Begin reading Mark Twain’s novel “The Gilded Age,” and you’ll discover a fascinating and humorous story about settlers in early Missouri. Its pages contain love, intrigue, and adventure.
But then, in Chapter 15, Twain (along with his co-writer Charles Dudley Warner) launches a broadside attack on Congress. See if this sounds at all familiar:
“If you are a member of Congress, (no offence,) and one of your constituents who doesn’t know anything, and does not want to go into the bother of learning something, and has no money, and no employment, and can’t earn a living, comes besieging you for help, do you say “Come, my friend, if your services were valuable you could get employment elsewhere – don’t want you here?” Oh, no. You take him to a Department and say, “here, give this person something to pass away the time at – and a salary” – and the thing is done. You throw him on his country. He is his country’s child, let his country support him. There is something good and motherly about Washington, the grand old benevolent National Asylum for the Helpless.”
Recently at WPRI, we’ve been trying to call attention to government employee salaries and benefits. Twain was on the same page:
“The wages received by this great hive of employes are placed at the liberal figure feet and just for skilled and competent labor. Such of them as are immediately employed about the two Houses of Congress, are not only liberally paid also, but are remembered in the customary Extra Compensation bill which slides neatly through, annually, with the general grab that signalizes the last night of a session, and thus twenty per cent. Is added to their wages, for – for fun, no doubt.”
“The Gilded Age” came out in 1873.