Politics As A Profession
It takes time and energy to run for political office. Financial rewards are only available to candidates who succeed and take up positions as elected representatives. For those who are self-employed or work for a private company, a career in politics often comes with high risks: the duration of a political mandate is limited, but a return to one’s former profession after the end of public service is all but guaranteed.
In Germany, one in four members of parliament hold a legal degree. Teachers and civil servants are second and third on the list of professions. In the French National Assembly, the situation is nearly the same. Even in the European Parliament we find a overrepresentation of jurists and teachers. If we take into account the positions the Members held before being elected to parliament, the gap in professional backgrounds between politicians and their constituents is even more apparent: most German members of parliament used to work as full-time officials for political parties, associations or union, or were employed by the country’s civil service.
We might take the position that a politician’s profession is of secondary importance. We might argue that political representatives don’t have to comprise a cross-section of society. Instead, what matters is that they represent the interests of the population - and that doesn’t necessarily require them to be representative of society in its entirety. Maybe some professions are even preferable for politicians, and we should welcome the fact that they are over-represented in parliament.
After all, representation is a skill that must be acquired, and the training of a lawyer, a political scientist, or a teacher, followed by a career in organizations which represent one constituency or another, might provide future politicians with the experience they need. A lawyer represents his or her clients regardless of whether their lives mirror their own.
But there’s a catch: politics is not only about ensuring constant representation, but also about the ways in which this process unfolds. Parliaments are tasked with crafting political solutions to societal challenges. Two questions must be answered: which problems demand political solutions and should be taken up by parliament in the first place? And what is the basic structure of political solutions, i.e. what approaches are taken by parliamentarians?