Swiss Voters Reject a Minimum Wage

by John Fund

Is there any country whose voters have consistently exercised as much common sense as Switzerland? On Sunday, the nation that declined to join the European Union or adopt the euro as its currency turned down a mandatory minimum wage proposal in a popular vote. An astonishing 76 percent of Swiss rejected the notion, and it lost in all 23 cantons from left-leaning Geneva to tradition-bound Appenzell. Currently, the wealthy Alpine country of 8 million people has no minimum wage.

Nor is the vote an aberration. Just last year, Swiss citizens rejected a proposal which wold have limited the salary of a company’s highest-paid employee to no more than twelve times that of its lowest-paid employee.

Switzerland’s laissez-faire approach to economics has paid off. The Economist Intelligence Unit frequently ranks the “quality of life” in 111 countries and has found Switzerland a stellar achiever in the nine factors of its index: material well-being, health, political stability, both family and community life, climate, job security, political freedom, and gender equality. Indeed, when ranking “human misery” among all countries, Switzerland ranked at the very bottom.  

The Swiss jealously guard their prosperity, and are wary of populist appeals to change economic policies.  The Neue Zurcher Zeitung, the nation’s leading newspaper, noted that  “the people as a matter of principle do not want the state to fix salaries – and much less so in a nationwide scheme” that ignores regional or industry variations. The tabloid newspaper Blick’s analysis was headlined “Slap In The Face of The Left” and noted the election result will weaken the position of trade unions. Leftists had insisted that a living wage in the expensive country had to be a minimum of at least $25 an hour. The voters — including many of modest means — disagreed because they realized a minimum wage would undermine job creation and punish workers with few qualifications looking for work.

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