Direct democracy, together with “Capitalism” and “Socialism” produce the best universal health care.

The Swiss health care system is considered by many the best in the World.

The data I show here I took for a number of websites. Anyone can verify the figures.

Switzerland has more doctors for every 1000 people than most other countries, that is good. But it has almost double the number of doctors than Canada and the US, that is much better. It also has more than the UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands, etc.

Only 6 other countries in the World have more doctors for every 1000 people; Sweden, Austria, Denmark, the Check Republic, Greece and Lithuania.

Switzerland also has an excellent network of well-run, clean, up to date, public and private hospitals. Everyone in Switzerland can have a family doctor because there is no shortage of doctors. Patients can also choose their doctor, instead of almost begging to be accepted as patient by one…, as it happens in some “socially advanced” countries.

90% of users of the universal Swiss health care system are satisfied or fully satisfied, not bad, eh?

People also wait less in Switzerland than in any other advanced country to receive treatment.

In Switzerland 80% of the patients wait less than 4 weeks to see a specialist. 93% of patients have elective surgery in less than 4 months.

Elective surgery is any non-emergency surgery. It includes hip and knee replacement, back surgery, surgery for other medical conditions that do not immediately threaten your life.

The United Kingdom has similar figures to see a specialist. For elective surgery the waiting times are a little longer; 79% of patients have it done in less than 4 months.

In Germany 72% of patients waited less than 4 weeks to see a specialist. It is interesting than in Germany 100% of the patients have elective surgery in less than 4 months. Many would say the German system is even better than the Swiss system; they wait a little longer to see the specialist, but they wait less for the surgeon.

In the Netherlands 78% of patients see a specialist in less than 4 weeks. 95% of the patients have elective surgery in less than 4 months.

Notice now how waiting times to see a specialist grow for other advanced societies. Elective surgery times also grow, but less.

In New Zealand 59% of patients wait less than 4 weeks to see a specialist. 82% have elective surgery in less than 4 months.

In Sweden 54% have to wait less than 4 weeks to see a specialist. 78% have elective surgery in less than 4 months.

In Austria 51%, almost half, waited less than 4 weeks to see a specialist. This means that half of the patients have to wait more than 4 weeks. 82% had elective surgery in less than 4 months.

In France 51%, again almost half, also waited more than 4 weeks to see the specialist. 93% had elective surgery in less than four months.

In Norway 80% waited less than 4 weeks to see the specialist. 79% had to wait less than 4 months to have elective surgery.

The surprise may be Canada. Only 39% of the patients could see the specialist in less than 4 weeks. 75% had elective surgery in less than 4 months. These are the worse figures in the list.

You might have thought, “what about the US?”.

The US is a special case. For insured people, the figures in the US are: 76% of insured patients waited less than 4 weeks to see a specialist. 93% have elective surgery in less than 4 months. Not bad, if you have insurance.

US figures for insured patients are comparable to Switzerland and the UK. The problem is that we can not consider “waiting times” for uninsured patients. If we did the figures will be worse, but the facts of the ground for 27 million American uninsured are much worse. Uninsured people often will not use doctors or hospitals, except for emergencies.

By not have a universal health care system, in terms of waiting times overall, the US is like other countries with high GDP per capita but poorly distributed wealth; Saudi Arabia or China come to mind. A large group of people receive good health care, because they can pay for it, many other do not have health care.

In the US you if you work in a small shop, are a fisherman, owner of small business, unemployed, etc., you may not have health insurance.

If the US already provides health coverage for the vast majority of the population, 84%, it is difficult to understand how the country can not make the effort to cover the remaining 16%, those 27 million citizens.

Sometimes people say that direct democracy presents the danger of becoming the “tyranny of the majority”. At least in the case of health care, the “tyranny of the majority” is happening in a representative democracy, not in a direct democracy, in the US, not in Switzerland, where direct democracy is firmly established.

But the more interesting thing comes now; Switzerland leads the pack with universal, but private, health care. Perhaps the US should look at Switzerland because the model achieves social goals using capitalism.

The Swiss System is universal. You have to have health insurance in Switzerland because it is illegal not to have it. Every Swiss citizen and resident has to buy health insurance from one of the private insurers.

You must pay the fees for the universal basic health insurance plan. You may choose to buy supplementary insurance.

All medical issues are covered by the basic plan. Supplementary insurance will cover alternative medicine, dental expenses, hospital stay in private room, choosing the hospital to receive treatment and other “bells and whistles”.

In Switzerland you have to pay the insurance out of your own pocket. The system is financed by the users, like your house insurance or car insurance. The big difference lies in that if your income is low, the government, the taxpayers, will give you the money to pay the health insurance premiums.

In another interesting twist, Swiss law does not allow health insurers to make money on the basic health plan, only on the supplementary health plans.

Again, Switzerland shows how the noble goal of social policies can be best achieved by the intelligent use of capitalist practices. But this is not new. Swiss and German industry are generally more competitive than US, Canadian, British of French industry, particularly in high tech, high value added goods and services also by a wiser use of social policies and business principles.

They do it while paying higher wages and with a strong currency, with more and better universal social services and with low unemployment figures. They know something other advanced countries do not.

So, if you want to have in your country more doctors and less waiting to see specialists and also for elective surgery, you should push your politicians to look at Switzerland. Of course, if you had direct democracy there would be no need to push them, “us the people” would “just do it”.

Should you not have at least the same power the Swiss have to have more doctors and to shorten waiting times for health care? Let us do something about it!

Thanks for your comments.

Common sense words from the land of Common Sense

Hi! Good day!

As I promised to you yesterday, today I reproduce the Foreword that Doris Leuthard, President of the Swiss Confederation in 2010 and 2017, wrote for  2010 edition of the book “Guidebook to Direct Democracy” written by Bruno Kaufmann, Rolf Büchi and  Nadja Braun.

Common sense is the more intelligent human intelligence, for obvious reasons.

This is what she wrote:

“Democracy is hard work -sweat and often uncomfortable confrontation. As former journalist Ulrich Kägi (*) noted ‘the conflict of interests and opinions – but also the wisdom to recognise the limitations of this conflict’.

Democracy is never easy – especially in an increasingly globalised world, in which state borders become more and more porous, where commerce and trade are possible everywhere and the exchange of goods can be carried out at any time. Nowadays – with few exceptions- and thanks to the latest electronic communications technology, doubt, distrust and criticism of government decisions can be viewed and downloaded by anyone anywhere in the world round the clock.

The result is that Modern Direct Democracy as a necessary part of representative democracy is forced to engage more strongly than ever before in arguing its case – in convincing people of its merits – and in the perpetual search for compromise. In the 150 years of its history as a modern democracy, Switzerland has developed a form of direct democracy and federal participation in decision-making  which is about much more than just the victory of a majority over a minority. It also has to be possible for majority decisions to be secured by minorities. Federalism is one of the ways in which minority rights can be institutionally secured. Democracy also serves in a complementary fashion to protect the majority from the dictates of a minority. The procedures are designed in a such a way that the losers can also live with the outcome. In our country democracy is not the “rule of the politician” as defined by Joseph A. Schumpeter. In Switzerland there is a direct trade-off and active participation in shaping policy between the political establishment and the voters via the right of initiative. Here the initiative and referendum process has become a direct political feedback loop.

A reminder of this form of citizen participation and of the possibility of the concluding check through the popular vote on substantive issues is urgently needed as the world shrinks and barriers are dismantled. For globalisation to really benefit everyone, then multinationals and multilateral organisations also need a new input of democratisation. That doesn’t mean that companies have to be run democratically from top to bottom, nor that new bodies are needed to regulate international trade, for example. But the economic and financial crisis has shown that the rights of shareholders and employees need to be strengthened. An the work of tacking the crisis and dealing with its after-effects today shows just how urgent is the need for democratically derived rules within a larger international framework so that the multilateral organizations can be strengthened. In order to deal with the great challenges of the 21st century – the demand for resource efficiency, the removal of the great economic disparities, the demographic adjustments – there is a need for a democratic multilateralism. It will not suffice for a group of heads of state to determine the pulse and pace of the world. In a globalised world, Modern Direct Democracy can create that connection with the citizens which can make the law serve humanity – even in the 21st.

The new edition of the IRI Guidebook to Direct Democracy in Switzerland and Beyond offer you the basics (and much more) to become better informed about the options and limits of this challenging way ahead”.

Doris Leuthard

President of the Swiss Confederation

(*) Unfortunately, he wrote in German. I could not find tranalation of his work into English, Spanish or French.

Swiss democracy is in some ways less direct than some representative democracies, but…

Hi. I Hope things going well for you, your neighborhood, your village, town and city, your region and your country.

Today I received a very practical book from the Embassy of Switzerland in Canada, courtesy of the Ambassador of Switzerland, Harald Augeneder.

Tomorrow I will reproduce here the Foreword that Doris Leuthard wrote for  2010 edition of the book “Guidebook to Direct Democracy” written by Bruno Kaufmann, Rolf Büchi and  Nadja Braun.

Doris Leuthard was President of Switzerland in 2010 and 2017. You may be surprised to note that Doris Leuthar was President for only the years 2010 and 2017, not from 210 to 2017, just 2010 and 2017.

I thought this is a good opportunity to give you a quick idea of how the Swiss federal government works.

In Switzerland, the President is elected only for one year by the members of  The Federal Assembly of Switzerland (the Swiss Parliament). The President is one of the seven members of the Swiss Federal Council. All members of the Federal Council are elected by the Federal Assembly and serve for four years, but they can be reelected. Any Swiss citizen with the right to vote can become member of the Federal Council, but in practice the members of the Federal Council are politicians.

The Federal Council is the national federal executive of Switzerland. The seven members of the council, together, are responsible for leading the federal government.

The Council is the collective head of state and of government . The Presidency rotates yearly. The President has no individual powers, except in an emergency if the Council could not meet quickly enough,

Each Councilor heads one of the seven federal executive departments (ministries).  The US has also a small number, only 8. Perhaps the similarity is because the Swiss found inspiration in the US Constitution to set up their government. Fortunately for the Swiss, they made modifications, such as expanding direct democracy, which has produced a far more stable and more cooperative system. Overall, it has produced a better managed society; socially, economically and also more just and fair.

Other countries have many more ministries: Canada 31, UK has between 18 and 26, depending on how you count, France 17, Germany 14.

The position of President of the Swiss Confederation rotates among the seven councilors on a yearly basis. This year’s Vice President of the Federal Council becomes the Confederation President the following year.

As you can see, the people who run Switzerland are not directly elected by the people. As I said, to become a member of the federal executive it is only necessary to be elected to the position by the Federal Assembly (Parliament). The only requirement to become elected is that the person must be able to vote in Swiss elections but, as I said, in practice they are politicians.

On paper, this is less democratic than what happens in most representative democracies. In fact, to elect the President, the US, or France practice a form of direct democracy; the people elect the President.

In other representative democracies, in stable countries, the situation is not as extreme as in the US but they do have a political establishment. This establishment includes politicians on Left and the Right. They also have powerful lobbies which pursue their own interests, interests that often do not coincide with the interests of the majority of citizens.

In Switzerland they have a political establishment, but do not have a “political Swamp”, which seems to exist to benefit politicians on the Right and the Left as a class. The “Swamp” also benefits the lobbies.

I think the key factor that prevents those problems in Switzerland is the power of the Swiss people to intervene directly, at any time, not just during elections, to use the mechanisms of initiatives and referendums. With these mechanisms Swiss voters control the decisions of politicians and also introduce new legislation.

The conclusion is: you can have any democratic system you want but you need citizens with direct power to control the power of politicians and lobbies.

Citizens, taxpayers, voters, must have the power to intervene in the political process at any time. They must be able to do so to reject or approve the decisions elected politicians make and also to make other changes.

Tomorrow I will post what Doris Leuthard Wrote

 

The Swiss are wiser about more than direct democracy. Part III.

 

Hi! Thanks for visiting! This is the last of the three posts on Swiss pragmatic political wisdom.

I am particularly impressed by the wisdom of Swiss German-speakers and Swiss French-speakers.

I am impressed because they could have fallen for “cultural identity”. The Swiss German-speakers in particular could have thought; “since we are 65% of the population of Switzerland, then Switzerland should be a German-speaking country”.

But they did not do that. They decided they would not even have one big German-speaking region or canton, that it was better to have seventeen unilingual German-speaking cantons or states.

Likewise, the Swiss French-speakers have four unilingual French-speaking cantons, not one big French-speaking canton. Swiss-Italians, which are a relative small group, have one unilingual Italian-speaking canton.

The people of some cantons, where more than one language is spoken, decided to have bilingual or even trilingual cantons.

However, the Swiss federal government has four official languages, although the country does not have four official languages.

Four official languages at the national government level means citizens can communicate with the national government in their mother tongue. It does not mean there is a national or cantonal effort in Switzerland to have bilingual, trilingual of tetra lingual citizens. In Switzerland, if you move from a German-speaking canton to a French-speaking or Italian-speaking one, you have to work in the local language.

The Swiss seem to believe more than one language within one jurisdiction is not a good idea.

The Swiss also decided you are not German-Swiss, French-Swiss, Italian-Swiss or Romansch-Swiss. Your main identity is tied to the canton where you live, not to the language you speak.

The Swiss have done within the country what is the norm at the international level. For example, the citizens of Austria are first of all “Austrians”, not “Austrian German-speakers”. Why this is not the norm in other “multi-culture” countries I do not know. To me it seems the logical thing to do.

The division into small cantons also prevents domination of Switzerland national institutions by the German-speaking Swiss.

To stress “cantonal identity” the Swiss federal government also has very limited powers. It only occupies itself of areas the cantons decide are not proper for them to handle. For example, the cantons decided foreign and security policy, customs and monetary matters, are not proper for them to handle. This is why the federal government is responsible for those areas.

By “pushing down” citizenship and identity, the Swiss prevented the rise of identities based on language, culture or religion, and the divisions they create.

Dividing the country into many small territories has other advantages. For example, no canton is powerful enough to dominate Swiss federal institutions, or other cantons.

It is as if the Swiss had deliberately decided: “cantons can have all the power they want, as long as they are weak enough not to threaten the nation and other cantons”.

It is important to know also that if the people of one area of a canton feel they should have their own canton, the Swiss will accommodate then.

This is what happened with Canton of Jura. The people of the Canton of Jura used to form part of the Canton of Bern. In  1978, the Jura, a French-speaking area of the Canton of Bern, became a new canton. It also seems the majority of the people of the Canton of Bern, who are German-speakers, accepted the split.

As I already said, Canada, Belgium, the UK, Spain, are examples where organization along the lines of language, culture or religion has created big problems.

To illustrate how much the Swiss want to keep language off the “identity table”, let us look at La Francophonie.

La Francophonie, is the international organization of French-speaking peoples. Several Swiss cantons and several Swiss parliamentarians are represented in La Francophonie, but there is no such a thing as one body in representation of all Swiss francophones.

The Swiss have been wise separating government and identity from religion, culture and language. Others should study what the Swiss have done.

Switzerland is not just another prosperous, democratic country, Switzerland is the best managed country in the World. It is the most politically stable, it has one of the highest levels of human development, one of the highest living standards, the more democratic, etc.  I am not Swiss…

Thanks for visiting.

Myself and many others would like to know your point of view on this subject.

The Swiss are wiser about more than direct democracy. Part II

Hi. This is the continuation of the last post.

I continue with how other democracies would be organized along the lines of the Swiss model.

One of the reasons that make Swiss direct democracy workable is that power is pushed “down” to push up the power of citizens; the national government plays a small role in people’s lives.

The UK would then be divided into approximately 192 cantons. England would be divided into 171, Scotland into 17 and Wales into 10.

Belgium would have 35 cantons. Flanders would be divided into approximately 23 cantons and Wallonia into 12. Flanders and Wallonia  would disappear as legal territories. The area around Brussels, which now is located in Flanders, would become several unilingual Flemish, unilingual French and perhaps some bilingual cantons.

Spain would be divided into 142 cantons. Catalonia would have 23 cantons. The area around Barcelona would de divided into several cantons; unilingual Catalan, bilingual Catalan-Spanish and perhaps even one or two unilingual Spanish ones.

Likewise for the Basque area, Galicia.

The several Spanish-speaking regions would also be broken up into smaller units. This could mean, for example, that small areas outside Catalonia, Galicia, Basque area who speak their languages would also become cantons.

This does not mean that the minority cultures of languages would be less protected. On the contrary, they will be better protected because even small communities in other territories could become unilingual cantons with a different language, even if they are very small in terms of population and land area.

This division into many territories is not incompatible with helping minority languages regain its role as the main language in areas where, for a number of reasons, they might have lost it.

One important advantage of the approach is that reduces the political weight of language and culture at the national and sub-national level, thus preventing political tribalism.

The Swiss approach successfully separate language and culture from “nation”.

Switzerland has managed to preserve identity, protect culture and language of minorities while avoided the tensions in Canada, the UK, Belgium and Spain. I believe the way the Swiss deal with culture-language and political power is a key factor.

The Swiss model could show the way to many countries around the World with similar challenges, even if they are shaky democracies or not democracies.

But what the Swiss have done can not be “copy and paste” to others. It is necessary to also learn how to actually do it. The devil is always in the details.

It is easy to copy documents like the Swiss constitution and the constitutions of the cantons and municipalities, as well as all other Swiss laws.

Unfortunately, copying is unlikely to work. The first step is to achieve national consensus that the Swiss results, or better, are desirable. Afterwards.  it will be necessary to start the process of education of all citizens, even university professors of political science and constitutional law.

The first step could be to practice direct democracy in universities, schools, villages and neighborhoods, and learn by doing.

See you in the next post.

Comments welcomed, to expand and also to criticize. Thanks.

The Swiss are wiser about more than direct democracy. Part I.

Maybe you think of Switzerland as the land of cheese, watches and banks. Perhaps the most important contribution the Swiss can make to the World, if the World is willing to learn, is in politics. They already had the amazing collective insight of direct democracy, but there is more.

They are the only people in the World with a solid system of direct democracy in all levels of government. Fortunately, the idea seems to be spreading. This modest blog is to make more people aware of the advance direct democracy represents for humanity.

More amazing is that even Swiss direct democracy has not caught up with ancient Greek direct democracy.

In Ancient Greek direct democracy, the people chose who ruled AND also were the rulers themselves. They had no professional politicians, no political parties, no kings, no ruling priests, no dictators, and no oligarchs.

Another day I will get into why, 2 600 years later, we have not caught up to those guys.

Today I write about another Swiss insight. It is about how separating language and culture from legal territories helps governance and social, political and economic stability, and protect minority languages and cultures. Which society does not want that?

Let us look at this country of 8.5 million in the mountains of central Europe. Switzerland has four cultures, each with its own language; this spells trouble, big trouble, in some countries, not in Switzerland. Perhaps Swiss chocolate does something special to the brain…

59% of the Swiss speak Swiss German, 11% speak standard German, 23% speak French, mostly Swiss French, 8.2% speak Italian, mostly Swiss Italian, and 0.5% speak Romansh.

Had the Swiss not found a way to separate language and culture from territory, Switzerland would have four territories; one for each of the four linguistic groups. Instead Switzerland has 26 cantons, 26 territories. Territories and “tribal” feelings are not far apart when territory, language and culture go together. It seems that smaller, weaker, territories generate less tribal feelings.

The Swiss said: “we do not want any of that tribal stuff. It has given us plenty of problems in the past”. So the Swiss separated territory from language and culture. The cantons in Switzerland are very local. They are far more local than the areas occupied by languages and cultures in Switzerland. Smaller means weaker, but weaker does not mean lack of autonomy to allow you to do all you can do.

So local is the approach that the smallest canton, the canton of Appenzell Innerrthoden, has only 16 000 inhabitants. This is the size of a small town. In most countries it is unthinkable such small place would have representation as such in the national parliament. In Switzerland it does. The largest canton, the canton of Zurich, has 1.5 million.

In land area, the differences are also huge. The smallest is the canton of Basel-Stadt with only 37 square kilometers. This is a land area of 6 km by 6 km, not very big.  The largest is the canton of Grisons, with 7 000, 190 times larger, but still tiny; just 84 by 84 km.

Other multicultural countries follow a very different approach.

For example, Canada, the UK, Belgium, Spain, etc., organize their territories around culture and language in the areas where large minorities live.

Because of that approach, in Canada, the province of Quebec ” is the French-speaking province”. The key mandate of the Quebec government, of any political stripe, is to preserve the “Frenchness” of Quebec by means of language, culture, economy, education, etc.

Something like that happens in the UK. The UK puts less emphasis on the language and more on culture. Most Scots speak only English, but Scotland insists on its unique identity and on a unitary Scottish territory.

In Belgium they have Flanders and Wallonia. Flanders is Flemish-speaking and Wallonia French-speaking. The political and social tensions in the country are well-known. Obviously, Belgian chocolate, while extraordinarily delicious, does to have the same ingredients Swiss chocolate has…

In Spain they also have 4 major languages-culture; Castilian Spanish, Catalan, Galician and Basque. Each language-culture has its own “one language-one culture” territory, or tries to.  This is not the case for the Spanish-speaking area. This area has been divided into several ones.

The tensions in Spain between the governments of non-Spanish-speaking territories and the Spanish state are a constant problem.

Political tensions in relation to cultural-linguistic identity are strong in all those countries. They never go away.

Things could better if those countries followed the Swiss approach.

This is what would happen:

Let us start with Canada.

Because of its much larger population, if it does what they do in Switzerland, Canada will be divided into 107 cantons. Quebec, which has a population like Switzerland, will become 26 cantons. Most of them, except a few around Montreal, which will be bilingual, will be unilingual French-speaking cantons.

Many more cantons would replace all current Canadian provinces. But French-speaking areas within English Canada, even very small ones, would also become cantons. This could be better for French Canadians.

Canadians with other languages, such as indigenous peoples, would also have their own cantons.

There will be no need to try to make millions of people bilingual, because no canton would be that large. Most cantons will be unilingual by choice of the residents of the canton. Some will decide to be bilingual to reflect the local reality.

Why try to make millions bilingual if unilingualism protects minority languages?

In Part II of this post I will continue the discussion.

If your federal, national, regional or local government calls a referendum, then it is not direct democracy.

It is not direct democracy because in a direct democracy the people decide on what to hold the referendum, not the government, the parliament or any other institution.

It can not be direct democracy because when the government calls the referendum it is not the people who decide. If the government decides not to hold a referendum on an issue then the people can not vote.  It makes no sense in democracy that governments control the right of citizens to vote.

The vote leading to Brexit was not an example of direct democracy. It was not because the British Government decided to call it, not the citizens. The citizens could only ask for it.

Had the British Government decided not to hold the referendum, the British people would not have voted and the UK would not leave the EU, even if the vast majority of voters wanted to. The opposite would also have been possible.

There is another word often used to refer to popular votes, the plebiscite. The difference between referendum and plebiscite is the plebiscite is even weaker. In a plebiscite the government can ignore the results. Plebiscites are just like a poll where people express their opinion at the ballot box.

Referendums called by governments are just another tool to govern; governments decide the issue and the time. It is obvious a government will call for a referendum only if it feels it will win. Mr. Cameron, the British Prime Minister, was against leaving. It looks like he made a mistake by calling the referendum, but perhaps it was a “wise” mistake.

I do not know if Mr. Cameron feels he made a mistake. It is possible that the strong and long democratic history of the UK influenced his thinking. Perhaps he felt that given the significant opposition to the EU in the UK, the proper way to clear the air was to let the people decide.

If so, Mr. Cameron was right in the most important issue. In a democracy you can not govern with your backs to the people if you want your country to have a stable democracy.

Referendums called by governments are not direct democracy. They are not even democracy. If they were democracy, authoritarian and totalitarian rulers such as Franco, Pinochet, Castro, Chavez, Hitler, the Iranian clerics, etc., would not use them.

Some people in representative democracies refer to referendums as “the instruments of dictators”. Margaret Thatcher and the The Economist magazine are two examples of people who said that.

They are right if the refer only to referendums called by governments. If it is the people who call the referendum, such referendum is not the instrument of dictators. I am speaking of referendums in democracies because dictatorships have no difficulty with the machinations to make it appear that the people initiated the process. Those are fake referendums.

Conclusion: Do not accept that referendums called by governments are direct democracy. It is one important element of direct democracy that citizens do that, not governments. This criterion applies to federal, national, regional or local governments.

Plebiscites, where government can ignore the results, are not even worth the effort for voters to go to the voting station.

Direct democracy is about changing the distribution of power; more power to the average citizen and less for the politicians and elites. Such redistribution of power is good for everybody over the long term. Direct democracy produces more political stability, reduces uncertainty and generates more prosperity. Switzerland is proof of that.

I believe all stable representative democracies, such as those in Central and Northern Europe, most English-Speaking countries, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, perhaps India and Singapore, and a few others too, are ready for direct democracy.

Political power is not like wealth. Wealth can grow and grow; there is no fixed size for the “pie”. We can see how the pie has grown around the World because in most of the World people have more freedom to start all sorts of business. Not just because economic socialism has retreated, “feudal capitalism” is also retreating, although more slowly.

Political power is a fixed quantity; if the politicians, the wealthy and the lobbies have more power, the average citizen has less.

Referendums called by the people mean the people have more power. If you want that, for it to happen you have to do something.

 

Important differences in direct democracy between Switzerland and California.

The average Swiss has higher income per capita. Switzerland is cleaner, has less corruption, is more stable socially and politically, has universal and better health care and better social services, better education, far more affordable university education, better professional education, better infrastructure, far lower rates of social problems and crime, etc.

The Swiss are more competitive also. For example, let us look at exports in high tech: California exports 35 billion USD, Switzerland: 30 billion USD. Because California has 4.5 times more population than Switzerland, those numbers mean that Switzerland exports almost four times more high-technology products per person. It easy to be distracted by the few very large high-tech companies located in California.

Switzerland provides a better environment for workers and for business.

Another difference: in Switzerland each canton (state), each no bigger than California counties, has more autonomy than even the state of California has in the US.

Such autonomy may help Switzerland become more competitive. The cantons compete among themselves using taxes, quality of education, quality of health care, etc. This internal competition does not seem to exist within California.

Switzerland has something that could hurt her but it does not; it has four official cultures-languages, California does not. In most democracies, such difference creates trouble. We have the cases of the UK, Canada, Belgium, Spain, etc. I ignore non-democracies in this comparison because their lack of freedom makes it impossible to know how the people feel about any political or social issue.

Perhaps it is the way the Swiss manage diversity that has turned it into strength. In my opinion, diversity in itself is not good or bad.

If Switzerland and California practice direct democracy, why such large differences in favour of Switzerland?

Both societies have a long experience with direct democracy. California has direct democracy since 1911, Switzerland since 1848.

Direct democracy in California exists only at the state level and at the local level. Californians can not take part in direct democracy at the federal level because the US Federal Government is a representative democracy, not a direct democracy. This is one major difference. For the Swiss, direct democracy is present at all levels.

However, in one respect California is ahead; California voters can recall politicians at the state level and local level, in Switzerland, voters can do so only in some cantons.

Perhaps it has helped the Swiss develop a deeper culture of direct democracy having initiatives and referendums at all levels of government.

I believe the US system of representative democracy at the national level weakens direct democracy at other levels. This could be because the federal government is the most important level of government. It is reasonable to think that if direct democracy is not used to decide the most important issues, it is because decisions by the citizens are not considered the best way to decide. Obviously, the Swiss disagree.

The way I see it, if a country does not have direct democracy at all levels, then it does not have direct democracy. This is like freedom; if you do not have freedom at the national level you do not have freedom at the local level.

Another difference is that in California voters go to the polls for initiatives and referendums at the same date they elect the state governor. In Switzerland votes on referendums and initiatives do not coincide with elections. Such separation probably prevents eclipsing initiatives and referendums.

Such bunching of votes also forces California voters to digest in a short period a lot of information. Because of this it is possible that California voters can not make as informed a decision on each issue.

In Switzerland, some referendums are mandatory also. There is no need to collect signatures. This means Swiss voters and Swiss politician are “trained” by the law to practice direct democracy.

Other factors are probably cultural and educational. For example, California has had explosive growth of the immigrant population for years.

Most of the immigrants come from countries with weak, corrupt democracies or, even worse, authoritarian or totalitarian regimes. Because of this background it will take years for new citizens to develop the sense of political self responsibility direct democracy requires. It is difficult to believe elections are not rigged in California if in your home country they are. It takes a while to assimilate the new practices, in the meantime you may, unconsciously and unwillingly, contribute to their deterioration.

For example, in many cultures, helping family is more important than respecting the law. When this happens, widespread corruption is the natural result. It is not matter of being good or bad as a person but of social values.

But it is important to know that Switzerland was decades ago a poor, underdeveloped country, far less developed at the time than the UK. Things have changed; today’s Switzerland surpasses the UK in practically all areas. In many ways Switzerland is the number one country in the World.

But they have problems too. In Switzerland, like in California, they often have paid signatures collectors. Some people, in Switzerland and in California, say that paid signature collectors have a vested interest in collecting signatures and corrupt the process.

There have been cases in both societies where signature collectors lie, or manipulate, what they say to citizens get them to sign for a non-mandatory referendum or initiative

Another difference is that to vote in Switzerland you have to be at least 18 years old. In California, voting starts at 16. It is possible younger voters find it more difficult to understand the responsibilities of voting in areas such as taxes, pensions, etc.

It is also possible that the educational system and the current values and traditions of the Swiss help prepare citizens better as voters to cast votes to decide on specific issues, not just to elect someone.

In California some people complain that most campaigns for initiatives and referendums are financed by groups with vested interests. Such interests may not coincide with the interests of the general public. They mention cases of big business and big unions. I have not heard of that in Switzerland. Perhaps the more intensive practice of direct democracy in Switzerland helps keep lobbies in check.

I will be grateful to know you point of view on these issues.

 

In direct democracy the people have the last word on international law

Democracy International is one example of an influential organization that trusts the people…, up to a point.

I quote from Democracy International:

“Democracy International advocates the implementation of binding direct democracy all over the world. Initiatives and referendums should be bound to international law as well as constitutional principles,”

Notice Democracy International states: “Initiatives and referendums should be bound to international law as well as constitutional principles.” No!, direct democracy is “the people decide”; no law is above them because the people make the laws or have the final say on all national and international laws that affect them, including the constitution.

I do not doubt Democracy International’s intentions are noble, but they show a fear of the people which undermines the credibility of Democracy International as a pro-direct democracy organisation.

In stable democratic societies, including all stable representative democracies, the people show good judgment, year after year, sometimes even century after century. Such people should no have to bow to any law or constitution written by elites, elected or not.

We also see how many international laws are developed by international bodies in which all sorts of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes have representatives.

It makes no sense to force such laws on any people, but specially in the people of democracies. In the case of direct democracies, such ideas are direct violations of direct democracy and can not be accepted. If international laws or the constitution are above the people, that is not direct democracy.

Because the only country today with a long history of direct democracy is Switzerland, lets us reflect on that and on what Democracy International states.

The Swiss have demonstrated they have better socio-political and economic judgment than any other people I can think of.

I can not believe Democracy International is telling us the Swiss can not decide in a referendum to reject an international law. They may decide to accept such law, even if they don’t like it, but they are the ones to decide.

Same goes for the comment about submitting to the constitution. “The results of initiatives and referendums must no contradict the constitution”. Democracy International should add: “As long as the people have the power to change the constitution by means of initiatives and referendums.

Direct democracy is, even more than representative democracy, “of the people, by the people, for the people”. This means that no international law or provision of the constitution can be above the will of the people, none.

I believe in direct democracy because in it the people have the last word, not their representatives.

In direct democracy the people can certainly make mistakes, but history shows that the only direct democracies the World has ever known; the Ancient Greek city-states and modern Switzerland, made fewer mistakes in respect for human life, justice, freedom, economic, cultural and social development.

History also shows representative democracies are guilty of far bigger mistakes than direct democracies. No need to say a word about non-democracies…

I believe direct democracy is only possible when people have achieved the level of social development it requires. Why some societies end up more able to practice direct democracy? I have no idea. Maybe it is luck, climate, a “cultural mutation”…

So, let us all support direct democracy. Let us trust the people. Let us accept that most people have common sense.

Even in totalitarian and authoritarian societies, most ordinary people show in their personal lives every day that they have tons common sense. All they need is to learn and practice more respect for the ideas and beliefs of others. Once they do that, representative democracy and direct democracy will work for them too.

To finish, I will give you a great example of transition to direct democracy. It is the nation of Taiwan. In Taiwan, the original Taiwanese and the Chinese people of Taiwan show how it can be done.

A few decades ago Taiwan was a dictatorship, today is a representative democracy in transition to direct democracy. Only Switzerland is more democratic. The Taiwan experiment is new, only time will tell if Taiwan will become as stable as Switzerland, but the facts are encouraging.

So, dear friends of Democracy International: you are doing a great job for democracy, just fine tune your words a bit.

 

When do we have full, real direct democracy in a country? Part II.

In the last post I wrote about full, real, direct democracy. We also saw how in Switzerland the Swiss people have more power than the politicians. This is a key aspect of direct democracy.

Swiss voters are not in the situation you and I are; they have more power than us, much more. They can prevent politicians from executing decisions if the decision does not have the support of most voters.

I envy the Swiss. I like their democracy even more than their chocolate, cheese or watches. I don’t know about you.

In our representative democracies it is very different, politicians can pass laws and make decisions that even most of us dislike. Sadly,  we can do nothing other than remember till the next election or take to the streets. But we know, our memory is brief. Our elected representatives know it also. They also know how to throw at us new goodies to help us forget.

Not only that, in representative democracy, elected politicians sometimes even do the opposite of what they promised, because there is no way to stop them, other than taking to the streets again.

Here is a good example of promise violation; the Republican President of the United States, George H. W. Bush, said during his election campaign: “Read my lips, no new taxes”, but once elected he signed a law that raised taxes.

In fairness to Mr. Bush, he did not want to raise taxes. He felt it was necessary because of changes in the economy and because the Democrats, who controlled Congress, forced him to.

The betrayal looks like it was not forgotten by voters; Mr. Bush was a one-term president.

In Switzerland voters would have stopped the law. Swiss voters would have overridden the President AND Congress.

The “Brexit” referendum is another example of lack of people power. In Switzerland the referendum would not have been called by Prime Minister Cameron. In Switzerland the law automatically, or the citizens, would have called for the referendum, and not on Mr. Cameron’s timing either.

Something almost humorous, but in my opinion worse, happened with other referendums in several European countries. Let us just take one; the Danish government held a referendum on the European Union’s Maastricht Treaty, a kind of EU Constitution.

The Danish people voted “no” to the treaty, but the government did not agree with the result, the government then held a second referendum on the same issue. This time the government liked the result.

In effect, the Danish government told the EU after the first vote, don’t worry, be happy, Denmark will approve the treaty because we will hold referendums until “the people get it right”. It is unbelievable this could happen in a country that in so many other respects is one of the best run societies in the World.

Other European countries did not even bother with referendums, they just ignored the people. We are not talking about banana republics here, these countries are serious democracies.

Such shenanigans undermine trust in governments, in politicians and in democracy itself.

Speaking of trust; another of the positive effects of direct democracy (if seriously executed) is that it generates more trust in government. For example, 82% of the Swiss trust their government. In the US the figure is 30%. In Japan it is 35%, just a little better. Even in countries like Canada, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands the figure is only about 60%.

But it is logical the Swiss trust their politicians, government and parliament. They do so because Swiss politicians can not do anything of importance if the voters do not back them up.

I am sure Swiss politicians also have learned to govern very aware of what they can and can not do. This also helps develop trust.

In Switzerland they have political parties, but their power is much less than in representative democracies. Because of that, politicians have learned to put forward measures that will be supported by the voters.

Furthermore, Swiss minority parties can initiate the process of collecting signatures to have a referendum. This also helps keep governing parties from approving unpopular measures.

A very interesting aspect of fully developed direct democracy is that it does not need professional politicians. Even Switzerland is not there yet. In full direct democracy ordinary citizens vote AND govern. They do so only once and for a short period. This helps prevent creating a political establishment.

Another effect of not having professional politicians; political parties are not necessary. They are not necessary because, in full direct democracy, people serving in government do not need the support of any organization to get elected.

An important benefit of direct democracy is that politics is centered more on issues, less on politics and politicians. This is quite noticeable in Switzerland.

To have direct democracy it is also essential that neither the government nor parliament have the power to decide what issues should go to referendum or when will the referendum take place.

This is very important because if governments, or  parliaments, can decide on what to have a referendum and when, you and I know politicians would be looking at polls; “let us wait”, etc. They would also do many things to make voters happy right up to voting day, to fool us once more.

Conclusion: we have direct democracy when the people have the power to control all significant decisions of the elected representatives.

This must happen at the national level and in the smallest village. Direct democracy requires a culture of direct democracy, at all levels of government.

Your input is always welcomed.

Victor Lopez