As of July 2013, the Australian Prime Minister earns $507,338, plus allowances and benefits. That makes Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s basic salary more than seven times the average Australian’s income. This financial and lifestyle discrepancy, between a political leader and his or her constituents, is a common situation in many countries.
In Uruguay, however, it’s a different story. President Jose Mujica, aged 77, has chosen not to live in the luxurious house provided for the leader of his country. Instead he lives on his wife’s farm, just outside the capital, Montevideo. He and his wife work the land together, growing flowers.
President Mujica also donates about 90 per cent of his annual salary to charity. What he is left with is in line with the average Uruguayan income. Even when he added half his wife’s farm to his annual declaration of wealth, mandatory for all officials in Uruguay, his total assets equalled only one third of his predecessor’s.
Even with his low income, President Mujica considers himself to be living a comfortable life. He spent the 60s and 70s as part of a leftist guerrilla group, Tupamaros. During that time he was shot six times and spent 14 years in jail. He was only freed in 1985 when Uruguay once again became a democracy. The years in harsh conditions, sometimes being kept in isolation, have moulded his outlook.
“I may appear to be an eccentric old man… But this is a free choice.”
“This is a matter of freedom. If you don’t have many possessions then you don’t need to work all your life like a slave to sustain them, and therefore you have more time for yourself… I’m called ‘the poorest president’, but I don’t feel poor. Poor people are those who only work to try to keep an expensive lifestyle, and always want more,” says President Mujica.
He had something similar to say to his fellow world leaders at the Rio+20 summit in June last year. He accused most world leaders of “having a blind obsession to achieve growth with consumption, as if the contrary would mean the end of the world.”
He went on to point out some of the problems with the day’s discussions. “We’ve been talking all afternoon about sustainable development. To get the masses out of poverty. But what are we thinking? Do we want the model of development and consumption of the rich countries? I ask you now: what would happen to this planet if Indians would have the same proportion of cars per household than Germans? How much oxygen would we have left?”
President Mujica’s Rio+20 speech with English subtitles
Read more at the BBC News website.
President Jose Mujica puts our own Prime Minister, and many other world leaders, to shame. Not just because he chooses to live on a farm and grow flowers, and not just because he donates 90 per cent of his income to charity, although I do think that is very impressive. I’m sure most of you know someone who earns a little more money than average. Would they be prepared to give away everything which puts them in excess of the basic Australian wage? I don’t know many, or any, who would.
What most impresses me about President Mujica is his philosophy on life. It is the reasons behind his actions which make them so much more powerful. Even with such strongly held beliefs about the problems with consumer society, it takes a strong man to stand up in a room of his peers, in this case other world leaders, and tell them that their thinking is wrong. That they are all coming at the problem from a place of wealth, and that their ideal world is ultimately destructive and unsustainable.
Imagine if we all lived as President Mujica does. It would be a world where the rich put back into society, and world leaders lived as equals beside the people they represent. Realistically, I think that human nature will prevent such a world from ever existing, but perhaps if we put pressure on our world leaders to follow the example of President Mujica, we could move closer to this ideal.
What do you think? Is President Mujica an idealist with unrealistic expectations? Or should we be listening more to people like him? And if you were given Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s wage of $507,338 per year, do you think you would be able to give most of it away?
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