Today, June 15, President Biden arrived in Switzerland to meet tomorrow with President Putin. Mr Biden will also meet with some Swiss officials, including Guy Parmelin, who holds Switzerland’s rotating presidency this year.
I do not expect Mr. Putin to learn much from Switzerland as the political mindset of Swiss politicians and the Swiss people is completely alien to the Russian people and Russian government officials.
Bu there are important common factors between Switzerland and the United States. If Mr. Biden is open-minded he will see the time has come for America to learn from the Swiss, just like the Swiss learned from the Americans earlier.
The Swiss had been practising important elements of direct democracy since the 12th century; but they relied on the American Constitution and also on important elements of the French Revolution, to modernise their democracy in the 1800s.
In that process, the Swiss pole-vaulted over the Americans and the French; they left both (and every other nation) far behind when, in 1867, after another pandemic, the Swiss people expanded direct democracy to all levels of government. The rest are still far behind, even newly created democracies such as Israel, Spain, all of Eastern Europe, etc., have been completely incapable of coming up to the Swiss who still are truly in a category of their own. By the way, ignore the wrong rankings of democracy published by The Economist; it places Switzerland as the 12th most democratic country when, in fact is number one, far and away.
The changes meant the Swiss people by themselves, without the permission or support of the elected politicians, earned the right to call for popular referendums on any law, regulation or decision the elected politicians made or wanted to make.
This meant that for the first time in human history, since Ancient Greece, the people themselves could make political decisions, not just elect politicians and let them make all the decisions.
But the Swiss went even further; the people also earned the right to propose and approve laws, including changes to the Swiss Constitution. Again, since the Ancient Greeks, no people on Earth has comparable power.
But they not just earn the right on paper; the system makes it easy for anyone to organise referendums; that is why they have so many. Any individual, minority or small party able to gather 50 000 or 200 000 signatures (depending on the issue) will be able to hold a national referendum on whatever they propose.
Switzerland is more democratic because everybody has the opportunity to put their ideas before the people, for the people to decide; the Swiss are heard, the Swiss decide the key issues that concern them, not the elected politicians.
Compared to Swiss democracy, democracy in the US, Canada, France, the UK and in all other representative “democracies”. are not really democracies, they are almost a joke. Of course, non-democracies are human tragedies played every day.
The Swiss did not do away with politicians, they still elect them. This is the one area in which they have not caught up to the Greeks yet; the Greek people also run the government; the Greeks had no professional politicians or political parties; ordinary people run the government, relying on various public employees to carry out decisions.
I hear some Swiss also explore that; that the people really govern. That is what democracy is really about, “government by the people”. When the people really call the shots, no beautifully sounding sentences such as “Government of the people, by the people, for the people” are necessary; if the people really govern, it is enough.
There is no such thing as “representative democracy”; it is either democracy, or it is not. If it is representative, it is not democracy.
The Swiss practice direct decision-making by the people many times each year; they decide at the national level, the canton (state) level and the local city, town and village level.
For example, just 2 days ago, on Sunday the 13th, the Swiss people made several very important decisions, decisions that the people of the most powerful country in the World, the country that in important ways set the pace in the 18 century, in 2021 still can not make.
This is what the Swiss people decided, not the Swiss politicians, on June 13th:
There was a referendum on a Popular Initiative to tighten the rules farmers must comply with to use pesticides. The goal of the initiative was to ensure better environmental protection and better drinking water protection.
Switzerland already has tight environmental standards, the third most strict in the World; the US ranks 24th. The Swiss people are very much for tight environmental standards, as the ranking of the country shows, but they are not foolish, they do not follow political demagogues who promise everything, as it happens in the US and many other representative democracies.
The Swiss decided the new tougher measures proposed were not reasonable and rejected them; 60.69% of the voters rejected the initiative; the Swiss people feel the current law is tough enough.
The Swiss, also on Sunday 13th, decided not to ban synthetic pesticides; 60.58% of the voters rejected the proposal. The Swiss people feel the current laws on the use of synthetic pesticides are reasonable.
Another referendum, on the same day, dealt with the emergency power law, the Swiss Parliament passed, giving the government emergency powers to deal with the current virus pandemic.
Many Swiss felt Parliament passed the law without proper consideration of all relevant factors. They also felt the law also has other negative elements, such as providing financial assistance to mass media. These people set up a committee who collected the number of necessary signatures to force a referendum on the matter.
The people voted; 60.21% of Swiss voters felt the law was appropriate.
No mob rule here either, just debate, information and decision by the people.
The Swiss government ha also proposed a law to tighten laws regarding CO2 emissions. Many Swiss felt the law was too strict, that it would cause irreparable damage to many people; they organised a referendum and recommended the people vote NO, and reject the law. 51.59% of the voters rejected the law, effectively killing it. They mostly rejected it because they would have to pay higher taxes. It makes sense; the people pay, the people should decide the level ot taxation.
Americans did not put up with the increate in taxes by the English King, and changed history; incomprehensibly, they now put up with much higher, often wasteful, levels of taxes set by their “representative” politicians; when will they again have enough?
The Swiss Government also proposed a law to deal with terrorism. Again, many Swiss felt the law was too drastic and damaged certain rights. They organised a referendum. The people voted; 56.58% of the voters felt the law was reasonable and thus will become law.
Joe Biden could do worse than look at how the Swiss run their country. Perhaps you can tell to download the app Voteinfo, available for Android and Apple, there he could start to understand how Swiss direct democracy work at the national level, and how it could work at the national level in the US too.
No mob rule in Switzerland, no “dictatorship of the majority” either, just debate, information and reasonable, really democratic, decisions by the people.
In Switzerland, the people are the final decision-makers; they don’t decide everything but they decide whatever they feel it is important enough for them want to decide. The Swiss Executive, the legislature, even the Swiss Supreme Court can not prevail over the will of the people.
The system has delivered; Switzerland, with no natural resources, except water, is a superior society to the US on anything you care to consider; standard of living, health care, social harmony, politics centered on cooperation, political stability, quality of education, quality of democracy, and on and on.
Joe Biden could push, for example, to adapt the Swiss model of universal health care, the best in the World; they have done it with a synergy of government action and private initiative. Thus overcoming the decades-old shenanigans of Republicans and Democrats on the issue. US reprerentative democracy has only succeeded at spending the most in health care while providing almost Third World health care to millions of Americans. Is it not time the American people directly propose and decide the health care system they want?
What stands in the way of Swiss-level universal health care for Americans is not the medical lobby, the insurance lobby, the drug companies lobby, it is the American politicians who are in the clutches of the lobbies at election and re-election time.
Mr. Biden could also bring direct democracy to America. He could but he won’t
I am sure Mr. Biden does not want the American people to have the power the Swiss people have. The rest of American politicians, progressives or conservatives, are not interested in direct democracy either, they are interested in preserving a system that gives them and those “close” to them, all the decision-making power.
I know Mr Biden, as well as most US politicians in Washington, do not want direct democracy because in 1867 the Swiss politicians did not want the people to have the power to decide issues either, they just wanted the people to vote them in, but the Swiss pushed and pushed until they got the right to hold binding popular referendums and initiatives.
Professional politicians love representative democracy because it gives them all the decision-making power, while claiming the country is a democracy, but it is not; representative democracy is a system of elected aristocrats who govern for the non-elected minority of aristocrats running big business, big professional organisations, big unions and assorted very well organised pressure groups whose interests are not the interests of the majority, and they exist precisely because of that. The en result is hijacking of democracy, of the will of the people, just like it used to happen in Switzerland.
Like the Swiss people, Americans, Canadians, French, Germans, Israelis, Japanese, British. Irish, Swedish, etc., will have to demand direct democracy, and not give up, until their politicians relent and accept that the people must have veto power over whatever law, regulation or policy they want to adopt. The politicians will also have to accept that the people can propose and approve laws, regulations and policies, including changes to the constitution.
Direct democracy is no mob rule, mob rule happens when representative democracy breaks down, as we see it happening in the US and other countries. Direct democracy brings orderly, rational debate among the people, not the demagogical debates we see in the US Congress and the parliaments of other representative democracies.
It is the politicians and the lobbies who want you to believe direct democracy is mob rule, or “dictatorship by the majority” because they much prefer lobby rule. Direct democracy is the only real democracy, do not be fooled one more day.
Are the Swiss smarter than Canadians, Americans, Swedish, Israelis, Germans, Japanese, British, French, Irish, Australians, etc.? So far, they are, but remember that almost 2 centuries ago, they were not; they made themselves smarter when they demanded direct democracy.
“We pay we must decide, elections are not enough”. Direct democracy is what the US and the rest of us need… NOW!