The OECD’s “Better Life Index” needs, at least, fine tuning!

The OECD, Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development, publishes the “Better Life Index” whic ranks countries.

It is an interesting effort. It includes the following factors:

      • Housing
      • Income
      • Jobs
      • Community
      • Education
      • Environment
      • Civic Engagement
      • Health
      • Life Satisfaction
      • Safety
      • Work-Life Balance

I will deal only with one of those factors,  Civic Engagement. Unfortunately, this factor does not reflect Swiss reality of direct democracy and how it provides superior civic engagement.

Let me reason how I arrive at that conclusion.

The OECD defines “Civic Engagement” as composed of two other factors; “Stakeholder Engagement for Developing Regulations” and “Voter Turnout”.

In “Stakeholder Engagement for the Development Regulations”, the Index ranks Switzerland as number 16.

The following countries, according to the index, have citizens more engaged than Switzerland; Lithuania 15th, New Zealand 14th, Slovenia 13th, Italy 12th, Israel 11th, Netherlands 10th, Poland 9th, Australia 8th, Estonia 7th, Korea 6th, Canada 5th, Slovak Republic 4th, UK 3rd, US 2nd, Mexico 1st.

The OECD defines “Stakeholder Engagement in the Development of Regulations” as the “Level of formal stakeholder engagement in the development of primary laws and subordinate regulations”.

If by “formal” the OCDE means, “on paper”, perhaps the OCDE is correct, but what is important is not what the papers say but the facts in real life. As the Spanish say; “el papel lo aguanta todo”, which in English I translate as “anything can be made to look great on paper”.

Perhaps the root of the problem lies in that the OCED speaks of “formal engagement”, as an indicator of civic engagement.

I say this because in Switzerland they have a different system. In this system engagement of voters far exceeds the engagement of voters of any other country.  If we included canton-state-region and municipalities, Swiss engagement is even stronger; “it goes through the roof”.

In Switzerland voters, by majority decision can stop, and do so, any law or regulation proposed by government and passed by parliament. They can also propose and decide on new laws and changes to the Constitution. You can not get much more “engaged” than that.

In Switzerland, it is not up to government or parliament to “engage” the citizens either; by law, the citizens decide how engaged they want to be. This is so because Switzerland is fundamentally a direct democracy. In direct democracy the people have direct power over the politicians. This is not so in representative democracies.

Swiss voters do not just elect the politicians; they have power of decision over the decisions of politicians.

This is a radically different concept from “engagement” in its usual meaning. Swiss citizens do not need to be “engaged”. They do not need to because they are the final authority; no need for anyone to “engage” you if you are the authority.

Swiss citizens can stop any law proposed by the politicians, even if it is approved unanimously by both chambers of the Swiss parliament.

In view of the above, it makes no sense to rank Switzerland as number sixteen in terms of participation; it is evident that it is number one.

Perhaps the ranking makes sense for representative democracies, where citizens have no decision power over laws and regulations.

In representative democracies, the politicians in government and parliament make the decisions on laws on regulations; the people only have the power to elect their representatives. Electing representatives is very important, but not as important as deciding on issues, which is what the Swiss can also do.

Conclusion: The OECD should revise the concept or definition of “Stakeholder Engagement for Developing Regulations” because Switzerland is far ahead of the rest, not number 16!

Another option is to specify the criteria do not apply to Switzerland because, in direct democracy, the people have the power to “engage” as much as they wish, no need to promote that they be engaged.

The only possible higher degree of engagement would be for Swiss ordinary citizens to actually govern, not the politicians, there would be no politicians, like the Greeks did in Ancient Greek democracy. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, not even the Swiss have caught up with our Ancient Greek “cultural forefathers”. The rest of us are behind, most of humanity is political light-years behind!

It is obvious the OECD’s “Stakeholder Engagement for Developing Regulations” index is not a fair indicator when it comes to Switzerland and it should be revised.

Tomorrow I will address another, perhaps even more serious, problem with the OECD’s Civic Engagement Index.

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