A year and some after Switzerland’s plucky protofascist poster art collective cum Trumpist political party, the SVP (Swiss People’s Party), screamed Verfassungsbruch! (lit. “Constitution break!”; fig., accusative: “you’re breaking the Constitution!“) on the floor of Parliament at the admitted non-implementation of their unimplementable vandalism of the Swiss constitution in the name of nativism, they’re back at it again with the almost-reasonable-sounding Selbstbestimmungsinitiative (lit. “self-determination initiative”; SBI if you’re into hashtags). One has to read the details to see how broken it is.
I don’t think I’ve ever written a completely optimisic post about politics, but today seems as good a day as any to try. Today was an Abstimmungssonntag (“referendum Sunday”) here, and the most important question before Switzerland at the national level was a revocation of the federal government’s authority to levy a compulsory television and radio fee: NoBillag. I’ve already written about this referendum, and how it represented not a mere return of four hundred francs per year to every household, not a mere privatization of a few television and radio stations (one of which I’m listening to right now), but a frontal assault on public media and an attempt to drive the country’s media landscape into low-information territory; in other words noch ein Schritt zum kriechenden Beitritt der Schweiz in die vereinigten Staaten(1).
My opinion on Billag(1) is complicated. It seems like it could fairly simply be replaced by payments from the general fund, overseen by a non-political body to evaluate applications for funding from SRF and regional providers. What we have in NoBillag, instead, is an attempt to Americanize the Swiss media landscape. Thankfully, I’m not the first to point this out, and I hope I won’t be the last. tl;dr, hey Switzerland, you want Bundesrat Trump?
On the shores of Lake Sarnen in central Switzerland, there’s a museli factory. (Of course there is.) It makes many different kinds of muesli for various markets. One of these is an organic chocolate-amaranth concoction that’s basically the only thing my daughter will eat for dinner this week. I happened to glance at the ingredients, and it occurred to me that there are basically three kinds of people in the world.
This is going to make me sound somewhat more libertarian than I actually am, but here goes:
The most important duty of a state is its effective control over and responsible application of the monopoly on violence, delegated to it by its citizens, in the service of the protection of its citizens, and the protection of all people present within its territory.
All the other trappings of statehood — a currency, a post office, universal healthcare, the name of your state on a placard at the UN General Assembly, some transportation infrastructure of some sort, passports, some stamps you can apply to passports issued by other states, a national Olympic team and/or Eurovision Song Contest entry (as appropriate), a flag — are nice to have, but not really essential.
Putting aside the discomfort of being an immigrant in a mildly xenophobic land, and the hypothetical ballistic solution to Switzerland’s _furr’ner_ problem, I’ll add my voice to the growing chorus of confusion and ask what, in reality, just happened. So here, translated into English, is the new Article 121a of the Constitution of the Swiss Confederation:
Article 121a Immigration Control
Switzerland controls immigration independently. The number of residence permits for foreigners in Switzerland is limited by annual quota and a maximum limit. The maximum limit applies to asylum-seekers as well. The right to settlement, family union, and access to social services are subject to limitation. Quotas are to be defined to the advantage of Swiss citizens in the economic interest of Switzerland. Cross-border commuters are covered as well. The application of an employer, level of integration in Swiss society, and financial independence are especially influential criteria [in the decision to grant a residence permit]. No treaty may be signed in opposition to this article. The details are a matter of law.
In order to outline a more effective defense against Ausländer than the Masseneinwanderungsinitiative can provide, and with a deferential nod to Randall Munroe, I decided to do some back of the napkin estimates of what it would take to make Switzerland a literal island. tl;dr: it’s probably not worth it.
Every time the Rovian Swiss People’s Party (often described as “extreme right” in the English-speaking press, though they’re really more nativist than explicitly fascist) manages to ram one of its populist cries for attention through the initiative process, I wonder why I, as a foreigner, insist on staying in a country sointent on doing silly and dangerous things to its constitution in service of its hate of us. Over time, Switzerland feels less and less welcoming. But self-deportation is exactly what they want me to do, a fact that strengthens my resolve to stay here long enough to become the aged burden to the social-insurance scheme the political discussion here assumes that I am.
Over the past couple of days, this article has been brought to my attention from multiple angles. The basic idea — that the US Postal Service’s collapse and the problem of banking deserts in America’s poorer and more rural neighborhoods are two problems with a single solution — is an intriguing one. As an American emigrant customer of the Swiss post bank, it seems like a good idea, but I’m not sure the history of American and European financial services are similar enough to allow us to predict the success of the former from the latter.
I’ve been reading Tom Standage’s “Writing on the Wall” of late, which I can heartily recommend. It’s less subtle than “The Victorian Internet”, which counts among my favorite books of all time, but that was written before Twitter, and Twitter’s made us all less subtle, I think. What strikes me about his new book is not his thesis — that the “social media revolution” is nothing really new, just the application of new technology to our apparently instinctive love of gossip — but how well it illustrates that much of the present public policy debate over new media technology is very, very old.