Yglesias:

I will say that one thing I like about Washington is that relative to other major American metro areas, DC is relatively egalitarian in economic terms. The $172,200 that the top White House staff make is good money but it’s hardly enough to put you in the stratosphere of the American economic elite. And yet, these are some of the most important and successful men and women in Washington. Go to New York or LA or Chicago and the biggest of the big shots will be making 10 or 20 times that.

I hear what he's saying, but while this is true in a narrow sense, I think Matt is missing something fundamental about how Washington works.

Sure, these people aren't paid outlandish amounts of money. But there's every reason to think that many of them will be paid big money. Take Rahm Emanuel as a case study. He was a hard-working, underpaid staffer in the Clinton White House. He then seems to have parlayed his political connections into an investment bank gig which paid him $16 million in less than three years. And while Rahm may be a spectacular example, countless other top Clinton White House aides went on to lucrative careers in fields like lobbying and public relations consulting--many of them here--largely built on the foundation of their insider experience and connections. (The same goes for Capitol Hill, by the way. People there work hard and are underpaid. But even seemingly modest Midwestern guys like Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt have gone on to earn millions after leaving government. And not just them but their top staffers, too.)

And don't even get me started on the Bush-era equivalents of McLean.

So while people currently in government may not be raking it in, the reality of modern Washington is that a high-profile powerful job is often a kind of punched ticket that ensures future wealth--sometimes, yes, 10 or 20 times what these senior White House aides are now earning.

--Michael Crowley