The Swiss; better capitalists and better socialists?

Nobody talks about this, certainly not the politicians of the Left or the Right.

First of all let me say that the social and political Right-Left, even Centre, are divisions that harm society because, specially Right-Left are dogmatic and rigid, like two opposing religions. Such rigidity does not favour progress or accommodation of different views.

Like religions, Right and Left have the conviction their way of looking at society and its challenges is the right way, that other ways are wrong. Naturally, as each believes its analysis is the right one, it also feels its their solutions are the right ones.

Each side believes it has the ONE “correct” answer, the “true” answer. Not easy to make rational decisions with that frame of mind.

As a result, they spend a lot of time and energy trying to discredit each other.

They disagree on almost anything; education, economics, social policies, taxes, business policies, labour laws, international relations, justice and on and on.

One of the wonderful effects of direct democracy is that it is centered on issues, not on ideology, not on political parties, or their variously ranking “priests”. Direct democracy is issue-centred, fact-centred, it is not centred on general ideologies or beliefs.

It does so because voters vote on issues. They also vote to elect people who represent ideologies, but because the voters also have to vote on specific issues, they have to focus their attention on the practical facts of each issue. This makes ideology less prominent. Less ideological polarization is one of its benefits.

Because in direct democracy voters vote on issues they have to also understand issues. They have to because they know they are responsible, directly responsible, of the effects of their decisions.

In direct democracy voters know that they are responsible, that their vote directly determines they may have to pay more taxes because they said “yes” to building a new road, a new rail network, to have a universal income for citizens or resident, to have single payer health care and so on.

That they are responsible for paying taxes does not mean they do not want government; citizens with sound judgment, rich and not rich, know that to have a stable prosperous society it is necessary to have sound public services, good universal education, good universal health system, good infrastructure and so on, and that all that requires money. This money can come through taxes or by paying directly for the services.

This does not mean that voters will not support any of those measures, the Swiss support them. What direct democracy does is that forces voters to look at every issue in terms of costs-benefits for the majority of voters. They are acutely aware their money is necessary to provide a good quality of life for practically all citizens, including the poor.

In representative democracy it is not like that; people elect the politicians who decide on what to spend the money and how much.

Unfortunately for voters, in representative democracy, for elected politicians, it is not their money. They do not feel the penalty of higher taxes or high insurance premiums because they can also vote for measures that protect them, and they do.

They may exempt themselves and the bureaucrats that help them, from paying taxes, they can increase their salaries, their travel and living allowances, etc.

To make voters temporarily happy, governments in representative democracies can also print more money to “buy” votes. They can also do things many voters love because they are not aware they will pay for them.

They can increase the government deficit, the national debt, mandate or increase minimum salaries, increase the salaries of civil servants, build an economically unsustainable high speed rail network, build more unnecessary universities to have more citizens with college education, even if there are no jobs for them, etc.

In direct democracy, politicians can not do any of that if voters do not agree.

This is why the Swiss government generally makes sounder decisions that its neighbours in France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Belgium, the Nordic Countries, the UK and the rest of the countries of the World. This is why Switzerland has rock-solid stability and prosperity.

The Swiss make usually better decisions than anyone else because the voters vote on issues and are responsible for the consequences, and their governments (at all levels) know that.

This realism has made the Swiss better socialists and better capitalists than all other nations. This is so because they have many internationally competitive companies able to pay high wages.

The facts prove it; they have the best universal health system in the World, but it is not paid by taxes, each citizen buys private health insurance.

When the person does not have enough income to pay the premiums the government provides assistance so they can.

The private capitalist insurance providers are tightly regulated by social legislation. For example, they can not make money on the medical services they must provide, but they can make money on secondary items, like having a private room in a hospital.

The end result is the Swiss health care system is considered the best in the World. If you want to know more about the Swiss health system you can check one of my earlier blogs or, better, research the issue in internet; just type “Swiss health care system” in your computer.

Many people point to the Danish, Dutch, German, British, French, Canadian universal health care system and the legislation that makes them possible, as the model for others. The fact is that the Swiss capitalist and socially universal health care system is superior.

The Swiss deliver also more competitive capitalists than those other countries in other areas.

This is why they have higher wages, they are more competitive; in relation to the population of the country, they export twice as many high tech goods and services than Germany, and more than eight times more than the US.

Their public education system is also better, better than what they have in many of those countries, although German, Danish and Dutch have pretty good systems.

To evaluate public education you have to be careful, numbers can be misleading. For example, Belgium, Finland, Australia, Israel, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Germany the US, Canada have more college graduates than Switzerland, yet Switzerland outranks those countries in practically all facts on the ground.

Another misleading indicator can be the PISA rankings in education. Switzerland ranks behind the “best”; China, Singapore, Finland an eleven others. That China is at the top should make anyone doubt the validity of the PISA rankings. PISA measures are valid for a very narrow area; classroom learning in math, science and language. This is too narrow a way to look at education. Furthermore, PISA only looks at 15 year old students.

No wonder what PISA measures does not correlate with political stability, freedom, economic prosperity, social stability, justice, respect for human life, etc., if it did, China would rank at the top, not the bottom, in many of these facts.

Overall, Switzerland is the best run country in the World, that is more meaningful than any rankings, you only have to visit Switzerland to know that; it jumps at you.

Other countries would do well to understand and learn how the Swiss do it. Direct democracy is perhaps the most important factor. Direct democracy is the factor all Swiss share. As you know, Switzerland is a multicultural and multilingual country; what unites them is direct democracy.

But do not expect the elites in your country to dig the facts about Switzerland, you will have to dig the facts and pressure your elites towards direct democracy, just like the Swiss did many years ago.

One of the results of direct democracy seems to be to produce more efficient capitalists able to deliver more efficient social measures.

Wrong to say that direct democracy can become “Tyranny of the majority”

One of the arguments made, by those who do not like direct democracy, is that there is the danger of  “tyranny of the majority”.

Many politicians, commentators and other in the elites, have made this argument.

However, if we look at history, at the facts, such fear does not make much sense, reality does not back it up.

Greek direct democracy never became the “tyranny of the majority”. The only other example of direct democracy, in the whole history of humanity, is today’s Switzerland.

Switzerland is not totally a direct democracy. This is so because in Switzerland they also have politicians and political parties, like in representative democracy.

But Switzerland is a direct democracy because citizens have the final say on all important laws and issues at the local, canton (state-province) and national level. The government and elected representatives do not have the final say.

It is true that Swiss politicians are not as “professional” as the politicians in representative democracies. In Switzerland many elected representatives are not full-time politicians; they keep their regular jobs.

Switzerland, like representative democracies, also has “professional” political parties.

This means that in Switzerland ordinary citizens do not directly run the government. In ancient Greece, they did. In Ancient Greece ordinary citizens were selected randomly to serve in government, even at the highest levels. Before taking their jobs another body of citizens, also selected at random, examined their fitness to serve. It makes sense to me.

In a way, what the Greeks did and what the Swiss do, reflects what the well-known conservative American commentator William F. Buckley Jr., once said: “I would rather be governed by the first 2000 people in the Manhattan phone book than by the entire faculty of Harvard”.

This is one of the best statements about direct democracy I ever read. I do not know if Mr. Buckley meant it that way, but even if he did not, it is a great argument for direct democracy.

What he was saying is that he had more faith in the ability of a large group of ordinary people, selected randomly, to provide better government, than a small elite with a high level of formal education (or money, I presume).

Ordinary Swiss citizens do not directly participate in government, but they do have the power to make sure government and parliament behave in accordance with the will of the majority, just like the Greeks had also.

Like the Greeks, Switzerland has not fallen into the “tyranny of the majority” either. It will not fall into that because, if the majority believes in democracy, it is not rational to fear their tyranny. To believe that ordinary citizens, who believe in democracy and practice it, will turn into tyrants, is like fearing sane people because they could become insane; it makes no sense.

Tyranny has never happened in direct democracy. Tyranny may happen if direct democracy, or representative democracy, collapse.

As long as the democratic majority in a democracy feels and knows its will prevails, they will not become frustrated or fearful that the elites, the wealthy and those in top positions, are running the country for their economic benefit. They will not fear either that a “cultural” elite is imposing its ideas on social and economic practices that go against the will of the majority of ordinary citizens.

The reality is that if the majority does not fear being control by the elites, direct democracy or representative democracy will not collapse. Direct democracy is probably the best way to keep that fear away.

Collapse into tyranny, of the known kind, is more likely to happen in representative democracy than in direct democracy. The reason is obvious; in representative democracy desperate voters who feel they have lost control of their country may elect a demagogue “to fix things”. The demagogue, if he or she has a parliamentary majority, can run the country pretty much as a dictator. In fact, sometimes it happens.

In direct democracy there is never need of a demagogue, a “great leader”, a “visionary”, a “prophet” because ordinary people are and feel in charge of the country.

Another danger in representative in representative democracies is that, often, the elected representatives fall under the control of pressure groups. Often, the interests of pressure groups may not coincide with the national interest; they may be even contrary to the national interest.

It is true that in representative democracies the Supreme Court can stop the government from doing certain things, but an absolute majority government can even do away with the Supreme Court, unless it requires a constitutional change approved in a national referendum.

If we recognize that in representative democracy ordinary voters must have the final say on the constitution, it is obvious they are also capable of having the final say in much more “pedestrian” matters. For example, laws and regulations, budgets, building of schools, the military, roads, bringing the Olympics, minimum wage, universal health care and on and on.

This is why direct democracy makes sense.

The experience of Switzerland and Greece tells us direct democracy is a sound system.

Stable representative democracies can make the transition now. The current political, economic and social elites, who now run such countries, will probably oppose the change because they will lose power.

Once the transition is made, the end result will be that the 2000 randomly selected people Mr. Buckley spoke about would provide, not better, but much better government than the entire faculty of Harvard, the economic elite and elected politicians. Switzerland proves it; enter “direct democracy”, “Swiss direct democracy” in your computer or phone and you will see.

Reject the argument that direct democracy presents a danger of the “tyranny of the majority”; it has never happened.

Direct democracy is the better way.

 

“Left”, “Right”, “Progressive”, “Conservative” are less relevant in direct democracy.

In the following example of the use of people power, you can see how issue-centered direct democracy overcomes the rigidity of political labels and ideology that dominate parliaments. It also overcomes the power of lobbies, not a small thing.

In the district of Upper Egandine in South East Switzerland is where this example of direct democracy took place.

Upper Egandine is a beautiful place. You probably recognize its famous resort of St. Moritz.

Upper Egandine is in the canton of Grisson, also known as the canton of Graubünden. There are 13 small towns and villages in Upper Egandine. St Moritz with 5000 inhabitants is the largest, Madulain, with about 200 is the smallest.

Being a beautiful region, it attracts urbanites from major Swiss cities. But located also in super clean, neat, prosperous, peaceful and well organized Switzerland, Upper Egandine also attracts well off people from other countries; Germans, French, English, Americans, etc.

Many of these people started to build second homes in Upper Egandine, in St. Moritz and other places.

As a result, in the early 2000s the local people became concerned the area was starting to lose its natural environment, as well as its cultural character and atmosphere.

Another major concern of the locals was the increase in the price of land; they could not compete with the well-off from outside when it came to buying land. This was affecting the house-buying ability of their children and of themselves

The person who best articulated the concerns was Franz Weber, a well known ecologist. Unfortunately, he died in 2019 at the nice old age of 91.

He said construction of second homes should be stopped or controlled much more tightly. At the time of the campaign, in some areas of Upper Egandine, one of every five homes was the second home of people from outside the area.

His position was initially supported by the “Left”; the Greens and Socialists, but soon conservatives joined because the issue also affected them. Wealthy local business conservatives might love more construction, but local ordinary conservatives did not.

Franz Weber started the initiative with a committee of 27 people. They gathered the 800 signatures required by the local law. The people of Upper Egandine voted; 71% of the voters decided that the building of second homes had to be stopped.

Several years later, what started in Upper Egandine became a national issue across Switzerland.

In 2012 both houses of the Swiss parliament debated a similar initiative. Both houses recommended that it be rejected. The upper house, known as the National Council, voted 123 to 61 against it, the “lower house”, the Council of States, also voted against it 29 to 10.

As you will guess, many businesses were also opposed to the initiative because it went against growth.

So, the politicians did not like the idea, neither did many business, but ordinary people did.

Fortunately, in Swiss democracy, if an initiative gathers the required number of signatures in the allowed time, it must be presented to all voters for approval or rejection, regardless of the votes in parliament.

The people decided; 50.6% of voters supported the initiative. Voter participation rate was 45%. Other issues have shown lower and higher participation rates. But we must not forget that during the year 80% of Swiss voters participate in referendums, this proves Swiss direct democracy is very alive.

In favour of the initiative were voters on the Left and the Right, Progressives and Conservatives, no party “loyalty” here.

The results clearly demonstrate how the elected representatives may not represent the will of the people on many issues.

This happens even in Switzerland, where elected representatives have learned to work more by consensus. They do that because they know the people can knock down what they want to do.

In traditional “representative” democracies parliamentarians and governments diverge from the will of the majority much more often than in Switzerland. This is because there are no people-initiated referendums to stop them. Think about that the next time you do not feel represented.

This initiative, and many others, demonstrate the Left-Right divide is often artificial. The reality is that, on many issues, people on the right and the left share the same concerns and vote in the same direction… if they have the opportunity to do so.

This means that direct democracy is also necessary to dial down the divide between Left and Right because it often does not exist. A less polarized atmosphere also facilitates rational decision-making.

I hope this small story helps motivate you to fight for direct democracy.

The politicians will not bring direct democracy to your country, it is your job.

If representative democracy, where the citizens choose those who make decisions, is difficult, direct democracy where the citizens themselves decide on issues, not just who will govern, is much more difficult. Perhaps  this is why it took humanity about 300 000 years to come up with democracy.

It happened in Ancient Greece 2500 years ago.  It lasted a few centuries and then the democracy clock stopped. It took another 2000 years for democracy to revive. Unfortunately, it only did so in Europe, and in a limited way.

It happened in Europe probably because Europeans were lucky enough to have access to ancient Greek books.  Some Greek ideas were passed on to them through the Romans and others. Somehow, the Europeans also developed the common sense necessary to make democracy work.

However, even today, even among the countries with stable democracies, only one, Switzerland, comes close to  Ancient Greece democracy,  the rest follow the less democratic representative democracy.

Direct democracy is superior to representative democracy because it is more democratic; it increases the power of ordinary citizens to decide how society works. This also increases their self esteem, their confidence in themselves, the dignity of their lives; it improves the whole country.

Direct democracy is about rebalancing power; that is one of the obstacles because those with power do not want any rebalancing. To them, things are as they ought to be.

Somebody said: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. He also said: “great men are almost always bad men”.  This is why nobody, no elite, no party, no person should have a lot of power, not even when the people freely elect their representatives. The representatives must have their power limited; the final authority must be the citizens.

The quoted words above were written in 1887 by Lord Acton, an English politician and writer.

He could have also said, but he did not: “politicians love power”.

It was the Swiss who made the closest approximation to Greek direct democracy.

But in Switzerland the change did not happen because the “enlightened” political parties decided that “government by the people” was good. The Swiss political parties did not want direct democracy, they were happy with representative democracy. They used the same arguments politicians in other representative democracies continue to use, including your own country.

They are happy; “you just vote for us, we know what to do, we have that special quality that enables us to know what is good for the country, you do not have to worry”.

It was in the 1830s when the people of Swiss cantons decided they had enough of that. They pushed and pushed and gave themselves the power to stop laws drafted by the parliament and the government of the cantons. They also gave themselves the power to propose and pass new laws.

The Swiss cantons can be roughly compared to the states in the US, Australia or Germany, the provinces in Canada, perhaps the states of India, etc.

At the national level, Swiss politicians resisted direct democracy for another 40 years; it did not happen at the national level until 1874.

Notice that the Swiss tackled what worried Lord Acton, even before Lord Acton wrote those words. It is obvious the Swiss are very clever about something even more important than watches, cheese, chocolate, banking, high technologies and many other things.

But the Swiss advance has not spread yet. Perhaps it is because most people do not know about.  Perhaps it is because the politicians resist losing some power, like Swiss politicians did.

It is also possible that it is because ordinary people do not believe in direct democracy. However, in my experience, most people just do not know about direct democracy; once I make them aware of it and how it works, they like direct democracy. This is why I started this blog; to help spread direct democracy.

Swiss direct democracy has demonstrated most citizens are very responsible. You already know that in your country because most people behave responsibly with their own affairs. For example, people pay their mortgages and other loans, they look after what they own, they are responsible neighbours, responsible parents, responsible workers, etc.

The key to develop responsibility is to give people the power to experience responsibility. To feel responsible for what happens in the country they need the power to decide on issues, not just the power to decide whom to vote for.

In representative democracy the majority of people do not feel responsible for how their country is managed. They feel that way because, once the politicians are elected, once the new parliament and the new government are formed, ordinary citizens have no power; all they can do is complain. As a result, for them, “the problem is the politicians”.

To change that we have to act like the Swiss, we have to say it loud and clear, and insist for as long as necessary, that we want direct democracy.

 

 

 

 

 

Direct democracy increases voter turnout; this is why.

In many stable, prosperous representative democracies, there is a concern that voter turnout is low. It seems too many voters feel their votes do not count. Unstable, corrupt “representative” democracies are not yet culturally capable of direct democracy. Dictatorships are “light-years” away.

In stable representative democracies the people play an important, but infrequent role. They elect their representatives, but once the election is over the people can not decide on anything.

In-between elections it is the elected politicians who make all the decisions; they appoint judges, they pass new laws, they eliminate other laws, they decide how to apply the laws, they decide how much public money is to be spent and where it will be spent, they decide what treaties to sign with which country, they decide if it is necessary to build a new road, harbour or pool, or to raise or lower taxes, etc.

From election to election, if voters do not like a law or a decision, all they can do is write letters to the elected representatives and the media, demonstrate, post in internet, start a blog, use bumper stickers, wear hats and t shirts with slogans, advertise, they can also sue and hope a jury or judge agrees with them, etc., but power, real factual power, in-between elections, the people have little.

The situation will not change until we push enough for representative democracy to evolve into direct democracy.

All we can do under the current system is try to scare the government and parliamentarians into thinking that if they keep doing this or that, or do not do this or that, they will lose the next election.

Unfortunately, elections are complicated and costly activities. Perhaps that is why in most representative democracies they have elections every 4 or 5 years. This is too long time; by the time the next election comes up voters might have “forgotten”, or have in mind more pressing issues. Politicians will also work hard to convince us, again, they will do what most voter want if we vote for them.

Sometimes the party in power or its leader lose so much credibility that the party decides to ditch the leader to avoid the voters ditching both of them. The idea is to make voters believe that with the new leader things will be very different. Generally, that does not happen. It does not happen because political parties are tied to ideologies, a sort of “political religions”, of “ideological rails” they have to stay on. They are also tied to alliances, to lobbies and pressure groups whose support they need to get elected.

Political parties are trapped into  their beliefs but corrupt ones also pretend to be driven by ideas like “freedom”, “justice”, “equality”, etc. In reality, they use them to dupe voters in general, even their own supporters, while they enrich themselves and their “friends”.

From election to election, because of the ideology of the parties and the pressure groups, governments and parliamentarians often do not make decisions thinking of what the majority of voters want.

Direct democracy fixes most, if not all, of that.

In direct democracy we still vote to elect representatives and government but there is a crucial innovation; we also vote to approve or rejects laws and projects the government proposes. Notice that in direct democracy the government only “proposes” because the people have the final say, amazing!, don’t you think?

This means that the people vote specifically to decide if the new law proposed by parliament becomes a law or dies, if a high speed rail is built, if health care will become universal, if a new pool or school is built, if a new treaty is signed or if taxes will be raised or lowered.

But those who do not want direct democracy try to convince us direct democracy is not as good as representative democracy,

One argument they use is: “in direct democracy the people get tired of so much voting, this is why in Switzerland, only about 40% of the people vote”.

This is a fake argument.

On most issues, it is true that only about 40% of eligible Swiss voters turn up. But most people who do not turn up do so, not because of “voter fatigue”, they do not turn up because the issue may not interest them enough, or are not clear on how to vote and prefer that others decide.

In many representative democracies voter turnout is not much better, except where the law makes it illegal not to vote, what a law! If you can not decide not to vote, what kind of freedom is that?

Let us go back to Switzerland.

For example, on a referendum to stop urban sprawl 64% of Swiss voters voted to allow urban development, 36% voted against. The turn out was low, only 38%.

But on other issues turn out is very high; 57% voted to build a huge road tunnel, 43% voted against, but the turnout was 64%.

But the really important number about turnout is that over the whole year, Swiss voter turnout is 80%. This means that every year 80% of Swiss voters go and vote in referendums.

It is obvious Swiss voters do not have “voter fatigue”. It is the opposite; it is the voters in representative democracy that seem fatigued. I suspect they are tired of many things; of the polarization that party ideology generates, of the politicians often governing but not thinking of the majority, of lobbies and pressure groups having too much influence.

In spite of that I usually go and vote, but I totally understand many feel voting is not worth the effort; “politicians do not govern for us” many say.

To change things we have to make “noise”. Enough “noise” to bring about direct democracy. If we do that we will make sure governments govern for the majority of ordinary voters.

We can also introduce proportional representation so that more voters are represented in parliament. But make no mistake; proportional representation without direct democracy will not change the root problems of representative democracy.

 

Direct democracy; direct responsibility

Stop blaming the politicians!, WE are the problem, not the politicians.

Saying things like; “You can not trust the politicians”, “they lie”, “they do not keep their promises”, “they are controlled by the leaders of big business, the rich, the leaders of big unions, aggressive activists and all sorts of pressure groups and lobbies”, “they are not interested in the little guy”, “they promise this and that just to get our vote but they forget about us until the next electoral campaign”, and on and on.

All that might make us feel like you are doing something, but we are not. I can understand it, but the root problem is not the politicians, or even the lobbies, the root problem is us, the voters.

The problem is that we give politicians too much power. I am not referring to the politician as a person but to the role and responsibility of being a politicians. No matter whom we elect, no matter who runs the government; local, regional or national, the end result is roughly the same; governments too often do not govern for the people; they govern for some of the people.

It does not matter much either if the country is a presidential republic, a parliamentary monarchy or some other form of legitimate democracy; politicians, public decision makers have too much power to make decisions that affect all of us.

Those we elect can no really do anything about this. It is not that they are bad people or that they enjoy being dominated by the lobbies or their own party apparatus; it is that representative democracy puts too much power in the hands of those elected. In many countries to get elected you need to run expensive campaigns; you need money, lots of it.

You also need the support of lobbies. This is so because some influential lobbies can torpedo your candidacy by “defunding” your campaign, or by running a campaign against you. They may do that if you oppose what they support or if you support what they oppose.

In some democracies, the state gives money to politicians to campaign. This makes politicians less susceptible to the lobbies, but the lobbies still have lots of influence. This is so because politicians know that once they retire from politics, or if they lose and election, the lobbies can offer them, as a reward for how they behaved, good jobs in corporations and institutions in which their vote counts.

Because of those factors, in representative democracy various groups “screen” who is going to be a candidate and, therefore, who gets elected.

Representative democracy also subjects those elected to the pressures of groups and business after the politician has been elected. This happens because those agents want to make sure he or she will not forget their interests.

Elected politicians also know that, once elected, the campaign for reelection begins right away. the pressure does not let up.

Another important problem in representative democracy is that the political parties have too much power. For example, they often directly decide who will be candidate.

The overall effect is government which is not for the people (sometimes is even against the interests of the majority). Trust in politicians also drops every year. Over the long term such dynamics shake democracy to its foundations and may even destroy it.

However, once power shifts from politicians and parties to the people other things happen also. For example, it is no longer so important what politicians and lobbies want to do. This is so because the people can stop anything representative politicians want to do.

When politicians have less power the lobbies also lose some interest in politicians. They are more likely to keep quiet or they decide to to make their case in the open, to all voters.

The things that happen in representative democracy, that we do not like, do so because we consider ourselves democrats, but we have not been willing to act to change the facts on the ground. We are not democrats as long as we do not insist democracy is “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. So far the only modern people who have done so are the Swiss, never mind what many beautiful speeches and constitutions say.

If you believe the government in your country is not “government of the people, by the people, for the people”, who is supposed to insist, pressure, protest until it is? It is you! It is irrational to expect the elected politicians to fix this.

Even if a politician wants to increase the power of the people, many of his colleagues, his own party, the lobbies and most of the elite, will do all they can to stop him or her. The reason is clear; none of them likes to lose power. Power is money, is prestige, is social standing, is ego, is sexy.

Politicians themselves also want to have power for other reasons; to do what they believe is right for the country, for example.

You also often hear politicians and others speak of the importance of “leadership”. Some people believe leadership; that “great special people” are necessary. Democracy, even representative democracy is not about that. Democracy is about ordinary people deciding who among them, mere mortals, seems best suited to govern.

Because politicians have power and feel they need it, they will no give it up, in whole or in part, easily. Besides feeling they need the power, it very human to enjoy the sensation of having power power, of having control; it feels good to know you are powerful.

Therefore, it is obvious that it is us, the people, who have to demand the power shift; we need politicians with less power and the citizens with more.

For such demand to happen, much more than just saying “this or that is not right and should be changed” is necessary.

History proves it; representative democracy did not happen because the kings, the priests and other “special” people, came to the conclusion it was a better system than their absolute power. Representative democracy has been a huge leap forward for human kind (still for a minority) but we had to fight, sometimes violently, to get it.

Fortunately, direct democracy is not as dramatic a switch as the switch from absolute rule to representative democracy; it should be possible to do it peacefully. We are not talking about eliminating the politicians or their jobs; we just want to lighten their job specs.

To have “government of the people, by the people, for the people”, all you need is “government by the people”, the other two will happen automatically.

Direct democracy means that the people, in an orderly and organized manner, after receiving information on all sides of an issue, not after listening to politicians, they go to the voting station, vote and decide how the village, city or country is to be run.

Direct democracy is about voting on issues, not just voting politicians. Because of that, one positive affect is that it depoliticizes politics; this is a big improvement.

In direct democracy, voters are the final authority on any law, on the constitution. Voters can also also propose new laws to their fellow citizens and have them decide.

In direct democracy the people are the final authority; not parliaments, not judges, not supreme courts, not constitutional courts. The final authority is you.

Direct democracy also makes citizens grow. This is so because it gives them the responsibility to decide on issues. In direct democracy you vote, you decide and you live with the consequences; no more blaming the politicians.

Direct democracy brings to the voting booth the responsibility the voter already does in his or her personal and professional affairs. Most people are very responsible with their personal and professional affairs; they behave responsibly at work, they pay their mortgages and loans, they do so because they are directly responsible for the consequences if they do not. Direct democracy is like that, forces us to vote fully aware we are directly responsible for the results of our vote, not the politicians.

But for direct democracy to happen you have to move; you have to write, you have to demand, you might need to peacefully demonstrate.   You have to make direct democracy THE ISSUE, until politicians accept the switch, or a new party promotes it and gets a sufficient number of votes to force the changes in the laws and the constitution.

Aren’t the politicians supposed to be our servants? Why the servants of the people have more power than the people? I tell you why; because we do not fight to have “government by the people”.

Direct democracy arrived in Greece because of a crisis; the elites did not like it, even if the Greeks had left royalty and dictators behind centuries before. It also arrived in Switzerland against the will of elected politicians. I doubt your country will be different.

The current health crisis caused by the virus, and the economic crisis it created, can be a great opportunity to bring about direct democracy.

Direct democracy is not about radical “messianic”, “magical”, changes to bring perfect equality, perfect justice, perfect rights, and on and on. It is not about that because we know such radical “solutions” are often much worse than the problems. Direct democracy is about improving how society is managed by having voters directly decide issues and make changes.

Let us get going!

 

 

Representative democracy is not enough!

It is interesting to know that in many democracies, according to this or that poll, the majority of voters support, or oppose this or that law.

Much more interesting, because it is much more important, is to let voters decide on the laws, or even propose new ones..

Two examples just a few months ago in Switzerland illustrate the difference between representative democracy and (direct) democracy.

On February 9, 2020 Swiss voters decided to make it illegal to discriminate people on the basis of their sexual orientation.

The history behind the vote is very educative for anyone interested in direct democracy.

Swiss law had already made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, culture-ethnic origin or religion. Swiss politicians, the Swiss Parliament, decided it was time to expand the protection to homosexuals and other sexual orientations.

But some people in Switzerland disagreed with the proposed bill. The got moving. They were able to get 50 000 Swiss citizens, within 100 days after Parliament passed the law, to back them up. This forced the government to hold a referendum on the proposed law. The people would decide if the law would stand or would have to be withdrawn.

Notice how a bill approved by the elected representatives of the Swiss people could be challenged by a relatively small number of ordinary citizens, and/or political parties, before the law comes into effect.

Most bills approved by the Swiss representative politicians are not challenged. This is because Swiss politicians have learned to develop laws that have the support of the vast majority of voters.

Most voters know this. This means that in most cases the people who oppose the bill are a relatively small number and understand than in democracy the will of the majority has to prevail.

But sometimes, those who oppose the bill believe they are the majority, or believe that the majority will support them. When this happens, they do what the people who challenged the bill forbidding gay discrimination did, they gathered 50 000 signatures and people voted in a national referendum.

If the results of the referendum supported them then the bill would not pass. The politicians would have to go back to the drawing board, or drop the bill until society is more receptive to the proposed law.

But, perhaps the biggest strength of the referendum is that, if the people who oppose the proposed law lose the referendum they will have no rational choice but to accept the results. Conversely, if they win, the losers will have to accept the result. This is great for democracy and long term stability.

The losers will not be able to go around complaining that the new bill “offends the traditions of the country”, “is an attempt against traditional practices”, etc. If they do, they quickly will be told things like: “You believe in democracy, right? You thought that most people would support you, but the vote clearly indicates that they do not; you had your opportunity, you lost the argument, so move on”.

It would be ridiculous for a person who considers himself or herself a democrat, a person who had the opportunity to put the matter to a vote by fellow citizens, and did so, to continue complaining that “protection of gay rights weakens traditional customs, or that gays did not need the protection of the new law”, or whatever. The people have voted, end of the issue. Of course, the debate can continue; perhaps public opinion will change.

Not accepting the results of a referendum would be like not accepting that someone got elected; irrational and totally antidemocratic.

In this particularly case, the opponents of the law clearly lost the referendum; 63% of voters said “no”. The law protecting gays became the law of Switzerland. It is interesting that 37% voted with the losers. This shows that large minorities have to learn to accept defeat without taking to the streets,… or worse.

Some people say “the Swiss were late in the introduction of such law”. They were late, but if the result of moving more slowly is to settle the issue for good, because the people have spoken, it is much better for long term stability; when the political elites, the lobbies, the judges, the “opinion leaders” decide it does not carry the same weight. When the people “speak” with their vote it is almost ridiculous for anyone to argue with that.

In countries where the politicians decide, where the people can not decide, the arguments never end. The reason is obvious; decisions made by democratically elected politicians are not democratic when the majority of the people oppose them, it does not matter that the representatives have been legally elected. Democracy is about the will of the majority of the people, not about the will of the majority of those elected by the people.

Of course, it could have gone the other way. People would say: “but it is clearly wrong not to protect gay people”. That is an opinion.

In democracy there are no sacred principles emanating from a god, from some extraordinary prophets or visionary politicians. In democracy we have only the will of the people. We hope that most people have enough common sense to make the right decision. Each voter may use religion, reason, intuition, inspiration, etc., to decide their vote, but that is an individual issue.

In the case of Switzerland I believe they made the right decision on gays, but that is only my opinion. Even if I opposed them, democratically, they reached the right decision.

No matter how many human rights experts say gays should be protected, what counts is the will of the majority. If the human rights experts have really good arguments, they should be able to persuade the majority of voters that gays should be protected. In the case of Switzerland it seems their ideas were successful.

But the opposite can also happen.

In another case, the Swiss also voted on something else on the same day. They voted on a law proposed by citizens. The proposed law mandated 10% of housing in Switzerland be dedicated to “social housing” (“social housing” means housing were the landlord is the government or non-profit cooperatives). The result of the referendum was “no”, Swiss voters decided Switzerland does not need more social housing.

Many ordinary people and social experts may claim that it is an injustice because a number of Swiss people can not find housing they at a reasonable price. They made their argument, the voters decided and those who did not like the result had to move on; just like the opponents of the law protecting gays.

In this case, the issue was not to challenge a law proposed by the politicians. In this case the issue was to vote on a law proposed by citizens. This in Switzerland they call an “initiative”. Initiatives allow ordinary citizens to propose laws. A number of Swiss citizens and political parties believed the people would approve the introduction of such law.

The promoters of the initiative had to gather 100 000 signatures, but they had more time to gather them, they had 18 months, much longer than the 100 days to challenge a parliamentary bill.

The end result was that the majority spoke and the minority had to accept the decision, just like the minority had to do in the case of protection of gays.

That is what democracy is: “government of the people, by the people, for the people”, not “government of the representatives of the people, by the representatives of the people, for the representatives of the people”. Sadly, in too many stable democracies we even have too much of the last part…, but that is another issue that direct democracy also tackles effectively.

So, let us get moving and bring democracy to your land. Elected representatives? no problem, but the final word has to be by the people.

Direct democracy is common sense; you have it.

The Swiss are like everybody else; those with more formal education and more money really believe they are “more qualified” to tell the rest how they should think and behave.

Fortunately, the ordinary Swiss are not like everyone else, so far.

This “more qualified” bit is a “class” thing, almost a “caste”.

This is what happens:

Those with money believe they are special because the fact that they have money “proves” they are “smarter”. Likewise, those with more formal education also believe they are “smarter”; after all, to do complex calculations, to write well, to analyze human and technical problems, you have to be “smart”. If your writings elevate you to the category of an “intellectual”, who can question you are smarter?

But there is more to this “I am smarter” thing.

Those with money, particularly if self made, believe they are smarter than those with high university degrees and even the “intellectuals”. They do so because, to make money you really have to be smart in the “real world”. Somehow, the sort of intelligence required to make money is, to them, more elevated than the intelligence required for academic subjects.

But it does not end there; those with high degrees and/or “intellectuals”, feel somehow superior to the fellows who make a lot money, and to everyone else, of course. They feel that way because, who can doubt that the intelligence to write a great book, to develop a new psychological insight or to do the calculations to send a rocket to the moon, is superior to the intelligence required to set up a new business or make a business decision that generates millions in profit, etc.?

If we look at moral superiority, the businessman does not stand a chance; we all “know” to make money you have to manipulate, deceive and a number of other disgusting practices. Unfortunately, in academia they do not fly much higher; there is envy and resentment of the one who “publishes” more in the more prestigious journals, there is personal animosity because of academic discrepancies, etc.

And, you know what?, even in academia some make a lot more money than others, among other things, by selling, selling books for example… interesting.

There is special category among the rich and those with higher formal education, the “famous”. Those who are famous believe they have something special that makes them even more qualified. Otherwise, why would millions pay attention to what they say?

But we have an even more special category of people; “the leaders”. The “leaders” are sometimes also the rich, the famous and the intellectuals but more often, the “leaders” are the politicians; any politician elected, to even the more modest public office, tends to think he or she has “leadership” qualities. It is “obvious”, as the reason they voted for him or her is because the people, the ordinary people, “saw” in the politician those qualities.

Too many people among those with money, with higher formal education, the famous and, above all, the politicians, are convinced their condition also makes them smarter to speak and decide on any issue of importance to society.

Of course, they are wrong. The intelligence required to set up a great business, to be a prestigious intellectual, a successful politician, is not synonymous with common sense.

We all know of people with money, intellectuals, famous people and politicians, who do not have common sense. We also see ordinary people without common sense.

Common sense is the most important form of intelligence. You only have to look at how Merriam-Webster, Oxford and Collins define common sense:

“Sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts”.

 “The ability to use good judgment in making decisions and to live in a reasonable and safe way”.

 “Your common sense is your natural ability to make good judgments and to behave in a practical and sensible way”.

You can not go far without common sense, no matter how “smart” you are.

In my opinion, the majority of people with money, the intellectuals, the politicians, even the famous, have common sense. I also believe the majority of ordinary people also have it.

Ordinary people, voters, exercise common sense when they elect politicians. I am referring here to ordinary voters in stable democracies. In unstable democracies I do not know; perhaps they choose wrong.

To have a stable, prosperous democracy, common sense has to be present in the majority of voters; otherwise they will make too many mistakes at voting time and select the wrong representative. Voters make mistakes even in stable democracies sometimes, but it does not happen too often, and they do not make catastrophic mistakes, otherwise they would not be stable democracies.

Most elected politicians agree that, generally, ordinary voters have the common sense necessary to choose the right person to represent them.

But a surprise pops up; too many of those elected politicians believe that same voter, who decided to vote for him or her, does not have enough common sense to decide if the village, the town, the region or the nation needs a new school or school system, a new road or transport network, a new tax, a new immigration law, a law on gay marriage or health care, or a new trade treaty.

It is also interesting that in most democracies changes to the constitution require approval by popular referendum. This means politicians recognize the people have, not only common sense, but wisdom. They recognize the people have the ability to decide on the key document of the country.

In view of all that, it is obviously absurd to say voters do not have the capacity to decide on any law, school, health care system, treaty, etc.

There is no doubt that in stable democracies the citizens are qualified to make decisions on specific issues.

To decide, ordinary citizens will need information. They will need to listen to the experts, just like politicians do. Any issue can be explained in ordinary language by the experts. Once that is done, the common sense of the voter enables him or her to decide.

That is why in Switzerland they do it that way, and it works.

The Swiss have not done away with politicians; they have elections, and the politicians propose laws. What they have changed is that the people decide on the laws and the issues. They decide on any decision or law politicians want to make.

Citizens can also propose new laws and changes to the constitution.

In both cases citizens decide by voting in a referendum. They decide on anything of importance; taxes, health care, road building, nuclear power, education, etc.

If the Swiss can decide if a new school is necessary, on gay marriage, on universal health care, on a new road or new treaty, why can’t you?

I tell you why, it is because you have not fought for the right to be able to. The Swiss had to fight. They fought with arguments. They fought and they won; that is why they have direct democracy from the local to national level, and you do not.

By the way, with direct democracy people will not riot, like they do in so many representative democracies. This is because all decisions have the legitimacy of explicit support by the majority of voters. No decision made by representative politicians, no matter how intelligent they may be, has comparable legitimacy.

It is in your hands to bring direct democracy to wherever you are; don’t sit on them!

 

 

 

 

“Direct democrats at work”

In 2018 the US Economic Policy Institute calculated compensation of the average CEO in the largest 350 US companies was 14,4 million dollars, 271 times the 58,000 dollars annual average pay of the American worker,.

The Economic Policy Institute is a left-wing think tank. Their motives to research and publish the data may be “politically motivated”, but the data is what it is.

To remove the “political”, “leftie”, etc.,  “aroma”, let us fly over to Switzerland; a country with very solid democratic institutions and more friendly to entrepreneurs and business than even the US.

Switzerland also is a country with amazing executive talent. This is demonstrated by the hard fact that Switzerland exports, in relation to its population, twice as much in high technology goods and services than high tech export powerhouse Germany, and EIGHT TIMES more than the US. To do that you must have pretty good executives, executives also pretty good at developing very good employees at all levels.

In 2013 the Swiss acted when executive pay became “only” 40 times the pay of the average worker. They took matters into their own hands; the way direct democracy allows them to.

The Swiss got spooked because some very highly paid executives, like those at one of Switzerland’s more prestigious and “stable” banks, UBS, screw up big when they got sucked into US quick money financial schemes engineered by other “super bright”, even more highly paid, executives, who wrecked the major US financial institutions.

Thomas Minder launched the initiative. He is a Swiss entrepreneur and independent politician who sits with the Swiss People’s Party (a sort of Swiss-style “populist” party). The Socialist party also supported the initiative.

Herr Minder started the petition to have the issue decided by all voters in a referendum. The organizers gathered the required 100 000 signatures, about 1% of the population, and a referendum to amend the Swiss Constitution took place.

It is interesting that supporters of the initiative spent only about 200,000 dollars.  Those against it spent 8 million. It seems that in direct democracy big money can live happily, but does not call the political shots.

70 per cent of voters said yes to the initiative. The initiative changes the Swiss Constitution; another example of real government by the people.

The initiative was also designed to control the “golden handshakes” and “golden parachutes”, not just excessive pay at work.

Later on there was another initiative who really scared executives, perhaps it scared Herr Minder too; its goal was to cap executive pay a 12 times the salary of the lowest paid worker in the company.

The latter initiative did not pass, but it was a warning to what can happen when ordinary citizens, of all political tendencies, get mad at the abuses of the foolish elites and have the power of direct democracy. They do not need to demonstrate, set cars on fire, riot or fall into the hands of flame-spewing “revolutionary” demagogues. In direct democracy ordinary people get organized, vote and settle the issue.

While the Swiss people acted, people in other countries; the US, France, UK, Canada, etc., all they can do is watch the news about excessive pay, listen to politicians of the left raise hell over “inequalities”, and to those on the right mumble something, but more muted, and…, nothing changes.

The result is that the pressure for change may continue to build to dangerous levels, until society “explodes”. The explosion may elect a government that caps executive pay, nationalizes companies for “social mismanagement”, promises “money and happiness for all”, etc.

Is it not time to bring direct democracy to your country?

THE TEXT OF THE SWISS INITIATIVE:

The initiative is now the law of the land. Notice how the initiative does not come down with radical measures; basically it limits itself to make sure shareholders control executive pay.

The text:

The Federal Constitution of Switzerland of April 1999 is amended as follows:

Art. 95 paragraph 3 (new)

(3) In order to protect the economy, private property and shareholders and to ensure sustainable management of businesses, the law requires that Swiss public companies listed on stock exchanges in Switzerland or abroad observe the following principles:

(a) Each year, the Annual General Meeting votes the total remuneration (both monetary and in kind) of the Board, the Executive Board and the Advisory Board. Each year, the AGM elects the President of the Board or the Chairman of the Board and, one by one, the members of the board, the members of the Compensation Committee and the independent proxy voter or the independent representative. Pension funds vote in the interests of their policyholders and disclose how they voted. Shareholders may vote electronically at a distance; proxy voting by a member of the company or by a depositary is prohibited.

(b) Board members receive no compensation on departure, or any other compensation, or any compensation in advance, any premium for acquisitions or sales of companies and cannot act as consultants or work for another company in the group. The management of the company cannot not be delegated to a legal entity.

(c) The company statutes stipulate the amount of annuities, loans and credits to board members, bonus and participation plans and the number of external mandates, as well as the duration of the employment contract of members of the management.

(d) Violation of the provisions set out in letters a to c above shall be sanctioned by imprisonment for up to three years and a fine of up to six years’ remuneration.

II

The transitional provisions of the Federal Constitution shall be amended as follows:

Art. 197 section 8 (new)

  1. Transitional provisions for article 95 paragraph 3

Pending implementation of the law, the Federal Council shall implement legal provisions within one year following the acceptance of article 95.

I do not agree with Transparency International on lobbies

Transparency International states:

“Lobbying is an integral part of a healthy democracy, closely related to universal values such as freedom of speech and the right to petition of government. It allows for various interest groups to present their views on public decisions that may come to affect them. It also has the potential to enhance the quality of decision-making by providing channels for the input of expertise on increasingly technical issues to legislators and decision makers. According to a 2013 survey of 600 European parliamentarians and officials, 89 per cent agreed that, “ethical and transparent lobbying helps policy development”.

This is the link to TI’s report where they make the statement: https://transparency.ch/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/2015_LobbyingInEurope_EN.pdf

I do not agree with TI. I do not believe lobbying is an integral part of a healthy democracy. It may be an inevitable part but it is not healthy.

The reasons are obvious; lobbying is a way for interest groups to push their agendas by directly influencing elected politicians. By this influence lobbies expect the politician to pay special attention to the interests of the lobby. By definition, the interests of the lobby are not the interests of the public in general. If that was the case lobbyists would leave the politicians alone to govern for the people as best they see fit.

But the lobby is not interested in that because lobbies pursue interests of groups, not the general interest.

A business lobby may be interested in allowing massive immigration because if more people compete for jobs labour will be cheaper. A labour lobby may want the opposite, even if excessive restrictions of immigration make wages excessively high and products too costly for other wage earners.

A professional lobby may want the government to pass legislation to make it very difficult for qualified professionals from other countries to immigrate and practice their profession. The formal reason may be “to protect the public”, the real reason may be: “to protect our excellent incomes”.

I understand the desire of business, unions, professional groups, etc., to help their members. The reality is that lobbies are interested in the “common good”, as they understand it.

In representative democracy lobbies have a tremendous advantage; the can work on the politicians every day. They can have face to face meetings with elected representatives, their staff, presentations, tours, etc., all year round. The average voter can not do that because in most cases he or she does not have the time, the means and the expertise.

The voter elected the representative. At voting time the voter has a lot of power, but just for one day. From then on the lobbies have the upper hand.

Transparency International also says lobbies are good because lobbying “allows for various interest groups to present their views on public decisions that may come to affect them”.

Interest groups need lobbies to present their views on public decisions that may come to affect them but, how about the average voter? Is he or she not affected by the public decisions? Why should he or she not have a voice? Obviously, if lobbies can speak to the politicians in depth, so should everybody else.

OK, it is not practical; the politicians and their staff would do nothing else but meet people if every voter participated.

This is where direct democracy, again! tackles the problem.

In direct democracy, lobbies can lobby as much as they want, politicians can listen to them and  pass laws taking into account the concerns of the lobbies. All of this is important, but much less important than in representative democracy.

In direct democracy anyone, with the help of a small group of people and a relatively small amount of money, can set up a challenge to whatever law the politicians pass. The challenge normally takes the form of binding referendum. All eligible voters will vote on acceptance or rejection of the law and the government hast to comply with the result.

Because there are plenty of people, political parties and others, who follow the passage of new laws. Pretty soon they will raise the alarm if the law seems flawed. They will trigger a debate which may end up with the collection of the required number of signatures, 1% of eligible voters, for example. Once they have the signatures, the government has no option but to call for a referendum to decide if the law will be passed or killed.

Over the years, the politicians in direct democracy and the lobbies have learned it only makes sense to pass laws that will not be rejected by the people.

In Switzerland, the lobbyists know that. In direct democracies they have to lobby far more gently.

In other words, to control lobbies the trick is not to put the emphasis on controlling how the lobbies lobby but to control the outcome. There is no better method to control the lobbies than the people by means of referendums.

In another report AI also speaks of Swiss lobbies being poorly regulated. I do not think regulation and formal rules to control lobbyists is the answer. The answer lies in giving the people the power to approve or reject the results of what the politicians want to do, lobbies or no lobbies, by means of citizen-initiated binding referendums. I do not understand why TI does not promote this solution.

In the United States lobbying is highly regulated but there is no comparison between the US and Switzerland on the negative influence lobbies have on democracy; corruption, laws to help private interests, pork barrel politics, etc. All that is a far worse problem in the US than in Switzerland.

Switzerland ranks 4th in TI corruption index, the US ranks 23rd.

A few years ago, an article in the American business magazine Forbes stated: “Con men, swindlers and cheaters pay bribes. Sophisticates hire lobbyists because lobbyists get better, more lasting results while only rarely landing in the slammer”.

Transparency International does a great job in other areas; with lobbying they goofed. I wonder why TI defends lobbying…

Direct democracy in your country will be a more effective way to reduce the influence of lobbies.

The fact that 89% of elected representative politicians in the European Parliament say: “ethical and transparent lobbying helps policy development”, should raise alarms in European voters.

TI also says: “It (lobbying) also has the potential to enhance the quality of decision-making by providing channels for the input of expertise on increasingly technical issues to legislators and decision makers”.

There is no need for lobbies to do that. Inviting any interested parties to participate in open transparent hearings, debates, etc., will provide decision makers with the input and expertise they need. At the same time, the public will see what is going on; much better than lobby regulation.

Making lobbies “transparent” may be better than nothing, but it does not address the root problem. The root problem is too much power in the hands of elected politicians and too little power in the hands of voters. In other words, the final decision makers have to be the voters, not the usual decision makers.