Learning from What Works; Low Taxes and Financial Privacy Laws Should Be Emulated

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ZURICH -- Economists, political scientists, reporters and pundits spend too much of their time looking at dysfunctional societies and trying to explain why there are poverty, joblessness and hopelessness. In many ways, Haiti is easy to explain - no rule of law and 200 years of corrupt and incompetent governments. Switzerland is the polar opposite. It has almost no corruption and has the rule of law with honest, competent judges and government administrators. The question should be, What can we learn from the Switzerlands of the world about how to do things right rather than, What is wrong with the Haitis of the world? Switzerland manages to run a smaller government as a share of gross domestic product than the United States and most other countries while providing a higher level of service, security, prosperity and freedom. How does it do that?

In many ways, Switzerland seems unlikely to be such a long-term global success story. It is a small country with religious and language differences; nevertheless, the Swiss have managed to live peaceably together for a long time. It has few natural resources, yet it has managed to have one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. It has a world-class health care system, which is privately run. Health care insurance is subsidized, and everyone has access regardless of income, but there is no public option.

Switzerland is not perfect, but it is clean, prosperous, well-managed, pleasant, humane and very free. In the more than three decades I have been coming to Switzerland, I have been convinced that the United States and the rest of the world can learn from many things the Swiss have done. The Swiss are practical rather than ideological, but they do revere liberty. They protect private property and free markets and restrain themselves from rampant deficit spending. The Swiss maintain a sound currency, which has been rising against the euro, dollar and pound. Capital, goods and services, with few exceptions, move freely into and out of the country.

Long ago, the Swiss understood that most things government needs to do and constructively does are at the local level. So, unlike in most modern nation-states, local government has the bulk of the resources and activities, while the central government remains relatively small and less important in the daily lives of the people. In the U.S., roughly two-thirds of government is at the federal level, and one third is at the state and local level. Switzerland is just the opposite, with roughly two-thirds of government being at the state (canton) and local level. Both the United States and Switzerland are federal republics. If one reads the Federalist Papers and the other works of the American Founding Fathers, it is clear they envisioned a nation that operates much more like Switzerland than one with the large central government the U.S. now has.

The maximum marginal tax rate at the federal level in Switzerland is about 11. …