Switzerland and Denmark are among the best countries we have on Earth. For that to happen, there must be something else besides the system of democracy to explain why Denmark with its representative democracy system does so well.
Let us first look at some basic facts about each country.
They are both small; 8.3 million people in Switzerland and 5.8 million in Denmark.
Denmark is a Monarchy. It is also and a unitary state. In Denmark, Danish is the native language of almost all Danes.
Switzerland is a federal republic. It has four native cultures and four official languages. Most Danes are Protestant. In Switzerland, Catholics are slightly more numerous than Protestants. An interesting fact is the Swiss had a war between Catholics and Protestants.
Taxes are much higher in Denmark, but Switzerland citizens have to pay for many services out of their own pocked. This happens, for example, with health care. Both countries have universal health care but the Swiss people personally pay the premiums. Because the premiums can be high, Swiss governments give money to people who need assistance to pay the premiums. In the end the result is the same; universal health care.
Swiss and Danes trust their governments and their politicians, although the Swiss trust their governments more.
Both countries have low corruption, but Denmark has a little less than Switzerland.
Politically, the Danish have the interesting “habit” of not electing majority governments. This means parties have to negotiate to pass laws. The result is laws acceptable to most voters. But I am sure this also happens because of good Danish common sense. In many other countries coalition government are not possible, or do not work.
In Switzerland, the mandatory and voluntary referendums have taught politicians they must pass laws acceptable to most voters. Like in Denmark, in Switzerland the major parties govern in coalition.
I believe Swiss and Danish politicians have one very important thing in common, they listen to the people and act accordingly. In Switzerland they may listen because it makes sense for the well-being of the country and also because the law gives them no choice. In Denmark they listen because it makes sense for the well-being of the country.
The ability to listen explains why Denmark and Switzerland function quite well. Switzerland may have the edge because of direct democracy. I have little doubt that if the Danish decide to adopt direct democracy it will work there very well too. Perhaps even better than in Switzerland because Denmark is a more homogeneous society.
A representative democracy can work well when the elected representatives listen to the people.
However in representative democracies it is not as easy for the people to control politicians when the politicians “go astray”.
Representative democracy is more vulnerable to lobbies, etc., because politicians can pass laws people do not support.
The only regulated option voters have in representative democracy is to elect another party at the next election, in the hope the new government will repeal the law. They can also demonstrate, etc. That is what people often do in representative democracies.
Representative democracy is also less “representative” than direct democracy because the voters do not have to explicitly say: “yes, we support the new law”. The system does not make voters “stand up and be counted”.
In direct democracy the situation is very different; politicians have to listen to the people. They can not do anything the people do not want them to do. This is so because, as soon as the politicians pass a new law, it may be mandatory to get voters to approve the law, or voters can force a referendum to stop the law dead.
Direct democracy puts voters in charge. They too are responsible for what the country does, as it should be. That is the big difference between direct democracy and representative democracy.
One great advantage of direct democracy is that it makes politicians and the people co-responsible.
In direct democracy those who pay are in charge, not their “employees”.
Switzerland can also serve as an example for another important reason; to successfully and democratically manage a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-language society.
Honestly, I do not know if direct democracy has made diverse Switzerland possible as a country or if it is diversity that made direct democracy possible, perhaps even necessary.
Thank you for your opinions.