Why are liberals making insane demands

Everyone calls themselves liberal, but nobody acts like that

Almost everyone today pretends to be “liberal”, but anti-liberal malregulations, market distortions and restrictions on freedom are on the rise like never before.

Almost everyone today pretends to be “liberal”, but anti-liberal malregulations, market distortions and restrictions on freedom are on the rise like never before. It is teeming with hyphenated liberals - green liberals, social liberals, left-wing liberals, who are mainly characterized by the prefix. And the few remaining genuine liberals are placed in an extremist corner as arch-liberal, liberal-conservative or even ordo- and neoliberal. Politicians want to correct the market results socially and protect the individual comprehensively from others, but also from themselves. Well-meaning? Maybe, but it sure turned out badly.

Unnecessary counter-proposals

According to the WEF indicator, Switzerland is always in the top ranks in terms of competitiveness, and according to the UN's latest “Happiness Report”, we are the happiest people on this planet. Is my unease about our future justified, or is it just showmanship? Two trends provide the answer: The first is the replacement of concordance with confrontation or polarization in the political system. In the 1970s, 90 percent of the bourgeois parties in the Bundesrat passed similar slogans in referendums; in the current legislative period, this proportion has fallen to less than half. In referendums, the SP has already voted for the opposition in around half of the proposals. In the current legislative period, the SVP has reached a similar level of opposition. The polarization is thus perfect. However, the problem does not lie primarily in direct democracy, but in parliament and in the Federal Council. Above all, red-green initiatives with a clearly left-wing orientation are vigorously rejected by the people as ever. The unnecessary counter-proposals by the Federal Council and the parliamentary attempts at overregulation are therefore worse.

Pampering prosperity

The second phenomenon I call affluence indulgence (or affluence schizophrenia). We have achieved almost everything economically and in the process succumb to the belief that we know everything better and can do better. So we can afford almost anything. Growth is no longer a priority, but leads to density stress, inequality, and ecological decline. Anti-growth and hostility towards technology grasp broad circles. Demands for renunciation or sufficiency take the place of progress and efficiency. But woe, if the expansion of the welfare state is to be slowed down, housing construction is to be condensed or taxes and fees are to be increased, then one speaks of social cuts, stealing pensions, destruction of the landscape or the "deprivation of" middle class. A few examples: The Federal Council's proposals for old-age insurance are unsustainable because they neither affect the general retirement age nor significantly adjust the conversion rate. Life expectancy is increasing faster than the conversion rate is supposed to decrease. On the revenue side, the hefty 1.5 additional percentage points for VAT are important. To reduce our CO2 emissions by a tenth of a per thousand point of the world value, we are risking our prosperity through a subsidized, forced and planned economy in the energy sector.

Many cities have agreed to traffic calming with percentage traffic reductions. But the number of cars continues to increase, as does the number of kilometers driven. In Basel, living space is to be limited to 35 square meters per person, but at the same time social housing in Zurich is to be increased to 30 percent so that living space remains “affordable”. With the new mandatory form, the mostly bourgeois Federal Council wants to finally enforce the cost rent by preventing market adjustments when changing tenants. And with a 30 percent share of social housing construction, the rental market is also being undermined on the supply side. Private bribery is equated with state corruption, the new food law causes enormous follow-up costs, the Swissness bill is once again only useful for agriculture, but probably sells important manufacturers in the food sector.

Labor market, energy policy, social policy. . .

The once liberal labor market is being regulated and standardized in giant steps, for example through declarations of general liability, a wage police against discrimination or rigorous controls of construction sites or in the hospitality industry. A (liberal) Federal Council officially speaks of “bogus self-employed”, but “bogus invalid” victims are politically taboo. And this despite the fact that a semi-state social bureaucracy has de facto created an “unconditional basic pension” for welfare recipients, which guarantees a family of four the equivalent of gross income from employment of around 100,000 francs.

We are writing the 2000-watt society in cantonal constitutions, but we still need 6000 if we include the gray energy. The cantonal building directors want to tell us how we have to heat without gas and oil in twenty years. For ideological reasons, the left-wing tenants' associations are in favor of the energy transition and the rather crazy thermal insulation. But of course rents shouldn't rise as a result. The homeowners get guaranteed returns for the solar cells on their roofs, but the tenants don't want to shell out the KEV. That is why the bill for the energy transition is ultimately paid by the taxpayer. We have to limit our consumption for ecological reasons, but incomes must of course not fall by a cent. Domestic food costs at Migros or Coop twice or three times as much as abroad, but these national retail giants only target the bad importers. Every farmer collects around 50,000 francs a year from state aid. This means that 100 people in the poorest countries have to survive for a year. But we praise this luxury organic cultivation as a salvation from world hunger.

In social and health policy, completely new care branches with half a million employees have developed, which are privately paid but partly financed by the state. This is what I call bureaucratic-administrative planning or regulatory interventionism, which seems to be particularly flourishing in Switzerland, which is spoiled by affluence.

With the debt brake, we have got the growth in official government expenditure under control, but the regulatory machine is now running all the more lubricated, possibly causing even greater damage to the private sector than higher taxes because costs are not incurred transparently as administrative expenses. A “smart grid” will perhaps dampen or smooth electricity consumption a little, but at high costs for the consumer and accepting an actually planned economy. Parliament and the Federal Council have waved through a new, earmarked tax for all households and large parts of the private sector in order to add billions to a technologically and user-obsolete SRG. The new Food Act and the Swissness Ordinance will further increase the cost of food on the price island of Switzerland.

Quasi-religious ideologies

So there are still and still ideological and quasi-religious currents that fundamentally question the market: The hard Marxist formulas of socialism (nationalization of private property and central price fixing) are a thing of the past, but have been replaced by a softer "social democracy". This is based on egalitarianism and wants to realize social justice through radical redistribution and enforceable legal claims to the state. The subjective notions of justice become more and more absurd, the economic costs rise. The second component of this social democracy is communitarianism, which strives for a democratization of the economy and wants to replace individual incentives (exit) with solidarity and discourse (voice). Regulatory boundaries between the market and the state are not (directly) sought through the collectivization of property and central volume planning, but through the democratization of decision-making processes, e.g. B. on wage levels or structures, change to a “green economy” or simply paternalism in the public interest (cf. curriculum 21, “mid-morning terror” in kindergartens, investor protection for bank customers, alcohol campaign, energy saving). These demands are also popular in middle-class circles.

“Ecologism”, oriented towards the end of the world, preaches sustainability and sufficiency and operates primarily with the spread of fear and horror, scientifically untenable concepts such as the “limits of growth” and, more recently, the 2000-watt society, the ecological footprint or the energy transition. All of this is implemented thanks to the naive belief in the state, which believes it recognizes market failure everywhere, but ignores the failure of politics or the state. Examples are the outsourcing of increasing state activity to special budgets of social security and all kinds of infrastructure funds in subsidies hidden as tax deductions or taxes disguised as fees or insurance contributions. Even worse is the individual tutelage and behavior control through state regulations or moral appeals. Here, the costs of overregulation or incorrect regulation for the private sector quickly exceed the at least transparent taxes or fees. Responsible is primarily the administration, which is becoming independent in view of the weaknesses of the Federal Council and Parliament, and which takes over the scepter in key sectors such as transport, the environment, health, education and, particularly, energy.

Silvio Borner is em. Professor of Economics at the University of Basel.