By Arnold Kling
I am trying to learn more about the political system of Switzerland. The country has 23 cantons, each with its own parliament! I can find the population of each canton and the number of members in each parliament. I am hoping to find a figure for the budget in each canton. Right now, all I have is the total budget of all the cantons, which is about 16 percent of Swiss GDP, with spending at the national and municipal levels at 12 and 10 percent, respectively.
(I think that the figures that I seek are at the Swiss Federal Financing Administration web site here?, but not in English, and the documents seem to be PDF’s, which I don’t know how to translate automatically.)
Switzerland has a population of about 7.5 million, so that it is comparable to a U.S. state. For example, Maryland has about 5.5 million.
So a canton in Switzerland is roughly comparable to a county in Maryland. But while Montgomery County has 9 council members, a similar-sized canton might have a parliament of 100 members.
In addition, Switzerland has a tradition of allowing people to vote down unpopular legislation. They form a petition drive, and the legislation goes onto the ballot as a referendum.
It seems to me that the political system in Switzerland is much more decentralized than that in the United States. I am not saying that it is ideal, or even preferable. But the mere fact that Switzerland is not a failed state is intriguing. It suggests that there are viable alternatives to the U.S. model of inequality and excess when it comes to power.
My interest in Switzerland was sparked by Bruno Frey’s book, Happiness, which I’ve recommended. For more on the political economy of Switzerland, I recommend papers by Lars Feld (more). On the issue of voter referenda and direct democracy, I recommend John Matsusaka (for example).