11. Education Walking down the streets of Bern, the Swiss capital, one sees a country teeming with education. For every grocery store there appears to be perhaps three bookstores. These are generally stocked with serious volumes: reference books and computer software galore; history; and a plethora of how-to-do-it, solve-it-yourself volumes, from home repair to honing your shooting skills. A member of Parliament, Dr. Onken, recognizes me and waves hello; Onken operates a correspondence learning institute in Southeast Switzerland. Newspaper stands are as ubiquitous as in Manhattan, and have more newspapers. At a kiosk near the train station, the usual ads for rock-and-roll bands and small theater productions are sprinkled liberally with cards and flyers of French and Italian tutors, financial management services, and computer courses. One thing to notice about the examples above is that there is no mention of a strictly "regular" school for children aged five through say eighteen - the K-12 years in the United States. There are many of these, too, of course. But one of the striking aspects of the Swiss passion for education is that it is not locked up in "the classroom." It ambles about the society freely, like the bustling pedestrians on the Bahnhofstrasse in Zürich or the cobbled streets along the river in Luzern. This hunger for learning sprawls out across the society and into every activity in Switzerland, in a way that is hard to quantify or summarize, except by providing some examples that truly seem to be common. At a Swiss factory that builds large weaving and sewing machines in Aargau canton, we encounter a worker on his break. He is sitting by his machine reading a book about electrical engineering, which he is studying at the technical school. Visiting a housewife and member of the cantonal parliament in St. Gallen, my colleague begins the conversation in German - but our hostess replies in fragmented English. Her children, she explains, are keen to learn English, and she wants to practice so she can help and learn along with them. Swiss students consistently perform close to the top in international standardized tests of math, science, and reading, as Fig. 11.1 suggests. Figure 11.1 Math Performance by Country (approx.) Greece - 495 Iceland - 500 U.S. - 515 Germany - 520 Sweden - 530 Ireland - 535 France - 540 Russia - 540 Switzerland - 550 Japan - 600 Korean - 600 Source: OECD data compiled by the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution. Indeed, if there were tests for fluency in a second or third language, the Swiss would almost certainly rank first in that category year after year, and their scores on math and other tests, if corrected to reflect the fact that many are taking the tests in a second language, would be close to the levels of more or less monolingual Korea and Japan. People are perhaps more satisfied with the schools than in any country in the world - Sweden, Australia, and Germany, in my experience, would offer significant competition; the United States, Canada, and Britain would not. The Swiss "seem to have great confidence in the country's schools," Robert Schneebeli notes. "Whenever a problem arises, people think it should be made a subject at school." At the same time, there are interesting features in the system that might even cause one to think they take formal schooling lightly. We speak here of "the system" as an amalgamation of generalizations about the systems of the cantons. Immigrant children are not put into separate bilingual tracks but learn in the local language of instruction, supplemented by special work. Students generally start compulsory schooling at age six or seven and are finished after nine years, a fact that was of great concern to my traveling guide and companion - who resides much of the year in the United States, but remains a Swiss patriot. "How are Swiss children going to compete," he kept pressing educators and others, "getting started at this age? The children in the United States start school at five, and they can already read." (My colleague lives in Princeton, N.J.) High school graduates receive no diploma as such. Three out of four go on to vocational school, which is more rigorous than such schools in the U.S. or Britain, but is still "only a vocational school." Some 8.8 percent graduate from a university, one of the lowest rates among all members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The state-run universities are impressive, but there are none of the great private institutions one finds in most Western countries. Private education in general is practically nonexistent, covering approximately 3 percent of the K-12 students. Many of these statistics reflect simple statistical anomalies. For example, the Swiss technical schools are not necessarily less rigorous, and perhaps more, than an American "university" but are not defined as such. On the other hand, critical skills normally imparted at a French, American, or British college might not be even at the Zürich Technical Institute, where students grumbled when they were required to take one or two humanities electives. The Swiss system, like Japan's, is inferior at the liberal arts - though not, in the Swiss case, at languages. Table 11.1 compares various policy aspects of Swiss schools for primary and secondary children (K-12) to several other developed countries. Swiss parents and educators believe their education system to be highly decentralized compared to other systems. It is, in fact, decentralized - but perhaps not much more so than many other countries. The basic policy for education in the public schools is set at the cantonal level. Officials in Zürich set guidelines for the Zürich canton; the cantonal government in Aarau does the same for Aargau canton; and so on. The average size of a canton is approximately 300, 000 persons, making this unit of government comparable to a city with the population one-half the size of Oakland, California or Washington, D.C. The median would be larger. Cantonal policies are then implemented at the local level, as in the U.S., Sweden, Germany, and many other OECD countries. But the Swiss administrative units are not markedly smaller or more local than in the countries mentioned. There is a much greater degree of decentralization of administration than in, say, France, Australia, or Denmark. But these countries have school choice or voucher schemes which in effect decentralizes education down to the individual family: The parents decide which school their child goes to, and government assistance follows their child according to their decision. None of this means that the Swiss are wrong to think their school system is decentralized. It may be, however, that their system is not as radically decentralized, compared to others, as they sometimes think. The strongest element of Swiss federalism in education is something they lack: A federal department, above and atop the general administrative apparatus described, to plead for or even impose certain policies on its communities and cantons (or states). In the United States, for example, the federal Department of Education provides only about 10 percent of the funding for Table 11.1 Swiss Schools Compared Switzerland U.S. Australia Germany Sweden teachers hired by... parents, board (varies by canton) school officials school officials school officials school officials tenure - no (3-5 year contract) yes yes yes yes choice/voucher system - (no) (no) yes (yes) yes union pluralism - yes (no) (no) yes yes noncompulsory religious classes in public schools - yes no (no) yes (no) local control (1 to 10 scale) - 9 5 6 7 7 Source: Alexis de Tocqueville, Institution, selected studies, 1996- 1999. Copyright © AdTI, all rights reserved. --- public education in the U.S. It enacts, however, more than half the volume of regulations imposed on a typical school, and of all the forms and reports local schools are required to fill out, an estimated 80 percent are federal. In Switzerland, we visited the closest thing to a Department of Education, the intercantonal education directorate in Bern. The modest office next to a public library takes up one floor; it is smaller than the offices of one official, the Secretary of Education, in the United States (counting the secretary's conference room and staff assistants) . Of course, the United States population is approximately fifty times that of Switzerland, but even so, its staff of about 2,000 persons dwarfs the office we visited: fifteen persons, of whom ten are full time, or the equivalent of perhaps a dozen staff. The city of New York alone employs administrative staff many times the Swiss "federal department." A former U.S. Secretary of Education has called this morass of experts and rule makers, who endlessly analyze one another's theories and studies, the "education blob." In Switzerland, by contrast, "the blob" almost does not exist. If we compare the amount of money a country spends on teachers with the amount it spends on nonteaching personnel - administrators, guidance counselors, and others - we arrive at a rough index for the size of this class as a feature in any given country's school system. The measure is inexact, but suggestive. Figure 11.2 shows how various countries rank based on this index. The larger the bar, the more money that country is spending on administration and other personnel compared to actual teachers. Only Belgium ranks very far below the Swiss, and its system includes significantly more private schools than the Swiss do. (Private schools tend to have a high ratio of teacher pay to administrative pay, partly because they have to compete without subsidies in many countries, partly because they often do not have to obey as many rules and regulations as the public schools.) The more distinctive feature of this system is the selection of teachers directly by the parents and the communes - with little intermediation either from above or from the side (such as a board of experts accountable to the parents, but only at periodic general intervals). In cantons and communities that still have direct democracy, this means at a town meeting. Even in those with less direct means, teachers are hired at meetings generally open to all the Figure 11.2 Education Bureaucracy Index Denmark about 47 U.S. about 37 Britain about 25 Czech Republic about 19 Canada about 19 France about 16 Switzerland about 13 Austria about 9 Belgium about 5 Source: OECD data compiled by the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution. --- parents - sometimes by all who care to show up and are qualified voters, sometimes by large commissions that are easy to obtain election to and that seldom vary from any strong sentiment in the community anyway. Teachers are hired for contracts of three, four, or five years as a general rule. No board of experts intervenes; no mandates or regulations from Bern or, generally, even the cantons say who can be hired and who cannot, within the technically qualified pool of applicants. As these are set by the cantons, the "teacher certification" process is less burdensome than in most other countries. The programs for teacher training generally require 10 years of schooling for admission - a little less than a high school diploma in U.S. terms. There follows three to five years of further schooling; Swiss teachers generally enter the marketplace between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-five. As with many other public positions in Switzerland, the vast majority of teachers who seek reappointment after that time receive it for another three-to five-year contract. It would be wrong, however, to think that this means the system is no different from one in which teachers are tenured, and a similarly tiny minority are fired. The fact that teachers must seek reappointment helps, to put it bluntly, to keep them on their toes. Very seldom will the Swiss capriciously remove someone who is doing even a marginally creditable job; the Swiss people, like all good managers, like to keep people where they are if possible. Yet, the need to respond to the customer is just a little sharper. At the same time, the election of the teacher by the community serves as a kind of affirmation. It is a public act of confidence that the teachers (or anyway, the vast majority) seem to appreciate. "A minority of people in our group have strong reservations about the hiring of teachers by the communities and commissions," says Irene Hänsenberter of the Dachverband Schweizer Lehrerinnen und Lehrer - the Bern office of the largest teachers union in Switzerland. "The vast majority, however, is satisfied. It's good that the communities are responsible for which teacher their children have. Parents who are not involved then cannot complain, because they 'have their chance.' I think the people who are involved in the schools are happy with them, and this is the majority of people here." "This system helps keep people involved," agrees Wolf Linder of the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education - the Swiss equivalent of the U.S. Department of Education. "People here have the feeling that they can change things, that the system responds to them. That is a plus. We have our problems in Switzerland, but we do not have a problem with parents being involved in their children's education." The Swiss level of satisfaction with their schools is very high. They view the schools with perhaps the same patriotism as the army or the political system (which the Swiss also prize). When one asks the Swiss - teachers, parents, officials - why they are so satisfied, there is nearly always a pause. The Swiss seem slightly taken aback at the notion that, somewhere in the world, people may not be as happy. Then, typically, comes an empirical proof, which is fair enough, given the data. "They seem to do a good job," a woman on the community council in Hittnau comments. "Swiss children do well in their basic subjects." But what if there is a problem? "Do you mean for me personally, or with the school in general." Well, let's take both cases. "I guess they're both the same, actually. I would take it up with the teacher. And I think that is what most parents do." Yes, that is what most parents would probably do in the United States, too. In Switzerland, you seem very comfortable with what happens then. Why do you think that is? "Well, the schools usually respond." Probably it is that simple - in Switzerland, the public schools seem to be unusually responsive. The parents perceive them that way, which is the same thing. Why are the Swiss schools so responsive? The answer is a mix of cultural and personal traits, policies that have directly to do with education per se, and broader institutional and political arrangements. The Swiss tax code, for example, does little to encourage private education, providing tax deductions for gifts to such institutions only in narrow cases having to do with large corporate or individual trusts. The result, however, has been to focus all attention and interest on the public schools, for compulsory schooling, and even the universities. As there is very little in the way of a safety valve for the frustrated or the alienated, they work for a solution within the political system. The Swiss polity, of course, makes such action somewhat easier than in other countries. Even if the recourse to teacher elections does not prove effective, "there is," as a public school teacher in Basel told me, "always the ballot box." In the cantons of Bern, Zürich, and Basel, three of the country's largest, there were dozens of referenda and citizen-led ballot initiatives on education policy. In Bern in the 1990s, Ms. Hänsenberter of the teachers union estimates, approximately one-third of all ballot initiatives concerned education policies. "When people are especially frustrated," she adds, "or simply have a strong idea about something, it grows even larger." Indeed, many of the proposals - perhaps half - emanate from teachers and their unions themselves. "It is one of their major activities," a teacher from the Ticino says. The union proposals do not fare any better, and perhaps do a tad worse, than those proposed by small groups of parents and teachers. The initiatives that do pass, such as a referendum on parental rights in 1992 in Bern, enable the Swiss education to make constant, rolling improvements in itself over time. Other education systems seem to be more sticky. Precisely because education is so important, the smallest decision over a textbook, the conduct of a school nurse's office, or a song at the winter festival can become a heated controversy. This is not to dismiss the concerns or motives of those who engage in these battles; rather, to empathize with the fact that such matters will be fought out, if they must be, and if not given an outlet that is constructive, they will be fought destructively. Alexis de Tocqueville noted this during one of the French parliamentary debates over policies allowing parents to use their family's education support from the government to send their child to religious schools. "When men cannot argue about principles, they will argue about interests, and then, personal morals. Soon we will be debating nothing but canals and conflicts of interest." The broader Swiss political system, by allows voters who cannot get the policy they want from the school administration, or the teacher, to appeal directly to parents and teachers as a whole - and, of course, allows teachers and administrators the same privilege. Over time, of course, the most important impact of this process may, ironically, be pedagogic. By constantly empowering even the smallest voices to set off a legislative debate and making frequent recourse to the jury of the people, the Swiss education system, in combination with the political, leads a constant dialogue. And, unlike an abstract, academic discussion where nothing changes as a result, this is, if one may co-opt a 1970s phrase, a "meaningful dialogue." Responsiveness may help explain why Switzerland is able to offer religious instruction in its public schools with little rancor or controversy. This is not to say school curricula are theologically based throughout such courses as science and history. But each canton is allowed to encourage religion and even "establish" a particular church. Elementary schools in Geneva, Vaud, the Ticino, Bern, Luzern, Schwyz, and Zürich cantons allowed me to visit for parts of a day to get a flavor for the instruction in different languages, urban and rural settings, and among contrasting confessional preferences. The younger Swiss students in the rural cantons often dressed uniformly, as if a certain type of dress were the norm, but not as in a parochial school. Those in Zürich and Geneva were less uniform, but still relatively disciplined in appearance and behavior compared to American, French, and British children. On the walls were occasional religious items. They were not sufficiently plentiful to make one think oneself in an American parochial school, but there were enough of them to make it clear one was not in an American public school either. At the school in Zürich, but only there, one noticed several artworks with a star of David or Hannukah menorah, one a beautifully conceived scene rising up over what appeared to be Lake Constance. Otherwise the images were all Christian - usually neither distinctively Protestant or Catholic, though occasionally in the older grades, especially in Schwyz and Bern, one could make out what seemed to be ideas from one branch or the other. In Hittnau, an outlying suburb of the city of Zürich in Zürich canton, the town minister sits in as some of the other town leaders and the leaders from the school plan out various repairs and events. The meeting is seamless; there are no large transitions between "religion" and "other" civic affairs, and it does not feel awkward to have the subject change from the new pipes that are going in, to next month's church festival. In Schwyz, a Catholic priest strides up the steep hill toward one of the schools. He has classes and coaches soccer in the afternoon, and will probably hear a confession or two on the side as he makes his rounds. The presence is very low key, but widespread. Even in Bern, which is relatively more cosmopolitan and wears no piety on its sleeve, such symbols are common. When one asks Swiss officials or individuals who are in the majority - that is, who within their canton adhere to the faith that is the cantonal one, Catholic or Protestant - about this mixing of religious and secular affairs, they seem partly to expect the question, partly to have a difficult time grasping it. The Swiss take for granted that this overlap does not constitute an imposition on the minority provided it is bounded. "Remember, there is nothing compulsory about religion in Swiss schools," a member of the Hittnau community council told me. "Freedom of conscience is strictly protected." In many countries, though, even this degree of interaction and in this spirit would be regarded as a grotesque offense against the minority. The responsiveness of the schools in Switzerland - and, for that matter, of most institutions - explains a portion of the difference. When people feel involved in a process, their day-to-day opinions heard, they are less likely to feel alienated from it even if a particular policy does not suit their preference. If only some aspects of policy - such as the religious element in the schools - were merely transferred from Switzerland to other countries, one might not see the same harmonious result. It is also worth remembering, however, that for hundreds of years, the Swiss were bitterly divided over religious questions, and in particular, between the Catholic and Reformed churches. The schools, of course, also operate within a cultural context. "In Switzerland," as a Catholic priest told me in Bern, "sometimes, the minority gives way to the majority." The very formulation, with its deliberate irony, suggests something the Swiss know in their bones, though they have had to work many years to achieve it. In Switzerland, the majority, as scholar Carol Schmid puts it, often "does not behave like a majority."(1) That is to say, there are majorities in Switzerland - Protestants, German-speakers, and others - that abstain from establishing certain practices they might otherwise prefer, out of a deliberate respect for the minority. There are practical and self-interested considerations as well, including the social peace. This deference, however, goes well beyond a narrow pragmatism. One sees this in the Swiss schools in many practices. In German- speaking Switzerland, students assiduously study French or Italian in order to meet the requirement that they be fluent in one of the national languages other than their own. In the French-speaking portions, German is studied, though with less enthusiasm. The French- speaking Swiss, paradoxically, as Schmid writes, "behave like a majority," in the sense that they are confident in their rights and status, feeling less need to assert them because of the arrangements made to suit them and the respect of the German-speaking majority. Schmid offers an elegant suggestive proof of this by interviewing Swiss students and asking them to estimate how many Swiss speak German as a first language, French, and Italian. The German-speaking students, because of the complex cultural signals they receive about the importance of French, consistently overestimated how many Swiss speak it as a first language, and underestimate the size of their own group, the German speakers. The French-speaking students, confident in their status, likewise underestimate the Germans, and overestimate themselves. And both groups, German and French, overestimate how many Swiss speak Italian as a first language. Italian television, radio, and other cultural affairs all receive a disproportionate share of public funding, for example - the majority deliberately accommodating the minority. In modern times, one even sees this approach extending to the Jewish community, and being felt and appreciated by the Jewish community itself. That it is not more so has largely to do with the fact that Jews are still a tiny (about one percent) share of the Swiss population. The matter of Jewish life and culture in Switzerland is taken up in a separate discussion. There is a price for this kind of educational system, but the Swiss - teachers, parents, and students - seem willing to pay it. You see it on a late evening in February, walking along the river in Baden. A single light is burning in the elementary school, which looks to hold normally 100 to 150 children. Inside what appear to be one teacher and several parents, several mothers and a father or two, are working on some kind of stand or bleachers for what looks like it will be an historical presentation the next day. Though they are inside, they are wearing medium-weight jackets - it appears the heat is either not working, or turned down to save money. To teachers in the U.S. or Britain, that kind of volunteer help might sound like a Godsend, but the educators pay a price as well. After all, in many Western countries that kind of volunteer labor by parents, and late-night work by one of the teaching staff, could be construed as a violation of the union work contract. "We supported the passage of a parental responsibility policy in 1992, " Ms. Hänsenberter of the teachers union notes. (The measure also asserts parental rights.) "And it passed. Now sometimes the parents take too much responsibility. Still it is the best thing to have too much civic responsibility than too little." Note 1.Conflict and Consensus in Switzerland, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1981 12 Taxes In no country on earth do the people think taxes are too low or too simple, or the burden imposed by the authorities to enforce them too light. Switzerland is no exception to this rule. "The taxes on capital and investment," says Hans Bär, the former chairman of Julius Bär, a respected investment bank in Zürich, "are too high." Edwin Somm, the former chairman of Asea-Brown-Boveri, the giant Swiss engineering firm, agrees. "There are a number of changes that must be made in the tax code to ensure competitiveness," he argues - and then pulls out a series of charts that detail, Ross-Perot-like, what sectors suffer from the rates that are too high, and which ones have allowances too wide or too narrow. George, affable, six-foot-five porter at the front desk of the Bellevue Hotel in Bern, agrees. "The Swiss tax system is not that great," George offers. He pauses. "What are you comparing it to?" The question illustrates the fact that if the Swiss are unhappy with their taxes, they are probably less unhappy than in most other countries. Asked if there are things they would like to change about their tax code, most people in Switzerland answer yes. Asked if they would trade their tax laws for the tax laws of Germany, Japan, or the United States, most Swiss quickly answer no. Certainly a part of the reason for this is the simple fact that Swiss tax rates are somewhat lower than in many Western countries. Their value-added tax is the lowest in Europe, a cause of some friction vis- à-vis the rest of Europe and apprehension among the Swiss, who fear they may have to choose between integration and their low-tax traditions. Swiss income tax rates are among the lowest in the industrial world, as Table 12.1 illustrates. Similarly, the Swiss value-added tax is about half that of the rest of Europe. (The United States had no value-added tax at the turn of the century, though one was occasionally proposed. The U.S. does, however, have sales taxes; the Swiss do not.) Taxes on corporate and investment income are on the one hand slightly lower than the average for other countries - but the differential for these is much smaller than in the personal income codes. Table 12.1 Personal Income Tax Rates by Country Country Highest rate of tax on wage income Hong Kong 13% Bolivia 19% Botswana 30% Switzerland* 36% Mexico 38% Chile 44% Great Britain 46% United States 47% Israel 50% Japan 62% France 64% Germany 65% Russia 67% Source: Author's calculations derived from Coopers and Lybrand annual tax summary and cantonal revenue authorities; Swiss cantonal data from Dr. Nico Burki, Burki-Rechtsanwalte, Zürich. * - Swiss federal income tax rates do not exceed 11 percent, but as the tax is fundamentally cantonal and even communal in nature, comparisons are difficult. The 36 percent figure is close to the highest one would pay as a combined effective rate in a typical canton, such as Luzern, Glarus, or Fribourg, as the U.S. figure is based on a typical state, such as Illinois or Virginia. Even this is not the highest possible figure: In the cantons of Geneva and Zürich, for example, the combined rate reaches 44 - 46 percent. It is common in these cantons, however, for high-income taxpayers to establish a residence in neighboring communities, avoiding the highest rates. Note that even at 40 percent, Switzerland would still have among the lowest tax rates in the developed world. --- Although these low rates are an important part of the code's relatively high acceptance by the Swiss people, they are by no means the only factor. Another is the relative simplicity of the code and of the reporting of income. In the cantons of Ticino, Geneva, and Aargau, officials allowed me to see the basic forms that taxpayers use to pay their income tax. The resulting documents looked like one of those postcard returns designed by various U.S. politicians to show how easy taxes would be if their "super simple reform tax code" were adopted. The simplicity of the forms becomes a metaphor, not only that the process is not complicated but that there is a rough, simple fairness to it - and that the government, at least by appearance and in the Swiss case in reality, is not itself extravagant. Swiss who have lived abroad in France, Germany, or the United States generally compare the process of paying taxes in Switzerland favorably with that in these other countries. Another cause of the relative acceptance of taxes in Switzerland is the balance of the code between different types of income. Many national tax codes are built upon the idea, whether stated or not, that certain types of activity are "good," and some bad - or at least, not as good as the favored activity. Accordingly, they may tax various activities at very different levels. This introduces an element of seeming unfairness into taxation, and encourages envy and divisiveness politically, as some groups seek to expand their privileges still farther, while others strive simply to gain equal treatment. Thus some codes tax foreigners heavily (the Arab states, for instance) while others (Russia, much of the former Soviet Empire) literally tax their own people more.(1) Some codes tax corporate income higher than personal income, feeling that large enterprises need to be controlled or that they have more money and can therefore afford to pay more. Others tax companies (Europe, the United States) at much lower rates than people, in the thought that "investment" is good and creates jobs, while people having those jobs spending money on things is "consumption" and is not as good for the economy. Treatment of income by capital gains also varies widely. Some countries tax such gains more heavily than wages; others, such as the U.S. and Europe, more lightly; others have no capital gains tax at all; while in some countries, capital gains are simply treated the same as rents, wages, profits, or other incomes. Switzerland has no federal capital gains tax as such; the rate is zero. And many of the cantons treat capital gains the same as regular income in applying income tax rates, which are applied locally. Many cantons tax real estate sales, while gains on the disposition of other personal property is tax exempt. Business capital gains and income are all taxed - and at rates as high as 50 percent. The distortions that result from such differential taxation can appear comical to the outsider. In Britain in the 1970s, for example, the rate of corporate automobile ownership exceeded the rate of personal automobile ownership for a time. The combination of high tax rates and generous write-offs for "business transportation" made it much more economical for companies to provide transportation to many of their employees than to pay them wages, taxed at high rates, so they could buy cars of their own. But to the citizens of a country, such exceptions and imbalances can be infuriating. In the United States, so-called "flat" tax systems were proposed which in fact taxed wages at rates of 20 percent and more, while taxing capital gains at 0 percent. The Swiss code has its share of these elements, particularly when it comes to farming activities. On the whole, however, rates are balanced. Wage income, capital gains, and corporate income are all taxed - none at more than 40 percent, few at less than 10 percent. This attribute has been called "longitudinal fairness" - a fairness of taxing not merely the rich and the poor at fair rates, but at taxing different types of activity at a reasonably even rate. The Swiss tax on total net assets - a wealth tax - broadens the base still further, and enables a somewhat lesser penalty on the production of wealth to be traded off for a low-rate tax on static wealth. This is a tax with many attractive elements (if, of course, it is not simply layered on other high tax rates). Of course, one can argue whether such designs are, in fact, the most fair. The Swiss seem to regard this approach as acceptable. It is worth noting that a tax on wealth, or accumulated riches, may have a very different impact on the incentive to take risks, add value, and create jobs, than a tax on profits, gains, or income. By other measurements of fairness the code performs reasonably well. The richest Swiss do not appear to pay as high a percentage of the national income tax as in the United States, Japan, or Germany. The actual rate that applies to their income is even lower, comparably, than in those countries: In the United States, the federal tax rate goes from 0 percent to 38.5 percent, and in such populous states as California and New York, from 0 percent to more than 10 percent. From a redistributive point of view, then, the code is "less fair." This does not appear to bother the Swiss for several reasons, the first of which is they are not especially focused on comparisons of wealth, and in particular, have little desire to achieve economic equality through government redistribution. If a wealthy Swiss were to engage in great displays of wealth, he would be thought rude, and would be shunned by most of the society; but this social "tax" on the rich is thought, in part, to obviate efforts to seize property through the tax code or other means. In Switzerland, even today, one finds relatively lesser extremes of wealth in fact than in the United States, Britain, France, or even Germany. And there is almost no display. Corporate salaries in the multimillions of dollars, as seen in the United States and Europe, are less common, though no longer unheard of. The Swiss comfort themselves in the fact that if the rich do not face extreme rates of taxation on paper, neither can they arm themselves with an array of loopholes to escape paying any taxation in fact. Nor are the most productive and creative members of society driven overseas by confiscatory schemes. A young police officer who discussed taxes with me at a coffee shop in Zürich commented that "what matters is that everybody pays some fair amount." Unlike many of their European and American counterparts, the Swiss do not have the nagging sense that while, in theory, the rich are paying half or more of their income in taxes, in practice, there are some who pay no taxes at all. Nor do they have much desire to tax others at such rates, even if it could be achieved. To some extent, the tax code causes and reinforces these attitudes. To some extent, the society's condition of few extremes causes this tax code to be acceptable. In societies with greater disparities of wealth, and greater envy, it might not be. Switzerland's size and position contribute to the country's determination to keep tax rates under control, indeed low by developed-country standards. Always dependent on trade and economic competitiveness, the Swiss are economic internationalists. They have a keen eye for the importance their own "domestic" tax or monetary policy will in fact have on their position in the world economy. A factory worker in Baden who talked to me at the train station had a relatively extensive knowledge of the different cantonal tax systems, praising Zug for its extremely low personal income tax rates. He had some knowledge, though not as detailed, of foreign systems. For example, while he could not quote personal income tax rates, he knew that they were higher in nearly all the surrounding countries. He also appeared to have a detailed sense of how the different rules for value-added taxes affected his wife's shopping habits when the family goes shopping in Germany. Even so, there is reason for concern that the combination of various income taxes, social insurance rates, and the assets tax have begun to scare away some of Switzerland's most talented and productive members. This was especially acute in the 1980s when the United States and a number of other countries in the Americas slashed their tax rates while Europe cut rates, but not as much; and the Swiss, while starting from a very low-tax base, endured mild increases, later followed by the imposition of the value-added tax. Where there is redistribution, the Swiss prefer to carry it out in a positive way than in a punitive one. For example, the educational system has a leveling impact, but does so more by lifting up and empowering the working class than by limiting the rich or the productive. Similarly the social welfare system carries out assistance, and needs no large base of revenue because the number of cases where it must be used is relatively small. Swiss government spending tends to be concentrated not in transfer payments, such as public assistance, but in education, public works projects such as tunnels and roads, and other investments and value- added activities. These tend to help the middle class, rich, and poor alike, but surely they help the poor the most by expanding the base of potential production, spurring employment opportunities. They also yield a visible result, products and public goods - parks, bridges, buildings - that give the taxpayer some tangible return for his payments. The result is a sense not so much of equality, as of community. There is a difference between feeling that everyone contributes, and feeling that everyone contributes the same, or contributes enough. The Swiss do not necessarily enjoy the latter sensations, but they are perhaps less focused on these. They do share a sense that for the most part everyone contributes something and everyone enjoys some benefits, from the state and, thus, from the money it collects in taxes. They sense, economically, that their tax code is sufficient, and this in itself is a relative rarity in modern societies. Politics play a role in the tax code's acceptance in Switzerland. It is remarkable, in fact, that with all the turmoil over taxes in most countries, the interconnection between the tax code and political institutions is seldom considered. In Russia, for example, political corruption and slack tax revenues are discussed in isolation, when by all appearances the country's onerous tax code helps generate black market activity, both economic and political. In the United States, frustration with the tax code is seldom addressed in its political dimension. This is not to say that Switzerland structured its political system with the intent of smoothing over the difficulty of tax collection common to Western societies. The political system does, however, have an impact. There appear to be two political structures in Switzerland that substantially ameliorate the classic tension of taxation. First, of course, is the system of direct democracy at the federal and still more so the cantonal and communal levels. In one way, the ability to challenge any federal tax increase by means of the facultative referendum has proven a powerful tool for keeping tax rates down. And this is an important element; it is, however, only the most superficial result of the Swiss populism. The voters have the same power, indeed greater power, to limit taxes at the cantonal and local levels - yet they have proven more willing to approve new and higher taxes at those levels than the voters in perhaps any other country in the world. As Tocqueville observed in the nineteenth century, "it is the cantons and the communes that provide things to the people" - services and goods, schools and roads. Although the Swiss polity is somewhat more centralized today than when he made those remarks (1848), it is nevertheless still one of the most decentralized systems in the world. And local government is highly popular - in large part because of the extreme degree of popular participation in it. Almost no tax may be increased without a popular vote - in many cases, at a direct popular assembly, where the electorate may confront the politicians or other voters who propose the new burdens face to face, "looking them in the eye," as the Swiss like to say. The phenomenon can perhaps be best understood if we compare the process by which taxes might be raised in Switzerland to that of other countries that have representative - but not direct - democracy. In the United States or Europe, most tax changes or increases are passed by a legislature, typically by narrow margins, and with much political agitation. The agitation must be greater, not lesser, because of the fact that everyone seeking to influence the decision knows there is no ultimate check by the people. The political message of the electorate, everyone realizes, is filtered before it reaches the few dozen elites who will make the decision - and accordingly, all concerned seek to turn up the volume in order to get their message across. Voters, who do not enjoy the privilege of acting as legislators themselves, pay less attention to the merits and details of such issues than they would as quasi-legislators - they must spend a proportionately greater amount of their time contriving ways to make their voice heard by the system. Likewise, their leaders, of whatever party, spend proportionately greater energy and time trying to stir up the passions of voters, and alert them to their direct interest on an issue, than in educating the electorate toward what all know will be the ultimate decision - a vote by the people. As a result, not only is the process less educational, for leaders and the people alike, but it results in the feeling that the popular wisdom has been cheated. How many of the major tax votes in the United States, for instance - 1981, 1986, 1990, and 1993 - were passed by narrow margins, with many of the decisive votes determined by lobbying and other pressures having little to do with the overall merits of the change? How much was the electorate stirred up and urged by both sides to contact their representatives - but, in the end, without any direct voice in the outcome? The elitism of this process renders the legislative process more vulnerable to manipulation at the same time that it creates the appearance of a rigged game and alienates the voter from the result. As a review of the initiative and referendum process suggests, it is more difficult to raise taxes in Switzerland than in perhaps any other country. Yet, taxes are raised and altered from time to time. And when they are, there is less resentment than elsewhere, because the burdens are self-imposed. The resulting feeling of self-responsibility and accountability by voters is perhaps analogous to the findings of doctors who have studied medication by patients in U.S. hospitals. For many years, the common practice among doctors was to oversee the administration of painkillers closely. Wise physicians, of course, consulted closely with their patients regarding the amounts and timing of the doses. But it was generally thought that the doctor must make the detailed decisions - their objectivity, and more so their expertise, meant that their judgment would be far superior to that of the patients, who would naturally tend to overdo the doses of such medication in order to relieve their pain. In studies in the early 1990s, however, doctors decided to give some patients control over the administration of their own painkillers. (The patients were of course monitored to make sure they did not go outside of a certain band of safety; but within that very wide band, they applied the medication to themselves). The result, perhaps not surprising, was that they complained much less about pain than they had when the doctors were administering the medicine - the complaints dropped to less than one-third of the previous level. Perhaps more surprising, the amount of painkiller used by the patients plummeted. On average, use of the medications fell by more than 40 percent. And in only 10 percent of the cases did use of the painkiller exceed what would have been prescribed by the doctor - and then, generally, by only small amounts. Even if a giant computer or highly sophisticated doctor could have somehow determined what patients would have chosen to take and when, the result would not have been the same. It was the feeling and reality of control that enabled patients to ration use of the painkiller in their own. There was no need to complain to the doctor, because each patient knew that in duress, if he or she felt a need for a sudden increase of dose, it was available. While the Swiss do not have the privilege of setting their own tax rates individually, they do enjoy, as a people, a degree of control over the process seen in few other political systems. As a result, tax rates are lower - but they also arouse less resentment when they go up. There's a second reason for the relative lack of turmoil over taxes in Switzerland: the high degree of variation in tax rates among the cantons. In the U.S. and most of Europe, the fact that income taxes are largely and in some cases wholly the province of the central government leads to a situation in which there is little variety in tax rates. This can best be understood if we compare tax rate variation in Switzerland to that of another country, such as the United States. In the United States, a person living in New Hampshire, Florida, or Texas - three states with no income tax and thus the lowest possible combined rates in the country - a worker still winds up paying approximately 45 percent of her or his income in taxes.(2) If the same person lived in New York or California, which with personal income tax rates close to 10 percent are among the highest tax states, state tax rates (deductible against the federal tax) might push the combined rate up by five or six points in the highest bracket - for a combined total of a little more or less than 50 percent in the top bracket. All other states fall somewhere in between. Thus, the spectrum of possibility for a high-income earner in the U.S. would be a lowest possible tax rate of 45 percent, and a top possible combined rate of 50 percent. That's not a lot of difference, and it provides little in the way of choice for different people with different preferences. Someone living in New York who really hates high tax rates could move to New Hampshire, but would only be a few percentage points better off. On the other hand, someone living in Texas who misses the high level of social and other services in Massachusetts or California and doesn't mind paying for them can indeed move there. But they may find the milieu less satisfactory than they hoped for, because the uniformity of income tax codes and other revenue sources, a product of both higher federal rates and deductibility of state income taxes has made for a relatively similar picture on the revenue and spending side of most state budgets. In Switzerland, the combined rate of income tax ranges from as low as 24 percent (Zug) and 26 percent (Schwyz) in some of the older, central cantons to as high as 43 percent (Zürich) and even 46 percent (Geneva) in the largest cities. Not surprisingly, such cantons as Luzern (35 percent), Glarus (35 percent), and Fribourg (36 percent) fall in the middle. The combined spectrum of possible tax rates thus moves up and down by 22 percentage points, or about 90 percent, expressed using the 24 percent lowest top rate as a baseline. (Note: Tax rates mentioned here are rounded off). This variation contributes, like many other aspects of Swiss federalism, to a subtle and ongoing social peace. Citizens who strongly dislike taxes and prefer the more dynamic but less protective environment of a small local government tend to congregate in the cantons that fit that model. Those who prefer a larger economic role for the state, and don't object to the costs, tend towards Geneva, Zürich, and the cities. A third important reason for Switzerland's relative calm over taxes is local administrative control of tax payment and enforcement. The Swiss have no equivalent of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service - a federal agency charged with vast powers to gather information and enforce penalties. There is, in fact, no Swiss "IRS" concerning the income tax at all, and the small tax enforcement office that does exist handles mainly customs issues. The Swiss have a handful of officials that help ensure accurate payment of the value-added tax, but this compares to agencies in Japan, France, and Germany that employ agents into the thousands. Income taxes are paid to the community, which reports and divides income with the canton; the canton in turn reports and directs income to the federal government. Even at the community level, means of enforcement are few. When asked what they would do if someone were not paying their taxes, or how it would even be discovered, the town council members in Hittnau shrugged. "People would not want to do that in their own community," one of the council members speculated. "It doesn't seem to be a problem - people not paying their taxes." Indeed, international surveys of corruption and tax problems generally place Switzerland near the bottom of countries with substantial tax avoidance. By contrast, countries with large and powerful tax enforcement administrations, such as the United States, often report significant tax evasion. This problem appears to be acute in countries such as Russia and Nigeria, which have high rates of taxation. This does not mean, of course, that if other countries were to eliminate their tax collection agencies, a sudden surge of payments would result. The opposite might be the case, unless other aspects of the system were adopted, not to mention the Swiss political culture of what can only be called a kind of local communism. The Swiss insistence on privacy is such that neither federal nor local authorities have access to banking records, even in cases of suspected tax evasion - which in Switzerland is a civil offense but not a criminal matter, much less a felony. Nor are such matters commonly discussed even in close circles. Asked why such matters do not, for example, get leaked to the press, Ivan Pictet, a respected private investment banker in Geneva, explains that "there is such respect for privacy that one doesn't see that happening." The Swiss appreciate the protections they enjoy, and the fact that their government is constrained - and so, sensing that to abuse these privileges would be to lose them, they respect the system voluntarily. "People do not want to see a system they like challenged by irresponsible behavior," Pictet continues. He was talking not simply about tax privacy, but privacy in general; and yet, to hear a taxpayer from a Western country describing the tax code as a system the people like is somewhat arresting. Nearly all income tax systems rely to some degree, usually a large one, on voluntary compliance. The Swiss system, unconsciously, is well suited to this. Unlike consumption taxes or customs, the income tax is an unusually intimate tax, one that touches nearly everyone in society. Yet unlike consumption or property or other taxes it does not deal in the realm of tangibles, of purely physical goods more easily seen and rationalized. For this very reason it is perhaps most suited to the kind of sensitive, intimate treatment as in Switzerland is afforded by the fact of strong, generally popular local government. One does not want to overdo the tired metaphor that government and community are "like a family," but among the Swiss, there is something to this metaphor. This is particularly so since the level of government that is most active and most real in the life of the average Swiss is that which is smallest and most intimate. The Swiss commune is capable, in scale, activity, and psychology, of acting somewhat like a family. To recreate these results, one would have to recreate not only Switzerland's minimalist enforcement bureaucracy, but much of the whole society. This would include Swiss federalism, with its weak center and (more important) strong communities. It would also include the system of direct democracy - and the feeling of popular empowerment that accompanies all these formal institutions. That the Swiss tax code can even function, given the degree to which it relies on the voluntary patriotism of its people is, however, evidence of the inadvertent genius of Switzerland's political arrangements. Notes The statistics and examples that follow are taken from a survey of world tax codes excerpted in Gregory Fossedal, "What the Tax Reformers are Missing," Wall Street Journal, 7 November 1997. This is the top federal rate of 38.5 percent plus Social Security plus zero rate for state and local income. On paper, Social Security taxes are paid half by the employer, half by the employee, but however they are accounted for, they represent a "wedge" between what the employer pays and what the worker receives. 13. Crime Swiss crime rates are not the lowest in the world, but they are close. Japan suffers fewer murders per capita. Scotland is more free of (reported) cases of rape and other sexual assault. As in many other fields, then, Switzerland cannot quite claim to be number one. But the country ranks near the top in the effectiveness of its criminal justice system on all measures. And it performs respectably, indeed well, over a number of different crimes and crime measurements, as Figures 13.1 through 13.3 suggest. The Swiss disagree about what causes these statistics, though the discussion is a happy one. Some stress societal factors. Switzerland enjoys high employment that has exceeded 98 percent for most of the century. The people have an ethic of citizenship and cooperation that all countries strive to instill, but Switzerland seems to succeed in instilling this ethic to an unusual degree. These factors, though, are to some extent products of the regime and of policy: We see the hand of political institutions, though indirectly. Economic performance is partly a function of tax, monetary, social welfare, and other policies. Swiss citizenship is partly a traditional and historical phenomenon, but also a result of such institutions as the national militia, the schools, strong local government, and direct democracy. The army, with its universal male service, may play a double role. On the one hand, this is a society in which a large share of the population owns and maintains a firearm and knows how to use it responsibly. Guns are taken seriously, but they are a part of life; nearly every Swiss male between twenty and fifty years old has his rifle ready at home and practices regularly. The army also serves to tighten the bonds of citizenship and friendship, of community and shared duties. This will be less so as the services reduce their size and extent in the years to come, but is still a factor. While it is not impossible that people in this relationship would commit crimes against one another, it stands to reason that such individuals would be less prone to crime. Figure 13.1 Murder Rates by Country. Intentional homicides reported per 1 million population (approx.) Russia - 110 Scotland - 90 U.S.A. - 90 Finland - 80 Sweden - 70 Italy - 65 Israel - 45 Denmark - 45 Germany - 37 Norway - 25 Switzerland - 23 Japan - 10 Source: Author's calculations from United Nations' data. --- Figure 13.2 Rape Crimes Per 1 Million Persons. Forcible rapes reported per 1 million population, 1991. Korea - 165 Russia - 95 Scotland - 95 Sweden - 95 Denmark - 90 Norway - 85 Germany - 80 Finland - 75 Switzerland - 65 Source: U.N. data from country reports; author's calculations. --- Figure 13.3 Total Drug Offense and Drug Trafficking Rates (approx.) Norway - 75 SWITZERLAND - 100 Denmark - 185 Israel - 450 Germany - 500 Scotland - 575 Canada - 675 U.S. - 1000 Sweden - 1075 Israel - 900 Germany - 1400 Scotland - 1500 Canada - 1600 Norway - 1800 Denmark - 2000 SWITZERLAND - 2500 Sweden - 2800 U.S. - 3800 Top, drug offenses (possession or sale) per 1 million persons. Bottom, drug trafficking offenses alone, also per 1 million persons. Source: U.N. data, author's calculations. --- Likewise, the high degree of racial and religious harmony in Switzerland does not result from lack of diversity, but from the way the country deals with diversity. In the United States, two-thirds of all arrests for violent crime are among blacks, Hispanics, or Asians, whereas they constitute less than a quarter of the population. Indeed, a large share of U.S. violent crime, tragically, involves blacks attacking other blacks. Switzerland offers a nice refutation of the idea that Western European countries have been able to achieve low crime rates, particularly for violent crimes, only because of their ethnic homogeneity. While there are European countries with strong ethnic or language uniformity, Switzerland is not one of them. The Swiss do have a problem with foreigners and crime, particularly in the drug area, where about 60 percent of arrests are of nonnative Swiss. And it has some racial overlap - many arrests and deportations are of Dominicans, or Moslems from various Eurasian countries. But there is no major linkage between crime and race per se. Minorities do not feel the system is stacked against them as minorities, and the white majority, by and large, does not fear that certain racial groups are violent or criminal as such. Others stress the contribution made by the courts and justice system directly. These must have some importance. Switzerland's court system is not as distinctive in structure and operation as are its executive branch or its legislative processes. There are, however, important differences between the Swiss system and other European countries, and these are somewhat sharper still compared to the United States. The Swiss, for example, make use of the jury, but not as frequently as the United States and Great Britain. It is one of the few areas in which the Swiss system is markedly less populist than the rest of Europe and America, in the literal sense of relying on the people to render decisions. In most features, however, the Swiss legal system remains highly dependent on the wisdom and initiative of citizens as such, and somewhat less reliant on the expertise of attorneys and magistrates than is common in Europe and the United States. If juries are less frequent, so are appeals from a jury's or judge's decision in the lower courts. A comparison of the Swiss appeal rate for major criminal cases with that of the U.S. illustrates the slightly different spirit that animates the two systems. In U.S. federal and state courts, felony convictions are appealed some 60 percent of the time. In some states and in serious cases (drug cases and murder in New York and California, for example) the figure approaches 90 percent. About four in five decisions are eventually upheld. But more than 15 percent of convictions are, in fact, sent back or "overturned." And even those that are not sent back are subject to extra delay and expense. The original trials themselves, too, are affected. Judges and attorneys on all sides must take extra steps and put in many hours of work in an effort to avoid having key parts of their case thrown out - or to lay the foundation for later appeals that will undermine the case of their opponents. In Switzerland, about one-third of convictions for serious crimes are appealed - and generally to the cantonal, not the federal court. This not only removes one layer of likely complication, but also makes the system more intimate. The judges and magistrates of the local courts know the thinking and the tendencies of their cantonal supreme court members personally and well - certainly somewhat better than, say, a typical U.S. judge would be acquainted with his federal circuit court of appeals judge, or still less, a justice on the Supreme Court. Furthermore, since each canton makes its own rules of procedure, there is more intimacy within each canton among the judges and attorneys. The practice of law is somewhat more local in character, somewhat more specialized by geography and people than by area of expertise. An attorney who wanted to make a career of filing boilerplate lawsuits or criminal appeals on a certain narrow set of issues would find herself or himself needing to study the differing laws of many different regions. The U.S. and other European court systems, to be sure, have decentralization and diversity of their own, and Switzerland has some uniformity. As a matter of degree, however, the Swiss system is substantially more dispersed than the U.S. This is probably one of the prime causes of the different nature of the appeals process, and the large disparity in the frequency with which it is used. A Swiss lay judge who was on the community insurance court, Fred Isler, told me that his court's decisions were only rarely overturned - "it happened about as often as we have strikes in Switzerland," which is to say, once or twice a year, and in some years, not at all. A justice on the cantonal supreme court for Aargau Canton, Ernst Roduner, did not remember a case in which any of his court's decisions had been appealed to the federal court on grounds of procedure. "They really leave it to us," he said - meaning the cantons. Although the federal supreme court can strike cantonal laws if they contradict the federal constitution, they cannot, as mentioned earlier, do so with federal laws. As a result there is a more humble approach to the cantonal laws as well, an ethos of lawyerly restraint toward the laws the people have made that one sees throughout the court system. "I am familiar with the practices in the United States, France, and some other countries which are more centralized and uniform," continued Justice Roduner, "and there are many advantages to this. It is not our system, however." The Swiss, in fact, not uncharacteristically, are somewhat concerned that their system may be out of step with Europe and the United States. Some believe it has too many idiosyncrasies and contradictions to function smoothly. There are repeated appeals, as in the education field and among tax authorities, to bring greater uniformity to the code. Judges and lawyers from different cantons meet periodically and have made some strides at bringing greater order to the system, particularly within the three language blocks. Valais, Geneva, and Vaud, for instance, three of the French-speaking cantons, have coordinated their procedure laws, as have Zürich, Aargau, and Luzern, to a lesser extent, in the center-east. Still it remains a highly divided system of unique components. Even the language barrier, while not huge in absolute terms for most Swiss, is a subtle factor in reinforcing the decentralization of the courts. In the end, the dominance and differences of the cantons may be a blessing, though a mixed one. Thus the Swiss court system places a heavy trust in the people, and relies on them to perform competently. Once a decision is reached, either by a jury, judge, or magistrate chosen directly or by a highly accessible assembly, the system is loathe to overturn it. It is not impossible for a judge to reverse what the people have decided, but it is less likely. When this system is abused, the remedies are themselves, likewise, popular in nature. "We have to be reappointed," Roduner points out. "The laws we implement are subject to the direct democracy." In this way too, the system is highly citizen based. The influence of initiative and referendum on the legal profession is also apparent. Because of popular participation directly in the legislative process, the laws have an added aura of legitimacy and invincibility. To go against or ignore or overturn them, judges would be going just a little bit more against the people themselves, the very source of the state's authority. What the people have made, to a greater extent, is more difficult to break. This is not to say that a good judge in the United States or Germany or France will overturn the laws of the representative assemblies for light or capricious reasons. There is, however, somewhat less of a stigma attached to this than there is in Switzerland, and somewhat more of a feeling of independence from the popular check. Another aspect of the system's populism is its reliance on sheriffs and the courts, much as the Swiss education system relies on teachers, to make decisions and administer laws with little review by higher bureaucratic authorities. Swiss police spend more than half their time on crime prevention, and little of it filling out forms or defending decisions to review panels. In the United States, by contrast, according to the Department of Justice, "police spend one-third of their time on crime prevention," and comparably more responding to other authorities within the system. To my surprise, Swiss attorneys report that the initial trial phase for a serious crime is not significantly shorter than in France, Germany, or the United States, and slightly longer than in Japan. Once a trial is over and sentencing occurs, however, generally a matter of nine to twelve months for major offenses, the process is generally at an end, whereas in many Western countries there would follow a long cycle of appeals. The value and reliance the Swiss place on police can be measured by the relative salaries and composition of the system. In Zürich, a judge's salary is approximately twice the average salary of a cantonal police officer. In most U.S. and British cities, the judge's salary is more than triple the police officer's. There also appears to be a higher population of police officers compared to judges in the Swiss system, although statistical comparison is rendered difficult by the fact that Switzerland has very little by way of a federal police force, almost none, leaving law and crime matters to the cantons. A typical Swiss judge has far less administrative support staff than a U.S. judge. The cantonal judges who spoke with me typically had a secretary working for them - whose labor they shared with another judge or two in the more austere cantons. In the United States, it is not infrequent for a federal or state appellate judge to have three or four clerks, themselves lawyers or law students, plus administrative staff. The professional background and demeanor of judges is likewise less formal. In the U.S., one rarely encounters a judge who does not have a law degree. Only one-third of all U.S. judges are "lay judges" as a whole, and even fewer at the federal and state appellate courts. In Switzerland, there are 751 "professional judges" and 1,672 "lay judges." There is significantly more turnover among the Swiss judges, none of whom have life tenure. In a random survey of cantonal and community judges, the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution found that less than 10 percent served in their position for ten years or more. This is very different from the ratio of the United States, where the U.N. reporting methodology for such matters calculates there are 889 professional judges and 467 lay judges. The Swiss make extensive use of professional arbitrators, and in fact the civil regular courts operate in a manner similar to a U.S. or British arbitrator. Courts that allowed me to visit both in Ticino and Aargau, including a branch of the Aargau cantonal supreme court, had small panels of judges seated around a table. There is a rough resemblance to Japanese practices as described by the U.N.'s international crime reports: In Japan, active public cooperation is indispensable to effective functioning of the criminal justice system. In addition to the above mentioned field of police work, there is, in the field of prosecution, a unique system called Inquest of Prosecution which was designed to reflect the opinion of lay citizens in handling public prosecutions. Laymen can also take part in court proceedings. One of the examples is the laymen counsel in criminal cases before the Summary Court, Family Court and the District Court. A defendant can select a person or persons, who are not qualified attorneys, to be their own counsel by permission of the court. In the Swiss courts we visited, the judges (two men and one woman in Aargau, one man and two women in the Ticino) wore business suits, not robes, and sat on the same level as the attorneys and the defendant. This may seem to have only symbolic importance, but represents an important psychological difference of the British and U.S. practice in which the judge sits up on a kind of throne behind a great podium-like desk. Likewise, the Swiss court buildings are restrained, with no great statues and none of the quotations from great supreme court judges of the kind one sees etched on court buildings in the U.S. or even Germany. The Ticino and Aargau courts had no pillars or such material at all, and even the federal supreme court houses in Lausanne and Luzern (insurance) are understated by Western standards. The building that housed the Aargau court looked more or less like an administration building on a modest U.S. campus or a federal or state regional office building in the U.S. In short, the architecture, dress, protocol, and the other arrangements of the Swiss courts seem to give a quiet message that the courts exist not to house great legal minds or construct brilliant arguments and theories, but to render decisions. Police, judicial, and related functions are conducted on a more decentralized and local basis in Switzerland than in most other developed countries. Comparisons must be made carefully because of Switzerland's size and population - about one-tenth the population of Germany, one thirty-fifth that of the United States, and an area the size of the state of Connecticut. This means, on the one hand, that all scales are reduced: The Swiss "federal" government is no larger, and no more remote probably, from its people, than that of Cook County, Illinois, or the cities of Berlin, Paris, or New York. It may even be more "local" in character than these. Likewise, such U.S. states as Indiana, Minnesota, and Missouri have larger populations than the entire country of Switzerland, and are many times its physical size. Yet administratively, these Table 13.1 Criminal Justice Spending by Level of Government Switzerland United States federal 6% 14% state None 32% canton 67% None county None 25% municipal None 29% commune 27% None --- states are the equivalent of the Swiss cantons - standing under the federal government, but above the cities and counties. When comparing the activities of different levels of government, is a U.S. state the equivalent of a Swiss canton, or of the Swiss federal government? Is the Swiss canton of Zürich, with a population of several hundred thousand, closer to the state of Virginia, or to that state's Fairfax County, with similar size and geographic size? Table 13.1 compares spending on police and the courts by various levels of government in the United States and Switzerland. The layout of the table goes from highest unit of government to lowest, placing the cantons of Switzerland as closer to the federal center than a U.S. county, but somewhat farther and less similar to it than a U.S. state. The result is a kind of graphic top-down effect that gives us a feel for the extent to which criminal justice functions, as measured by spending, are carried out at the top, middle, and bottom of the system. As a general matter, the U.S. column has more numbers and larger numbers bunched toward the top and middle; the Swiss places most of its chips in the middle and lower portions. If we compare what the federal government of Switzerland spends on police and court functions to what its smallest and most intimate level of government spends, the result is a ratio of somewhat more than six to one. For the United States, the ratio is only two to one - a much stronger federal presence, and weaker local one. Of course, this leaves the cantons out of the picture, which is a serious problem for comparing Swiss government to other states. If we consider the cantons and communes to be roughly comparable to U.S. counties and municipalities, we see that in Switzerland, the local character of justice administration is 94 percent of the spending, in the U.S., 54 percent. This probably overstates the disparity somewhat - but not much. The state of California is roughly ten times the population and extent of Switzerland; the government in Sacramento is at least as remote and imperial as the government in Bern. One can parse the data, but the general picture remains one of greater federalism in the Swiss system, and this reflects the reality. In their function and level of accessibility, the cantons are much closer to a U.S. county, and the states of the U.S. are not terribly different from the Swiss federal government. Each government has an added layer of administration when making comparisons then - the U.S. federal government is a unit of size and complexity that has no analogy in the Swiss system, and the Swiss communes have an intimacy and level of responsiveness seen only in the smallest U.S. towns. All this, of course, expresses only the economic relationship. As the Swiss towns and cantons have much greater authority and autonomy vis- a-vis their federal government, the resulting statistical picture if anything understates the decentralized nature of Swiss criminal justice. The states of Europe are generally in between, with France close to the U.S. and perhaps even exceeding it in degree of centralization; Germany and Britain in the middle. This system would appear to be open to abuse by local judges and sheriffs, who have great discretion compared to a modern-day judge in the U.S. or most of Europe. What is to prevent a judge or sheriff in Eastern Glarus, or along the road leading to the Gotthard pass, from becoming a kind of Macon County kingpin or Mexican patrol officer - abusing his authority to squeeze fines and bribes and worse out of suspects? There are in fact some complaints among the Swiss, and more from foreign visitors, about traffic policing both along the Northern highway system and in the Southeast passages. For the most part, however, the Swiss seem to have avoided any severe conflicts between citizens of the different cantons or the cantons themselves. There are several reasons for this. First, the Swiss courts do not attract men and women whose ambition is to rise to great power, or acquire riches, through the legal system. The pay for judges remains as low as it did, in relative terms, in the 1920s, when Lord Bryce noted that there were periodic difficulties filling some vacancies on the bench. As well, the presence of so many lay judges and volunteer administrators throughout the commune governments, and of part-time lay persons even at the cantonal level, gives the whole system a broad base of people and economic interests. The insurance judge who in fact is an executive at the local textile company sees his position as a voluntary gift to the community, not a sinecure. He was probably appointed by a cantonal legislature of housewives, part-time professionals, and other citizens, or asked to fill the job by a town council. He works with a group of similar volunteers and underpaid de facto volunteers. Few or none of the actors in this drama want anything so much as to render a fair decision and get home. It would not be impossible for them to favor their own neighbors in a dispute, and, in fact, they would have a natural inclination to do so. But it would be nearly impossible to systematically do so, and very difficult to do so for gain. Thus, while the Swiss system is open to such abuses of locality, they do not appear to have become a serious problem yet. The courts, though not formally composed of temporary juries as such, tend to function somewhat in the manner of juries. The Swiss courts are a half-way house between juries and legal experts, with a bias toward the popular jury side. This metaphor may explain how the Swiss are able to mitigate another obvious defect of their legal system - its lack of professional expertise and considered legal opinion. "There is no doubt that Switzerland does not have the practicing lawyers and judges with the knowledge and experience of the U.S., Germany, or other countries," a Swiss attorney concedes. "But the system does draw on expertise from outsiders." For example, lay judges frequently are experts in their own field of cases, which in the cantonal and federal supreme courts are divided by area of knowledge - insurance cases, intergovernment disputes, contract issues, and so on. Of course, there is nothing to stop a judge in Germany or France from soliciting a formal or informal opinion from an expert, in court or as a consultant - and many do. In the Swiss system, this process is more regular. Leaders from very different walks of life are integrated into the legal profession, both directly, when they serve as judges, and indirectly, as their presence leavens the legal community as a whole. The result still leaves the Swiss short of the kind of broad, deep pool of legal brilliance that one sees in the United States. The system is particularly weak at the top and in the intellectual realm. There are few legal journals, and the writing and research in them does not rise to the level seen in American, French, and German journals. In international legal disputes, where one would think the Swiss would excel by virtue of their multilingualism and cultural adaptiveness, Swiss attorneys have a relatively poor record in representing both their government and their large banking and other commercial firms. If one needed to litigate a case or defend one's self of a murder charge, one would almost certainly want an American attorney, and might hope for a British or German judge. For brilliant reasoning about the theories underpinning the dispute, one might turn to the French or the Americans. If one were able to choose any venue in the world for the case to be tried, however, one could do worse than to select any of the Swiss cantons at random. A Swiss attorney who practices now in the United States put it this way: "Swiss law does not lend itself to the cutting-edge hairsplitting argumentation and drafting seen in the United States. Swiss law and jurisprudence often take the approach of stating a broad principle and leaving it to the good common sense of legal practitioners to fill in the details. In other words, the law says, "A," ergo the more direct applications of "AA," and "a," and "aa" are covered. A Swiss lawyer trying to argue that "aa" is not covered simply be cause it was not stated in the explicit language of the "A" statute would be laughed out of court. In the United States, an attorney not arguing that "aa" was left uncovered by the broad principle "A," despite the common-sense application, would probably be vulnerable to a malpractice suit." These observations have special application to contract law, but their spirit applies to criminal law differences between the U.S. and Switzerland as well. The Swiss, in other words, may have an inferior system, at least at the higher reaches of law. But the Swiss system is able to function as a whole because of the work and the generosity of its citizens; it is a justice system not only for, but of and by, the people. If we consider one of the system's great failings in recent years - the growth of Zürich into a great center of drug trafficking in the 1970s and 1980s - then we see an interesting illustration of the system in action. Rita Fuhrer does not look like the person who busted up the Zürich drug runners. Her face is soft and round, her eyes sympathetic. Bangs and medium-length hair gently wrap around the side, completing the effect. Frau (Mrs.) Fuhrer, as she prefers to be called, wears a tweed business suit that is neat, but not padded or sharply angular. She smiles and apologizes her English "not very good," which given Swiss standards means she has roughly the fluency (in this, her third tongue) of the median graduate of a U.S. high school. Fuhrer was elected to her post in 1995. One assumed she had some background as a prosecutor or an attorney, but when asked her profession, she answers, "housewife." Her answer had the feeling, through the slight language barrier, of someone who still considers herself primarily a wife and mother - and wants to be seen as such, in ever-so-slightly a counter-cultural fashion. ("Being a housewife is a profession" - she did not say this, but seemed to convey it by her understated manner.) On further probing, however, it appears the answer was not merely attitudinal, but accurate, and even illustrative. Prior to her election to this post, Mrs. Fuhrer served on the cantonal council, one of the many important but low-paying positions occupied by many women in Switzerland. (Women constituted 23 percent of the cantonal legislatures in 1998.) As well, she worked briefly as a newspaper reporter. But there are no advanced degrees, no years as a litigator or high-profile political activist. Mrs. Fuhrer was an attentive mom who did public service for modest pay and decided she might be able to do something to help the police make Zürich a safer and better place to live. In her present office, Fuhrer has implemented what amounts to a two- point program. "I was not trained for it," she admits. "But I like to talk to people, different people. I talked and listened." The program she implemented was not original, and not even controversial - it represented the trend in thinking in the city when she took office. But Fuhrer saw the wisdom of it, and put it into practice. First, she had the cantonal police clamp down on drug dealings at the Zürich airport, the train station, and the nearby park, Platzspitz, that became almost synonymous with drug dealing during the 1980s and early 1990s. ("Platzspitz" translates into English as "Poined Square," though it soon became known as "Needle Park.") Dealers of even small amounts were arrested, as were their customers. The federal government shared information and manpower - a rarity in Switzerland, but possible in this case because of the canton's request for such help. With the assistance of the canton, the city police of Zürich implemented essentially the same measures, and the two units cooperated in a way they previously had not. Arrests for drug possession and trafficking shot up for two years as the Polizei cleaned up the streets, then tapered off as the population of criminals shrank. The amounts of heroin and cocaine seized by the police moved in a similar pattern, rising sharply and then falling with the declining incidence of drug use. Figures 13.4 and 13.5 nearby show these statistical trends. Second, Mrs. Fuhrer worked with the city and canton to increase and upgrade facilities for treating addicts - helping them get off drugs. The canton and city expanded existing facilities and set up new ones. Spending on these programs and their associated capital budgets increased. Addicts were encouraged to sign up for programs voluntarily even when suspected of posses- Figure 13.4 Total Drug Arrests in Zürich City Includes arrests by cantonal and city police. Does not include arrests for importing drugs (generally, 150-200 per year). Possession (approx.), Trafficing (approx.) 1990 - 4000, 2000 1992 - 5000, 2000 1994 - 7000, 3000 1996 - 10000, 3500 1998 - 12500, 2500 2000(e) - 10500, 2500 Source: Jahresbericht, Spezialabteiling 3, Kantonspolezei Zürich, 1990-1998 inclusive. Figure 13.5 Drug Seizures by Zürich Police (cantonal and city, combined) Heroin (1000g), Cocaine (1000g) 1990 - 100, 185 1992 - 90, 195 1994 - 105, 175 1996 - 280, 145 1998 - 250, 145 2000 (e) - 180, 145 Source: Zürich canton, as cited in Fig. 13.4. --- sion and therefore vulnerable to arrest. City and canton district attorneys arrested addicts to avoid prosecution if they entered a detoxification program. Judges in the canton were encouraged to sentence only the most stubborn addicts to jail terms. Swiss judges were already lenient when measured by the length of sentence typically imposed for major crimes, although given the high rate of apprehension and conviction achieved by the Swiss courts, and the low rate of successful appeals, the overall deterrent impact was as high or higher than many other Western countries.(1 )The program appears to have worked. From 1985 as a base year, the number of drug addicts estimated in Zürich tripled. Since 1995, it has fallen by half. Entrants into treatment programs surged, thanks almost entirely to the arrest referrals and sentencing. Of the entrants, "about one third" kick their habit immediately, Fuhrer says. "Another third have some repeating, but are able to give up the drugs after several tries. Another third" - she pauses, looks to the side - "cannot be reached." Overall, the program's office says, 65 percent eventually kick their habit. These program statistics, of course, suffer from lack of time. The policy has been in place only a few years, making judgments about its long-term effectiveness tenuous. But the tentative figures above are borne out by related measures of drug use and crime. Zürich's rate of such crimes as robbery and burglary fell by more than 10 percent, largely due to the decline in the number of addicts needing to supply an expensive habit. Albeit a grim statistic, a good index of drug usage is simply the number of deaths by overdose or improper use. These fell from a high of 92 such deaths in 1992 to 89 in 1994, 65 in 1996, and 58 in 1998. Which part of the program was most important - the police crackdown, or the focus on treatment? Mrs. Fuhrer gives a sincere answer, but also the politically astute one: "You need both. I think we might have made some progress with just the arrests, cleaning out the park, or with just the treatment." Yes, Mrs. Fuhrer, but many members of your party - she belongs to the SVP, the Socially Conservative Party of Switzerland, roughly equivalent on many issues to a Pat Buchanan or Jesse Helms in the United States, or perhaps an Ariel Sharon in Israel - would like to see the expenditures on treatment cut back, and the police approach toughened even more. Would that be a mistake? "Let me say - I think both are useful and important. But if I had to keep one, if I had to say one was more important, I think the treatment approach has done more good. There's a very simple reason: The treatment program has reduced the population of people addicted substantially. This helps rob the traffickers of their sales. "But I would want to keep both parts of the program. They work together. If someone wanted to do away with either one, I would try to persuade them not to, whether it was the treatments or the arrests, and whether they were from my party, or some other." With this answer, of course, Mrs. Fuhrer establishes a slight distance, perhaps, from her party on a matter of rhetorical emphasis. Yet she defends its core idea that a reduction in drug trafficking, including arrests of users and suppliers, is a public good that should be pursued. And she stubbornly (and intelligently) keeps it bundled into part of a program that has blended the approach of different partisans in the drug issue into a coherent whole - a whole that has worked for Zürich. Many, perhaps most, professional politicians in the United States or Europe would probably answer the question in roughly the same way. But Mrs. Fuhrer is not a professional politician - she's a professional housewife. The Swiss system makes it possible for the head of one of the country's largest police departments to credibly call herself that. And herein lies one of the sources of its vitality. Note 1. For example, of all Swiss men convicted of rape, only 35 percent are sentenced to jail. This is low compared to the United States (more than 80 percent), Sweden (71 percent), and Japan (65 percent.) On the other hand, the Swiss system catches, tries, and convicts a larger percentage of offenders than many countries. Of all reported rapes, a culprit is convicted in Switzerland more than 20 percent of the time. This is significantly more than in the United States (5 percent) and Sweden (8 percent), though less than Japan's 39 percent rate. About 10,000 persons in Switzerland are sent to a prison each year for all offenses but sentences of several months are the norm, and of more than five years, extremely rare. There is no death penalty. The number of Swiss assigned a life sentence has averaged 1.8 persons per year over the last two decades; now and then a year goes by in which there is no assignment of a life sentence at all. Punishment for crimes in Switzerland is thus less severe per conviction than in many countries, although what punishment there is is swift and certain. 14. Welfare At a superficial glance, Switzerland has very little experience with welfare as Americans or other Europeans know it. This is true in a double sense. First, Switzerland simply never established (until 1990) an income support system for the poor that compared in scale with those of Europe or the United States.(1 )Second, the country enjoyed relatively low unemployment rates and reasonable wages for many years, so that there was less need for transfer payments to help the poor. Some would argue that the relatively low level of transfer payments is a substantial reason for the low level of poverty. Whatever the cause, the combination of policy and economic condition is such that among the Swiss, welfare was not a matter of great controversy until the last decades of the twentieth century. Then, a combination of somewhat higher unemployment rates, tight national and communal budgets, and the issue of immigrants receiving public assistance combined to make welfare at once a larger factor in the Swiss economy, and more controversial. The country's prosperity - and the evenness of it - is such legend that it led me to an interesting, if in the end embarrassing, discovery. Riding the train into Zürich from Bern, around the region of the airport and perhaps ten miles West of the center of the city we passed through an industrial belt of what seemed to be warehouses, large factories, and light chemical or pharmaceutical plants. Suddenly, near the tracks and in some cases squeezed in between the tracks and the factories, little clusters of shanty houses began to appear, in clumps of fifty to 200 units by my estimate. As shanty towns go, these were nice. The rows were neat. The houses were made out of what appeared to be cheap wood (better than cardboard) and ribbed fiberglass roofs that looked as if they would, at least, keep out rain and snow. Some of the houses even had Swiss flags or the flags of other nationalities or cantons or organizations flying out in front, and all were laid out in rather neat rows. The places seemed strangely deserted, even for a working-class neighborhood. There were very few moms and small kids, if any. Decently dressed people, usually men or couples and often of obvious non-European ethnicity, occasionally wandered up and down the tidy rows of shacks, sometimes beating thick work gloves together. "Swiss ghettos," it struck me - the nicest ghettos in the world. But still ghettos: a mild surprise. My traveling companion aroused my suspicion further when he responded evasively - it seemed to me - when asked about these obvious little pockets of poverty among the Swiss prosperity. "What are those, Hans?" "What are what?," he answered blandly. "Those - over there." My hand pointed to Northwest. "The one on the right looks like it is storage for ABB," he answered. "I don't know about the one on the left." But he was looking too far out. "No, not the factory. The little houses in between us and the factory. There." "Houses?," he asked. "Yes, Hans, the little shanty houses right there." It felt bad to corner him and make him explain something negative about Switzerland. But these little unpleasant truths, it seems to me, are what give a country's strong points their real merit. "You mean the Schrebergärten?" he asked, keeping it up. "Well, yes, if that's what they're called. What are those - company houses for temporary Gastarbeiters or something?" "Gregory, those are gardens. People come out and work on them in the evenings and the weekends. Some of them grow a few vegetables or flowers for their home, and some just like the gardening. "What did you say you thought they were?" Thus my discovery of shanty towns, so promising for a few minutes, turned out to be another Swiss efficiency, almost an annoying self- parody. You have to look closely at Switzerland - and do more than look, it turns out - to avoid falling into one of two opposite errors. One error is that Switzerland has no poverty (and little or no welfarism) at all. The other is that the Swiss have huge, complex "hidden" class problems lurking just below the surface, or a developed welfare system along the lines of Sweden, Britain, or France. Neither is really the case, or to be more precise, each is partially true. Swiss poverty rates place Switzerland near the bottom of the world in terms of social want. Measurement is rendered difficult by the typically federalist Swiss system of social assistance, and its informality and adaptation to individual cases. Surveys, however, suggest that about 5.6 percent of the population had an inadequate income to meet basic physical and health standards. Even this figure does not include some types of payments and assistance, though. And this figure is for the year 1992, which was just after a fairly sharp recession in Europe (coincident with the relatively mild U.S. recession of 1990-91). In fact, then, compared to many affluent countries where such statistical poverty rates often hover close to 10 percent, Switzerland has enjoyed a poverty rate of about half the developed-country rate, and for most of the time, one-third or less. Little of this poverty, while real in a sense, is hard core. That is to say, few of the people who may be poor one year in Switzerland are poor two or three years later. For example, about one-quarter of all the statistically poor are twenty to twenty-nine years old These are typically years in which young men and women emerge from school, dabble in different part-time jobs, and so on. Many U.S. youngsters are "poor" in the year they graduate from high school or college, since they may then enter the work force, but for only half a year or less. In Switzerland, persons aged forty and above make up about 54 percent of the population, but account for only about 37 percent of all the poor. Divorced men (10 percent) and women (20 percent) make up another significant chunk of the poor. Again, while these people often suffer real hardship, they are also often likely to land on their economic feet within a year or two. They are temporarily, not semi- permanently, in need. The shape of poverty in regional, ethnic, and other terms is happily even. That is, in Switzerland what little want there is does not tend to associate itself strongly with different races or other groups. For instance, of all the statistically poor, about 74 percent are of Swiss birth, and 25 percent are foreign born - roughly their proportion in the work force as a whole. Similarly, 65 percent of the poor live in cities, and 35 percent in the country. About 64 percent live in a German-speaking region, 27 percent French, and 9 percent Italian - again fairly close to the nation as a whole. This spreading of poverty, where a little poverty there must be, is a great blessing, because it means that economic need does not readily spill over into racial or other frustration. One sees it even in the layout of major cities such as Zürich and Geneva. While any city has high and low rent districts, the ghetto is largely unknown among the Swiss. It is partly the result of Swiss decentralization, and partly makes it especially effective. Another contributing factor is the strength of Swiss education, especially vocational education. And then there is, according to former Zürich Mayor Sigmund Widmer, "the old- fashioned work ethic of Zwingli and Calvin." Widmer recalls a number of instances in which his constituents would keep a job rather than accepting unemployment insurance or public assistance - even though they could have made nearly as much money for a time without having to work. "The Swiss would rather work," Widmer argues. Welfare programs to respond to these needs, like many other Swiss policies, vary widely by canton and community. For basic family assistance, the federal government contributes only about one-eighth of payments, at 12 percent; the cantons, 34 percent, or about one third; and the communities, close to half with 45 percent.(2) The result is not merely a uniform, national system administered locally, because the cantons and the communes have adopted distinctive approaches to social payments. The amount of spending per inhabitant on welfare varies widely by canton. As Figure 14.1 shows for selected cantons, the average combination of Soziale Wohlfart (social welfare) and Fürsorge (assistance) is 2,200 Swiss francs per month. This ranges, however, from a high of 4,500 francs a month in Geneva, and 3, 400 in Basel to as little as 1,200 francs in Uri and 1,100 in Schwyz and Appenzell Innerhoden. Part of these differences reflect higher living expenses and poverty rates in the larger cities, but they also reflect a higher affinity for such transfer payments in general in the different regions. Rates of statistical poverty, especially those that measure poverty before transfer payments are accounted, are also in turn influenced by the subsidies available through social welfare programs. There is equal or even greater variation between how different individual cases are handled within a given community. Even in Geneva, where the social welfare system is relatively more rationalized and bureaucratized and less personal and flexible, social payments can be significantly adapted. "We try to work with people, find employment, adapt the program to their needs," Monica Tross, a social welfare worker for Geneva canton, explained. This can include increasing payments for families where, say, someone is engaged in a training course, or where medical or other family circumstances have intensified the problem of a job loss. It can also mean decreasing them for people who aren't getting out and aggressively trying to get off the dole. There aren't a large number of such cases - "five or ten percent, somewhere in there" - but the ability to make them has an impact on the way the entire system functions. In other cantons and communities the flexibility to adjust to different circumstances is even greater. "We have a great deal of ability to decide how to handle the situation of people who need social assistance," a member of the Aarau town council said. "We have certain normal practices, but we can decide what to do by the person or family." Indeed, family assistance among the Swiss is more family-based than in much of the West. On the one hand, couples struggling to make ends meet, but who have not divorced, do not necessarily lose benefits they might need. On the other hand, the Swiss look to the extended family - parents, brothers and sisters, in some cases even aunts or uncles - to provide help too. In bureaucratic systems, the need to reduce such factors to formal codes often leads to a labyrinth of rules with little flexibility. Under the local, pliable system of the Swiss, such subtleties are incorporated into the program, but not necessarily the written law. "We had a situation with a young man in my community," Giancarlo Dillena, a newspaper editor in the Ticino, recalls. "A young man with a problem," perhaps drugs or alcohol. "The village made a job for him, gardening and doing other chores. These were things that needed to get done, and it was better for him and the town than his having to continue on assistance." Figure 14.1 Average Combination of Social Welfare and Assistance by Cantons Of course, this is the kind of flexibility many social welfare advocates in other countries plead for. In most cases, their publics would like such common-sense adaptability as well. Such flexibility, though, does not come without a price. Sometimes programs don't work, and in Switzerland, when they don't there are fewer regulations to hide behind. Where there is human discretion, human mistakes are more clearly visible as such. During my stay in Southern Switzerland, a case in the canton of Valais appeared in the local newspapers about a man who was drawing assistance from three different cantons, amounting to a tidy sum in total. Likewise, allowing officials to reduce or increase payments within reason would be less feasible in countries without the tradition of honesty and self-government of the Swiss. Larger amounts could be used as small payoffs or other corruption. Smaller amounts would bring lawsuits from persons arguing they were entitled to full payments. The position tailored for the young man in the Ticino, in some countries, couldn't be offered legally - it would violate a union contract or other agreements. A young woman for whom a similar setup was established in Bern, running a part-time day care center while receiving some assistance, would probably have run afoul of child care laws and much other red tape in the United States, France, or Canada. These kinds of human arrangements, if they were allowed, would inevitably lead to occasional abuses, followed by a scandal in the press, and corrective legislation and regulations. Thus at least a part of Swiss welfare system's functionality rests on factors outside the system. If it encourages citizenship, as it surely does, it is also enabled by citizenship. Swiss welfare policy, like the Swiss topography, is thus characterized by sharp changes and extremes - not a smooth, flat, equal plane. It can be very generous, almost extravagant, in one case, and frugal, almost harsh, in another. Viewing the evolution of social welfare in Switzerland over time, we can learn much about the economic philosophy of Swiss voters - and about the tendencies of the Swiss political system and its interaction with trends in Europe and the United States. Welfarism began in Europe in the nineteenth century, with Germany, France, and Britain all expanding their programs into the early twentieth century. The Swiss were relative laggards. Some attributed this to the country's lack of affluence. At the time, Switzerland was still emerging from centuries as a medium to low-income country in the European context. As well, the country's politics resisted change at the same time as Swiss traditional beliefs resisted anything outside the Calvinistic framework of work, thrift, and personal responsibility. "People not only dislike Bismarck's military system," observed an 1874 Neue Zürcher Zeitung editorial, "but his economic methods," referring to the German's use of social welfare programs to buy off potential opposition to his empire-building militarism on behalf of the Kaiser. A similar round of social-service growth hit the United States after World War I and in the Great Depression, but was relatively unknown in Switzerland. For nearly a century, the Swiss didn't seem to need social welfare either. Unemployment topped 1 percent only twice in the twentieth century - first during the Great Depression, when it never rose above 5 percent, and the second time during the 1990s, by which time the Swiss had constructed a relatively extensive social welfare program. Of course, many social scientists would argue that there was a connection - that the lack of significant transfer payment programs helped keep employment high, and the Swiss emphasis on productivity generated sufficient goods and services to keep the economy functioning through the engine of private-sector growth. As reviewed earlier, economic initiatives that aimed at social spending fared poorly throughout the century and into the postwar 1950s and 1960s. There were two major exceptions from 1900 to 1975. The first was a gradual acceptance of government-assisted pension schemes from the 1920s onward. The second was the establishment of a labor concordat after World War II that raised wages and established further unemployment benefits - but at the same time, established an almost strike-free continuation of many years of labor peace through the end of the century. For whatever reason, the Swiss resisted the formation of the modern welfare state for many years. Social democrats in Switzerland and outside saw this as evidence of backwardness by the voters, or the system, and there is certainly a stubbornness in the Swiss character. On the other hand, when one looks at a chart of Swiss unemployment for the century and sees the long strings of "0.4%, 0.3%, 0.3%, 0.2%" year after year, one sees a case for the Swiss resistance. From 1974 to 1981, Swiss voters approved some national initiatives establishing funding for greater unemployment insurance and family assistance programs - and many more cantonal referenda along the same lines. By the time these systems were becoming established there was a general economic boom in the West and in Swiss export industries in particular. Swiss expenditures on social welfare remained tiny, fueled by high rates of employment through the 1980s. In 1990, Switzerland finally suffered an economic slump while having significant welfare programs as backdrop. Clearly the cause was not simply the fact of such benefits, because they had now been in place for some years without producing falling employment or a recession. They may, however, have exacerbated the troubles once they were set off by other events. The collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1989 brought a flood of immigrants and asylum seekers not only to Germany but to the rest of Europe. Other countries, other than West Germany with its fellow Germans, were less welcoming than the Swiss with their tradition of hospitality to the foreigner. Not long afterward, the beginning of ethnic and religious unrest in former Yugoslavia created a new wave of humanity. While all this was going on, a mild recession hit the U.S. in 1990 through 1991 - a recession that was felt more severely in Europe with its greater dependency on foreign oil. Perhaps most unfortunately, the Swiss chose this time to permit a crackdown on immigration in the most perverse way. Fearful that immigrants were "taking jobs" from skilled Swiss or dragging wages down for the less skilled, the confederation passed tighter restrictions on work permits for foreigners, and many cantons increased enforcement of the same regulations. The result was that many asylum seekers could not work - but did receive social welfare assistance. Paradoxically the Swiss were making it difficult to work, and easier to be on the dole. Finally, the taxes needed to pay for all these programs had climbed gradually in the 1980s - and were raised significantly in 1990 through 1991. The higher tax rates were a drag on private sector activity and employment, driving more Swiss into the arms of public assistance. The combination of these forces and policies was a deep recession indeed in Swiss terms. Unemployment topped 4 percent nationally for the second time in a century, and in some cantons exceeded 6 percent. Geneva, Vaud, Basel, and even Zürich went into an associated fiscal crisis from which they had still not fully recovered at the end of the decade. From 1989 to 1994, in each of those cantons, social welfare expenditures more than tripled. Swiss expenditures on unemployment benefits surged to more than 5.8 billion francs in both 1993 and 1994 from 500 million in 1990. The nature of the Swiss system, however, put the Swiss in a good position to adapt to this new experience. For one thing, social welfare as a significant economic factor was a new thing to the Swiss. Switzerland hadn't had these programs long enough, in 1990, for social welfare to have settled into a hardened series of coalitions and expectations, resentments, and set battles. The politics of welfare, in short, were fluid. Furthermore, given Switzerland's still relatively strong economic position, it was possible to make adjustments to programs without touching off an economic crisis. Four percent unemployment isn't as good as 1 percent, but it's still relatively low compared to most of the developed world - indeed, a 4 percent jobless rate would be a thirty-year record for the United States or most of Europe. Perhaps most important, the federalist nature of the Swiss system allowed and even encouraged experimentation with different changes. Some cantons and communities simply cut payments under fiscal pressure, as Peter Frey reported in the Aargauer Zeitung. An intercantonal commission that some hoped would standardize social welfare payments instead helped spur a competitive series of downsizing and program reform in 1994 and 1995. Some cantons cut benefits; others asked for (and received) a greater contribution from the confederation; still others established limits that make it more difficult to continue receiving social welfare payments beyond a period of several months. The net impact was to make welfare easy to get on, but hard to stay on - resembling the reforms enacted in the United States, Germany, and elsewhere in the 1990s after a much longer experience with welfarism. Looked at from one point of view, it took the Swiss eighty or ninety years to catch up with the U.S. and Europe. On the other hand, it took the Swiss only five years to reform their system in much the same way that Europe and America were only able to enact after tortuous decades of rancorous debate. This pace - now maddeningly slow, now breathtaking in its methodical quickness - is vintage Swiss. For instance, it took some Swiss banks decades to fully grapple with the problem of dormant accounts left over from World War II. Yet it took the Swiss only a few months after the rise to power of Adolf Hitler to gear up a major rearmament effort. By 1935, a major anti-German cultural and ideological resistance was underway at a time when most of the West was still appeasing the German dictator. In any case, it is wrong to think of the Swiss system as always being slothful, any more than it fits the image of democratic impulsiveness feared by political philosophers. Rather, democracy in Switzerland is capable of moving fast - but often, it seems, chooses to deliberate, and move slowly. During a visit to the Schrebergärten a few days after my investigation from the train window, a man of about fifty-five accosted me. He said he heard there was an American making a study of Swiss democracy and as a newcomer or outsider himself he had something to say. Dark- skinned, fluent in neither German nor French, he appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent, Yugoslavian or Iraqi, perhaps. "Switzerland is the most - democracy," he paused. "More in the democracy - ," he continued, looking, it seemed to me, for the adjective. His English wasn't bad. "The most demo-cratic, you may want to say," a young man, apparently his son, added. "Yes, the most demo-cratic. I do not say anything bad about America, which is a great country. But Switzerland has the best democracy, even better than yours. It is good that someone studies it." He was under the impression, it seemed to me, that this was some kind of official mission. The young man knew about my interest in immigrants and the working class generally, and offered that the older one, named Karl or Karlo, was working occasionally, but also receiving some assistance. "No, no," Karl corrected, perhaps not getting the full gist of what the younger man had said. "I am working this week," he said, dusting some dirt off his hands. He was evidently maintaining some of the gardens for people too busy to tend them on their own. "There are not payments." "But next week, if you do not - then you will get some help." "Well, yes, if I need that I will go see the woman who handles that in our town, and I will be back on again - for a week or two. I hope it would just be for a couple of weeks." There was a lot going on in that situation, it seemed to me. On the one hand was a social welfare program sufficiently free from red tape - sufficiently human - to fit itself into a family's situation in that way, like a glove rather than a one-size-fits-all mitten. At the same time, there was the man, more of a citizen (though he almost certainly was not one yet) than many people in many countries of their birth. And there was his sweet, simple disposition, his propensity to accept what was his from the system, but not advance claims of entitlement when assistance is not needed. Those Schrebergärten became an apt metaphor - in Switzerland even the shanties are symbols if not of affluence, certainly of a mentality that views dirt as a place to grow something, and a layoff as an opportunity to do some other kind of work. Notes This is a reference to "welfare" programs for the poor and unemployed. This does not include state and private pension plans, private insurance, and other forms of income support and charity. Again we must keep in mind that while these levels of government correspond administratively with those of the United States or Europe, each level is significantly more intimate than its U.S. or European counterpart. A welfare recipient dealing with a U.S. state government is dealing with a unit, on average, of some 5 million persons; the average population of a Swiss canton is about 300,000. The source for these and other general statistics that follow include interviews with cantonal and community officials, popular press, and the Swiss Federal Statistics Office, Statistisches Jahrbuch der Schweiz/Annuaire statistique de la Suisse, published by Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Zürich, 1998, pp. 340-80 15. Press Thomas Jefferson is often quoted as saying he would rather live in a country without elections than in a country without newspapers. Jefferson said this to emphasize his belief in the importance of the free exchange of information and ideas. In fact, the two, far from constituting a kind of either-or choice, tend to go together. Newspapers in and of themselves provide a kind of freedom by enabling the people to keep track of what their leaders are doing and, knowing this, to keep those leaders in check. A free press helps make elections meaningful by enabling people to cast an informed vote, intelligently directed toward the ends they want. In this sense, they have a similar effect to that of direct democracy. And newspapers help ensure the fact of elections in any case, as those who read them insist on having that voice in the way their country is governed. Newspapers and elections thus are each vital by themselves and they support one another. Switzerland has plenty of both. The typical Swiss surely casts more votes every year than the citizen of any other country. And the people read more newspapers per capita than in any other country in the world. (With a respectful nod to Norway, first by some measures.) In fact, if we may suppose that the Jefferson relationship applies incrementally - if an improvement in degree in the free press equals and causes an improvement in democracy, while a decline in the state of the free press weakens that democracy - then Switzerland must have an excellent press corps. After all, its democracy is in a refined, balanced, and advanced state. It is hard to believe this would be the case if the press in Switzerland were not highly effective at informing people. This is, in fact, the case, whether one judges by the quantity or the quality of the Swiss journals. One reason for this strength and diversity is structural. The political division of the country into small but important units creates a demand for local news. Thus there are at least two strong newspapers in the capital of Bern, two in Zürich, and two (again) in Geneva, as well as important papers serving Basel, canton Aargau, Vaud, Luzern, and three major Italian-language papers in the Ticino. Yet because of Switzerland's size, such papers can be available almost anywhere in the densely populated Northern tier of Switzerland within roughly two hours. Switzerland's language groups, which are concentrated regionally but also cut across the cantons, also help provide a national market for these largest urban papers. The French- speaking Swiss of Zürich may well take the Tribune de Geneve - not out of necessity but from a natural affinity for his first tongue. Likewise the German-speaking resident in Geneva may subscribe to Tages Anzeiger or the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. It appeared to me that many Swiss elites take newspapers in more than one language, both to achieve a balance of subjects and coverage and to keep their first two or three languages polished. The Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the newspaper of record as The New York Times is in the United States, appeared to be more widely available and read in French-speaking Switzerland than the leading French papers in German-speaking Switzerland. If this is so, it probably reflects somewhat the size of Zürich, as well as the tendency for a national newspaper of record to form, much as the world seems to gravitate toward a main currency and one main language of international business. Although the NZZ isn't the first or second leading newspaper in terms of raw circulation, it is read widely by political and business elites. Even so, if accurate, this appears to be a rare exception to the tendency to emphasize the French portion of Swiss culture. Figure 15.1 shows this graphically by comparing the number of newspapers, radio stations, and television stations by language. There is a preponderance of French and Italian radio stations over German, and an even stronger one among television stations - of which there are more in Italian than either French or German. This progression may reflect the fact that television has a strong entertainment component, while newspapers are more information based, and radio lies somewhere in between. As well, the Swiss culture of openness to foreign ideas and persons opens Swiss newspapers up to significant foreign exposure and competition. Since the Swiss newspapers are of a high and serious quality, there is remarkably little penetration by the major French and German dailies, but there is some. English newspapers, on the other hand, are highly popular, considering the language is not an official one. London's Financial Times, the "pink sheet," is widely available, and one sees it being read on the train between Zürich and Geneva; less so as one ventures South of the main, and highly cosmopolitan Northern line. Naturally The Wall Street Journal, being both a serious English language paper and the newspaper of financial record for the world-dominant U.S. markets and dollar, is widespread. The New York Times is not nearly as visible as one might expect, but this is partly because of the availability of the Herald-Tribune, which offers copy not only from the Times but Figure 15.1 Comparison of the Number of Newspapers, Radio Stations, and Television Stations by Language German (approx.), French and Italian (approx.) Newspaper - 72%, 19% Radio - 30%, 60% Television - 23%, 67% --- from other newspapers and wire services. The Washington Post, a powerful but somewhat less global paper, is virtually invisible in Switzerland. By contrast, one does see the London, Manchester, and other major dailies from England, on occasion. Compare two reporters of international news - or of merely "economic" news, which all recognize is increasingly global in nature. One reporter is fluent in French, German, and English, or at least two of the three, and can perhaps stumble by in Italian as well. The other is fluent in one of these, and may have studied another in college, or even reported from a foreign-language country for a time, but is not integrated from the day she or he is born right up through the present in that other language. Swiss newspapers, from the Blick tabloid up to and including Neue Zürcher Zeitung, generally contain significantly more international news than one would find in a U.S. paper. It is obvious that the multilingual reporter would have certain advantages in keeping up with daily events and trends. More than this, however, the Swiss reporter has a certain multicultural advantage, a facility for seeing certain events through the eyes of a different language and an alertness to developments or ideas that may, for a time, be present only in some culture different from his own. Both American and British reporters have enjoyed a portion of this advantage over the last fifty to one-hundred years, and this in part may account for why English- language journalism is relatively distinguished, even considering the "size" of the English language in world culture. A portion of this is natural and somewhat misleading, considering Switzerland's size and position. A news story in the Chicago Tribune about events in Cleveland, some six hours away, would be a domestic story. In Switzerland, events comparably distant are usually foreign. As well, the Swiss, being European, are affected by the rulings of the federal government of Brussels, and the central bank in Bonn, as the people of the U.S. are influenced strongly by events in Washington, D. C. Domestic news is most noticeable not for its difference in quantity from the American press, but for its different focus and tone nature. News about the culture outside of politics and business is roughly equal in volume, but different in character. The typical Swiss newspaper has somewhat more news about cultural events, such as operas or even movies, and somewhat fewer pieces about personalities or "megatrends." Within the Swiss press, the Romance language newspapers place more emphasis on the arts, and treat them more seriously than do the Swiss German papers. If one wanted to follow fashion trends, or read a serious essay about Fellini's technique or the latest American action films, one would be more likely to find it in Corriere del Ticino than in the German papers. The German papers, especially Neue Zürcher Zeitung, treat movies, ballet, and literature somewhat in the manner of the Financial Times - more space and broader coverage than in, say, The Wall Street Journal, but far less than one would find in The New York Times or Le Monde. Since Switzerland is fully integrated into three major language cultures (Italian, French, and German) and at the same time is as or more fluent in English, its analysis of cultural matters, as with politics, is often revealing and sophisticated. It is surprising, in a sense, that Swiss scholars and journalists have not established themselves as a more dominating presence in European literary culture. Switzerland has fewer crime stories both in print and in the press, and the stories there have a less sensational tone and photographic coverage. Of course, Swiss crime rates, particularly murder, are lower than in the United States and even much of Europe, so part of this difference reflects a difference in social conditions. One gets the sense, however, that for similar incidents, there is a greater restraint in the Swiss press. During one of my visits, a story broke in the Aargauer Zeitung about an ugly child custody battle between a husband and wife involving outright seizure and what could be called kidnapping of the children, international rescue and extradition attempts, and allegations of violence and abuse. One of the parents was a well-known and respected official in the Aargau government. Yet the paper had declined to report the story for more than two years because of possible repercussions for the children, allowing the legal battle over their status to be concluded without adding to it a media circus to add to the confusion and heighten the bitterness. Konrad Stamm, editor of der Bund, the venerable Bern daily, notes that Swiss newspapers make more than 95 percent of their sales to subscribers. This is a much higher proportion than one sees in most of Europe or in comparable parts of the United States - namely, large cities. "There is less pressure to sell a paper every day by having the most glaring photograph or headline, under this system," he notes. Swiss political news contains relatively fewer stories about maneuverings in parliament or the administration. This reflects partly the fact that these institutions have less concentrated power than in the United States or Europe. There is also, however, a visible tendency in the press to be somewhat less confrontational. In 1999, the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution surveyed more than 150 news stories on the issue of Swiss participation in the European union that appeared in major Swiss newspapers in February and March. A majority of these articles referred to one or another leading participant in the debate. Among these were Christoph Blocher, a leading opponent of Swiss entry, and Ruth Dreifuss or Flavio Cotti - both supporters of European union entry and the country's presidents in 1999 and 1998, respectively; Cotti was also foreign minister for several years in the 1990s. But in only seven of the articles, or about 4 percent of the sample, was there a strong element of personal confrontation described. The Swiss stories portrayed the European debate as a substantive debate, more than a clash between special interests. Here again, it is difficult to isolate completely which differences in coverage occur because the Swiss press does its job differently, and which differences simply reflect the fact that their society is different. For instance, money appears to play a significantly lesser and different role in Swiss elections than in other democracies; the parliament and the administration are of a completely different character. The Swiss capital, being that of a country not as "great" as others in terms of sheer might and economic size and weight, does not attract as many ambitious and venal fortune seekers as one might expect to find in Washington, Moscow, or Berlin. But there are clues that the Swiss press, if it could somehow be transplanted into the major cities of the United States, would probably cover the same events much differently. When Switzerland did have a major scandal involving one of its federal council members in the 1980s, the result was a flurry of stories for several days and a resignation. The index of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the year of her resignation, contained more entries having to do with guest-workers and asylum-seekers than it did about the greatest scandal in the history of the Swiss presidency. This is not to say that Swiss people are somehow never confrontational, competitive, greedy, or unethical in politics as in other spheres. As a matter of emphasis, however, the culture tends to muffle rather than amplify these traits - the political system in part, but the press as well. The Swiss journalist seems to be, if one may use a word that has almost become pejorative at times, rather patriotic compared to his counterpart in many other Western countries. "It's our system," Giancarlo Dillena, the editor of Corriere del Ticino told me, smiling. "We have to like it." One used to hear this more often among citizens and journalists of the representative democracies, and still does at times. One hears it, however, less often than among the Swiss, and it has less personal feeling or immediacy to it. If a reporter from some advanced country made a comment like that, he would feel somewhat trite, and speak of the "system" being "ours" more in the manner of an absent landlord discussing a property he does not tend or even often visit. In Switzerland, even among a highly cynical group of professional scoffers, a sophisticated journalist such as Dillena says such things unself-consciously, in a matter-of-fact tone. In contrast to the lesser emphasis on elite maneuverings, Swiss political journalism, as might be expected, places somewhat more emphasis on popular trends. The initiative and referendum tools makes the people themselves an integrated part of the legislative process, and thus, a natural and indeed inevitable part of the story. Thus, for example, the lead story about a law passing or a treaty agreement being reached will frequently refer prominently to the prospects for its being challenged by a facultative referendum - especially, of course, if the change was in any way controversial. In October of 1999, for example, parliament wrestled with the issue of medical insurance premiums, which late in the decade began to rise at un- Swiss-like rates exceeding 5 percent a year in many cantons. The president at that time, Ruth Dreifuss, proposed a measure to enact progressive rates - charging the rich more money for their insurance. In announcing the government's annual adjustment in rates, Madame Dreifuss made front-page news across the country. The stories covering this event in Aargauer Zeitung, Corriere del Ticino, Le Temps, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, and Tages Anzeiger all made mention of the likely referendum battle within the first four paragraphs. It is tempting to attribute all of these differences to the difference in political structure - popular access, a restrained federal center, and others - and its important and pervasive cultural impacts. The emphasis on popular wisdom, however, and the tone of respect for it by editors and reporters goes beyond what these structural political factors can account for. There is a subtly different spirit in the Swiss news room and in the Swiss journals. It is a feeling of citizens communicating with other citizens - who, if not precisely equal in economic or educational terms, are nevertheless of a rough sort of equality or level of judgment. In the summer and fall of 1999, for example, Le Temps ran a number of articles that either focused on Blocher or that discussed him at length in the course of some broader discussion of an issue such as taxes or European integration. Blocher is not reflective of the paper's editorial policy, which is centrist and internationalist. Still less is he a natural favorite of the Geneva voters, who tend to be liberal and, if not anti-German, certainly suspicious of a cultural conservative German Swiss such as Blocher. Yet Le Temps made it a frequent point to mention Blocher's intellectual seriousness and contrasted him favorably with other politicians who were less forthright in advancing their beliefs. One article solicited a brief summary of the Blocher phenomenon from Uli Windisch, a Geneva sociology professor. Windisch obviously didn't agree with most of Blocher's policy positions. Yet the professor warned of the tendency to demonize Blocher, and spoke of the need to "detoxify" him. The result of this approach, and of the relatively objective approach taken to reporting on Blocher's party in news stories in Le Temps, was not only to arm Genevans against dismissing Blocher lightly but also to provide valuable insight to domestic and foreign observers. Blocher's efforts to strengthen his party in Western (French-speaking) Switzerland was one of the more important stories in Switzerland in 1999. Without such support, he and his party's ideas were reaching natural limits of growth in Zürich and the East. With inroads into Vaud, Fribourg, Geneva, and the Ticino, by contrast, Blocher's party, the "SVP," seemed likely to continue its growth and eventually overtake one or more of the three established parties with two seats on the executive council. By treating Blocher seriously, even respectfully, Le Temps provided more fodder to both his opponents and supporters alike - because it was supplying important information about him. Oddly enough, the political parties as such seem to receive substantially more political coverage in Switzerland than in other democracies. After all, in many political theaters, such as the operations of the parliament and the voting for seats, partisan considerations appear to be less important than in the rest of Europe and North America. The coverage, however, treats the parties primarily as vessels for ideas. A typical story in Le Temps in the fall of 1999 tracked how the social conservative parties were trying to attract voters through tax cuts and other such measures, while Mrs. Dreifuss and others on the center left were offering social benefits. But since many of the organs of representation are proportional in nature, the result was not the series of bitter fights to the death in district after district, but a relatively civil debate about ideas. Every politician naturally wants to see his or her party and their ideas do well, but few politicians need to defeat some personal rival in order to survive. Here again the line between what reflects the press's choice in coverage and what reflects its mere reflection of a different style of politics, is blurry. But there is at least a strong element of press choice. There was little of class-war coverage in these stories, treating news and policy changes as if the main job was to determine who was "hurt more" - the rich, the poor, owners of automobiles, renters of apartments, or any other group. Instead, policy debates were described and conducted in the press, relatively, as if most members of society were blindfolded from such considerations or could see them or wanted to see them only dimly. During interviews, journalists showed little interest or inclination to pursue issues like this very hard. As one example, when asked which groups of people entry into the European Union would tend to help or hurt, editors and reporters at CASH, the financial weekly, and at Tages Anzeiger, Le Temps, and Corriere del Ticino all reacted blandly. "I don't think we've done anything on that," former CASH editor Markus Gisler said. "And I don't think it's been a major issue.... It's probably true that there is more support for integration among higher- income and well-educated people, and less support lower down. But most people are for or against the EU because they think it will be good or bad for the country, not because it will be good or bad for them." Gisler now heads one of Switzerland's first, and largest, online news and trading sites, "Moneycab." In the United States, by contrast, an economic treaty with much narrower ramifications for America's vast economy - the 1993 trade pact with Mexico - was debated largely in class or special-interest terms. Moreover, the press in the U.S. - and, one might add, in Britain as well - appears to be keenly alert to such matters. In Switzerland, while there are some class conflicts, journalists tend to amplify them only slightly, or even muffle them. One obvious difference is a kind of populist optimism among Swiss journalists. Hugo Bütler, editor of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, traces much of this to the evolution of the Swiss press itself in the early nineteenth century. Although many conservative forces opposed the establishment of referendum, first in the cantons in the 1830s and 1840s and then nationally, Bütler's paper favored many such revisions and, in fact, added Neue (or, "new") to its name after the revision of 1830. Like many Swiss, he refers to the culture of consensus as an important explanation for the press's nonhostile tone and lack of "gotcha"-style reporting. "Most of the important forces in society have a role in government," he notes, thanks to such institutions as the executive, proportional voting in parliament, and the direct democracy. "Therefore the opposition equals the people, and all are a direct participant in the state." Again we see how the somewhat mystical "culture of consensus," far from being an inexplicable force of nature or a function of climate or genetics, results in large part from the institutions of the Swiss. The Swiss system, unlike many democracies, empowers the people continuously and particularly, as opposed to sporadically and indirectly. The Swiss voters may veto laws and initiate new ones in an ongoing and item-by-item process. In most other democracies, the voters make policies only by means of an election every few years, with candidates running on the basis of hundreds of votes they've cast. This difference leaves the Swiss citizen somewhat more relaxed about his or her own voice in the process; there is less need to fight or make noise to be heard. As well, because particular officials and institutions have less power, "there is less need for institutions other than the people" to hold them in check, as Bütler put it. Naturally, the press reflects many of these attitudes and response to them as well. This feeling of greater affinity with the people's institutions, Konrad Stamm of Der Bund argues, probably has something to do with the relative degree of respect that the press shows for the executive council's deliberations.(1) "Our readers are very intelligent," echoes Esther Girsberger. "They need information, not a tutor." Girsberger, now at Weltwoche, but the editor of Tages Anzeiger at the time of our interview, explains her paper's handling of the European integration issue to me. Likewise, Girsberger treats her editors and reporters with a greater measure of decentralization than one is used to seeing in the American press. "We have people with many different views on the abortion issue, for example," she notes. "People at Tages Anzeiger differ." The paper, she says, is "flexible" in style and substance about the issue, allowing somewhat different approaches to flourish. This would be highly unusual at an American newspaper, many of which have issued instructions on whether various groups may be called "pro-life," other "pro-choice," and so on. (Girsberger's tenure at Tages Anzeiger ended, however, partly due to this flexibility. Upper management wanted more sensational stories to compete with Swiss and European tabloids. Girsberger declined.) If we look at matters the press covers outside of politics, it becomes clear that this nonconfrontational culture does not merely extend to the government itself. Accordingly, it is not just a function of the Swiss political system, although the system helps to inculcate these attitudes of mutual respect. Swiss banking secrecy, or "banking privacy" as the Swiss prefer, is a good example. Despite the vast wealth of the country's institutions, which would seem to offer a temptation, the details of personal or corporate banking are seldom revealed in the press. This is true even in the case of foreigners, whom the Swiss would obviously have less reason to favor or protect. "One factor is, people don't want to go to jail," as Markus Gisler of Moneycab points out. This is certainly an element: the Swiss banking laws are strict. Still, one senses a different attitude among Swiss journalists. Among American journalists, and to a large extent the French and British, the fact of any secret is almost a standing insult to the press. Among the Swiss, there is greater acceptance of such privacy. Swiss journalists view themselves as part of "the system" - not because they have been co-opted by special interests or other elites, but because the entire system is accessible. This does not mean that Swiss newspapers do not perform investigative reporting, and with some impressive scoops. Jean Ziegler, the social critic and author of several books about the role of Swiss banks and politicians in World War II and in the present too, credits the press with a "significant change" over the last ten years. Ziegler notes that after years of what he considered a too-reticent approach to the controversy, the Swiss press began breaking stories about private accounts, government archival material, and more recent activities by the Swiss military. Ziegler believes a major factor is simply the competition with Swiss tabloid papers, such as Blick. Blick, although not highly respected by other Swiss press, has broken a number of stories, and put the heat on more traditional papers to follow suit. Not all Swiss, of course, consider these trends wholesome. Even the investigative reporting, though, has a more substantive edge to it. When Tages-Anzeiger broke the story of Elisabeth Kopp's involvement in her husband's financial woes in the late 1980s, the story concerned her actions as a government official - not petty financial activities she was unaware of, or a politician's bedroom paramours. Kopp was federal councilor and the head of Switzerland's Justice Department, in charge of leading an investigation into a firm - and then telephoned her husband to give him a head's up on the gathering storm. Likewise, Swiss media, led by Urs Paul Engeler of Weltwoche, played a key role in breaking the story of Switzerland's P26 and P27 brigades. These were secret Swiss armies that had been organized, trained, and operated without the public's knowledge. Reports like the above have, in the words of Tages-Anzeiger' s Markus Somm, "established new strength in the Swiss press." They have also made some political and journalistic careers. The parliamentary investigation of surreptitious surveillance, for example, was headed by Moritz Leuenberger, later a federal councilor and president of Switzerland. The investigation lifted him to prominence. Swiss radio and television, like the newspapers, have a serious tone. This reflects the general preferences of Swiss audiences for solid content. In the case of the broadcast media, however, structural and economic factors play a role as well. Even today, Swiss public television and radio enjoy an audience share of roughly 50 percent - a figure unheard of in developed countries. Part of this has to do with the high quality of both the services. Part is due to Switzerland's small audience, divided further by four national languages, which makes private stations less tenable. A French radio service in Switzerland, for example, appeals to only about a third of the country's 7 million people - and must compete with nearby broadcasts from France which enjoy a large domestic base to begin with. There are also numerous natural barriers to effective broadcasting - Switzerland's mountains break up signals as well or better than a drive through West Virginia. The largest factor, however, is simply legal. Paradoxically, in this generally pro-market country that values competition and diversity, private TV and radio were essentially outlawed until a few pilot programs were launched in 1981, followed by licensing of private stations in 1984. The man who brought private radio and television to the country, more than any other, is Roger Schawinski. A maverick and rebel in the mode of Bill McGowan (or maybe William Tell), Schawinski began his career as a consumer journalist. In the late 1970s, he began broadcasting from the mountains of Italy, near the Swiss frontier in the Ticino, beyond the reach of Swiss authorities, aiming his message at the lucrative Zürich audience. In the battle to keep him off the airwaves, Swiss authorities seized more then 200 retransmitters in and around Switzerland, which were needed to provide a clean signal. Undeterred, the self-styled "Radio Pirate" kept broadcasting. Within a few years, Schawinski had won a political and economic following, as the Swiss began to wonder why they shouldn't benefit from some media diversity. "He broke the monopoly," as Marco Färber, chief editor of Swiss Radio's German news broadcasts, nods in credit. Today Schawinski's Radio 24 and Tele 24 in Zürich are still struggling to catch up with the public services, but are already making their presence felt in both markets. Thus, to understand Swiss radio and television news and news-related talk and programming, you have to imagine an entire country where half the people listen to NPR or watch the News Hour with Jim Lehrer. "We're not in NPR's league as far as what we can produce; we're a level, maybe two, below," Färber concedes, although from my observation, the Swiss radio and television news are, in fact, quite close in quality to their larger American counterparts. There are, to be sure, differences of scale and funding that give other national media services an advantage. On the other hand, the Swiss public television and radio services are so respected that they do not face such a great competitive disadvantage in gathering news against private news sources. Perhaps the most popular news broadcast in Switzerland, in fact, is a 12:30 radio news broadcast. Radio listenership actually spikes up over the lunch hour to its highest levels of the day, in contrast to the "drive time" spike and low rates of listenership during mid-day in the United States. The Swiss used to go home for lunch, at which time the family listened to the noontime (12:30) broadcast. But even with changing family and work patterns, the broadcast remains huge. Many Swiss tune into the broadcast during their lunch break or at their desk. From noon to 1 p.m., an average of about 17.5 percent of all Swiss over age fifteen are listening to their radios, exceeding 20 percent at 12:30. More than half are tuned into the news. The main evening radio news, anchored by Casper Selg, a former correspondent in the United States, in German at 6 p.m. and repeated at 7 p.m., draws fewer listeners as the audience for radio declines in the evening. But it may be as or even slightly more influential than the noon-time broadcast in content and impact, since there is more time for reporting and features. "Selg in the evening is something of an institution," comments Hans Bärenbold, of the German-language television news service. "He's one of the most respected broadcast journalists in Switzerland." Television lacks the broad selection of U.S. or European offerings, even in the news and news-related programming areas. There are, however, interesting selections. The evening news show, "10 vor 10," which comes on at 9:50, is a kind of info-tainment hybrid combining the news reporting of "20-20" with electronic magazine-tabloid material. "Arena" is a cross between debate shows like "Crossfire" on CNN, and the kind of electronic town hall popularized by Ross Perot, ABC's "Nightline," and others. An "Arena" debate, aired just before a June 2001 referendum on the military, enjoyed a huge audience, pitting Blocher and a leader of the pacifist Gruppe für eine Schweiz ohne Armee against the federal councilor Samuel Schmid, minister of defense. The notable feature of Arena is the co-participants, several dozen of them, who are both well-informed and well-mannered enough to take meaningful part in the discussion without the show dissolving into a shouting match. Like its broader political culture, then, the Swiss press and broadcast media are highly serious, but non-confrontational, and investigative in some sense, but not highly invasive of personal privacy. Critics of the regime question its actions, but not, in general, its fundamental legitimacy. "People are basically satisfied, and we are part of the people," as Weltwoche's Girsberger notes. The journalism of Switzerland reflects the country's ongoing search to refine and perfect itself, but it is not bitter or on a search for powerful figures - Robert Bork, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Bill Gates - to cut down to size. It is creative, even aggressive, but not deconstructionist. One has the feeling that this is what Thomas Jefferson was talking about. Note 1. Despite having a seven-member executive composed of representatives of different parties with disparate ideologies, the Swiss executive's deliberations, and even who votes how on major decisions, is only leaked on rare occasions. See Chap. 6, "Executives."