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Why Does Direct Democracy Work in Switzerland?

By Matthew Yglesias  

"Why Does Direct Democracy Work in Switzerland?"

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Stadttheater, Berne, Switzerland (my photo, available under cc license)

Stadttheater, Berne, Switzerland (my photo, available under cc license)

With Brad DeLong’s caveats I agree with him that Christopher Caldwell’s FT article on the fiscal fiasco in California is quite good. But I do have one additional doubt. Brad wasn’t happy about “a pointless and unfair slam at Venezuela.” The slam in question was Caldwell’s “The state’s laws are shaped by plebiscites to a degree unmatched outside of Venezuela.”

That’s not, however, just pointless. It’s actually wrong. California’s laws are shaped by plebiscites to a degree unmatched outside of Switzerland. And yet Switzerland is about as well-governed as anyplace else you care to name. It seems to me that that is what critics of California-style direct democracy need to grapple with. Swiss political institutions are different from California in a whole bunch of ways. But they both rely heavily on plebiscites. And the results are quite different.

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