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Swiss Political System: More Than You Ever Wanted to Know (250bpm.com)
304 points by zdw on July 18, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 241 comments

What I like most about the Swiss political system is the federal council. Seven people share the duties of the head of state and government. They each lead federal department like a ministers. The members are elected by the united federal assembly. The big parties split the seats proportional to their seats in parliament. The role of president rotates among the members of the federal council and is limited to one year at a time. The president is just first among equals and doesn‘t have any power over the other members of the federal council.

I think this is great for the politics in Switzerland everyone from left to right is represented in the executive and you can‘t just blame the other party for the problems during their terms. This forces the parties to compromise and the opposition based on the issues and not only the party membership.

What stops these 7 members forming two coalitions and having it regress to a two-party polarization?

Cultural divisions along linguistic, religious and political fronts. That’s why the Cantons have so much autonomy. The Swiss Federal government has a much smaller much less high stakes political portfolio because the largest points of controversy, like naturalization, are handled by referendum at the Cantonal rather than the Federal level.

The Federal Council is also elected by the legislature, the Federal Assembly, with the precise composition negotiated through Parliamentary procedure. Every member of the Council has parties to answer to, more so than a directly elected individual with a mandate that can appeal directly to voters and have more popularity than the party backing them. As Swiss culture is far from monolithic, all Federal politics has to be conducted within a coalition. This is true in America as well, it’s just the coalitions are formed under the auspices of the political parties when they form their platforms, which is why it causes problems when you have a directly elected President that is more popular than the party that nominated him.

There’s a lot of lessons here for America, but we wouldn’t be able to transplant the Swiss system here without heavy modification. For example, almost the entirety of the referendum process described in the original article could have been a description of California’s ballot initiative process, with only minor differences in details and processes, and I would argue has been to the detriment of the State of California.

> ... and I would argue has been to the detriment of the State of California.

I am suspicious of all of California's policies, your opinions and the apparent link between direct democracy and material success (Switzerland and California both being synonymous with outrageous wealth).

If the US just tried direct democracy without heavy modification the complaints would be thunderously louder than they are now. No question. The oligarchs would be furious and the media would never shut up. What would actually happen on the ground is unclear.

> The oligarchs would be furious and the media would never shut up.

It’s not hard to find people who follow along party lines 90+% of the time, and who support policies basically because they’re told that’s what they should support. It’d be incredibly easy to game.

One thing that stands in the way of people shooting themselves in the foot with bizarre, harmful policy is the sometimes decent court system. And people regularly get pissed at court decisions even if they rule in favor of betterment for the people.

You know, I can’t tell if you’re agreeing with me or disagreeing with me. I’m very critical of the process in California, but I don’t know enough about Swiss culture to be critical of their usage of referendums so I avoid having opinions on it altogether. I suspect a National popular ballot initiative process in the US would be closer to California’s failures than to any of Switzerland’s successes though, though to be fair, I don’t know that. The rampant populism of the past 10 years doesn’t make me feel good about the idea of giving it a shot though.

Civic understanding is just much different; the 7 seats aren't actually allocated proportionally through a legal mechanism, the parliament just voluntarily chooses to keep the balance in the executive. If they were willing to violate that they could form a coalition in the parliment and actually take all 7 seats of the executive.

Firstly, a councillor is supported by a party. If you don't have the support of your party anymore, you are gone. Secondly, a federal councillar is "above" the party. You are representing first the federal council and not the party towards the public (i.e. a federal councillor represents the opinion of the federal council and not that one of his party).

What stops the parties from forming coalitions?

It's basically just an agreement among the larger parties to share the government, which has been upheld since its inception. In German it is called 'Konkordanz'. I think that direct democracy leads to this agreement being upheld since there is a general fear of any party going into the opposition - direct democratic votes make an opposition overly powerful, in some ways more powerful than governmental powers.

I find it hard to believe that politicians are just so honourable as to not team up to pass their agenda. Am I too jaded?

In America the bipartisan system has corrupted our culture to the point that there really are only two normative agendas. In other countries, it’s still possible to have agendas that are sometimes in common, yet sometimes differ, without getting hit by either side’s cancel culture. In the US there is simply no common ground between the parties, so no reason not to join a team permanently.

> I find it hard to believe that politicians are just so honourable as to not team up to pass their agenda.

It seems to me that this turns out to be a chicken-egg, self-fulfilling prophecy: places where people do not trust government often elect corrupt(able) people—perhaps those types are the only ones available.

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corruption_Perceptions_Index

Places where there are high levels of trust in government (Nordics) tend to have good government.

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy_Index * https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_Fragile_S...

Not sure if there's some kind of 'loop' happening there in which countries can get stuck in, or how to break out of it.

I think all stable systems are in some self reinforcing loop, otherwise they wouldn’t be stable. It just seems to me that Switzerland has, maybe by chance, found one with a more long term focus on improvement. I believe that shared government without term limits and direct democracy as a replacement for the opposition is key to this, and that it can and should be replicated elsewhere.

As I wrote, it's probably a power balance thing - parties in the Swiss system are actually more interested to 'bind' other parties into the government so they can't go out and do populist opposition politics as effectively. Think of it as a stable local optimum that seems to be better (by being more long term oriented) than the typical government/opposition party system.

Some times they team up, BUT if the citizens dont like what they do, both teamed up partys will loose in the next elections, so it's in the interest of every single one party to bind the voters they care for, sometimes they overlap and than they team up.

Politics is not a zero-sum game. When parties discuss with each other they have a chance of all furthering their agendas to some extent, and have all parties mostly support the compromise.

It's also the case that if a party campaigns strongly one subject and win votes with that, its ministers will tend to get the ministries that allow them to implement their ideas. So if you're tough on security you might get the police, if you're a fiscal conservative you get finances. It's more complicated than that, but the longer they stay on the bigger the chance they end up where they want.

I don't know about the Swiss system, but I do know a bit about coalitions.

I'll assume you're American and are not familiar with them.

Coalitions are much less stable than 2 party systems, which is great. Political positions don't ossify and get turned into sports and people rooting for their camp.

Plus representation is in my opinion better since the big guys frequently have to accommodate the little guys just to get the majority.

I'm actually Australian but previously lived in Switzerland and currently in the US.

Australia's political coalitions have been pretty stable despite instant run-off voting and not having any mention of political parties in the constitution.

Politicians just gravitated towards forming parties and coalescing those parties into two sides because it was effective to do so.

> Australia's political coalitions have been pretty stable despite instant run-off voting and not having any mention of political parties in the constitution.

Coalitions plural? I'll echo the earlier sibling comment that LNP is effectively one party - a coalition by name only now, a marriage of sometime convenience.

Other coalitions are rare, to my memory, and I suspect the distinction between an ephemeral coalition and actual representative democracy is a bit fuzzy, if the end goal is to obtain compromise and consensus between multiple representatives with disparate opinions.

As to the AU constitution - it was penned at a time when the dangers of party politics, let alone two-party politics, were not as obvious. Remember, our constitution doesn't mention a role of Prime Minister either.

I'd be very happy to move towards a Swiss style approach here, or even just start with a triumvirate.

Except there's only really one stable coalition in Australia, and that's the coalition between the Liberal Party and some state divisions of the National Party (the Nationals in SA and WA, for example, are not part of the Coalition). The Lib/Nat Coalition has lasted so long that they are treated by the public as if they're one party, and indeed in Queensland and the NT they've merged. It's not a good example of political coalitions in general.

In recent years, there have been Labor-Greens and Labor-Nationals coalitions at a state/territory level, and of course the Gillard minority government federally, but they aren't stable - they last for as long as Labor can't form a majority government.

(Instant runoff voting doesn't necessarily tend towards formation of multi-party systems, it merely removes the risk of three-cornered contests that comes with FPTP (which is still a significant improvement for the chances of minor parties, obviously). The electoral system factors that really determine how multipartisan a political system is are whether you use proportional representation vs majoritarian (see Duverger's Law), and within PR systems, district magnitude. Proportional representation is the reason that in Australia you regularly see minority/coalition governments in the ACT and Tasmania but much more rarely elsewhere, and we see plenty of minor parties in upper houses rather than lower houses.)

>* Plus representation is in my opinion better since the big guys frequently have to accommodate the little guys just to get the majority.*

This is a double edged sword. Saying “little guy” makes it sounds like it’s always a noble cause that doesn’t get enough attention. It can also be an openly racist party, or perhaps a wealthy special interest group that wants some special treatment.

Israel, Italy, and the UK have had a terrible time with coalition governments in recent years.

The recent coalition government in Britain was much more stable than the following Conservative government. E.g Only one prime minister in 5 years and no major chaos. The two party system fails when both parties consistently fail to supply an effective leader, which has been the case since 2015 in the UK

Fails in what sense? Effective in what sense?

The most recent election went from a hung parliament in coalition to delivering a huge majority to the new leader. The two party system had failed, but it fixed itself.

Also the UK isn't actually a two party system. There's the Conservatives and Labour, but also the SNP which is important, and the Lib Dems who used to be more important than they are now, and of course UKIP/Brexit Party who never won seats but proved highly effective at getting their desired political outcome by posing a credible threat as a third party.

In the sense that the country flip flops between two political ideologies at huge expense in changes to procedures and physical infrastructure rather than agreeing a course to steer and sticking to it with occasional course corrections at elections. In the sense that the influence of small minorities like UKIP happens in back rooms of the Conservative party and likewise with Momentum in the Labour Party. If we had a fair voting system, which reflected the true voting intentions of the whole electorate, rather than the voting intentions of a small number of people in swing constituencies, a centrist party can say ‘if you don’t like it start your own party’ and the debate then happens in public. If the extreme socialists or the nazis make inroads then a centrist party either becomes more socialist or nazi or you end up forming a coalition, but at least it’s transparent and it’s a lot more predictable. No-one cared about the EU until Cameron sprung the referendum on us, that referendum was entirely the result of back room shenanigans in an attempt to reduce the influence of UKIP.

First past the post means it is a de facto two party system. This is because people know that there is no point voting for a party that can’t win and in ~75% of constituencies there is a large enough majority that there is no point in voting at all unless you are supporting the incumbent. The only time that one of the main 2 parties was usurped by another was when the liberal party got us into a war that lead to decades of turmoil and killed vast numbers of people. I would rather that my vote could have some influence before things get that bad.

I can't agree that there's flip flopping going on. Corbyn would have been a flip-flop if elected but instead he was electorally destroyed.

When looking at actual leaders, the UK has had highly stable government for decades. It may not feel like it because of the manic focus of the press on a tiny number of issues at any one time but Tony Blair, David Cameron and Boris Johnson are extremely comparable in general world and politics. If it weren't for the single divisive issue of the EU you'd struggle to tell their administrations apart. They're all middling elite/centrist types who aggressive optimise for voter preference via focus groups and polls, even outside of election time. They're all lacking in any clear vision for what to do or change, and thus delegate relentlessly to civil servants and assorted academics.

No-one cared about the EU until Cameron sprung the referendum on us, that referendum was entirely the result of back room shenanigans in an attempt to reduce the influence of UKIP

This statement is self-contradicting: the reason Cameron 'sprung' the referendum on the UK was exactly because UKIP was taking a lot of voters and was getting dangerously close to the threshold where it'd start denying the Tories seats. BTW it wasn't really sprung on people: in reality an EU referendum had been debated for years, in fact the Lib Dems had once been the primary party pushing for one. They called for an in/out referendum in 2007 for example, and the rise of UKIP showed that many people cared.

FPTP clearly can't mean always a two party system because otherwise the SNP would never have existed. Scotland would have remained Lab/Con forever.

It may appear to be very different to a coalition-oriented PR system on the surface, but it's not really in the end. You tend to get two parties because FPTP incentivises what are basically large coalitions posing as single parties. The Conservatives aren't really a single party, nor are Labour. That's why there are so many factions within them like the ERG on the right or Momentum and its offshoots on the left. They're uneasy coalitions of people who often don't agree on all that much, but who agree with each other more than the other side.

In PR systems these factions are much more prominent, but still have to assemble themselves into what are effectively make-shift political parties in order to form a functional government. It happens after the vote, rather than before it, which isn't actually better. It just means people have no idea what set of strange compromises they're actually going to get by casting a vote in any particular direction, because those compromises weren't made yet. It also tends to mean very long periods of suspended government whilst the different factions try to thrash out a coalition. This is why Belgium managed to go nearly two years without a functioning government.

The UK didn't have a "terrible time" with the coalition government from the point of view of having a stable government (whether or not you agree with the policies enacted).

In fact, the single party governments (plural, since during the 5 year fixed-term parliament following the coalition there were three prime ministers and two general elections) since have been _far less_ stable.

A couple of the things, why this just doesn't make much sense to do:

- Except on specific topics, the different parties don't actually agree on much. E.g. during the last cycle the center-right to right parties had the majority in parliament, but they barely got anything trough in four years

- Besides having the role of head of state being shared among 7 people, the federal government also has much less power compared to other countries. Most domestic things happen at a canton (state) and municipal level.

- Basically everything that the council decides, or parliament for that matter, can and often is challenged via popular referendums.

If you don't establish the coalitions trough the entire system they will be pretty much useless. Also because of direct democracy, I think political discourse more often centers around the issues being voted on, rather than the parties and coalitions.

That is what in my opinion is the strength of the Swiss political system. It is very hard for someone, be that a person or party to obtain enough power to really cause long lasting damage. The other side of this coin of course is, that any change will happen extremely slowly. Which can be both good and bad

that's something I never understood about US politics, what prevented Sanders from creating its own party for the US election and not run for the democratic primaries?

The primary attribute of American politics that encourages a two party system is what’s known as “first past the post” elections.

America’s two main parties have changed over the years (remember the Whigs?), so the existence of a two-party system cannot be attributed purely to control exerted by the current two parties.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duverger%27s_law.

First past the post doesn't explain Canada's four main parties. There is something preventing additional parties in America

Yes - it’s the fact that the race for the presidency is a winner-takes-all game. When Clinton lost, she didn’t get a diminished, minority, but still proportional say in the running of the government - she was completely out and Trump got everything.

The US system wasn’t engineered with the possibility of coalitions and compromise governments in mind (at least not in the Executive).

There are other countries, like France, where presidential elections have (obviously) a single winner which have nevertheless multiple parties.

If the US president was elected by the Congress would that end bipartidism? I don’t know.

French Presidential elections use run-off voting; they don't use first-past-the-post.

True, but the comment I replied to was not about that.

I thought the original setup where the vice president was whoever got the second most votes was going for that.

Every Canadian government but for one has been from one of the two main parties.

The other parties popular support determines which of those two parties wins.

When you have more than two you could end up in a minority government where a smaller parties decide issues by supporting a big party.

Provinces have had other parties become the government.

Another, often overlooked part, is that competing in an American election requires very expensive media and outreach campaigns.

Clinton spent $1.2B in 2016 and Trump spent $680B. These are formidable sums for non-establishment parties. Bernie spent $230M in a primary.

To give a rough comparison, the UK limits spending per constituency, so the upper limit a party is allowed to spend in the UK is 19.5 GBP.

> Clinton spent $1.2B in 2016 and Trump spent $680B. These are formidable sums for non-establishment parties.

I was going to write a comment about how shocked I was that Trump outspending Clinton by a factor of 500 didn't see any media coverage, but it looks like that's supposed to be 680M.

my bad, before the morning coffee and now it's too late to edit the comment.

No worries, just a typo, wouldn't have mentioned it if I saw I wasn't the first to do so.

> Trump spent $680B

I think this is not true.

> the upper limit a party is allowed to spend in the UK is 19.5 GBP

I'm pretty sure they spend more than that, as well.

the B is a typo, should be M.

> I'm pretty sure they spend more than that, as well.

As per the BBC: https://www.bbc.com/news/election-2019-50170067

> In the 2017 general election, 75 parties and 18 campaign groups reported spending more than £41.6m between them. The Conservatives spent most at £18.6m. It fielded 638 candidates, winning in 317 constituencies. Labour came in at £11m and the Liberal Democrats at £6.8m.

> As per the BBC

The BBC figures are a million times larger than yours if you meant it as a total, and a hundred times smaller than yours if you meant it as per-capita.

Or instead of being purposely obtuse, realizing the same exact mistake (leaving off an M) happened here as well.

BBC, same article:

> Political parties' spend is also capped at £30,000 for each constituency that it contests in a general election. So if a party stood a candidate in each of the 650 UK constituencies, its maximum spend would total £19.5m.

> Clinton spent $1.2B in 2016 and Trump spent $680B.

I'm not an expert but those numbers sound like total crap.

> Trump spent $680B.

Surely you mean $680M?

my bad, before the morning coffee and now it's too late to edit the comment.

Other countries with first-past-the-post have many parties. So FPTP does not cause two-parties - that's clearly nonsense.

Mathematically it makes sense for a two-party system to emerge, after the smaller parties are weeded out after some years of running unsuccessfully. Most people will accept compromise of their ideals to "fight some greater evil".

Hey Chris,

Maybe tone doesn't come across well in written communication, but dismissing this as "clearly nonsense" without bothering to engage with the merit of the claim or, seemingly, even read the link seems disrespectful, to say the least.

Do you want to rephrase? :)

Because there’s sooo many counter-examples. People see the word ‘law’ and they think it’s like physics but it isn’t like that.

I wonder if you read the linked Wikipedia entry, which includes:

> In political science, Duverger's law holds that plurality-rule elections (such as first past the post) structured within single-member districts tend to favor a two-party system.... In the course of further research, other political scientists began calling the effect a "law" or principle.

(Emphasis, of course, added.)

The article goes on to note counterexamples, to drive home the point that this is not, as you say, like a law of physics.

Perhaps a more constructive phrasing you could have tried would be something like,

"As noted in the linked article, there are many counterexamples, so while as you say first-past-the-post may encourage two-party systems, it doesn't preclude more parties from existing."

This would have been a more polite phrasing, one that shows you read and comprehended both my comment and the article I linked to, and one that would not exhibit the logical fallacies your original comment does (to argue that the existence of counterexamples precludes any causal relationship between first-past-the-post and two-party systems).

Hope that helps. Have a nice rest of the weekend.

Aside from the UK (which does have two major parties) and Canada (which has only had one of two parties in power for almost all of its history), what other examples are you thinking of? There are very few countries that still use FPTP, the vast majority use some kind of preferential or proportional representation system.

> Aside from the UK (which does have two major parties)

In the UK:

A small but national party was in government a few elections ago. They had multiple ministers and could influence the policy narrative.

In the previous government, the DUP, a tiny regional party had a big influence on major policies that mattered to them.

The SNP, a regional party, has wiped away the national parties and now has many seats in the national parliament, and was recently part of frustrating the main party from doing anything.

This is all possible, even with FPTP.

Imagine if a party like the Greens, or the SNP, or the LD, but in the US, controlled a few seats in the Senate or the House of Representatives - think how much power they'd become king-making between the two parties. They'd be able to insist on a couple of their key policies for the deal and be able to enact real changes.

From the Wikipedia article:

"There are also cases where the principle appears to have an effect, but weakly...In the United Kingdom, the SDP–Liberal Alliance, and later Liberal Democrats, between the February 1974 and 2015 elections obtained 1–10% of seats forming a third party, albeit with significantly fewer seats.[16] This share of seats is despite gathering around a fifth of votes consistently over the same time period.

In the UK there is no president and thus no unifying election to force party mergers and regional two-party systems are formed. This is because Duverger's law says that the number of viable parties is one plus the number of seats in a constituency."

> Other countries with first-past-the-post have many parties

Which ones do you have in mind? The one's I'm thinking of have two main parties, and then strictly regional parties which displace them entirely in their regions.

> So FPTP does not cause two-parties - that's clearly nonsense.


For example the UK. A few elections ago a minor but national party was in government.

The UK has two major parties. The fact that the LibDems were in a coalition government once due to a hung parliament (and the last hung parliament was in 1974) isn't really evidence that the UK has more than two major parties. A major party actually has a chance to have a plurality. I also hasten to point out that the LibDems currently have 11 seats (the SNP has four times as many).

Many European countries with non-FPTP systems have coalition governments all the time and there really are several viable major parties.

To be fair, preferential voting isn't a panacea (and arguably should be paired with multiple-representative electorates). Here in Australia we have instant run-off voting and there are still two major parties with even less crossbenchers than the UK parliament -- though our Senate does have a fair few independent and third-party candidates, likely because Senate seats aren't winner-takes-all (like electorate seats are for the House of Representatives). I think voter education is also partially to blame -- many Australians seem to not be aware of how preferential voting works.

> A major party actually has a chance to have a plurality.

I disagree - it's about influencing the policy narrative. It doesn't matter if you have plurality or not if you are getting things done.

The LD, the SNP, and the DUP (a tiny tiny party) all managed that recently in the UK.

A small party with large support somewhere like California could become king-makers in the US, and influence police, nominations, etc.

The counterexample of other countries is not sufficient to rule it out as a causal factor, that's just faulty logic.

CGP Grey - The Problems with First Past the Post Voting Explained (section The Spoiler Effect): https://youtu.be/s7tWHJfhiyo?t=300


He easily could but would end up taking votes from the Democrats, thus helping his opponent in the process. The American system doesn’t work well with third-party candidates and mostly incentivizes against them; see the 1992 election for a recent example.

Ok, but in Canada a new upstart Conservative party (Reform) took away Votes from the existing Conservative Party (PC) and over several elections eventually got a majority.

So sure, Bernie might take away votes from the Democrats, but that doesn’t mean support will eventually shift to him.

Much more money and resources at play in the U.S., and Bernie is also fairly old and doesn't really have a 'party' or a clear successor. He/his followers wouldn't gain much from starting a new party.

Two things:

1. The media would ignore him if he did. He wouldn't get to take part in any of the debates, and most people would have no idea he was even running.

2. It might not even be possible for him to get on the ballot in most states as a third-party candidate. Election laws make it nearly impossible for third parties to get on the ballot in many states. In the last 20 years, the Green Party has never managed to get on the ballot in more than 45 states. In 2004, they only managed to get on the ballot in half the states. The Democratic party fights tooth and nail to keep them off the ballot (just like the Republican party fights to keep the Libertarians off the ballot). Because almost all the local and state election officials and judges are Democrats and Republicans, the deck is stacked against third parties.

Finally, Sanders would be viewed as a spoiler, robbing votes from the Democratic party. Most people would feel like they would be throwing their votes away.

Third parties tend to emerge when one party has been in too long and has a large percentage of the vote. New party tries to take 30% of the 70% and 10% of the 30%

He's a Democrat senator and got Biden to essentially support most of his platform. Running as an independent or 3rd party would be political suicide and wouldn't help his agenda.

But aside from that most countries have a single process to get on the ballot country-wide. In US you'd have to navigate this process for each state.

I'm sure Bernie could pull that off. But it is definitely the reason you see many fewer randoms making a dent.

Also if you consider the way primaries work in both parties it's way more transparent and approachable than most other places. Many major parties around the world don't have a primary process at all. And even when they do it's usually limited to insiders. So if you want to change things you're almost forced to create a party by default.

If you couldn't make it in a primary of a party that's closer to your beliefs than the general population - how can you expect to make it on a national level?

Presumably the proportional representation part of what he said empowers a team which has even 14% of the vote and so being independent is way more powerful than glomming together (where you’re likely to lose supporters who don’t like the guy you decided to get in bed with and you’re not likely to gain any new supporters).

And all deliberations of the Federal Council are kept secret, partially to reduce partisanship. But with all parties in there, transparency is at at least adequate levels.

What I like best about the Federal Council is Alain Berset, our current health minister. That guy rocks!

The guy who introduced a public transport mask requirement after the epidemic is over? Rocks isn't the word I'd use.

We will see if it's over after summer holidays ok?

"Just wait two more weeks"? A request that's become almost cliché during COVID times.

It doesn't actually matter what the disease does after the summer holidays (an arbitrary point given virus lag times). It's not a dangerous disease. There is no justification for it even now, or even at the beginning, knowing what we know today.

>It's not a dangerous disease.

Yeah i stop arguing with you, still all the best for your grandparent's.

My last remaining grandparent is far more at risk from being left alone for long periods, than COVID. Deaths from poor or non-existent care in care homes due to lockdowns are certainly a contributor to excess deaths e.g. in Spain where panicked care home staff abandoned the elderly to die:


The virus isn't dangerous. I understand this is hard to accept given what's happened but the data is uniform and consistent on that. Swiss excess mortality data shows nothing unusual even now the epidemic is over:


In fact Switzerland is now experiencing below average mortality, indicating that some of the people who died with COVID were at the end of their life and going to die in the next couple of months anyway.

Moreover about half of all deaths were in nursing homes, where lockdowns have no effect and certainly masks on ÖV have no effect


Your response is sadly typical of too many people now: running from data, from the truth, and claiming anyone who tells you what really happened must hate their own grandparents. Sorry but it's a shocking and dirty tactic.

If you like like the Swiss federal council, you might also find interesting the San Marinese political system with the two captains.

My dad's family is Swiss. Three things I've picked up visiting them: 1) various members are affiliated with different parties across the political spectrum and there's a lot of interesting, productive conversation (over wine) about domestic policy, in a way most US families couldn't manage 2) even the most conservative family members (SVP supporters) find the US Republican Party completely, unabashedly insane (esp. regarding the need for social services and market regulations) 3) they are perplexed by gun violence... while there's a very strong culture of gun ownership (tied to (generally?) compulsory military service) I get the feeling they'd ban them in an instant if they had incidents in schools

I'm Swiss. US pro-gun people (ab)use our liberal gun rights to proof their point.

But there are huge differences:

1. Concealed and unconcealed carrying is not allowed. You have to transport your weapon in a very specific way, without ammo etc. Also anyone with a gun in public would trigger a police intervention within minutes.

2. Active military personnel are allowed to stored their gun at home, but almost nobody does that. Those who do get 5 bullets, in a sealed box. They're not allowed to open it, except in war. The seal gets checked every time you go back for service.

3. Storage of legal weapons at home is very strictly regulated. Loaded guns are basically forbidden, ammunition has to be stored separately etc.

4. If you don't have a very clean history, it's almost impossible to get the right to buy guns.

5. Automatic weapons are illegal.

PS: Those "facts" are from my memory, as I don't live in Switzerland anymore. Fellow Swiss users, if there's anything wrong please correct me.

I'd like to add what I think is the most important contributing factor; a sane gun culture.

In Switzerland, every gun enthusiast expected to be a member of one local Schützenverein. While you get to meet some really crazy nuts there, these Schützenvereins are very much interested that there is a space for guns in Switzerland's culture, so they are very considerate about training of handling of weapons, maintenance and gun safety. This creates an environment where it's save to be enthusiastic about gun while still being aware that these are weapons and not just and toy.

I have read that this is how the NRA used to be. Focusing on training and safe practices. Only in the last decades that changed to where we are now.

When I was a teenager, the only gun safety and hunter training classes in my area were organized by the NRA. They were the only classes most ranges and hunting groups would accept, so we all took them. I'm not sure they'd be recognizable by anyone in today's NRA. A lot of emphasis was placed on proper use, and one of those "improper" uses was a gun for intimidation.

My instructor, in a deeply-conservative area of a deeply-conservative state state, was appalled at the idea of "open carry," and our instructional material warned against it as a bad idea. I wanted to look him up a few years ago when people were getting all bothered about Starbucks' firearms policy to see what he thought but he'd passed away a year before.

The NRA is the most recognized name in firearms training. A lot of states only recognize their training courses. A lot of the US gun community is unhappy with this since when we look at the history of the NRA (Negotiating our Rights Away) we see an entity that continually shows no attempt to stop the gross encroachment of 2nd amendment.


The NRA is still heavily involved in hunter education, general firearms training and organizing classes for police departments.

In the US there is a good, quick test to determine if a gun range is 'up to snuff'. Such tests are very important, as you don't want to be shooting with wackos or idiots. It tests the range master and their discipline and attentiveness to range users too. It's also important that it's a quick test, so you know to get out of there fast. If the test is failed, you leave and never come back. The test is as such:

Go up to the firing line, turn around, and look for any bullet holes/marks.

I've found all but two ranges of 15 near me that pass this test.

I mostly agree, except for some details. Back when I was of military age, some 25 years ago, it was not unusual to see military rifles carried openly, because each reservist had to attend mandatory target practice once a year, you had to transport your rifle to the shooting range, and many people used public transportation to do so.

Carrying a loaded rifle was illegal, but how would the public know one way or the other?

Back then, storing your army rifle at home was mandatory, and, while those rifles had automatic mode disabled by default, converting them back to automatic took 5 minutes and a screwdriver, with an official, documented, procedure.

Some of this has changed in the meantime. Rifles are not necessarily stored at home anymore, and it's been years since I've seen anybody but uniformed military or police carrying openly.

> Carrying a loaded rifle was illegal, but how would the public know one way or the other?

You're mandated to carry it without the trigger mechanism and without magazine. It's quite easy to spot the difference.

Are you sure? Those rules apply to the storage of rifles, as far as I remember, but regarding transport, the law only says that the weapon cannot be transported with ammo: https://www.admin.ch/opc/de/classified-compilation/19983208/...

Your right, you carried the rifle with the mechanism intakt, just cold-storing them without (thieves etc) BUT you where not allowed to put the magazin in, and if the military police catcht you with live ammo (exept the sealed notfallmunition) your in for some lonely days/weeks in prison or even out of the mil-service (and then you had to pay...probably with some prison days/weeks too)

One correction

2. Most active military personnel store their guns at home. The sealed ammunition box doesn't exists anymore so most don't posses bullets at home. Nonetheless, it is not that hard to buy ammunition.

Your fellow Swiss user

1. A Sturmgewehr doesnt' trigger police intervention. I see sometimes people carrying the military assault rifle on a bike or in the tram. Probably tourists/foreigners are shocked but no Swiss would call the police. 3. Not really. Swiss are generally responsible people but the truth is nobody checks this. In Germany, the police comes and checks if you store it in a weapon safe. I have guns and nobody has showed up. However, I store the ammunition in a safe.

In Switzerland, people are properly trained. My father showed me how to use guns (he was a border guard), went to a club and I did military service. It's not as easy as in the US to get a gun (i.e. without paper) but if you take the time and do the paper work, have a clean record you can get a gun without a problem.

> A Sturmgewehr doesnt' trigger police intervention. I see sometimes people carrying the military assault rifle on a bike or in the tram.

While carrying around the government-issued rifle in public under certain conditions (IIRC it's only permitted when you're travelling to/from duty) is perfectly normal, I think what your parent comment was referring to was someone carrying a gun "to exercise their rights", as might be normal in America.

> it's only permitted when you're travelling to/from duty

Or from/to Shootingplace, the law infact say, if you have todo something with you rifle/gun (let's say repair your private one) you have to got strait to that place and strait back home after repair (no coffee break allowed)

Machine guns are actually quite rare in the US. All new machine guns were banned for civilian ownership in 1983, meaning that if you want to get one it has to be one of a small number of pre-1983 registered examples. They also come with some pretty intense storage, transit, and transfer requirements that wouldn’t surprise most Europeans. The end result is that legal machine guns are a rare collectors item, with examples starting at about $5,000 for a low quality sub-machine gun, with automatic rifles costing more than $20,0000.

I’d actually argue that the regulation of machine guns, suppressors, and short barreled rifles has been extremely effective, as it’s extremely rare to hear about any of these items being used criminally.

These differences are real but most probably don't make the difference you expect.

For example, concealed carry holders in the USA (about 5% of adults) are much less likely than the general population to be involved in a crime of any kind, and much less likely to be involved in a shooting.

Fully automatic weapons in the US are certainly more widespread than in other countries, and there are even privately owned artillery pieces and grenade launchers; but these weapons are never used to kill anyone. Eliminating or regulating them further serves no public safety purpose at all.

New York City has similar regulations about legal gun ownership and storage and transportation.

Sounds very similar to the Canadian regulations.

> even the most conservative family members (SVP supporters) find the US Republican Party completely, unabashedly insane

This cuts both ways. I live in Switzerland and I find some conservative Swiss policies unabashedly insane in their xenophobia to a degree that the US Republican party wouldn't dare consider, by my estimation. Very loosely speaking, US conservativism seems to be skewed fiscally and religiously while Swiss conservatism is generally skewed socially.

There are a few towns in Switzerland that have actually banned asylum seekers (who are legally in Switzerland) access to public places such as public libraries or pools. [1]

[1] Swiss introduce apartheid-like restrictions: Local authorities ban asylum seekers from public places https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/swiss-introd...

About the gun part: I grew up in a gun owning family. On the other hand my dad wouldn't even let is have toy guns or water guns as he was afraid of us picking up the habit of pointing guns at fellow humans.

Much of my childhood I also shared house with an actual (full auto, large caliber) assault rifle, but my dad was always very careful to point out that war was not cool.

In fact, from my childhood, the gun owning part of the family were simultaneously the mild mannered, book reading part of the family.

My Swiss friend in town told me as far as he knew Switzerland still people keep fully functional assault rifles at home but those who have them need to show up for three weeks of training each year and show up at a shooting range twice a year. (He left a few years ago so anyone actually living there now should feel free to correct this.)

My conclusion has always been that the gun violence problems in US is largely a culture problem.

"My conclusion has always been that the gun violence problems in US is largely a culture problem."

I would strongly argue against this. Swiss gun law is very different from US, please read my five points above. Do you think US gun violence would decrease if they adopted those points? In my opinion yes.

In my opinion the conservatives, nationalists and the National Rifle Association fight against any tighter regulations that would probably save thousands of lives.

How do you square that opinion with the observation that some of the places with the loosest gun regulations (Oregon, Idaho) also have some of the lowest homicide rates? In Idaho, something like 60%+ of households own guns. But the homicide rate in the capital city of Boise is at Scandinavian levels, 1/10 of the US average. Utah also has high gun ownership and low gun homicides. (Note that this way of looking at the data gets around the notion that you can’t draw conclusions from homicide rates in cities with high control because guns freely flow into them from elsewhere.)

By treating statistics with respect (so no cherry picking), by recognising that violence involving firearms has more then one cause.

As to Oregon, consider this https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umpqua_Community_College_sho... in the context of easily available firearms.

How do you go from "no cherry picking" straight to a wikipedia article on a single incident?

If your statistics are correct, that lends credence to the old saw, "An armed society is a polite society." But that's likely predicated on everything thinking that everyone else is armed (which in high gun control areas would not be the case). Sort of like nuclear weapons' "mutually assured destruction."

Yet some of what people commonly referred to polite societies barely have guns and the opposite can be said for those with lots of guns.

The exceptions for the latter category being countries with high external national risk or no standing army.

> How do you square that opinion with the observation that some of the places with the loosest gun regulations (Oregon, Idaho) also have some of the lowest homicide rates?

Eye-balling this 2015 chart, there seems like there's a pretty good correlation between per capita ownership and per capita deaths (homicide+suicide):

* https://www.motherjones.com/wp-content/uploads/gun-ownership...

* https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/07/gun-owners-stud...

The main outliers appear to be MA and HI, the former of which has some pretty strict rules (very similar to Canada's):

* https://www.vox.com/2018/11/13/17658028/massachusetts-gun-co...

RAND did a (meta-)analysis and found that some policies are more effective than others, specifically: safe storage, waiting periods, background checks, domestic violence history restrictions:

* https://www.rand.org/research/gun-policy.html

Stand-your-ground laws seem to lead to not-good things happening (nothing about castle doctrine though).

Good laws / regulations can counter high numbers though, it appears. Canada has one of the highest per capita ownership rates, and yet has quite low firearm-related death rate (lower than Finland, the Swiss, France, Austria):

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estimated_number_of_civilian_g...

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_firearm-r...

There is no correlation between ownership rates and homicide rates: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_violence_in_the_United_Sta...

Injecting suicide rates into the discussion is a motte-and-bailey tactic. People make their legal case for regulation by invoking the right not to be murdered as outweighing the right go bear arms, but when confronted with the fact that gun control doesn’t appear to reduce homicides within the US, they shift the goalposts by citing numbers that lump in suicides. But the legal and moral justification for regulating guns to reduce suicides is very different than for homicides.

> There is no correlation between ownership rates and homicide rates:


> Injecting suicide rates into the discussion is a motte-and-bailey tactic.

Or it's simply the fact that I don't want people dying unnecessarily, whether at their own hand or another's. Why should we only worry about homicides? What is your intent in removing suicide from the equation?

Maybe the sparseness of the population plays a significant role. Its a lot easier to develop conflicts in more populated areas.

That’s why I used Boise as an example.

Most law-abiding gun owners do not end up misusing them. Aside from sensationalized media coverage, much of the gun violence in our most violent cities (Boston, Chicago, NYC, etc) would not go down with new laws, because many of the crimes are perpetrated by people who are already violating gun laws (not allowed to posses them, illegal modifications, etc).

Unfortunately, with police departments being defunded or restricted, illegal gun ownership and use will only rise over time.

None of the three cities you mention are even in the top ten of most violent cities and only Chicago (at 17) is in the top 25.

Per capita, that is true. I mostly picked cities off the top of my head by how they are reported in the media, since we are discussing people's perceptions of gun violence.

Also, I think I meant to write Baltimore instead of Boston, but I think the point stands regardless.

> Most law-abiding gun owners do not end up misusing them.

Well, yeah. Most non-murderers don't murder, too.

Murder has generally always been illegal, yet it hasn't stopped murders from happening. Making new gun laws about how many bullets you get from your military service or how you can transport them won't stop criminals from using them to commit further crimes.

As someone else pointed out, you can still buy ammunition in Switzerland. There's plenty of access to guns. The difference is absolutely one of culture, which is what my point was.

In this context, it's pretty clear that law-abiding gun owner means someone who owns a gun legally, so the statement isn't tautological.

> Most law-abiding gun owners do not end up misusing them.

You should probably add that most US gun owners are law-abiding gun owners.

> Most law-abiding gun owners do not end up misusing them.

Most people abide by the law until they don't:

* https://twitter.com/well_regulated_

And in a lot of jurisdictions in the US all you need to get a gun in the first place is a pulse, which isn't much of a filter in determining whether a person can actually safely handle one. I'd be curious to know the survey results of owners who could recite Jeff Cooper's Four Rules:

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Cooper#Firearms_safety

Personally I like the little mnemonic / acronym that is taught in Canada, A.C.T.S.:

1. Assume every firearm is loaded.

2. Control the muzzle direction at all times.

3. Trigger finger off trigger and out of trigger guard.

4. See that the firearm is unloaded [and P.R.O.V.E. it is safe].

* http://www.firearmstraining.ca/actsprove.htm

* http://www.prpc.ca/safety-first/

These are part of the gun culture that I mentioned upthread.

If people followed these or the classic military rules gun accidents would almost be a thing of the past.

Not that I think that will happen:

if people could just stop

- drunk driving,

- speeding

- driving while texting

- etc

that would probably save even more lives, but I don't see that happening either.

> that would probably save even more lives, but I don't see that happening either.

Your examples strengthen the point I was trying to make: The numbers on drunk driving over the decades, and auto safety in general, are an example of what government regulation with societal support can achieve. Perhaps some day firearm regulation and licensing will achieve the advances that the automobile has seen.

If only guns were licensed more like automobiles:

* https://www.vox.com/2018/11/13/17658028/massachusetts-gun-co...

Your points are reasonable.

But remember: the US is what it is. There is an insane amount of guns floating around already.

My suggestion is the "Norwegian model" from now on and going forward: to get anything except a manually reloaded rifle or a (max 2 cartridge) shotgun you need a clean record with the police + (and here comes the interesting part:) you need a recommendation from a local shooting club. Oh, and before buying any hunting gun at all there's a mandatory 50 hours training.

I'd recommend trying something similar in the US: tell NRA "we want you to help us".

Parts of HN might hate NRA all they want but my understanding is a good chunk of the people in NRA would love to keep weapons out of the hands of crazy people as every criminal shooting hurts peaceful owners as well.

I very likely agree with you on every gun ppoint, but i do have a question / counter often raised to me - that i don't have to answer to:

How would tight regulations like that look in a large country already flooded with weapons of all shapes and sizes?

I know multiple pro-gun people who seem to compose a large percentage of their pro-gun belief system around the foundation of the inability to remove them. Ie any bad guy who ever wants a gun will always have it (because there's so many), so give more guns to the good people.

What are your thoughts there? I don't really have a counter.

You need political will.

- Refuse sales of ammunition without proof of gun purchase and registration.

- Refuse gun purchase for specific gun types and if a person already has a certain number of guns.

- Mandate and enforce training before gun purchases, with obligatory re-training every X years. Checked at every purchase of ammo and guns. No training, no sale.

- Mandatory licensing for open carry. Mandatory army-level training for concealed carry. With mandatory re-training.

- Buyback and exchange plans for existing weapons.

- Huge fines (not jail time, fines) for non-compliance. Money is a much bigger deterrent than jail time.

CA has most of these already. They just instituted a requirement for a background check for ammo purchases.

One of the biggest problems is your last point - non-compliance isn’t really enforced. If you ask your friend to buy a gun for you because you’re not eligible, the dealer might stop the transaction, but there is a very low likelihood there will be any police follow up.

That is a federal crime and there are absolutely cases that have been prosecuted. I would not mess around with the ATF.

It is a federal law and occasionally they prosecute the most egregious examples, but I've heard from many gun dealers that when they suspect a straw purchase and report it, the ATF follows up maybe 1% of the time.

Or when both parties passed the background check. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abramski_v._United_States

Jeeze, they even went after a former police officer? Not saying former cops should get a pass, but you’d think they’d try and make an example out of someone involved in a criminal operation.

The ATF/DOJ loves to make examples out of people even when the case is pretty weak.

You do all this and then find out that gun violence didn't decrease. Everyone will say it worked, but upon closer inspection it is mostly massaged stats. You'll find things like suicides being counted in the statistics for gun violence.

Then what? Do you think anyone would be willing to roll back something like this?

Europe: 500 million people.

The first point is the key one, but I’d go further, no ammunition sales without passing the new regulations on gun ownership. You can keep your gun, and any ammo you have now, but no reloads until you’re properly authenticated.

Yes, I was thinking the same, too

All of that is repugnant to the constitution and our natural rights. It will also do nothing to stop violence.

One comment regarding the term "Buyback", the government never owned them they can not "buy" them back. It is simply a euphemism for confiscation. Moreover, you can go to pretty much any gun shop or pawnshop to sell a gun you do not want.

> All of that is repugnant to the constitution and our natural rights. It will also do nothing to stop violence.

Ahahahha what

The bad people only need guns because the good people carry them around? How often does having a gun out and about save lives? Not prevent a robbery but save a life? How many times does it escalate a situation?

A sibling comment has already posted a link to Wikipedia.

I couldn't see it mentioned immediately on Wikipedia and it kind of falls outside of the scope of that article too so I'll mention that in addition to people directly preventing crime by pulling a gun IIRC there also seems to be less attempts at crime in areas were there are lots of legal guns.

I think rayiner hints at/mentions that somewhere above.

I honestly don’t like U.S. gun culture at all, but I grew up across from Michigan in Canada and this argument always seemed true. It’s just such a hard problem because of the huge number of guns plus the number of owners the seem to indicate you’d have to kill them to take their guns. It seems like a blood bath waiting to happen unfortunately. I hope I’m wrong.

Compare the level of violence in the (religiously-motivated) swiss Civil War (mid nineteenth century) with the level of violence in the (slavery-motivated) US Civil War (mid nineteenth century). That's part of my argument for culture.

US gun violence probably would decrease if they adopted the swiss system, but good luck getting people who think a two-day hunting license course infringes their 2A rights to agree to a two-year process involving written, oral, and practical tests.

One of the talking points of the NRA is that the US has many gun laws that aren’t really enforced all that well.

The NRA agrees that you shouldn’t be able to buy a guy if you have mental problems, drug problems, aren’t in the US legally, criminal history, etc.

The only one restriction that is strongly enforced is the criminal history because it’s easy to do a check. But the system for mental health checks is a patchwork across states.

And to layer on, if someone does violate these laws, there is often no punishment. Straw purchases are a good example - it usually falls on the dealer to stop the transaction, but there is rarely any police follow-up.

Straw purchasers do get convicted when someone is killed.

True. They certainly do prosecute some straw purchases.

But I guess my point would be - if they actually followed up on all straw purchase attempts (even just a call from the ATF saying “yeah, that’s illegal, don’t do that”) you could at least say the law is being enforced.

Right now the most likely outcome is the dealer just refusing the sale. You’re free to tighten up your game and try another dealer.

I wonder how much of the US gun violence is a problem with guns, and how much of it is a problem with crime.

Despair and poverty without a perspective breeds crime. Switzerland doesn't have much of that.

"My Swiss friend in town told me as far as he knew Switzerland still people keep fully functional assault rifles at home but those who have them need to show up for three weeks of training each year and show up at a shooting range twice a year. (He left a few years ago so anyone actually living there now should feel free to correct this.)"

That's new law due to Schengen. If you had a gun before, you don't need to do this. Three weeks is probably the compulsory military service.

I would say that most social problems are cultural. The culture is what defines what kinds of options people think that have in their life. When something isn't part of your culture you're less likely to think of it. Ie gun violence being very common somewhere means that people are more likely to resort to gun violence. We observe this effect with suicide too. I believe that gun violence, stabbings, acid attacks, bombings, terror attacks with cars etc are all like this.

Also, if the army thinks someone is getting a bit extreme, they will say "congratulations! you don't need to pass the shooting test next year ... and, by the way, please return your service rifle."


(fun fact: until the cavalry was disbanded, troopers would not only keep their rifles at home, but also their horse.)

I agree on culture. See https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23809211 , footnote 1.

Not entirely serious: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jgYJ5V2HYy4&t=222

(but then again, life should be sympa, gemütlich, simpatica, shouldn't it?)

You are spot on. Swiss males having gone through military training at the age of 18, are used to guns. Though they keep their weapons in the basement or under their beds they do not treat it like a toy. When soldiers go for their training it is common to see a bunch of fairly young men boarding trains with heavy backpacks and a gun. A certain amount of respect for guns is drilled into them: you do not use a weapon carelessly.

I don't think there is any chance in hell that the US adopts and of the mechanisms described in the article, but the one thing we could adopt is a culture that discusses politics. Of course our politics are such shit when no one discusses them. Three months away from a presidential election and still no issues have been discussed by the candidates. Come to think of it, we don't actually have issues to discuss. We have a ton of problems but no one wants to discuss solving them. The problems don't become issues. They just stay perpetual problems. It's just vote for this one guy who won't address your issues and maybe won't fuck shit up too badly or vote for another guy who won't address your issues and will try to make life as miserable as possible for almost everyone.

It's taboo to discuss issues, in fact, so it's no wonder things only get worse. The people have so little power, it's really just theatre. Issues with 60%, 70%, or more public support routinely get ignored by the so called representatives. And as a culture we don't use the one tool we do have: discussion of issues. I suppose it fits in nicely with our tendency to have theoretical rights that only exist on paper. What good is the first amendment when there's nothing to discuss and no one willing to discuss things even if there was?

Folks on opposite sides of the pond have caricatured ideas about each other, because their impressions are based on anecdotal media representations. Compounding that is the fact that “parties” are very different things in the US system versus the parliamentary system. Parties in Europe have a lot of control over who runs under their banner. American parties do not. If the Republican Party operated like European parties, where the leadership selects candidates, the 2016 candidate would have been Jeb Bush of Marco Rubio, not Trump. But in an objective analysis, the Republican Party is solidly to the left of the SVP: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/06/26/opinion/sunda.... It’s on the right edge of the mass of European center-right parties. (I would argue that this analysis somewhat overstates how far right the Republican Party is. As the article notes: “The Republican platform does not include the same bigoted policies, and its score is pushed to the right because of its emphasis on traditional morality and a ‘national way of life.’” Americans are by far the most religious developed country. In France, arguing for the maintenance of traditional French social norms is something you can do in a secular framework. Under the analysis of this survey, that doesn’t count as right wing. But there is really no way to express that same idea in the American framework while leaving religion out of it. But in this analysis, that counts as right wing.)

I’ll add that Americans are in a different stage of the same overall trend we’re seeing in the developed world. Even right-wing platforms in France or Germany have never needed to call for adherence to traditional French or German values, because it was taken for granted. 80% of Germany is still ethnic Germans. Another 10% are other kinds of Europeans. In the United States in the United States only 60% is of European ancestry, and even among those people you’ve got a mix of British, Germans, Italians, Irish, etc. European countries aren’t really multi-cultural the way America is, so there is no need even for right wing parties to make culture an issues. French being the national language of France has overwhelming acceptance (90%+). There was never a reason for right wing parties to even bring it up. But in America, making English the national language is a right-wing talking point, because Americans don’t take it for granted.

But taking culture for granted is something that is rapidly changing in Europe. Le Pen got 30% in the last French election. Now she’s polling at 45% in a head-to-head with Macron. The dominant CDU in Germany is bleeding members to AfD. The new leader of the CDU is significantly further right than Merkel: she opposes abortion and gay marriage, and declared the 2015 acceptance of refugees as “a mistake” that they’ve “learnt from and won’t repeat.”

I don't think the rise of the AfD in Germany has much to do with a reduction in ethnic or cultural 'purity'.

The general political consensus position in Germany has shifted considerably to the left over the last 30 or so years. This has alienated some people and the AfD is the recepticle.

Much of the rethoric employed by the AfD could have been found in the CDU just 10 or so years ago, including appeals to German culture as you mentioned. "Leitkultur" was one famous topic of debate. Other classics include "Kinder statt Inder", and "Das boot ist voll".

The influx of immigrants tends to precipitate disagreements within parties that to date were theoretical up to that point. That's what happened with the Republican Party. The George W. Bush/Romney/Jeb Bush wing courted Hispanic voters, with W. winning 40% in 2004, and Jeb carrying 60% in his Florida gubernatorial election. Then, the more nativist elements upset the applecart in 2016 by nominating Trump, who was opposed by the Republican establishment. Those nativist elements were always there--but the undocumented immigrant population increased 40% during Bush's tenure and changed the internal dynamics significantly.

So would you predict a correlation between number of immigrants in a county/state/country and nativist electoral success? I don't think that is the case.

I get that immigration is a hotly debated culture war topic, but I am not convinced by the argument that immigration is the thing that is causing the culture war.

I'm not really talking about electoral results. I'm talking about the NYT articled I linked to, which measures "how right wing" a party is by looking at what's mentioned in the platform. But what's mentioned in party platforms is a product of what debates are happening in society. In places without much immigration, immigration isn't a focus of politics and won't warrant merit on party platforms, even if the members of the party would have strong nativist views if there was actually a significant amount of immigration.

For example, in the United States, "making English the official language" was a hot-button political issue for a long time (before even Republicans gave up on it). In France it wasn't, because nobody disagreed that French should be the official language (and it was). So if you read party platforms to gauge right-wing views, you might conclude that the French aren't right wing on this point, because party platforms don't mention it. But in reality, it's not mentioned because it's not something that's even up for debate.

It's not necessarily as nativist as you'd think, because « la francophonie » is more inclusive than those who can say « nos ancêtres les Gaulois » with a straight face.

To determine where the US parties are through their manifestos seems flawed since they are so candidate-platform centric.

> Now she’s polling at 45% in a head-to-head with Macron.

This is still a bullshit cherry-picked figure. The village baker would likely get 45% h2h too. Macron is deeply unpopular due to his "reforms".

> The new leader of the CDU is significantly further right than Merkel: she opposes abortion and gay marriage,

The one that got so unpopular that she's already announced her resignation earlier this year?

> This is still a bullshit cherry-picked figure. The village baker would likely get 45% h2h too. Macron is deeply unpopular due to his "reforms".

Macron and Le Pen are by far the two front-runners in a multi-way first round matchup: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/ac/Op.... If the election were held today, it would go to a head-to-head between those two.

> The one that got so unpopular that she's already announced her resignation earlier this year?

AKK's resignation was not due to her conservative views, but rather because CDU cooperated with AfD in Thungria to keep a left candidate from being elected, which is taboo within CDU. She was seen as being unable to maintain party discipline. The current front-runner appears to be Markus Söder, from CDU's even-more-conservative Bavarian sister party. Söder has taken hard-line immigration positions, ordered public buildings in Bavaria to display Christian crosses, and oh showed up to a party a few years ago dressed up like Ghandi in full brown face: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/markus-soede...

> There was then a sharp decline in her popularity following gaffes and electoral defeats for the Christian Democrats in several elections. As of February 2020, she is one of the least popular German politicians

It's even on wikipedia, but still you make some definite conclusion.

But why was she unpopular? It's because she's losing ground to the right: https://www.thelocal.de/20200210/akk-the-rise-and-fall-of-me...

> But AKK had to fend off an unexpectedly strong challenge from the ambitious Friedrich Merz, who is favoured by the CDU's most conservative wing.

> AKK initially sought to carve out her own profile in a party thirsty for change after years of Merkel's moderate course in a loveless coalition with the centre-left Social Democrats.

> She notably championed a tougher stance on asylum seekers and floated the idea of reintroducing compulsory military service. She also spoke out against gay marriage.

> AKK was badly weakened by a string of bruising election results, particularly in eastern Germany's former communist states, where the CDU bled support to the anti-immigrant AfD.

All that just reinforces my point about German politics becoming more right-wing: "The new leader of the CDU is significantly further right than Merkel: she opposes abortion and gay marriage, and declared the 2015 acceptance of refugees as 'a mistake' that they’ve 'learnt from and won’t repeat.'"

People aren't leaving CDU for SDP. They're going to AfD. AKK walked back Merkel's acceptance of refugees, but the leading contenders to replace AKK look like they'll be even more right-wing. So I'm not sure what you're disagreeing with me about?

> So I'm not sure what you're disagreeing with me about?

That you're trying to spin a narrative where the US Republicans are not considerably more to the right than even the right-wing parties of Europe.

AKK was even considered to be on the economic left-wing of the CDU? Sure, she had socially conservatives idea based on religion which is a shame but even the CDU's "family centered politics" would be considered a Bernie Sanders welfare state by the US conservatives.

People aren't necessarily full blown reactionaries like the US Republican party just because they have cherry-picked conservative ideas.

True: in the United States only 1,6% is of American ancestry.


I'll give you just one reason why the Swiss system is currently the best on Earth. Everywhere I go people always talk about political systems as 'they have decided x, y or z'. In Switzerland people will say 'we have decided' even when they disagree with the outcome of the vote. That's a major difference and as a result the Swiss populace is typically very well educated on the matters on which they vote. This is hard to port to other countries for many reasons but it definitely is a very big benefit.

That's also a major reason, why big infrastructure projects are usually implemented in time and (mostly) in budget.

Once a project is approved by popular vote (the Gotthard Base Tunnel[1] being a good example, but not the only one) this means that funding is secured and can't be pulled, or siphoned off due to political changes.

It's not unfalable, certainly, but works for most large projects.

Once approved it's also accepted by the "losers" and not subject to political whims

One of the most important aspects of the Swiss system is that it's not that the majority vote steamrolls the minority, but that compromise is actively thought out.

For better or for worse. Because decisions can take a long time. Overall, though, it seems to work quite well.

Note: that's a bit of an idealistic view. But I'd wager that it's mostly correct

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gotthard_Base_Tunnel

Spot on! Swiss have the unity that I've never seen anywhere else.

The Swiss Confederation is, in spirit, a confederation of citizens, and not of states.

From what I have learned from a comment in this same thread,


They say We because whoever they voted for (big parties) have representation in decision making. Seven members of council consist of the party representation of whoever one voted for.

That should work for any coalition government that has to reach consensus, NL is one such and here we definitely do not say 'we'. I think it has more to do with the frequent referenda and that even if the turnout is low people are in principle allowed to vote on all these issues.

I suspect that’s more cultural than political. The UK uses coalition governments, as is typical for a parliamentary democracy, and it doesn’t seem to have the same “we have decided” spirit.

The U.K. doesn’t use coalitions. They are an anomaly in the U.K. There has only been one since WW2. U.K. is typically a de facto two party state. If anything, our recent problems are due to both parties consistently failing to supply an effective leader, which is an inherent weakness of a two party system.


Women in Switzerland did not have equal voting rights until 1990, when the last (small) canton finally made them equal. But it was only in 1971 when they first gained the right to vote at all.

A Canadian friend living in Switzerland told me that even though there aren't any legal limitations on women any more, the culture in still much more tilted towards "a woman's place is it home raising the kids" than in Canada or the US.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women%27s_suffrage_in_Switzerl...

> “a woman’s place is [in] the home raising the kids”

This is something that is commonly said here but I don’t have any data on whether people believe it or not. There are, however, some structural reasons why women may stay at home to raise kids:

1) Paternity leave is generally poor. There’s no statutory minimum and in many cases men only get one or two days off. There will be a referendum soon on a two week statutory minimum but it’s facing a lot of opposition from people concerned with strain on small businesses. By contrast, women get something like 16 weeks.

2) Childcare is extremely expensive. I’m sure the price varies but it’s not uncommon to hear of people spending 2500CHF (approx $2500) per month per kid for childcare. It may not make sense for some families to pay so much for childcare just so both parents can work, especially if more than one child needs care.

> but it’s facing a lot of opposition from people concerned with strain on small businesses.

Wouldn't it make more sense to say that every couple can collectively take the previous duration of maternity leave? So, if it used to be 16 weeks, make that into a bucket that each parent can spend as they see fit. Each parent could take 8 weeks, or the man could take the entire 16 weeks with the woman returning to work immediately, etc.

Maybe there's other reasons why the length should be extended or what have you—I'm not familiar with the situation—but this is how you'd correct a sexist policy in a way that shouldn't make businesses any worse off.

As a German living in Switzerland, I was quite surprised by this when I came here. Just as an example, officially mandated paternal leave is 1 day. In Germany it is something like 6 months I think.

Uhh, no. It's 14 weeks for the mother, but, granted, a few days for the father.

Some companies may grant more, but that's voluntary.

It's literally not even a few days for the father. There is a referendum on the books to raise it to 2 weeks. Luckily my employer gives me 12 weeks but as you say, this is voluntary.

You gave to realize that Switzerland is multicultural. For instance women suffrage was given in 1959 in canton de Vaud (French speaking part of Switzerland), and that was is true in one part of Switzerland can be quite different elsewhere in the country.

The 1959 right was for local referendums only, though. The first nation wide referendum women could vote in was 1971 (and not all of them could until 1990).

That's still later than 90% of Europe, not really high praise :-)

On the other hand, see https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23415639 for a list of female presidents[1] since 1991.

Women had voting rights much earlier in the US (1920) and USSR (1922) but both those polities seem to have produced exclusively male leadership lists ever since.

[1] for instance, this year's president (foreground), playing a duet with the interior minister (background). YouTube is failing me at finding an equivalent Trump/Azar duet.


The lack of a constitutional court at federal level is in fact a major weakness of the system, there have been several attempts (1999, 2011, ...) to give the supreme court that competency (similar as in the US). Without such a court, the parliament is free to pass unconstitutional laws at their own discretion (which happens from time to time). Referendums are not a very good instrument for ensuring the constitutionality of legislation. Almost no citizen reads a law proposal which for example consits of 50 pages, let alone has the time or ability to ensure constitutional compliance of such. Approval of a particular legislation at a referendum merely signals basic political acceptance and is very much prone to manipulation by media (dis-)information, political advertisments, etc. At least the supereme court de-facto acts as a limited "constituional court" to protect the rights enshrined in the European human rights convention. Very interesting read: Federalist paper No. 78

As a Swiss I agree that compatibility with the constitution is a major problem of referendums, somewhat less so of parliament decisions. One measure I'd like to see is to (a) forbid the government to send the people anything other than the proposed legal text (as other material is often very manipulative) and (b) extend the options for answering to yes/no/I don't understand. Third option in enough quantity could then trigger another round of making the text more clear and succinct and then trying again on the next voting Sunday.

That sounds exploitable. People would strategically vote "I don't understand" to delay the initiative.

Why do that instead of just "no"?

Because likely to elicit reworking of the proposal you would need less than 50% of the vote. To defeat the proposal you need at least 50%.

you could still deal with that. one option would be to just go for the outcome with the highest percentage, instead of the simple 50% majority.

I'm a big fan of the Swiss political system.

I don't bother bruising anyone else's egos by suggesting how it could complement or totally solve their jurisdiction's problem, I understand that it is a smaller geographic area 1/3rd the size of Pennsylvania with a population of 8 million.

My observation is that they are a multicultural society and their political concept can work across a much larger region, but my conclusion is that its right for me!

To add to what's in the article: the Swiss have compulsory military service that puts almost all young men (and many young women) of hugely varying backgrounds together and forces them to work together in really hard contexts. This seems to do a lot to bridge divides like urban/rural, socioeconomic status, and language backgrounds.

The army was considerably downsized in the last decades, so while this used to be true for men, it isn't anymore. And the number of women is and always was more or less negligible.

Well the army was downsized yes but most men still do their military service. I just recently completed my service and almost everyone I know did it too with maybe one or two exceptions. So this is still true. Except the women part yes this is really not significant.

Most != almost all, the number seems to be between 60 and 70% per year.

> compulsory military service

You can sort of opt-out by doing civilian service. This consist of general interest public work (mostly work in retirement homes, but also farmer's aide, museum guardianship, and in this time of pandemic, help doing COVID contact-tracing).

Well, there are three cases of patological societies, where one is forced to coexist with other people and unable to opt-out: school, prison and military service.

I'm not really seeing how that's bad.

You can't opt out of society in any significant regard, and without being forcefully exposed to very distinct facets of society we close ourselves off to our own little bubbles.

One cannot opt-out of society (short of moving to a different society), but one interact with society (as a whole) only through laws, contracts and formalized/ritualized interactions.

On personal level one does not interact with society, but with other persons. Probably tens or at most hundreds. And one can opt-out of each of such personal interaction (and perhaps find a differend set of persons to interact on personal level). And that is one of the most important personal freedoms.

By now the majority of people and the waste majority of woman do not go to military service. May 'military' service consisted of writing web application for the hospital and cleaning service as a 9 to 5 job.

>Back in 1917 Switzerland used to use majority system in the parliamentary elections. This led to a situation where the Liberal Democrats got only 40.8% of the vote, but 54.5% of the seats in parliament. The absolute majority allowed them to pass the laws, regardless of the will of the 59.2% who voted for other parties.

>Needless to say, Liberal Democrats torpedoed every attempt to replace the majority voting system by a proportional one. If the instrument of popular initiatives was not available, it would be a dead end. The voters would have to wait until Liberal Democrats lose some of their voter support. But even then, thanks to the majority system, an absolute majority in parliament could be won by another party, who would again find it difficult to abolish the system that brought it to power.

>General dissatisfaction with the state of affairs led to the launch of the popular initiative "For a proportional system of elections to the National Council" in 1918 which succeeded with 66.8% votes in favor.

>In 1919, elections were finally held using the new, proportional system and Liberal Democrats lost the absolute majority.

My theory is that the success of radical political change (peaceful or revolutionary) decreases with population size. The population of Switzerland was around 3 million in the late 1910s. The population of America was less than 3 million during the entirety of its revolutionary war.

Not being able to scale is one of the arguments that are often being use to dismiss Swiss political system, without much further explanation. However, where is the bar? I mean, I would understand if there was a limit somewhere around the Dunbar's number, but why would something that scales to 8 millions not scale to 20 or 50 millions?

The decomposition of the federation into appropriately sized cantons, which are decomposed into appropriately sized municipalities seems key here. At some point, the community level must be reached for all parties to feel they are being treated fairly. The Jurassic example shows this.

Implementing popular and legislative referendums at the federal level of the United States is a pipe dream. The powers that be have too tight a grip to relax it any. What is feasible in America today, especially in the more progressive cities like New York, is for the local city council to modify the constitution of the city and cede some its power to the people through the referendum mechanism. This would be popular and politically feasible.

Note that there were was significant civil unrest at that time.


Consensus is ingrained in Swiss mentality.

The legislative referenda are probably the single most important force that driving Switzerland away from the political polarization and towards the rule by consensus.

The referendums arent the only thing, I didn't read the article but searched for konkordanz/concordance(?) and didn't find any mention of it but it is the aspect that the executive branch is formed from representatives of all parties, a bit like a parliamentary committee is formed in other democracies. That means that there isn't a real opposition/government split in their parliament and government. This promotes centrist governance. Then the referendums provide a way of correcting/opposition to the elected government.

I do think this style should be adopted wider into other democracies.

Konkordanz is very important in Switzerland. A few years ago the SVP - the biggest party by active membership in Switzerland - proclaimed to act as an opposition party from that point forth.

They where thoroughly ridiculed; there is no place for an opposition party in Switzerland, since all the major parties are part of the Executive Directorate, where the seven seats of the directorate are apportioned vaguely proportional to voter share (although there's a log of haggling involved and you need to get the minor parties to agree to chip in, since the Directorate is confirmed by the Parliament).

I do also think that it would be helpful to adopt similar power-sharing directorates instead of presidential systems where one party dominates and the other parties try to sabotage everything they do. Switzerland's system involves a lot of bickering and can be slow sometimes, but I do think it better than the back-and-forth of presidential democracies.

I'm German so I live in a democracy with proportional representation and coalition governments. For the last years we had a coalition between labour and conservatives, with conservatives being the larger party. That setup was kind of the result of fragmentation in the political spectrum, that makes forming a "polar" government (left/right) a lot more difficult. Overall this center-government is quite popular, but sometimes gets a little lost on individual issues where referendum might help. And getting all parties included into that coalition government (that would be the Konkordanz setup roughly) seems like a no-brainer to me.

I think for years I was sceptical of direct democracy elements due to really bad decisions having been made in referendums across the globe. But nowadays I feel like it might also have to do with the lack of frequence in referendums. I.e. the Brexit-referendum was the rare occasion of a referendum, thus a lot of other issues unloaded in that referendum. If more referendums on various policies had been conducted before, the Brexit referendum might have turned out differently due to a reduced overall frustration about participation in policy-decision making.

Counterexample might be the state of california with many direct-democratic elements and regular ballot votes on many issues. I don't see it generating a lot of cooperative behaviour among the elected officials in california.

I agree; you cannot expect the voters to just once make a decision and then get it right.

The Brexit referendum is for me the worst possible example of how to do direct democracy; facultative with a vague question and once-in-a-lifetime. That's just not going to work. If a referendum is facultative, why even bother? If it is a vague question, what exactly voting are they for and if it is once-in-a-lifetime, how can you expect the people to actually vote on the issue at hand instead of just making a protest vote?

For a direct democracy to be working properly (and I don't propose that it's working properly in Switzerland!) you need to have an engaged populate that has built up a culture of participation, that know these referendums will have an impact and that their decision will not just be overruled by the political elite.

I don't know much about the political situation in the state of California. But honestly; the political system in the U.S.A to me seems just plain broken at this point in time.

Concordance is more or less a consequence of referenda.

An opposition party with enough support could force a referendum on every law. Giving them power prevents this tactic.

When I arrived in Switzerland, my in-laws would shush me if I made noise during the television referendum debates. Now I shush my kids if they make noise!

My wife and I also ask their opinions before formulating the family's votes.

I'm looking forward to future installments. I'm a naturalized citizen and I learned things from the writer!

Author here: At multiple places people pointed out that there are elements of the system missing from the article. Please note that there's going to be part II. (on decentralizaton, subsibiarity principle etc.) and part III. (on concordant democracy, magic formula, collegiality principle etc.)

As a Papierli-Schweizer let me thank you for the most comprehensive & understandable description of the Swiss system I have come across.

I am truly appreciate for the time and effort it most have taken you and I am looking forward to your part II & III.

There must be something more to Swiss efficiency than referenda. The article puts the case of the Jurassic question, which most of the Bernese government opposed but was ultimately gone to a referendum. In many other countries there would be nothing preventing the executive from just ignoring this question and never putting it to a referendum, even if that's the law.

In a way, lack of corruption and high level political participation are what makes the referenda work, not the other way around.

I think the rotating executive is the most interesting aspect of Swiss politics.

And the fact that they are expected to "speak with one voice".

Which forces them to find consensus.

I does not force them to find consensus, but if you‘re the minority you just have to „accept“ your loss and do as the majorities optinion were you‘re opinion. Which makes - imo - an oppisiotion useless, which is a good thing (you can‘t block progress if you don‘t agree).

Actually, no!

An important part of the Swiss system is that the winner doesn't take all, but that compromise is actively thought.

Sure, if you're on the losing side you'll have to accept defeat.

But the referendums ensure that the majority can't just badger the losers anyway they like.

Case in point: About 10 years ago there was a quite massive shift to the right. After which the liberals and the popular party tried to implement a rather neo-liberal agenda.

Let's just say it didn't quite work out.

> “ The canton publishes a handbook for each ballot, which explains, in quite a detail, including graphs, maps and tables, what each referendum is about.“

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and particularly in Alameda County. We received in the mail a government publication for each election. This includes statements for and against, and/or from each candidate.

Today I’m living in the greater NYC area, and particularly in Nassau Co. I’m not especially political, but I have worked for the Board of Elections at my local polling place (fair and free elections!) I frequent my public library. And there is nothing like this publication here.

It’s shocking how much work I have to do here to get any information on the issues and candidates which is not published in a newspaper I have to buy.

It's like a 4th branch of government, the people themselves have the power to check and balance the government and legislature. The government moderates the power of the peoples' direct democracy through a protracted, formal, and open process of bringing a referendum from introduction to ballot. The legislature is pressured always to move towards the center, because any step out of line will turn into a political disaster through a referendum overruling them.

We kind of have the same direct referendum system in California. But I get the distinct impression it's lead to a lot of brain dead things, like prop 13:


"Palace of Nations, the headquarters of UN, is located in Geneva and was located there for a long time even before Switzerland has become a member."

It is not THE HQ. Just one of them. NY is the first in precedence.

Fascinating read. As an American, I've always been curious about the Swiss political system ever since I traveled the world and met a lot of Swiss people, and was shocked that unlike in my home country, they generally seemed satisfied with their government. Don't get me wrong - nobody is totally satisfied with their government, but compared to the anger and jadedness me and most of my fellow Americans have always felt about our government, it was a shock to me. 7 presidents, referendums, 11 parties with at least one seat - Switzerland sounds like a great case study in politics, especially since the country is so culturally diverse with 4 national languages.

It looks like the referendum system has had a hugely positive effect, mostly because it's a real-time check on their representatives' power since citizens can directly change the law, forcing representatives to respect the interests of the population. In the U.S, our only recourse as citizens is to vote for one of the Democratic or Republican party candidates every 2-6 years (Senate elections are every 6 years), and being locked into a two-party system means the parties tend to gravitate towards the status quo. Ultimately referendums result in more power in the people, as well as a more politically active and educated citizenry as opposed to power being delegated to a relatively elite political class.

The following passage stood out to me:

> Back in 1917 Switzerland used to use majority system in the parliamentary elections. This led to a situation where the Liberal Democrats got only 40.8% of the vote, but 54.5% of the seats in parliament. The absolute majority allowed them to pass the laws, regardless of the will of the 59.2% who voted for other parties.

> Needless to say, Liberal Democrats torpedoed every attempt to replace the majority voting system by a proportional one. If the instrument of popular initiatives was not available, it would be a dead end. The voters would have to wait until Liberal Democrats lose some of their voter support. But even then, thanks to the majority system, an absolute majority in parliament could be won by another party, who would again find it difficult to abolish the system that brought it to power.

> General dissatisfaction with the state of affairs led to the launch of the popular initiative "For a proportional system of elections to the National Council" in 1918 which succeeded with 66.8% votes in favor.

This is a prime example of what would otherwise be a permanent government failure being rectified by the referendum system. Only the referendum system can fix a problem that persists because it is against the majority lawmakers' interests to fix it. It seems that voting rules in general should not be decided by lawmakers because they are incapable of voting against their own self-interest.

This is why despite all the complaints in the U.S. about the electoral college, winner-take all elections, gerrymandering, and being locked into a two-party system, nothing will every change since fixing the problem will always be against the interests of the majority party. Referendum seems to be the only solution here. Not that referendum guarantees change either, but it's much easier to vote against the party system as a citizen than as a party member who lives in and has benefited from the system. Expecting lawmakers to vote in the public good is like expecting CEOs to vote themselves a fair salary.

I was also impressed at the extent to which the public is educated on both sides of the referendum, with all sides having a chance at fair representation. Hard to imagine this kind of neutrality in the U.S. This is also made much easier by the fact that referendums must focus on a single matter, rather than conflating multiple unrelated issues (reducing military spending + increasing spending on social services).

It's amazing that past referendums included votes on universal basic income (2016) and full reserve banking (2018), both very forward thinking policies that haven't even been in the public debate in the U.S. except for basic income thanks to Andrew Yang's presidential run. Whereas the U.S. lags behind the world politically, unable to fix problems that Americans have been complaining about for decades like the skyrocketing cost of healthcare and university, countries like Switzerland have their act together and are pioneering forward into the future.

As an American, I'm completely in favor of tearing down our system and replacing it with something like the Swiss's. Direct democracy is the only true form of democracy, and representative democracy is like the halfway point between real democracy and monarchy. It's sad that representative democracy has been conflated with democracy, when it doesn't actually give the citizens the power to do anything other than vote for a new Democratic or Republican party representative every couple years. It's no wonder Americans are so dissatisfied and jaded with their government and rioting on the streets.

I grew up in Switzerland and left the country about 10 years ago. There's a lot to admire about the Swiss political system. However, I feel there are also substantial flaws with it that the author fails to address. Not everything in Swiss politics is rosy.

One of the biggest issues, I find, is that there is no constitutional oversight e.g. in form of a court. This not only leads to things like minarets being explicitly forbidden by the constitution (!) even though at the time of that initiative there were... 3 minarets in all of Switzerland. It also leads to a lot of issues when the government has to deal with contradictory requirements. The mass immigration initiative by the SVP was a great example: implementing it literally would have meant cancelling a lot of international contracts, which nobody really wanted. In the end, I think they reached some weird compromise solution (I had long left the country by then), but nobody can argue that that's the way the law was "intended" (and indeed, IIRC, the SVP tried to land another initiative that would have required the government to implement the first initiative literally... I'm not even sure what kind of legal sense that is supposed to make; thankfully, that initiative was rejected).

In that sense, it's not true that the constitution is "unambiguous". The government still has to draft specific laws according to new articles in the constitution and there's still much leeway there.

I also disagree that Switzerland is not polarised. It's true that the system itself, with a government involving all the major parties, acts as a stability mechanism, but the SVP has been trying to break that stability for years and years now, mounting attack after attack at the established consensus by using the kind of right-wing populism that has now become popular in other parts of the world as well. One particularly pernicious instance was when they were trying to hold the political system hostage in 2007, because the parliament didn't re-elect one of the SVP government members (Christoph Blocher). Blocher was thought to be intolerable by many, so they elected another SVP member, Evelyn Widmer-Schlumpf, instead. However, the SVP simply proclaimed that they wouldn't accept this and that if Schlumpf were to accept the vote, she would be expelled from her own party. It turned out that it was impossible for the SVP to just expel Schlumpf, though, so they had to expel the whole cantonal section that she belonged to, which I just find insane. Schlumpf went on to be a quite respected government member, but the SVP wouldn't stop whining for years about how the government wasn't representing the political parties anymore, even though they had created that situation completely on their own. In the end, Schlumpf abdicated after some years and they elected another SVP member that was slightly more tolerable.

Finally, we also have to look at voting participation, which is very low in Switzerland. I believe this comes partially from the fact that it's just too exhausting to have to keep up with dozens of referenda and initiatives each year, especially when they overwhelmingly get rejected. I do think that the numbers of signatures needed to start an initiative or referendum should be increased; I think it's currently at 100k which in this day and age means that everyone and their dog can make the people vote about something totally insane.

There's going to be a long section about the Blocher case in part III. However, honest question: Do you see SVP succeeding in polarizing the society? How exactly? Have the friends voting for SVP started treating you as an enemy? Do you fear expressing your opinion at particular places? Etc.

Sorry for the late answer.

Judging from the kinds of examples you give (fear of expressing one's own opinion etc.), I'm thinking that you might be talking about a level of polarisation that I mostly associate with the US currently. That's certainly not what is going on in Switzerland, but it's also not what is going on in many other parts of the world, so I don't think "not as bad as the US" is a sufficient criterion for "not polarised".

But the SVP does consistently put up posters such as this one: https://img.nzz.ch/2019/8/19/a8db938f-4e3a-4eb4-9eec-31102df... ("should we allow liberals and 'nice people' to destroy Switzerland?")

Or this one: https://www.sozialarchiv.ch/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/04_So... ("This is what liberals want")

Or: https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/proxy/1lgJnhTI6CNiyT7h_-8D... ("free-for-all? no")

All of these examples (and many, many more, going back over decades) attempt to paint the political opposition as subhuman and as selling out the country to "bad people", and don't forget: this is the most powerful party in Switzerland (though, to be fair, in Switzerland with its multi-party system that doesn't mean more than 25-30%).

There are also numerous examples of the SVP using the same sort of language and imagery when referring to immigrants, muslims, etc., but while equally repulsive, I'll grant you that it's not an example of polarisation necessarily.

By contrast, I now live in Germany, and before the rise of the far-right AfD party just a couple of years ago, this sort of rhetoric and imagery would have been completely unimaginable. Even now, the AfD is politically isolated and its politics, language and imagery are reviled pretty much across the political spectrum, whereas in Switzerland, the SVP has succeeded in "normalising" this sort of political discourse over decades.

Evelyn Widmer-Schlumpf's given name is "Evelyn" and her (adopted?) family name is "Widmer-Schlumpf", so the correct way to refer to her just by her family name would be "Widmer-Schlumpf". [I am Swiss BTW.]

Please keep in mind that many countries / cultures, even Western ones, have a naming tradition different from "first given name / second given name / single family name".

I was typing on my mobile phone and was getting tired of typing out the full name, but you are correct (incidentally, it wouldn't be different in Germany).

Yeah, they keep proposing things they can't follow through, that's quite weird.

The UE relations are a particular sore spot, which they keep dancing around, but no one wants to address directly.

I don't think you should call "low" a voting participation of about 50% - even on thorny issues as the length of cattle horns.

It's definitely lower than e.g. Germany, where participation is more than 70%.

The title reminded me of the late SlateStarCodex's "more than you ever wanted to know" blog posts, which were pretty informative. The one on melatonin was particularly useful, I think.

"More than you ever wanted to know" is a great name for an article format, where a single topic is explored in depth. I don't think there's any other term with that meaning in English, except, maybe, "monograph", but that doesn't make such a nice title.

There are laws to prevent felons from having guns. Most people who murder with guns are felons. Some people want to make more laws to restrict gun ownership even further. So in the future maybe people who haven’t gotten a training certificate and who have not passed various tests cannot own a gun. In this case, people who carry around pistols might be seen almost as an extension of the police force who only become active in the most extreme situations where police are not available, because they are so thoroughly screened and trained. The man who head-shifted a terrorist in a Texas church comes to mind.

In this scenario, the number of guns carried by criminals would stay the same. And the amount of people murdered by guns will be the same. You know why? Because stop and frisk is racist. According to everyone, stopping people for 2 minutes to check them for guns is abhorrent, racist and evil. So criminals will always have guns in this country. There is no reason to pass laws one way or another.

Some say that stop and frisk is unconstitutional. I think I agree with this. So it follows that it is embedded in the constitution that criminals will be carrying around pistols. There is no changing this. I think that the only reasonable response is to allow ordinary people who are not criminals, not obviously insane and etc to carry pistols. It’s written in the constitution that we are allowed to do something like that. So if liberals want to be constitutionalists about stop and frisk, then conservatives have the right to be constitutionalists about carrying guns. If criminals are allowed to carry guns in practice then it is only reasonable to let their victims carry guns too.

Or, y’know, like everywhere else, criminals likely wouldn’t carry guns and certainly wouldn’t shoot people because “hey, I got caught” is not usually an imminent life and death situation and they’d risk a significantly higher sentence.

Of course, this only works when you don’t hand out 10+ year prison sentences for property crime in the first place.

How is this connected to the post?

In the context of this post, "the constitution" would be:


Didn’t read the article but I met a Swiss guy at a hostel the other day. He told me how citizens can prompt a vote on almost any issue — almost a direct democracy, in his words. He said that a vote was successfully prompted to limit the gap between the salaries of ceos and low level employees. It was voted down. My only remark was that if the United States had a system like that, the country would promptly destroy itself.

How would the country destroy itself?

By voting through feel-good proposals that are ultimately misinformed and destructive. It’s happening anyway through our indirect democracy but at a slower rate.

That is not what is happening in Switzerland. There isn't reallya reason why ot would play out differently in the USA.

The beginning might be turbulent, but that should cha.ge after a few years

I would guess the Swiss population is generally more educated on average compared to the American public, which to be fair is easier to achieve with a population of 9M vs 328M. A sufficiently educated public is a requirement for a more direct democracy to have desirable results.

America really needs an education system overhaul, teachers are often paid close to fast food restaurant staff levels of wages.

If you have a working education system, it will work exactly the same for 9 and for 300 million people. Its not about size but about the approach.

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