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Opinion
Leonid Bershidsky

Brave Swiss Vote Down Fat Minimum Wage

The Swiss voted down a $4,300-per-month minimum wage. Their entire voting record suggests they can be trusted to make smart decisions, so why can't voters in other countries?
Swiss democracy, standing fast. Photographer: Johannes Simon/Getty Images
Swiss democracy, standing fast. Photographer: Johannes Simon/Getty Images

Can direct democracy work? A Swiss referendum on a national minimum wage suggests it's not as bad as some politicians would have you believe.

The question was whether to establish an hourly minimum of 22 francs (about $25), which would amount to about $4,300 a month and be among the world's most generous. Putting it to a popular vote seemed a risky move: Why wouldn't people vote to insure themselves against poverty? Other referendums, such as a February vote to limit immigration with strict quotas, did not bode well. Government officials and business leaders warned that the move would harm the country's competitiveness and undermine the economy. The oilfield services company Weatherford International Ltd., with $15 billion in 2013 revenue, even recommended that its shareholders approve relocating the company's headquarters from the low-tax Swiss canton of Zug to Ireland. One major reason: Ireland's legal and regulatory environment "is more predictable and stable" because the country does not have direct democracy, whereby laws and even the constitution can be changed by referendum.