We libertarians have all heard the retort, “So you want to be like Somalia?” whenever we suggest that we’d prefer something a wee bit smaller than a nuclear superpower surveillance state. Evidently, to some deep thinkers, those are the only two alternatives: What we have today, or Somalia.
A related rhetorical flash of brilliance meets those who might suggest shrinking the federal government and allowing more state and local control over our affairs. “So you want the failed Articles of Confederation, do you?”
In either case we need to reject the false dichotomy, that these are the only two alternatives. Here’s how I like to argue the federalism question.
I say, let’s first have a quick quiz. Who are the leaders of the following countries?
- The United States
- The U.K.
- North Korea
I suspect that most readers will score 8 or 9 out of 10, with these names readily available at the tip of their tongues. But I doubt that 1 in 100 readers could name the President of Switzerland.
OK. Maybe that is a trick question. Switzerland has not been in the news recently. How about name any Swiss president, from any time in history? Too hard? How about any Swiss political leader, at any time in history? Anyone?
Honestly, the best I could come up with was Albert Gallatin, Swiss-born, who served as Secretary of the Treasury under presidents Jefferson and Madison.
The point here, of course, is that Switzerland is also a confederation of states, without a strong centralized government. They have a Federal Council as an executive branch, and the Swiss President is picked from among them, but has little power himself. That is why the Swiss president is not in the news a lot. He does not have a lot of power. The power is in the individual cantons. This seems to be a stable political system that has longevity and which supports prosperity and individual freedom. Note also that Switzerland scores higher than any of the above countries, including the U.S., in the Index of Economic Freedom: Country Rankings.
So, as libertarians, we have more than one model of a loose confederation we can look at. We’re not limited to 18th century examples. Avoid the false dichotomy.