So apparently billionaire heiress and presumptive Head of the Department of Things She Knows Nothing About, Betsy DeVos intends to take a salary of a mere $1 when she ascends her education throne. I think that's a lousy idea.
I know it's meant to make her seem magnanimous and willing to take on the office just out of the sweet public servicey goodness of her heart. I suppose there may also be some rich person tax dodge here-- the DeVos family can now claim all school children in the US as their dependents now, or some such accounting trick. Maybe, having never really pulled down a paycheck, DeVos is unsure what to do with it. But mostly I think we're supposed to be impressed that she's not taking our tax dollars to do the job.
Well, I'm not.
First of all, I don't care for the model that says federal leadership jobs are best handed over to the wealthy. It's a kind of backwards method of barring non-wealthy people from powerful leadership positions. It's a model for a benevolent plutocracy. You folks don't need democratically elected representatives-- we rich folks will take care of you and provide what we think is best for you. Now shut up and go back to your homes to await further instructions.
Second, I think it's a fundamental principle that you pay people to do work. It is part of a system of accountability. If you accept a salary, you are accountable to the people who pay you that salary.
The corollary is clear-- if you accept no salary, you are accountable to nobody.
It's true that there are some exceptions. Lawrence Pelletier, the president of my college when I attended, supposedly led the college for $1. And there is a world of volunteers who keep so many organizations (my own retired parents run an antique music museum that you should visit if you're ever in town). Heck, for over forty years I have played in an all-volunteer town band, and as it turns out, nobody is paying me to write or maintain this blog.
Of course, being a volunteer means that we can pursue what we're passionate about, set our own priorities, and do it at the time of our own choosing. We answer to ourselves, follow our own conceptions of how the job should be done, set our own standards, pick our own priorities.
These are not qualities I'm looking for in officials holding major federal offices. I do not someone running the Department of Education (or any other high-level department) answering only to themselves. I do not want them deciding that as long as they are achieving their own personal goals, there's no need to consider anyone else.
I want DeVos to take her damn salary. I know it's a drop in her big billionairess bucket, but I want her to take it anyway. I want her to be regularly reminded that she works for the American people-- all of the American people and all of their children and all of their schools. I want her reminded that her employment comes with a variety of rules and regulations that she is not free to heed or ignore as the feeling strikes her. I want her reminded that in that office, the American taxpayers and not the DeVos family pay her salary.
"Follow the money" is a thing because when you follow the money, you find out who is really in charge, who is really calling the shots. And if DeVos is only being paid a buck, the money trail may lead to many dark and interesting places, but it will never lead to the American people.