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In the previous part of this article we've looked in detail at the Swiss system of direct democracy.

It's hard not to conclude that direct democracy is the reason why Swiss society works so well. However, one then remembers the direct democracy in California and is no longer so sure. Not that the Californian direct democracy is necessarily bad, but it shows no spectacular results either.

One possible argument to explain the discrepancy could be that direct democracy needs time to mature. Which it certainly does. We've already seen how the Swiss popular initiative needed hundred years to evolve to its current form. However, Swiss direct democracy dates back to the end of 19th century, while Californian direct democracy became fully established in 1911. Difference of mere 22 years.

Another possible explanation of why Swiss direct democracy works better is that California is constrained by being part of the United States. And there is no direct democracy on the federal level in the US. Maybe the dysfunction trickles down from above and the local direct democratic institutions are not able to cope with it.

I have no idea whether that's a plausible explanation, however, we may be wiser after giving a closer look to the second pillar of the Swiss political system, the feature that is often called "federalism" but which can, in my opinion, be interpreted in much wider sense as decentralization at all levels of the society.


Switzerland has once been a loose confederacy of independent states and the unification in 1848, to a significant extent, preserved that independence.

While there is a central government, its powers are rather limited. So-called "principle of subsidiarity" applies: The areas managed by the federal government are explicitly listed in the constitution and anything that is not included in the list automatically falls under the jurisdiction of the cantons. Even in the areas that the federal government is responsible for, it often does the decision making, but leaves the execution to the cantons. So, for example, although the Department of Justice and Police exists at the federal level, the police forces themselves operate at the cantonal level, in larger cities even at the municipal level.

Each canton is a small state on its own. It has its own constitution, its own parliament and its own government.

Even the political system varies among the cantons. Most cantons hold cantonal elections every four years, but the canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden holds them every year. Yet other cantons elect their parliaments every five years. Most cantons use majority system in cantonal elections. However, canton Ticino uses proportional system. In canton Bern, one seat in the cantonal government is reserved for a representative of the French-speaking minority in Bernese Jura. In the canton of Glarus, the voting age was lowered a few years ago and therefore, unlike in the rest of Switzerland, young people can vote from the age of sixteen.

The cantons can negotiate directly with each other and adopt mutual treaties (the so-called "concordats") thus bypassing the federal government. Powerful intercantonal organizations exist: The Conference of Cantonal Governments, the Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Finance, the Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education and so on.

While these parallel structures make it possible to keep the central government lean, some argue that they are lacking the full democratic accountability. As far as I can say, it doesn't look that bad though. When German-speaking cantons were trying to harmonize their school curricula, the measure was voted on in cantonal referenda in all the affected cantons rather than having it forced on them by the conference of education ministers.

Sometimes it happens that the cantons are unable to agree on a question. One such question was whether the school year should begin in spring or in autumn. That was, understandably, a serious problem for the families moving between the cantons. The issue was resolved in 1985 in a federal referendum (58.8% in favor of autumn). The decision was written into the federal constitution and Switzerland took a small step towards centralization.


The power sharing between cantons and municipalities is governed by the cantonal constitution and thus varies among the cantons. German-speaking cantons tend to apply the subsidiarity principle. Everything that is not explicitly delegated to the canton is governed on the local level. Canton of Graubünden goes the furthest. It used to be, historically, a federation of municipalities, or rather, a union of three federations, called - the Game of Thrones fans are going to appreciate it - The Grey League, The League of Ten Bailiwicks and The League of God's House. (And it gets stranger. What is now the canton of Wallis was once called the Republic of the Seven Tenths.) In any case, in Graubünden the villages have their own constitutions and so on. The French-speaking cantons, on the other hand, are less fond of passing power to the lower levels. The municipalities, for instance, often have no say it their political system, which is, instead, imposed on them by the cantonal constitution.

Either way, municipalities are relatively separate units and there is a strong pressure on them to remain so. This is evidenced, for example, by the fact that all attempts to unify the tax system, whether within a single canton or nationwide, have been rejected in referenda.

Municipalities can enter into mutual agreements (e.g. regarding the joint supply of water), but, interestingly, they cannot negotiate directly with the federal government. The federal government, in turn, has no direct relationship with the municipalities. It must always act through the canton.

An unusual detail is that municipalities are in charge of granting citizenship. Swiss citizenship is acquired by citizens of the individual cantons and cantonal citizenship is acquired by citizens of individual municipalities. The process therefore bubbles up in the bottom-up way.

To understand the split of powers and responsibilities between the federation, the cantons and the municipalities, let's have a look at how are individual sectors financed.

Municipalities spend the most on the cost item "environment" (63%). Environment is followed by "culture, sports and recreation" (56%) and "administration” (44%).

By comparison, the cantons contribute the most to the items "public order" (67%), "health" (56%) and "education" (53%).

Federal government, in turn, spends the most in the area of "foreign relations" (100%), "defense" (90%), "economy" (52%), "transport" (51%) and "finance" (51%).

Similarly, taxes are collected on federal, cantonal and local level. Each level determines the tax rate on its own. The ratio between the three of them tends to be around 1:1:1.

All taxes are collected at the municipal level (although sometimes the municipality can delegate the task, for a fee, to the canton). The municipalities then send the corresponding portion of the taxes to the cantons and these in turn to the federal authorities. The other way round, the central government sends, within the framework of equalization programs, part of the money back to the cantons. The equalization is relatively moderate though and makes up at most 15% of the cantonal income.

Since cantonal and local taxes can account for up to huge chunk of overall taxes, rich people are incentivized to move to tax haven cantons, such as Zug or the predominantly rural canton of Schwyz. This begs a question whether there is a tax race to zero among the cantons and municipalities. The data seems to indicate that indeed, the taxes tend to slowly decrease. But, on the other hand, the public sector doesn't seem to be underfinanced at the present moment.


Below the municipal level, there are associations of different kinds: Church communities, professional organizations, guilds, clubs for keeping public spaces clean, sport clubs, shooting clubs, gardening clubs, cultural associations, parents' associations, charities, choirs and so on.

Switzerland is home to around 90,000 associations and most Swiss are members of at least one association.

Depending on where you come from, you may feel that putting associations on the ladder of decentralization is strange. Governance, in the end, is something essentially different from hobbyism. In many countries the split between the official (mandatory, political) and the non-official (voluntary, for fun) is quite palpable. But in Switzerland the boundary is quite blurry.

Military service, for example, is mandatory and once a person completes basic training, they get a gun. From that point on, they are required to practice shooting at least once a year. Given that the shooting is mandatory, one would expected it to be organized by the state. In reality, however, it's the local shooting clubs who take care of the task. In other words, the state relies on voluntary associations to perform some of its critical tasks.

Or have a look at so called "citizens' municipalities". These are associations that own the the municipal land, public buildings, forests and mountain pastures. Citizens’ municipality Bern even owns a bank. The "citizenship" in these municipalities is hereditary and distinct from the citizenship in the "political municipalities" familiar from elsewhere. Citizens' municipality collects rent from its possessions and spends it on causes beneficial to the municipality. You are left to wonder whether these are state or private organizations.

Militia System

Another mechanism that blurs the border between the state and the citizens is the so-called "Militia system". It is a principle according to which the civil service is voluntary and performed in one's free time, with no or little compensation.

From that point of view, there's no much difference between being a treasurer of the municipality and being a treasurer of the local yodeling club. Also, both state and non-state organizations are under public scrutiny. Non-functional minicipality requires fixing as much a non-functional rowing club.

Militia system deserves a few comments.

While it is based on the age-old concept of "citizen and soldier" and, indeed, every Swiss male is obliged to do military service, it extends to other spheres of public life. Citizens can be asked, for example, to do service in a local fire brigade. This is generally frowned upon and volunteers are preferred. Nevertheless, the option exists. Voluntary service in school boards, churches and in municipal, cantonal or federal administration is also considered to be a part of the militia system.

In the latter case, the militia system is meant to bring real world, practical experience to the government. The idea is that a baker can represent other bakers in parliament, whether federal or cantonal, better than a professional politician.

However, the militia system seems to be gradually breaking down. Only a third of members of the federal parliament are still doing it as a side job. Also, with the increased mobility, the feeling of belonging to a particular place and the prestige associated with working for a municipal authority wears down. Large municipalities tend to hire salaried employees. Small municipalities, on the other hand, are struggling to fill in the administrative positions. This is one of the reasons behind the increasing number of municipality mergers in the past few decades.

In the following graph, blue is the overall number of municipalities in Switzerland. Red is the average number of inhabitants per municipality.

If you put your conservative hat on, this development is deeply troubling. Maybe even more troubling than the current bogeyman of the progressives, the rise of right-wing populism. Because what it means, on the big scale, is replacement of the state run by citizens by the state run by the political class. In other words, the replacement of participative democracy by a spectator democracy. On the local scale, on the other hand, with at best as many candidates as there are positions the election turns from choosing the best candidate into approving the single running one. And it is not clear, whether the unique Swiss model of direct democracy and rule by consensus can survive that.

There is no easy way out. Even making the administrative service compulsory may not be sufficient. Some cantons do have such a provision in their constitutions, inherited from the times past. But now, that they actually put it in use, it turns out that the enforcement is hard. Couple of years ago, for example, a small village in the canton of Uri has elected a new municipal council. Out of five members, three were elected against their will. To avoid the service, all three have relocated, leaving the council without quorum and therefore non-functional.

Apartment blocks

At the very bottom, at the bottom of the decentralization ladder, there are the politics of apartment blocks. These are things like parking (Your car is not parked in parallel!), noise (The neighbor is playing trumpet at 10pm! And he's butchering the song!) and similar.

This is often very informal and varies from one apartment block to another. I can't speak for everybody, but let me quickly summarize my own experiences as well as the anecdotes I've heard from others.

For me, personally, the most palpable demonstration of apartment block politics is the shared laundry room, which is very common in Switzerland. It is a direct attack on the modern custom of people living side by side without knowing each other or solving common problems.

The shared laundry room was, for example, what led to my very first contact with my neighbors. The very first week, a neighbor complained that I hadn't wiped water from the rubber band around the door of the washing machine and gave me a long lecture about the rules for using the shared washing machine and tumbler.

In theory, everyone is free to buy their own washing machine, but bathrooms are often designed so that there is no space for a washing machine. And it's not a custom in the first place.

Our block consists of six apartments and the washing days are divided between the apartments. Each gets one day of week, from Monday to Saturday.

Problems frequently arise. Six families sharing a single washing machine are bound to clash. One may have returned from a holiday and would like to do their laundry quickly. Some families may have a toddler and therefore more laundry to do. Some of the neighbors may be more willing to share, some of them less. Some people may interpret house rules in different ways. All of that requires constant diplomacy, keeping good relationships and tit-for-tat arrangements.

Sometimes it happens that someone does their laundry on Sunday, which is not supposed to happen. None of the neighbors complains, because everyone is aware that they may be in urgent need of doing laundry on Sunday themselves at some point. At the same time, however, everyone pays attention to whether people are not abusing this freedom and doing laundry on Sunday regularly, without a serious reason.

The point of all this is that many basic virtues of participative democracy, such as a proactive approach, negotiation, willingness to compromise, acceptance of a common decision, and even the ability to turn a blind eye, are drilled into people every day when dealing with such details as the use of the shared laundry room.

Why decentralization?

And so one asks: Why all the decentralization? Why all those local and regional, intertwining rules that complicate the whole system so much that it's barely understandable? What is it all good for, anyway?

Friedrich Hayek is the author of a famous parable about how the market works as a device for collecting and processing information. Everyone is free to decide what to buy and at what price, providing the market with information about their preferences and financial possibilities. Manufacturers, in turn, are free to sell at any price, providing the information about the manufacturing costs. Market takes care of the processing and produces the right amount of each good, at the right time, at the right price. No central planner would be able to measure the tiniest preferences with a similar accuracy and create a plan that would produce and ship the goods exactly to where they are needed.

What's much less known is the work of another Nobel laureate, Elinor Ostrom. What she says is similar to what Hayek says, except it's about institutions, rather than markets: Proper institutions function as information collecting and processing devices. They process the messy hands-on knowledge of the stakeholders and transform it into efficient administrative rules. If the current rules do not work, the participants, being personally involved in the whole matter and knowing all the details, will adjust the rules to solve the problem.

Ostrom identifies several principles that must be followed to make such an institution work. I am not going to list all of them. If you are interested in the topic, read my review of Ostrom's book here. The part that particularly interests me in the context of this article is the rule stating that policies must be fitted to local conditions.

As an example, Ostrom describes a village in Sri Lanka, where fishing was practiced at two different spots. The fishing grounds were about one and a half kilometers apart. Each of them had different rules on who, how and when could fish. These rules have been carefully crafted to take sea currents, changes in the abundance of fish during the day, the cost of preparing the equipment, etc. into account.

The rules we are talking about here are based on many years of experience at the local level, and no central government, no planner, however ingenious, would be able to design a similarly optimal system. The best that could be expected would be a well-thought-out, but rigid system that would apply the same rules to every village on the Sri Lankan coast. That, in turn, would lead to sub-optimal use of resources in some places and, conversely, to over-fishing and gradual destruction of the fisheries in other places.

But to return to Switzerland: Let's take the already mentioned case of the Rosengarten tunnel, a project to divert traffic from the busiest Zurich street to the underground. What I hear from the locals is that many voted against the tunnel, because if it were built and the traffic really went underground, the whole neighborhood would suddenly be more lucrative and the rents would increase. (And again: High rents are a pain point in Zurich.)

Those who rent a flat in the neighborhood therefore have a good reason to vote against the tunnel. However, the situation is the opposite for those who own real estate there. If apartment prices increase, they will benefit from it. The result of the vote is therefore influenced by the ratio of subtenants to apartment owners. No official would be able to take this particular detail, as well as many other, no less important, into account and make a balanced decision.

The same is true when setting up a political system: The system must be adapted to local conditions. Let us remember the one already mentioned in the government of the canton of Bern for the representative of the French minority. Such a rule doesn't make sense elsewhere. Some cantons have no French minority. Others are almost purely French. The rule only makes sense for the canton of Bern, because the French-speaking Bernese Jura has, for historical reasons, a special status. Other cantons it turn need different rules.

Finally, it should be said that the cantons often serve as political laboratories. Rules that have worked well in one canton are sometimes adopted at the federal level. This allows for relatively safe experimentation without dire consequences for the entire country. When, for example, proportional voting system was introduced on the federal level in 1917, it had been already tested in the canton of Ticino. When voting age was lowered to sixteen in the canton of Glarus in 2010, some have expected that the innovation would spread to other cantons, and maybe even to the federal level, counterbalancing the graying of the electorate. However, that has not happened yet.

The Most Powerful Man of Switzerland

When a photograph of the Swiss president waiting for a train trended on Twitter in 2014, people were amazed at what a safe country Switzerland has to be if the president can take a train just as any other mortal. Others flipped over Swiss egalitarianism, over the country where a farmer and a worker could find themselves in a train compartment with the president.

Few have realized that the prosaic explanation of the fact is simply that the president is not important enough to have to be transported in an armored limousine. In fact, many Swiss people have trouble remembering who the president happens to be this year.

So wait, if the president is not the Switzerland's most powerful man, maybe it's the prime minister instead?

But no. Switzerland has no prime minister. The government has seven members, all of them equal, deciding on issues by voting.

The federal chancellor exits the competition straight away. He's nothing like Angela Merkel. He plays a technical role and does not even have a vote in the government.

The powers of the federal government are very limited anyway. Most of the power remains at the cantonal level. So perhaps the most powerful woman is the president of the most populous canton, which is, with its million and half inhabitants, Zurich.

But what was already said about federal government, applies to the cantonal government as well. The position of cantonal president rotates annually among the seven members of the cantonal government, and the cantonal constitution gives her almost no special powers. Section 23 of the cantonal constitution goes the furthest: "The cantonal government may instruct the president or vice president to decide on matters of minor importance."

It turns out that Switzerland is not ruled by anyone in particular. And that brings us back to the subject of decentralization. The lesson we can learn here is that decentralization does not necessarily mean only that some powers are transferred from the state to the region, or perhaps to the municipality. Decentralization, in a broad sense, is a way of political thinking that seeks to prevent accumulation of power. And it does not matter whether it is an accumulation of power in the hands of one person (president), in one institution (government), or in one place (capital).

Power is hopelessly diluted. Nobody can make a decision on their own. Everyone is forced to negotiate and, eventually, to compromise. This arrangement is one of the contributing factors to the Swiss system of ruling by consensus, the so called "concordance democracy", which we are going to explore in the next installment of this essay.

July 22nd, 2020

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24 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 4:07 PM

Thank you.

Bit of trivia on Switzerland and voting methods: I've heard (but have not seen primary sources for) that in 1798 the briefly-independent city-state of Geneva used the median-based voting method we anachronously know as "Bucklin" after its US-based reinventor. This was at the (posthmous) suggestion of the Marquis de Condorcet. Notably that suggestion was not to use what we know of as "Condorcet" voting, as that would have been logistically too complex for the time.

Also, if I'm not mistaken, Swiss municipal councils use a biproportional voting method; one of the only such methods in public use.

In other words, Switzerland, like Sweden, is a place for interesting voting methods.

However, one then remembers the direct democracy in California and is no longer so sure. Not that the Californian direct democracy is necessarily bad, but it shows no spectacular results either.

Two points:

  • Californian direct democracy is bad. Very bad. The two biggest problems, currently, are Prop 13, which makes it unaffordable for any city to allow housing to be built, and Prop 26, which requires that the legislature have a supermajority to increase any tax or fee. But these are symptoms of a larger problem which is that it routinely puts nice-sounding ideas up for a vote, ideas which would be catastrophic in practice for complex reasons, and it takes heroic efforts to prevent them from becoming law that the legislature cannot amend.

  • You are missing a large difference between Switzerland and California that is much more likely to be relevant than the differences you note: Size. California has 40 million people in 160,000 square miles; Switzerland has 8 million in 16,000 square miles. (The population difference is the crucial one, but the large difference in land area shouldn't be discounted.) It certainly doesn't help that the US systems for devolution don't have nearly the granularity that Switzerland does, but the core problem is that California is ungovernably large.

It is my long-standing contention that the coordination costs to keep an organization well-directed scale superlinearly with the size of the organization, and particularly that this increases much faster than the amount of labor available within the organization. I believe this explains most problems people experience with government and large corporations.

The way I have seen this idea stated in the past (e.g. quadratic cost of all-to-all communication) was that the organization lacing a hierarchical structure would fall apart at quite a small size, maybe somewhere around ~100 people.

If one wants to use it to explain the different outcomes between Switzerland and California, they have to explain why something would work for 8 million people (which is not at all a negligible number) and 40 million. What exactly happens at, say, 20 million boundary that breaks the system?

A government has a different problem than just bureaucracy; it has to aggregate preferences from a much larger group in order to do its job. The aggregation of needs, preferences, and other important information just gets harder as the group to be governed gets bigger. I think it's faster than quadratic, as well; I'd expect that first, second, and probably third derivatives are all strictly increasing functions of population; for a bureaucracy with no customers/clients outside itself the first derivative is positive and usually the second, but probably not the third.

But that would only push the upper limit on efficient governance downwards, no? So the limit would not be 100 people, but rather 30. Still, the question we are discussing is whether there's a limit somewhere between 8 million and 40 million, which is like five orders of magnitude difference.

Where is part 3? 

Here (i just entered the authors profile and it's one of the newest posts, directly above part 2)

What about direct democracy in Oregon, does it work well with its 4 millions people? And in Colorado and North Dakota?

I’m also wondering whether proportional vote is important for the Swiss direct democracy to function acceptably, the last canton, Grisons, that did not elect its legislature proportionally just reformed recently.

In California, with the majority vote and the subsequent two-party system, there is such a high contrast between the ideologies prevalent in society and the mix of ideologies in the State legislature that the relation between the civil society and the legislature can only be conflictual (conflictuality which is already inherently fostered by the majority vote).

It would also be interesting to know whether in California direct democracy works better at the county and municipal level.

Anyhow, I would still prefer to live in a state with direct democracy than without it, even with Prop 13 and Prop 26, no doubt whatsoever about this.

How are these percentages to be interpreted?

Municipalities spend the most on the cost item "environment" (63%). Environment is followed by "culture, sports and recreation" (56%) and "administration” (44%).

Portion of the budget paid by specific level of government. For example, if 100% of the "foreign relations" budget is paid by federal government, it means that cantonal and municipal levels pay no expenses related to foreign relations.

It was unclear to me too. thanks for asking the question and thanks for answering it

The shared laundry room was, for example, what led to my very first contact with my neighbors. The very first week, a neighbor complained that I hadn't wiped water from the rubber band around the door of the washing machine and gave me a long lecture about the rules for using the shared washing machine and tumbler.

I am in switzerland and exactly the same thing happened to me.

(I'm saying this just to lend credence to apartment block politics being a real thing.)

I've actually made the opposite experience of one commenter.

Once I tried to wash clothes in a hurry, hung them to dry and didn't get to take them down for half a day or so. I then found my clothes neatly folded on the washing machine.

Felt bad that somebody did my duties, and I wasn't even able to thank them and apologize. Because the new Waschplan is no Waschplan at all – pure anarchy!

The structure of the Swiss executives is a particularity that I think is not often stressed enough.

As you mention, the government is a group of 7 people (at the federal level). This means that the power of the executive branch of the state is not owned by one political group.

In all the other systems I know, the executive power is not shared - there is one president. This forces coalition to form to win this position. You have people allying themselves with other parties only to "win" elections. Coalitions are here only as a way to control the executive.

In Switzerland, this does not happen - power must be shared at the executive level. Coalitions exists, but more around particular issues. Two parties can align on how retirement should work but not on laws on hunting. Decisions are not monopolised by one groupe - they are made by shifting alliances.

This structure where the power of the executive is also the same at the different level of the state (canton and municipalities). The concept of mayor is also not as strong in Switzerland than in France for instance.

I'm American but lived in Zurich for four years. Understood the alignment/conflicts between the political parties but never had the slightest idea who the heads of the government were.

The washing machine issue is huge. My apartment block (about 20 units) was controlled by two families that had all the units on the top floors. Even though almost all of them were retired, they reserved all the evening and Saturday washing machine times. Thus it was impossible for the other people in the building (who all had regular jobs) to wash their clothes without taking time off from work. And even though the machines were still idle half the time, the wrath of the two families would immediately descend on anyone using an idle machine outside their officially assigned time. Some rough analogy with people in an American HOA going to anal extreme to enforce regulations. Plus an overlay of status distinctions between "more pure Swiss" e.g my family has lived in Zurich for generations and yours only moved here 15 years ago.

The owner of the block may have been willing to change the house rules if most of the inhabitants asked for it. Our block, for example, is owned by a bank and run by a company dedicated house-managing company. The company seems to be rather flexible and willing to resolve issues. That's another thing that I found unexpected in Switzerland: If something doesn't work, be it a person's behavior or an administrative problem, do complain (locals certainly do) and it will eventually get fixed. It's certainly not what I've learned at home, namely, that complaining if futile.

Thinking about it more, I think the laundry room might point to why this political system works in Switzerland and the loosely similar attempts at direct democracy in America arguably don't.

So, for context, I grew up in Florida, and now split my time between Florida and California, technically residing in Florida but spending a lot of my time in California. Both places have some version of direct democracy. In Florida there's a system of ballot measures that permits amendments to the state constitution by vote, but with some limitations (the wording gets reviewed and sometimes amendments get signatures to show up on the ballot but are worded in ways that courts rule are invalid, some kinds of changes are not allowed, etc.). In California there's a more general system for referendums. Since I only vote in Florida I know that better, but I live with the consequences in California so I see that, too.

In both places the system is a mess. In California the deleterious effects of various propositions is well documented, so I won't say much about it. In Florida, it's similarly weird, and constantly puts the state in a position where it's forced to violate the constitution. A great example of this is the 2002 class size amendment that put constitutional limits on how many students could be in a class, but provided no mechanism for funding this change, leaving that up to the legislature. Unsurprisingly, not enough money was coughed up at the state level, leaving school districts in a tough spot. The result was things like school districts strategically choosing to violate the constitution and pay fines because it was cheaper than complying with the law.

But that's all just context, I'm really here to talk about laundry.

So, in American culture, I feel relatively safe in claiming that a supermajority of Americans would be put off at the idea that they would have to submit to communal authority of their fellow apartment dwellers. There's something in the American ethos about people letting other people alone, especially if they are equals. The only person who can tell us what to do is someone we recognize as an authority.

Weirdly, though, Americans are pretty happy to submit to people they recognize as authorities. Like, they might grumble a bit about it, but current protests aside, people aren't generally out in the streets over being asked to do things. They might make a lot of noise about it, but in the end they will either just do it or shut up about it and silently break the rules. Like, if my neighbors asked me to change how I did laundry, I'd likely not want to hear it. But if the landlord told me the rules, I'd at least say "okay, he has the right to make the rules", and then either follow them or not but at least I would accept he was a valid person to tell me what to do, whereas I wouldn't think my neighbor had any right to say anything.

And this difference in culture bubbles up. So it feels like if my fellow Americans say they want policy X or Y, that's just their opinion. But if our elected officials say this is policy X or Y, well that's how it us. Americans expect a hierarchical structure both in public and private spheres, and don't want to listen to people who aren't their superior. Thus, having put on my amateur sociologist hat, I'm lead to believe that direct democracy wouldn't work in America without substantial cultural changes towards greater egalitarianism, noting that America seems to be a great example that you can be pro-freedom and not pro-equality.

I have no data to support the following, this is purely my point of view versus yours. I would be really curious about seeing the popularity of ballot initiatives among citizens in different US states, and how they would react if there was a possibility to withdraw this civic right. I believe you are projecting your own point of view here, go in California, in Oregon, in N&S Dakota, in Washington, in Colorado, in Maine and Massachusetts, and you may find that most people have a higher trust in the process of ballot initiatives than in their legislatures.

In Switzerland there's a lot of discussion about changing this or that part of the political system, but I've never seen someone advocating for getting rid of referenda. There's something about the concept that people tend to like, irrespective of whether it works well or not.

One thing I don't see mentioned in either article is the mechanics of voting. Does voting have to be in person? Is any of it online? Thanks for these articles. It is the best explanation of Swiss democracy I've ever come across. I wonder what the United States would look like if we more closely followed our federal model instead of having devolved into the centralized monster it has become.

E-Voting is neing developed, mainly by the Postal Services' IT division, and it will see the light of the day within the next few years.

As far as I know, most people vote by mail. There have been some back and forth with respect to the online voting. The rules probably differ between the cantons.

Thank you so much for these articles! I've always been interested in how Switzerland is managed, but couldn't find such detailed information. This is perfect!