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Public Affairs

What Tasks Should a State fulfill?

Some years ago, a well-established political party in Switzerland coined the slogan:

"More freedom, less state!"

Would you assert honestly that you have never been in a situation where you felt restricted by law and did not understand why you were not expected to do this or that? Did you ever love to pay taxes? So we're likely to spontaneously agree to this slogan! But as good as it sounds, it might well be dangerous to our liberty. Why this?

There are only very few things in life that do affect only one single person and these are normally not regulated by laws. When it comes to laws there is always some reason behind it - protecting the legitimate interests and liberty of some other person. I may not expect that my liberty is granted unless I do respect the liberty of others..

Living together in a civilized society is only possible if there are clear rules (even more than one might think) and if everybody does respect them. But if some people think they are strong enough to disregard the rules, those being treated unfair might eventually turn into an angry mob. This principle holds true for small groups as well as for whole nations. Civilization and democracy are all about defining a set of rules that are acceptable to everybody.

From this we can already derive the most important thing the state has to take care of:

The state must ensure that all human beings living on its territory may live in dignity and liberty and that the wealthy do not only talk of their responsibility for the weak but also act correspondingly.

If the state (parliament, government, administration, judges) makes a good job, not only the weak will profit, but also the mighty: there will be political stability and stable, well established rules will allow entrepreneurs to plan huge investments without taking high (political) risks. Otherwise they will not only risk losses due to riots or revolutions, they will also refrain from profitable investments just because of the risks.

If you think this is too simple, take a look at how successful managers of the world's largest companies do decide and you will find that political stability is indeed a key factor. It is not the mechanism that makes the difficulty, but rather the process of building democracy, the negocitating the details of such a social contract - depending on the economic situation of a country as well as on its culture. And last, but not least, both wealthy and poor must be convinced that this contract works and develop trust in it. This may take a very long time: Switzerland for example needed some 150 years from 1798 (Swiss Revolution) to 1948 (introduction of social security insurance for the aged and handicapped) until the basics were defined.


A Definition of Public Affairs

According to Switzerland's Constitution

It might be worthwile to go into some detail and have a look into how Switzerland's constitution defines public affairs. The basic principles of Switzerland's constitution have remained unchanged since it was created in 1848, but it has been amended organically since to take into account new developments in society. In 1999 the structure and language have been modernized radically while the substance remained unchanged. So we may find there an example of a social contract that is at the same time proven by 150 years of experience and very up-to-date.

  1. The state protects the freedom and the rights of the people and preserves the independence and security of the country.
  2. The state advances common welfare, sustainable development, internal solidarity and cultural variety of the country.
  3. The state provides for equal opportunities between citizens as far as possible.
  4. The state promotes the durable preservation of the natural bases of life and a peaceful and just international order.

Each person takes responsibility for himself/herself and contributes according to his/her capabilities to the accomplishment of the tasks in state and society.

(translation of: Switzerland's constitution, articles 2 and 6

Social Aims of a Modern Democratic State

  1. The state supports in addition to personal responsibility and private initiative, that:
    1. each person participates in social security;
    2. each person receives the care necessary for his/her health;
    3. families as communities of adults and children are protected and encouraged;
    4. persons fit for work can earn their living through work under appropriate conditions;
    5. each person will find an appropriate dwelling for himself/herself and his/her family at affordable conditions;
    6. children, adulescents as well as adults get education and may develop their capabilities;
    7. children and adulescents are aided in their development to become independent and socially responsible persons and that they are supported in their social, cultural and political integration.
  2. The state ensures that each person is protected against the economic consequences of age, invalidity, illness, accidents, unemployment, motherhood, orphanage and widowhood.
(translation of: Switzerland's constitution, article 41

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