While in representative democracies the people vote, hope for the best and then grumble, or go to extremes, in Switzerland’s direct democracy the people act like this:

This is just one example.

In 2019 the organisation Young Swiss Socialists was able to get 100 000 people, approximately 1% of the population of Switzerland, to sign and back their proposal to reduce taxes on salaries and increase taxes on capital.

First important thing to note; this initiative by a relatively small group of Swiss people, if approved in the popular referendum, will change the Swiss Constitution. This means the Swiss Constitution is a “living and breathing” document, continuously changing and improving democracy, as it reflects the changes in the values and concerns of the Swiss people.

The Swiss Constitution is not like the constitutions of representative democracies, in representative democracies, the Constitution is treated almost revealed absolute truth from above. Obviously the concept is balderdash; the Constitutions of all countries are written by ordinary people. Hopefully, such people are reasonable and intelligent, unfortunately, that requirement is not alway fulfilled.

Sometimes those who write the constitution claim the text comes straight from God. There is not much I can say about that…, you decide.

The hard truth is that real democracy means the people make the constitution, not the gods or those who claim divine inspiration.

This is how it was done by the Ancient Greeks, those amazing fellows who thought, without fear of gods or men, about everything there is to think about. Unfortunately, many humans feel comfortable with the darkness that claims to be light… The European started to get rid of the new dark age in the Renaissance and the Enlightment, but the job is not complete; that is another story.

The Greeks decided they would write the laws themselves, that the gods would have no say in that.

But let us take the American as an example of a well-known “Holy” Constitution. Most stable representative democracies treat their constitution in a similar manner.

The American people really can not change the Constitution. All they can do is complain, protest, take to the street and scare the politicians into changing it.

This is the process to change the US Constitution:

Article V of the United States Constitution outlines basic procedures for constitutional amendment.

  1. Congress may submit a proposed constitutional amendment to the states, if the proposed amendment language is approved by a two-thirds vote of both houses.
  2. Congress must call a convention for proposing amendments upon application of the legislatures of two-thirds of the states (i.e., 34 of 50 states).
  3. Amendments proposed by Congress or convention become valid only when ratified by the legislatures of, or conventions in, three-fourths of the states (i.e., 38 of 50 states).

Look up the process in your country and see how it works.

Th American people have zero say in the process; in the US, like in other representative democracies, all the power is in the hands of the politicians, not in the hands of the people.

The party in power may change, the majority in parliament or a congress may flip, but the end result is always the same; the power is always in the hands of the politicians, their appointees and, “indirectly” in the hands of the lobbies.

The Swiss system is very different; in the case of the current Swiss initiative to change the constitution, a 27 person committee of the Young Swiss Socialists gathered the 100 000 signatures, they had one and a half years to achieve that.

The committee succeeded and presented their proposal to the Swiss government, suggesting to the government it should act to reduce taxes on salaries and increase them for capital.

The overall argument hinges on the idea that the rich are becoming richer and their share of the national wealth keeps growing, that the situation is not fair. The initiative basically tells the Swiss government: “Here, we believe this is what you should do, 100 000 of Swiss believe you should”

The Swiss government, the executive and the legislative, debated the issue but rejected the proposal.

When that happens, another mechanism kicks in; the proposal must go to a national popular referendum. This is the real teeth in the Swiss system; 100 000 people can force a national referendum. If the proposal wins the referendum, the government has to act and develop legislation, which also can be challenged by the people, to increase taxes on capital and reduce them on salaries.

Before the referendum takes place; this one is scheduled for September 21st. 2021, there will be plenty of discussion in Switzerland in families, among friends, at workplaces, in the media, debates, etc.

As part of the process, each citizen also will receive a package of information from the government. The package includes the text of the position of the committee elaborating the proposal, the counterarguments and counter proposal of the government, as well as the positions of other important actors, such as political parties. The package is devoid of demagoguery.

By the time the referendum date arrives, any Swiss voter interested in the issue will have had plenty of time and resources to understand the issue.

This does not mean that most Swiss voters will be interested enough to vote. Some may not vote because they are not interested, others because they can not make their minds up; it is not clear to them which arguments are better; those of the government saying that wealth distribution in Switzerland is less skewed towards the rich that in other countries, that various social programs produce wealth distribution and that taxing capital more might discourage savings, investing and creating new business who are at the root of Swiss prosperity, or the arguments of the proponents.

Voter turnout in national Swiss referendums varies from the 30% to 70%, depending on the issue.

By the way; low turnouts do not mean “voter fatigue”, like some enemies of direct democracy in the US, Canada, Wester Europe, etc., say. Over one year, the Swiss vote in several referendums; taking that into account, 80% of Swiss voters vote in the referendums to decide issues. They do that besides voting every four years to elect politicians.

The system has another immense advantage over representative democracy; if the Young Swiss Socialists, and the over 100 000 people who supported the initiative, lose the referendum, they will go home and think of something else, or wait until the public mood changes and repeat the process; they know, and all other Swiss know, the decision has been a democratic decision by the people, not by a minuscule group of elected politicians.

The credibility of a decision made directly by the people is much stronger than the credibility of a decision made by politicians behind closed doors, with lobbyists, with the media owners pushing them this or that way.

The issue then for the people of representative democracies is: “why do the Swiss people have so much power to act, to propose, to force the politicians to do what the majority of the people really want, and we do not have that power?”

It is because the people of representative democracies grumble, complain, about “the politicians”, about”big business”, “big labour”, etc., but do not act. What they have to do is demand direct democracy now, as good or better a direct democracy than what the Swiss have.

Besides improving democracy, direct democracy has other benefit; it frees politicians from the clutches of the lobbies. As the politicians in a direct democracy have less power, the lobbies know it makes no sense to donate millions to the politicians to get them elected, because the politicians simply do not have the power to act the way the lobbies want them to.

If you do not do not fix your representative democracy by bringing direct democracy, who will?, your kids? Is it not better your children inherit from you a better political system?

Besides, if we do not bring direct democracy, representative democracy will continue to deteriorate because the professional politicians and the lobbies they need to get elected are pulling democracy further from the people as time passes, and polarisation of politics and voters grows.

The result could be the death of democracy. Remember that Hitler, was the product of the failing German representative democracy in the 30s. By the way, Germany was a country already developed and highly educated, but the politicians of representative democracy, somehow, wrecked democracy and Hitler rose out of its ashes.

To save democracy, we need direct democracy, and also to help others like the Chinese from the mainland, (the Chinese from Taiwan already have are switching to direct democracy), and other authoritarian regimes, including religious authoritarian regimes, go beyond the acceptance of the value of private business to develop economically; to develop culturally, socially, spiritually, even scientifically, and to have a long-term politically stable country in the modern era, humans need direct democracy.

So, why do the Swiss people have the right and the power to decide if they will pay less taxes and business more? Perhaps the Swiss will decide the current system is fair, but the key point is they can, and the rest of us do not…

Victor Lopez

Swiss-style democracy is more democratic because it is direct and because it is more representative

  1. In another post I showed how Switzerland is, by far, the most democratic country in the World, never mind the intellectual contorsions and pirouettes of The Economist’s Intelligent Unit, placing Switzerland in 12th place, behind 11 representative democracies.

Switzerland is the most democratic country in the World because none of the other 11 even come close to Switzerland in the degree that “government by the people” takes place.

As we know, the Swiss people have far more power than the peoples of any of the other 11 countries, and than the people of any other country. The only other country that is starting to approach Switzerland is, this probably surprises you, Taiwan, but that is another story.

But the Swiss have not done away completely with representative democracy; the Swiss elect political representatives like in all representative democracies, but there is a huge difference.

In representative democracies, the party that wins the majority of seats governs alone. If no party wins a majority, it may govern in minority or in coalition with another party, so that together, they can form a majority coalition.

In such countries, the governing parties represent the majority of the population, but a small majority, normally not much more than 50-60%. This means that huge portions of the population have no representation in the executive, even if they elected substantial numbers of parliamentarians.

The Swiss do it differently; in Switzerland the executive is always a coalition of the major parties, the parties that, together, represent 80% of the population.

It is obvious the Swiss executive governs for the majority because the parties in the executive represent an overwhelming majority and because they negotiate all decisions until they satisfy those in the coalition.

One great advantage is that the system makes it impossible for any one party, or the two major parties, to unilaterally impose on the population policies that do not have the support of other important parties.

It is obvious then than the Swiss executive is the most democratic in the World.

Not only that, the system imposes a slow and deliberate process of decision making, except when an emergency dictates quick action.

If to that, we add that the Swiss executive reaches decisions by consensus, because the President does not have more power than any of the other members of the executive, even if his or her party represents more voters or more parliamentarians, then we can see how the Swiss executive makes decisions that truly represent the political goals of the major parties and of the majority of the people.

But let us not forget that in Switzerland they also have direct democracy. This means that ordinary people can, at any time, set in motion the celebration of a referendum challenging, and even turning back, any decision by the executive, and even any law produced by the legislature.

In Switzerland, a few citizens can get together and set in motion a national referendum on any issue. The government can not stop referendums and must enact the results of the referendums.

Not only that, the Swiss government can not call referendums, referendums are held when the law mandates them or when the people so decide.

But others can also set the wheels of a referendum in motion; any political party, even minority parties, and even parties with no representation in parliament, can.

In Switzerland any NGO, any union, anybody, can set in motion a referendum; the process to tell and instruct the executive and the legislative; “no, no you can not do that, you must do this”.

It is obvious then; Switzerland is the most democratic country in the World because it is a direct democracy and because it is a more representative, representative democracy.

The democracies of the Scandinavian countries, of the Anglo-Saxon countries, of Germany, of Japan, of the Netherlands and of a few others, are stable democracies but lag far behind Switzerland in democratic quality.

If you want the people of your country to really live in a democracy, you will have to move and do something to, at least, have a democracy as democratic and representative as the Swiss have. But perhaps your country could even surpass the Swiss…

The Swiss people took to the streets, peacefully but relentlessly, until the politicians, almost two centuries ago, relented and brought in direct democracy and also a more representative democracy.

Interestingly; the Swiss people also acted after the elected politicians botched the management of another pandemic; crisis can really be opportunities.

Victor Lopez

The devil is in the details; that is why a direct democracy works better than a representative democracy

Let me make one thing perfectly clear; representative democracy, represented and represents a huge advance over the old absolute rulers and also over the new one person dictators, one party dictators or rule by religious dictators.

Those other regimes are morally illegitimate but, sadly, in many societies the majority of the population seem to lack the values that make democracy possible, even representative democracy.

Direct democracy is a huge improvement over representative democracy because it delivers a huge improvement to the freedom, and therefore the dignity, of ordinary citizens.

In a representative democracy the people are free to discuss issues and to vote (if the particular democracy is working reasonably well and has not fallen yet in the hands of an entrenched political caste and the lobbies who support them, as is the case now in the United States), but direct democracy delivers more; besides being free to discuss issues and to vote, direct democracy gives people the freedom and power to decide which are the real political issues and the power to decide them, as well as the power to prevent the elected representatives from making laws and policies that the people oppose.

Let me also say that a country only has direct democracy, and benefits substantially from it, if it practices direct democracy in all leveles of government; local, regional, state, provincial and national.

It is particularly critical that direct democracy be in place at the national level because it is the nation that must decide its destiny.

This is why in the US it does not really count for much that there is direct democracy at the state or local level only. Furthermore, the direct democracy practiced in a number of states in the US is flawed because the lobbies have too much power raising issues. Another problem is that in the US the decisions of voters in referendums are not final; the supreme courts of the states and the Supreme Court of the US, have the power to overturn the decisions of the people. To give such power to the courts makes a mockery of democracy.

But the Swiss have introduced another element that makes their country better, and it is not just direct democracy.

What the Swiss have done is extremely clever; besides the power the people have to decide issues and in this way control the government, they decided something else; they did away with the one elected person one elected party rule.

In Switzerland the major parties of the left right and center, who represent approximately 70-80% of the voters, govern in coalition. This ensures that the majority of the population is represented in the executive.

But the Swiss have gone beyond that, the Swiss realized that a team has more intellectual power and knowledge that one single individual. What they have done is set up a team of 7, representing those major parties, that is the Swiss national executive.

The governing team makes decisions as a team, and by consensus.

This system, besides ensuring better analyisis of issues, because seven heads think better than one, it also produces better decisions for the same reason.

In the Swiss system, the presidency of the national executive is a job that rotates every two years among the seven members. The person occupying the position of president does not have any more power than any of the other six members; he or she only represents the seven in foreign trips. When a foreign head of state of goverment visits Switzerland, he or she is received by the seven together.

Besides the advantages of better decisions, the system also has another huge advantage over the system of government centering the executive in one person.

For example, in Switzerland, if one of the team of seven shows bad judgement or loss of mental faculties, the effects on the discussions and decisions would not be crucial; in a way, the seven members control each of the seven.

The system also eliminates the dependance of the president on advisors appointed by him or her and subservient to him or her. Such advisors are limited in what they can tell him or her for obvious reasons.

This means that, unlike the governments of the US, Canada. UK, France, Germany, Japan, etc., it would not be critical if the head of the executive loses mental faculties or makes an error in judgement; there are another six people equal to him or her, not appointed by him or her, that can ignore or stop whatever he or she proposes.

In the US, it would not have been important the mental condition of President Reagan towards the end of his presidency, or the mental condition of President Biden now, or the character and skills of the Vicepresident who would substitute the President if the President has to resign.

Issues of character are not as important either; if a member of the Swiss executive is corrupt or shows a flawed character, such a presidents Nixon and Clinton, he or she can be removed without national trauma.

The Swiss executive system could be adopted in representative democracies, but it would not work well because in a representative democracy, the seven would have too much power. In a direct democracy, such as Switzerland, the people, if they so decide, have the power to keep in check anything the national executive does or proposes to do.

As you see, Switzerland is the best run country in the World because of direct democracy but also because of the seven member executive and their collective decision making.

Well, direct democracy is about collective decision making; we all decide the present and future of the country, not just the elected politicians, the elected aristocracy.

Decision making by teams of equals is superior to decision making by one individual. One extraordinary individual can make some great decisions but to make good, sound decisions decade after decade, a team is better.

One of the decisive strengths of Toyota over its rivals, is its decision making process; at the top, the decision is collective and by consensus, at the bottom and middle the system involves every employee in decision making on the job.

Toyota is more profitable and more stable than any other car company. In case Tesla comes to your mind; Tesla is a very innovative company but its money does not come from profits, it comes from investors who believe in the future of Tesla. But it is obvious that without Musk, Tesla is nothing, if Akio Toyoda, the president of Toyotd, dies or quits, Toyota will barely notice his departure.

This helps explain why Toyota, in its more than 80 year history, has only lost money in two years; 2008 and 2020. Toyota is not a direct democracy but shows that collective decision-making is superior to the “Great Executive with Vision” system.

I hope this helps you support, and act, to bring direct democracy to your country.

Direct democracy is about you having the power to decide the present and future of your country because it puts the politicians under the control of the voters.

Victor Lopez

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