous exercise of this power, even though the dominant principle is to confine and restrict exercises of power, as being fatal to liberty.
    Hence, for both these reasons also, allowance of bonuses to government officials is even more obviously wrong and impermissable.
    WAYNE A. SMITH
    Forester Twp, Michigan USA
    14 May 2014

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