From Avenir Suisse <[email protected]>
Subject swiss insights – Avenir Suisse’s Monthly Report (07/2019)
Date July 31, 2019 12:54 PM
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swiss insights – Avenir Suisse’s Monthly Report (07/2019)

** Focus of the Month:
Democratically Digital ([link removed])

** Other Insights

An International Think Tank Report on Inequality and Equality ([link removed])

Why Swiss Banks Should Benefit from Blockchain Technology ([link removed])

Digital Education Is More Than Just Media Literacy ([link removed])

** Democratically Digital
Innovation and direct democracy are two core Swiss attributes. Digitization would be a huge opportunity for the development of the Swiss political system.

by Haig Simonian, our external editor

The locals crowding the main square of Glarus in the driving rain for the canton’s annual voter’s assembly (Landesgemeinde) personify Switzerland’s hallowed direct democracy. Speakers address the crowd directly, and decisions, however important, are taken by open show of hand. Not that long ago, many smaller Swiss cantons voted similarly.

But just as polling booths, and, later, postal voting, replaced physical assemblies, so technology today offers the chance for further simplification. In theory – and in practice in various places abroad – voting can now be done electronically via assorted technologies.

Digitization is advancing and offers many chances to improve the quality of democracy. (Wikimedia Commons)

The frequency of federal, cantonal and local elections, let alone regular popular referendums and initiatives, would make Switzerland an ideal candidate for such innovations. But the country, which so often tops surveys about innovation, has been a laggard. Attempts to fully introduce electronic identities and e-voting have failed so far. The Swiss Post recently ditched its ill-fated approach. Shortly after, the city canton of Geneva cancelled its own courtship with e-voting.

Some worry
Many Swiss voice understandable concerns. Privacy and security are pivotal issues in e-voting and electronic identity. And any electoral system must be totally resilient against outside interference and attacks.

But such legitimate worries are insufficient to impede further work on e-voting, as a new Avenir Suisse study ([link removed]) argues. Authors Fabian Schnell and Matthias Ammann highlight at least three areas where technology could allow big gains, warranting further discussion.

The first is collective signatures. Switzerland’s system of popular initiatives and referendums is based on gathering, and then verifying, thousands of names. Digitizing these processes would save both time and money. One academic study cited estimates the cost of gathering signatures at between CHF 2 and CHF 6 apiece today.

Then there is what the authors call “e-discussion” – the whole process of opinion forming. Obviously, the internet presents many risks of “fake news” and external interference. But experience shows the Swiss are a sober lot who would not easily be swayed by dubious propaganda, the authors note.

Elections are the real prize
Finally, there is e-voting, where the benefits speak for themselves. Apart from convenience, e-voting would help to involve Swiss citizens living abroad and make life easier for locals with disabilities.

Of course, reform should not come without safeguards, they acknowledge. In collecting signatures, for example, the efficiency gains from digitization should be counterbalanced by significantly raising the support threshold required. Rather than the roughly 2 percent of registered votes, as at present, the minimum signature level should rise to around 6 percent, they argue.

Acknowledge progress
In essence, digital technology is advancing so rapidly that it would be wrong for the Swiss to bury their heads in the sand. Moreover, Switzerland’s federal structure is like a lab allowing to learn by experience.

The Swiss are already adept at using their smartphones for everything from buying train tickets to paying their bills. Expanding these functions to include voting – making direct democracy even more direct – seems like a small step, provided the safeguards are there. As the authors note, “digitization offers many chances to improve the quality of democracy ([link removed]) .” Well said.
[link removed]

Digital Direct Democracy ([link removed])
by Fabian Schnell and Matthias Ammann, avenir debatte, 80 pages

Digitization has unleashed bold hopes and irrational fears. Digitizing democratic processes has elicited similar reactions. How might digital democracy affect Swiss citizens' rights? Avenir-Suisse's new study on “Digital Direct Democracy” illustrates the possibilities of electronic voting, but also highlights the challenges and sets out a roadmap for successfully developing tools for direct democracy.

[link removed]

An International Think Tank Report on Inequality and Equality ([link removed])
by Peter Grünenfelder, Natanael Rother, Samuel Rutz and Marco Salvi

Over the past few decades, inequality has fallen sharply between countries. However, a
person’s country of birth is still the largest single determinant of his or her income. This
publication spotlights the factors behind inequality. It argues that the international
prominence of the subject masks less well-known country-specific factors, which is why there
cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution.

** Do you have any suggestion?
Please send your feedback to [email protected] (mailto:[email protected])

Avenir Suisse is the leading Swiss think tank which promotes open-market ideas in economics, politics and society at large. Although continuing to publish on Switzerland’s domestic politics, the think tank aims to address Switzerland’s growing importance in the international community and global economy. Avenir Suisse’s English-language monthly newsletter aims to reunite people and institutions interested in obtaining regular valuable insights on Switzerland, useful in international discussions and as a source of comparisons.

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