Suffering from the Dagg Effect?

Natanael Rother
Insights Newsletter
17 August, 2018

Travelling to New Zealand will be a tremendous shock to the system, a couple of my peers tried to convince me before I left home in Zurich. It was - but not for the reasons everyone told me.
The travelling was super smooth. Changing planes in one of the eastern hubs was a piece of cake and and for the first time in years, I read a book straight from beginning to end (The have and the have nots by Branko Milanovic, for those looking for a page-turner).

The shock I got, however, hit me a lot more than a jetlag, boredom or any other travelling inconveniences ever could. What was challenged was my view on Swiss federalism – something close to my heart.
For years now I have been trying to explain at home, why voters, politicians, and even members of local government don’t appreciate Swiss federalism enough. Back home having at least some sort of views of how our federal system should get ready for the future is rare. And yet, here I am on the other side of the world hearing stories of how great Switzerland’s federal system is and that others would be far better off if only they had what we have.
It’s only recently that I read The Outside of the Asylum by my now-colleague Eric Crampton who described the state of mind of Kiwis who don’t know how lucky they are as the Dagg Effect. That clearly got me thinking.
(For the non-kiwi readers: The story is linked to a song of NZ Comedian John Clarke’s most famous character Fred Dagg. So technically it only works for New Zealand, but the deeper meaning of being unhappy with how things stand matches for Switzerland as well).
Have I ended up being one of those doom and glooms that never tire of pointing out the negative things in life? I guess only time will tell.
As for now, I am convinced I have not. People here in New Zealand don’t just say they like Swiss federalism, but they also ask what specific tasks local authorities should be in charge of and how I think it is possible to decentralise not only public expenditure but also public income.
These, of course, are the questions we are struggling with back home. Not because our system wasn’t neatly implemented but because it’s essential to rethink how we do things from time to time.

Natanael Rother is a Research Fellow at Swiss think tank Avenir Suisse and has joined the Initiative team for six weeks.

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