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The Politics of Parliamentary Pensions in Western Democracies

Understanding MPs’ Self-Imposed Cutbacks

Anna Caroline Warfelmann

The author takes a close look at the politics of parliamentary pensions in Australia, Austria, Canada, and Germany and enlightens the reasons of self-imposed cuts by Members of Parliament. Members of Parliament in western democracies have been under growing pressure since they legislated first retrenchments of national social security systems. They are in a special situation because they have to decide about their own financial situation as well. Thus, it is surprising that they cut their own pension benefits in recent years. The book shows that the self-imposed cuts by Members of Parliament were related to public pension reforms but, in general, were less substantial.
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2 The Professionalization of Politics

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Politics as a vocation3 is a more recent phenomenon and was not practiced throughout history. Two classical concepts, democracy and representation, describe the roots of professional politics. Today, the terms democracy and representation are often used interchangeably: “Through a political and conceptual process of hybridization, the two have become so completely enmeshed that today (…) representation is often used as a synonym of democracy and our conception of democracy is predominantly based on the mechanisms of representation” (Cotta & Best 2007: 3). Both terms contradict their original denotation. Abraham Lincoln famously defined democracy as the “government of the people, by the people and for the people” (quoted in von Beyme 1999: 225). Hence, the legitimacy of power is based on the sovereignty of the people. The way in which modern Western democracies derive the rule by the people can be traced back to the ancient Greek city-states (polis), which were ruled by their citizens. Citizens directly exercised their political rights in the assembly. Accordingly, the rule and governance by citizens themselves characterized the earliest forms of democracy. Aristotle described direct participatory democracy as follows: “The principles of democracy are these: that the officials be chosen by all and from all; that each be ruled by all, and all by each in turn; … that judgment in the courts be given by all or bodies drawn from all, and concerning all matters …, and that the ekklesia [popular assembly] be sovereign over all things (…)” (quoted in Podes 1993: 497).

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