Voters in successful neoliberal economies have no interest in Pikettynomics
Or at least that’s the inference I draw from an email sent to me by Zurich resident Marco Salvi:
Dear Professor SumnerI would like to bring to your attention that the Swiss voters have rejected today the introduction of a new federal inheritance tax of 20% by a more than 2 to 1 margin (official results are still pending). This is yet another setback for the Piketty Agenda in Switzerland. In the past few years voters have refused to tax rich ex-pats more heavily, to introduce a federal minimum wage, to increase the wealth tax (in Zurich) or to limit the ratio of the highest wages to the lowest in a company to 1:12. Non-pension wealth inequality in Switzerland is among the highest in the world.
When the political right has badly mismanaged an economy over many decades (think Argentina or Venezuela), Piketty’s ideas will have some appeal to the voters. But successful neoliberal economies with political decentralization and a high level of direct democracy would prefer being rich to being equal, as we can see from the recent Swiss elections.
The Swiss government also supplies very informative graphics for their 4 recent referenda. I recommend taking a look; you’ll see that some votes require just a majority, while others also require a majority of cantons. The funding of public TV vote was particularly interesting. The vote broke down on the basis of language, and squeaked by with strong French support, despite mild opposition in the more heavily populated German-speaking areas. (You may need to click on an arrow to bring up the map.)
In the past, I’ve argued that Switzerland has by far the best political system on Earth, indeed no other country is even close. During the 20th century, Switzerland had more national referenda than the rest of the world combined. Meanwhile 30 million Chinese people starved to death because of the policies of Mao. No referendum was held on the Great Leap Forward.
So much for the “democracy doesn’t work because the voters are stupid, we need a strong leader” theory.
I consider myself to be reasonably well informed. I generally know which party is in power in countries like Sweden. And yet at no time in my life could I name a single Swiss political party, or political figure. There’s a lesson there somewhere. Perhaps the lesson is that you don’t want to live in a country where it matters a lot who gets elected President.