How Much Should George Bush Get Paid?

[Have a question for Stumped? Send it here. Questions may be edited.]

Dear Stumped,
With so many people wanting the job, I wonder: What does the president make these days? And do you think there is a way to apply to the nation's chief executive the same type of pay-for-performance model that is the vogue in corporate America? Could that work?
-- Allen Moore

Dear Allen,
George Bush was the beneficiary of a major raise. He earns almost twice what Bill Clinton did -- $400,000 in salary, not to mention free room and board, and such cool perks as his own 747 to fly around. All told, by the time Bush leaves office we taxpayers will have paid him $3.2 million for his service.

If it's any consolation to the vast majority of Americans who -- judging by approval ratings -- don't believe they are getting their money's worth, the president's salary is on the lower end of the scale in historic terms. The $25,000 we paid George Washington amounted to more than $500,000 in today's dollars; the $75,000 William Howard Taft took home in 1909 translates into a stratospheric $1.7 million nowadays; and when Richard Nixon took home $200,000 in 1969, that was also more than $1 million in today's money.

Then there is always the reassurance that comes from bogus public vs. private sector comparisons. Fortune 500 CEOs make on average $10 million -- so your president, paid four hundred grand to oversee a $10 trillion enterprise, is a real bargain!

All that aside, the heart of your query is about pegging presidential pay to performance. It is a fabulous idea, but how to do it? The first issue is measuring performance. In the corporate world, there's an easy way to do that: stock price, which supposedly reflects the performance of a publicly traded company and its managers.

There is no such simple proxy for assessing the nation's (and its president's) performance. Red and Blue America, to be sure, would differ on the appropriate benchmarks. Republicans might like to give the president a percentage of tax cuts; Democrats a bonus for money well spent on welfare programs. Ron Paul, meanwhile, might want a president to get a kill fee for abolishing the IRS, or maybe he'd want to link his pay to the price of gold. And of course, whether the president deserves a pay cut or a bonus for invading another country -- which is admittedly stressful and "hard work," as Bush whined in the 2004 debates -- is an entirely subjective call.

As Bush was quoted saying in 2000: "Don't I maybe get a 2 percent commission on any increase in the GNP? No? And there's no bonus for, say, brokering a Mideast peace accord or vetoing a certain number of bills? Well, at least the salary's tax-free, right?" (Actually, I found that quote here. So it's not, shall we say, true. But it's funny!)

After toying with alarmingly complex formulas that took into account such factors as the performance of the women's national soccer team in international competition, I have come up with a satisfyingly simple formula: The president's annual salary should be $3 million divided by the misery index.

The so-called misery index, you may recall, is the sum of the nation's unemployment and inflation rates. Today, the misery index is a relatively low 8 percent, so Bush's salary would be close to what he now makes: $375,000. (You divide by the whole number, not by the percentage.) In the summer of 1980, when the misery index was an alarming 22 percent, Jimmy Carter would have made only $136,000 under this formula.

This formula seems to leave out a lot, but unemployment and inflation rates are pretty good proxies for the nation's well-being -- not just its economic performance, but its confidence and its performance relative to the rest of the world. (Though, in truth, Stumped also feels that maybe a president should have to forfeit all compensation in years when his administration disregards the Geneva Convention. Maybe that could be in the contract's fine print.)

I am open to other possibilities; it's your chance to play compensation consultant. What are the key metrics to assess a presidential performance? Would you bake in fluctuations in GDP, national debt, rankings in global high-school math contests, consumer confidence, student test results? How about the Pew Global Attitudes Project, which measures how much the rest of the world likes us? Reductions in pollution? Or are Hollywood box-office receipts really the best proxy for the national mood?

Take your pick. How can we make sure the next president gets paid what he or she deserves? Send your answers, and your questions about my answer, here.

Dear Stumped,
I'm still confused about the Obama experience gripe. When he's elected, he'll have spent two more years in the Illinois State House and two more years on Capitol Hill than Abraham Lincoln did. If you want more recent examples, he has spent more time in elected office than either Hillary or George W. before their runs for president. Are we mistaking inexperience for youth? Or, rather, are we confusing inexperience for a lack of a political bloodline?
-- John Allenbach

Dear John,
This is not the first question I take on Barack Obama's experience, and I am sure it won't be the last. It strikes me as a tad defensive to be counting and comparing years of service to defend Obama. Obama wins or loses this election on his claim to have superior judgment, not by claiming credit for sitting in the Illinois legislature before Hillary Clinton sat in the U.S. Senate.

Indeed, it's striking how thin all three Democratic front-runners are on conventional experience. As Obama has rightly noted, Hillary Clinton wasn't exactly Treasury secretary in her husband's administration. On that point, I fear you are right: This debate is starting to confuse family pedigree with experience.

So let me leave you with this: Obama, Edwards and Clinton are formidable candidates in their own right. But if you want to vote solely on the basis of experience, go with Bill Richardson or Joe Biden.

By Andres Martinez |  December 11, 2007; 12:00 AM ET
Previous: Mitt Romney's Underwear --- Plus Antiwar Groupthink | Next: Has the War Czar Gone AWOL?


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Posted by: votenic | December 19, 2007 3:47 PM

Well here is a note George Washington DIDNOT get payed to be presidentHe was making sure oNLY rich Men would enter into goverment no monies was payed and they would stay true and not be corupt by the system...
This george said I AM ONLY A 9 to 5 PRESIDENT...Also he took over 400 DAYS vacation.So we should deduct his Pay..This is just a little notice On the TRIp to Australia 3-day The president had 700 Poeple with him ,..even his own chef from the whitehouse.Find -out HOW much that coste the Taxpayers?
And the idee HE didnot know how much the Presidentcy pays..well I am sure he will get his fair share.Ask the Saudis or Toy Blair and the Pakistains.y the awy WHO has SADDAM Gold/ love your country

Posted by: | December 12, 2007 10:57 PM

"I have read & also received a number of e-mails stating that barack Obama will not say the 'Pledge of Allegiance' , can you answer to this ?"

That allegation is flat-out false. It stemmed from a picture taken during the singing of the national anthem where Senator Obama did not put his hand over his heart as he sang. When asked, he explained that he was taught by his maternal grandfather that you put your hand over your heart during the Pledge, but not to do so during the national anthem. (There is some debate over this. Normally, one WOULD place his/her hand over his/her heart during the anthem. However, those in the military are told that, when in civilian attire, you are to face the flag and stand at attention. This may be to what his grandfather was referring.)

Naturally, people have attempted to use this photo in a cheap attempt to attack Senator Obama's patriotism. I suggest that everyone ignore these attempted character assassinations, regardless of candidate or party. All the candidates are patriotic. They all love America. They all support the troops. None of them love terrorism or terrorists.
If you hear anything to the contrary about ANY of them, chances are that you're hearing a giant steaming pile of crap.

Posted by: Skip | December 12, 2007 3:50 PM

Bush has earned a life prison sentence and if we have any integrity left at all we'll make sure he gets paid.

Posted by: Kevin Morgan | December 11, 2007 10:41 PM

You need to "get a life" ...Ken
Bush can't even spell.. Pledge of Allegiance, let alone recite it! Folks like you have given us eight years of President Poop For Brains.

Posted by: A.Lincoln | December 11, 2007 9:24 PM

Here's my formula. Bush should be paid one cent for every soldier killed in Iraq, one cent for every soldier wounded in Iraq, one cent for every innocent Iraqi life lost in Iraq, one cent for every Iraqi refugee who lost their home in Iraq...that would probably provide him far more than his current salary!

Posted by: A.Lincoln | December 11, 2007 9:18 PM

A comment:

I have read & also received a number of e-mails stating that barack Obama will not say the 'Pledge of Allegiance' , can you answer to this ?

Posted by: Ken | December 11, 2007 6:43 PM

Not to mention the "fringe" from the millions and millions from his OIL holdings. Blind trust? Sure.....but does that make it any less lucrative. Cheney is all tied up in OIL, too. Nickel drop ?

Posted by: turtletrot1 | December 11, 2007 6:20 PM

Seems to me this debate is more amusing than useful. Obviously people who seek the presidency are not mainly motivated by monetary compensation. There is psychic compensation, too.

Posted by: SM | December 11, 2007 5:05 PM

"republicans might like to give the president a percentage of tax cuts; democrats a bonus for money well spent on welfare programs."

when i first read this new column i thought the intent was inform, educate and "enlighten" the voter about the issues and the candidates. the "tax and spend" stereotype of the democrats
no longer applies as the republicans have put the country in debt thanks to the tax cuts and the war.

you just perpetuated another misconception about party politics and exposed the bias of your column as to how you wish to "enlighten" the public.

as to bush, the frat boy should be paid the going rates for college work study programs.

Posted by: sutured heart liberal | December 11, 2007 3:09 PM

We have lost a lot of money on most of our government business under the presidency of George W. Bush. A more appropriate question might be, "How much should we pay Pres. George W. Bush to step down?"

Posted by: Albert F. Pate | December 11, 2007 1:58 PM

I'm sure the Fearful Misleader would say that the unquestioning adulation of the 14 people in our once-great nation who don't (yet) hate his guts is payment enough.

Posted by: irae | December 11, 2007 1:57 PM

GWB should be treated like any other thief.

He put my family in debt for $40,000.

Thus, he owes us all the TRILLIONS in debt he has put our nation in.

He can never repay it.

Just like any CEO who loots the firm and walks away with a bonus exit package for being fired, it is wrong to pay him.

Posted by: Will in Seattle | December 11, 2007 1:47 PM

Bush should pay us. He's turned a giant surplus into a giant deficit. He's gotten thousands of Americans killed. He's wageed class warfare, bankrupting the middle class and transfering their money to the ultra rich. He's done more damage than any politician in history.

What has he earned? Impeachment, huge civil fines, imprisonment, and eternal damnation. Of those the only one he's garenteed to get will be payed out by God.

Posted by: HeShouldPayUs | December 11, 2007 1:42 PM

Bush should be paid $0.50 a day, prison wages.

Posted by: Regis | December 11, 2007 12:56 PM

You forgot to count Obama's years as class president...and the time he spent in Kindergarten planning his candidacy!

Posted by: Buddy | December 11, 2007 12:41 PM

I*ll tell you, in my view, what Bush earned. Bush earned my utter contempt and disgust. At any price, Bush*s presidency was a total waste of taxpayer money. Refund, please!

Posted by: Empiricist | December 11, 2007 11:20 AM

Pres.Bush is our vacationer-in-chief. When he is not relaxing at his ranch,enjoying Camp David, bicyling around the hills near D.C., or boating at his father's compound, he is resting. $400,000 seems adequate pay. My question would be how much has the Bush family cost this nation? Neal Bush (4 trillion in S&L scandal); George W. Bush (the Iraqi War); George H.W. Bush and Barbara all on gov-pensions plus the costs of all their secret service, and someone must pay the AirForce when Bush Sr. takes a plane to do his special birthday parachute jump. Its endless.

Posted by: zaney | December 11, 2007 11:19 AM

Several studies have shown that the pay of corporate executives is not related to actual performance. This is not a good model for anything.

Posted by: skeptonomist | December 11, 2007 11:08 AM

The president (as well as congress and most public servants) are underpaid.

Poorly performing CEO's and executives make millions.

To have the most powerful job in the world and only get paid $400k is a joke. Though I think it is a good thing that Presidents are not overpaid (you don't want people serving the country because they want the money -- you want them serving the country because they care about the country's well being), the fact is that we are getting quite a bargin, no matter what you think of the president's performance.

Posted by: Paul S | December 11, 2007 10:46 AM

I wouldn't've gone as high as $12 trillion, only $3 trillion he owes the people of the US for his war. But the entire Bush family should be forced to go through the bankruptcy policy which his administration helped put in place.

Posted by: Mike | December 11, 2007 10:45 AM

Pay for performance is an all around bad idea. Just like you can't change the world using brute force, you can't legislate morality, and you really can't possibly corrolate presidential performance with salary. In the corporate world W would have been fired and if he was black, he would be dead.

Posted by: Reader4 | December 11, 2007 10:40 AM

I submit that George W. Bush should pay us, the American taxpayer $12 Trillion dollars. Two trillion to pay for the war he mislead us into with lies, and the other ten trillion will pay to help offset the loss of prestige this country has suffered in the last seven years due to the Deciders bumbling, inept, "Leadership".

Posted by: squirebass | December 11, 2007 10:38 AM

10-20 years?

Posted by: nfnik-washingtonp | December 11, 2007 10:12 AM

David - never heard of the Onion, huh? Follow the link back to that story about Bush's complaints about pay and then go to the main page of that "news" source. You may then notice something odd about the "news" stories ...

Posted by: memeyself | December 11, 2007 5:27 AM

I don't believe Mr. Bush cares how much he's paid. I believe his focus has been on increasing the price of oil, which has been his only real accomplishment in office.

Posted by: David Blackburn | December 11, 2007 1:07 AM

To keep experience in perspective just consider that when they assumed their positions in 2001, Cheney and Rummy had over sixty years between them of federal govt experience.

Posted by: jhbyer | December 11, 2007 1:04 AM

Why not use multivariate analysis and develop an index like the Dow Jones? Include, of course, heavy penalties for trashing the constitution, use of torture, or having sex with interns.

Posted by: Haz | December 11, 2007 12:19 AM

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