While most political leaders' salaries pale in comparison to that of the likes of Warren Buffett's, some are downright huge when compared to the people a leader may govern.

For more on what high level CEOs make, check out A Guide To CEO Compensation.




Top 10 Political Leader's Salary by Country (2015 in USD):

1. Lee Hsien Loong (Singapore): $1,700,000

2. CY Leung (Hong Kong): $530,000

3. Barack Obama (United States): $400,000

4. Tony Abbott (Australia): $345,000

5(t). Michael Higgins (Ireland): $340,000

5(t). Xavier Bettel (Luxembourg): $340,000                                                          

7. Jon Key (New Zealand): $290,000

8. Angela Merkel (Germany): $283,608

9. Jacob Zuma (South Africa): $273,676

10. Justin Trudeau (Canada): $257,700

Salary Compared to GDP

What makes a world leader's pay reasonable or outlandish? One way of making this call is by looking at pay compared to a country's GDP per person at purchasing power parity (PPP). Using PPP helps make a better estimate of just how far money goes in a country, since the cost of living will vary from country to country. Comparing each leader's salary (in international dollars) to the IMF's 2010 PPP figures shows how much more a world leader makes compared to an average joe at home.

1. Lee Hsien Loong (Singapore): 20.9

2. Jacob Zuma (South Africa): 20.8

3. CY Leung (Hong Kong): 9.3

4. Jon Key (New Zealand): 7.3

5. Barack Obama (United States): 7.2

6. Michael Higgins (Ireland): 6.7

7. Angela Merkel (Germany): 6.0

8. Tony Abbott (Australia): 5.1 

9. Justin Trudeau (Canada): 5.7

10. Xavier Bettel (Luxembourg): 3.4

What do these numbers mean? Looking at GDP per person doesn't show how a country stacks up in terms of income inequality, a statistic that can measured using the Gini coefficient. Ranking the leaders by their country's income inequality can really show how far out of touch a leader is with those governed. The Gini coefficient changes things up (zero means perfect equality and one perfect inequality). (For more on Gini, see The Gini Index: Measuring Income Distribution.)

1. Jacob Zuma (South Africa): .661

2. CY Leung (Hong Kong): .55                                                                              

3. Tony Abbott (Australia): .468                                                                             

4. Lee Hsien Loong (Singapore): .464                                                                   

5. Jon Key (New Zealand): .461

6. Barack Obama (United States): .411

7. Xavier Bettel (Luxembourg): .348

8. Justin Trudeau (Canada): .337

9. Michael Higgins (Ireland): .327

10. Angela Merkel (Germany): .301

Base Salary Vs. Perks

When it comes to what a leader is really paid, a distinction must be made between base salary and additional stipends. Leaders may receive free residences or residential stipends, free healthcare, free travel and other perks. They may be permitted expenses that most people would have to pay for out of pocket. Those figures are more difficult to come by, especially in the murky world of political influence.

Less scrupulous world leaders may pad their own bank accounts with their own country's money through corruption. "Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI)," first released in 1995, tracks corruption trends in 178 countries. It assigns a rank of 10 to countries deemed clean, and zero to countries considered highly corrupt. Ranking the leaders by how corrupt their countries are, the ranking shifts to the following:

1. Jon Key (New Zealand): 9.0

2. Lee Hsien Loong (Singapore): 8.7

3. Tony Abbott (Australia): 8.5                                                                                             

4. Justin Trudeau (Canada): 8.4                                                                      

5. Xavier Bettel (Luxembourg): 8.0                                                                     

6. Angela Merkel (Germany): .7.9                                                                      

7. CY Leung (Hong Kong): 7.7                                                                              

8. Barack Obama (United States): 7.3                                                          

9. Michael Higgins (Ireland): 6.9

10. Jacob Zuma (South Africa): 4.3

Of these countries, seven of the countries listed above would be considered "full democracies" by the "Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index:" New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Luxembourg, Ireland, Germany, and the United States.

The Bottom Line


What do all of these numbers tell us? Leaders of advanced economies earn very similar salaries to each other, and those countries tend to be less corrupt and more democratic. While Lee Hsien Loong may earn 20 times the average resident of Singapore, his country is considered a good place to do business even if it is not fully democratic. On the other end of the spectrum, Jacob Zuma earns an incredible amount more than the people he governs, and he presides over a country that Transparency International would consider corrupt (ranked 61 out of 178 countries) and was the worst of the countries mentioned on income inequality. (If you are interested in investing abroad by taking advantage of these statistics, see Investing Beyond Your Borders.)