EN: Reuven Brenner o demokracji bezpośredniej

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EN: Reuven Brenner o demokracji bezpośredniej

Reuven Brenner znany ekonomista z kanadyjskiego uniwersytetu w Montrealu (Quebec, Kanada)wypowiada się pozytywnie na temat demokracji bezpośredniej w Szwajcarii, zwraca jednocześnie uwagę na problemy i różnice w demokracji bezpośredniej serwowanej w Kaliforni. Ogólnie wniosek jest taki, że Kalifornia ma jeszcze sporo do nauczenia się.



Swiss Direct Democracy: Good; Now What About California's?
Reuven Brenner and Stephen Shipman, 11.01.10, 12:00 PM EDT
It has brought about greater accountability to Switzerland. But California's attempt has placed two conflicting propositions on its ballot, potentially confusing voters.

Besides the cheese-like, full-of-holes bank-secrecy tradition, the Swiss have a less publicized secret: They uniquely practice direct democracy through referenda and initiative. If anyone wonders why one hears more of minuscule Monaco's or Luxemburg's politics than of Switzerland's, the answer lies in this secret.

But the referenda and initiatives in the United States, in California particularly, are significantly different from their Swiss precedent. Whereas the Swiss have solved one of the major problems using this political process, Western democracies still face the issue of how much government should spend, and on what.

The mismatch of taxing and spending without accountability at all levels of government cannot be achieved without their use. Whether "government spending" is "investment" depends not on how economists and governments count it but on whether or not the tax-paying citizens expect to earn back more than the expenditures over a certain time horizon.

Economists can categorize government spending on infrastructure and education as investment as they please. However, roads that are rarely used, schools and colleges that graduate illiterate students and housing projects that disintegrate are nothing of the kind.

How should society decide how much to spend on health care, education, infrastructure and welfare? How much of these expenditures is "investment" and how much is misspent on growing bureaucracy and corruption? How can societies choose?

No macroeconomic theorizing can answer these questions. Calculations about the value of entitlements are relevant only in the sense that they give vague estimates about the commitments. But they miss the essential question: Are there flexible political institutions in place that can correct mistaken policies quickly when governments make too many commitments?

Referenda and initiatives in Switzerland, embedded in its constitution, have been the long-lasting, stable political solution answering this question. Here is a sample of issues on which Swiss referenda were held:

A popular initiative in 1946 made "urgent" federal laws subject to obligatory referendum within one year, though government and Parliament were against it. Seventy-six percent of the Swiss rejected joining the United Nations, though government and Parliament wanted to join; in recent years the Swiss have voted separately on issues like extra air pollution devices in motor vehicles, lawful abortion, the introduction of a value-added tax and increasing grants for universities and research. All these initiatives were voted down in national referenda.

Other initiatives that were all accepted: consumer protection and equal rights for women and men, the purchase of airplanes for the military in 1993 and agreements with the European Community in 2000. A series of referenda even solved troublesome linguistic barriers of that country. The minority French-speaking canton of Jura was carved out from the German canton of Bern, though Jurans represented only 7% of the canton of Bern's population. A national referendum in 1978 certified Jura as the newest Swiss canton in the confederation.

Linguistic tensions were not the only ones leading to changes of internal borders. Taxes were another source and led to the creation of two half-cantons, Basle-Town and Basle-Country. The Country decreased taxes while the Town canton increased them.

The first prospered; the latter lost 13% of its population, stagnated and eventually reduced taxes. Redesigning borders on paper was a far less costly undertaking than forcing people to move while allowing the Swiss to shape the provision of public goods and control their governments' spending. While not common occurrences in Swiss history, their possibility checks the cantons' governments and holds them accountable.

This brings us to Propositions 20 and 27 in California. Both address the issue of reshaping congressional boundaries. Gerrymandering has been one reason California became politically dysfunctional. So why does shifting borders solve problems in Switzerland, but may not in California? The answer is that in Switzerland it brought about greater accountability. California, still somewhat haphazardly experimenting with these institutions, has placed two conflicting propositions on the ballot, potentially confusing voters.

After the last census the elected politicians drew congressional boundaries so that all incumbents would be protected. In 2008 California voters passed Proposition 11 (The Voters FIRST Act) which gave the responsibility of redrawing the State Senate and State Assembly district lines to the new Citizens Redistricting Commission. On Nov. 2, another initiative, Proposition 20, would give this commission the same power to draw congressional boundaries, again eliminating the elected politicians from the process. California's politicians did not like this, and so placed proposition 27 on the ballot. It would undo the 2008 initiative and re-establish the legislature's power to draw the boundary line, thereby eliminating the Citizens Redistricting Commission.

Another initiative, Proposition 25, would lower the percentage of legislative votes required to pass the annual state budget. Current law requires a two-thirds majority; Proposition 25 lowers this to a simple majority. If passed, the Democratic majority could cut out the Republicans completely and pass whatever budget they like.

The passing of this proposition would not be a problem if the Legislature could be held accountable. But if Proposition 27 passes the Democratic majority could draw new districts and insulate themselves from voters, regardless of how they voted on the budget issue. If both 20 and 27 pass, the state's political disarray would continue. However, if Californians vote for Proposition 20 and against Propositions 25 and 27, then gradually they could restore accountability to their state's spending and taxing schemes.