Swiss de-centralization provides valuable lessons for future
Switzerland is far from flawless, but still a unique country.
Our friend Claudio Grass has discussed Switzerland in these pages before, and on one of these occasions we added some background information on country’s truly unique political system (see “The People Against the Establishment” for the details). People are generally aware that direct democracy in the form of frequent referendums is a major characteristic of the Swiss system, but how many people know that the country’s executive is essentially modeled after the system established in the city states of ancient Greece?
Claudio was recently interviewed by Jeff Deist of the Mises Institute on what we can learn from Switzerland, which despite its undeniable flaws, continues to stand out among European nations states as a beacon of liberty. As the introduction at the Mises Institute notes, political life in Switzerland differentiates itself by its strongly pronounced degree of subsidiarity and the major limitations it places on central political power structures at the federal level:
Switzerland is no libertarian paradise. It has bureaucrats and a wayward central bank. But it remains an astonishing modern example of the principles of federalism and subsidiarity in action. In fact, it exemplifies Lew Rockwell’s daydream: nobody much knows or cares who is president.
Its federal administrative state demonstrates humility instead of hubris. And virtually all political decisions, from taxes to welfare to immigration, are decided locally.
Historically, Swiss subsidiarity may also have to do with its geography, but be that as it may, who wouldn’t like to live in a country in which “nobody knows or cares much who the president is”? Indeed, the Swiss president is a true primus inter pares, as his power doesn’t exceed that of his six colleagues in the Federal Council.
The concordance principle that regulates power-sharing between political parties on the Council guarantees a certain deliberative inertia, so to speak. There is little danger that it will take radical decisions out of the blue. The best politicians are generally those who do nothing, or very little. It is the well-meaning busybodies one has to fear most; as a rule they tend to be both dangerous and expensive.
If one has to suffer the ignominy of government, it should ideally be nothing more than a footnote in most people’s lives. In other words, the opposite of what governments are seemingly trying to become all over the world. It seems to us though that a counter-trend is already well underway. Assorted central planners and social engineers are getting desperate, because they can sense that power is slipping from their grasp.
Alas, the journey from where we are to where we ideally ought to be – which is a world in which ordering other people around is seen as a laughable anachronism – is going to involve a long and winding road. Realistically, small steps will have to be taken and a place like Switzerland certainly holds a few valuable lessons worth thinking about.