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Swiss voters topple fighter jets, minimum wage votes in latest referendum

This jet - one of Saab's Gripen series - won't be headed to Switzerland anytime soon.
This jet - one of Saab's Gripen series - won't be headed to Switzerland anytime soon.

Swiss voters seemed to be of one mind during voting on the country's latest referendum, which struck down increases to the minimum wage as well as a deal with Saab that reportedly saved voted almost 13 billion dollars.

Perhaps most important to Americans, the people of Switzerland shot down a request from its military to spend $3.5 billion (or, 3.1 billion francs) on 22 new jets from Saab. The vote was defeated by a narrow margin - 53% against new fighter jets vs. 47% in favor of them - a mere 7 points separating the victor from the vanquished. Ueli Maurer, the nation's defense minister and the man who acted as the deal's largest supporter, expressed his concern about the holes in Switzerland's "aviation security."

Hakan Buskhe, CEO of Saab, remained upbeat, even in the face of a 7 point drop in Saab stock. “Our focus is helping countries protect their ways of life, which we do by serving the global market with world-leading products, including Gripen." According to Bloomberg, Saab's stock misfortune is "the steepest intraday decline since July 19." The bill was defeated after it became apparent that the 22 fighter jets ordered from Saab would cost the voters an additional 10 billion francs (which is still a lot of American dollars) over the course of a decade.

The other matter taking center stage in Switzerland's most recent visit to the ballot box was the issue of minimum wage. At present, Switzerland has no established minimum wage, but the median wage is around $37 dollars an hour. For a point of reference, the median wage in America is around $25 bucks an hour.

Trade unions throughout the country advocated raising the minimum wage in Switzerland from its current level (nothing) to the highest level in the world ($24.70). Unions argued that Switzerland's extremely high cost of living necessitated some kind of cushion for the country's lower class. Swiss voters, for their part, totally disagreed with that sentiment. A little more than 76% of the population said "no way" to the world's highest minimum wage, saying that an increase in the minimum wage would drive the country's costs even higher than they already were.

At a press conference in the Swiss capital of Bern, Economy Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann said, "A fixed salary has never been a good way to fight the problem. If the initiative had been accepted, it would have led to workplace losses, especially in rural areas where less qualified people have a harder time finding jobs," he said. "The best remedy against poverty is work."

According to the Associated Press: "The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which adjusts figures for spending power, lists the highest current minimum wage as Luxembourg's at $10.66 an hour, followed by France at $10.60, Australia at $10.21, Belgium at $9.97, and the Netherlands at $9.48. The U.S. wage, an adjusted $7.11 down from the actual $7.25 rate, came 10th on the list."

Voting referendums are common in Switzerland. The country is marked by its weak centralized government; most of the nation's political power is held in it's 26 cantons (that's what they call states). As a result, national policy changes require countrywide votes several times a year.

Yesterday, two other referendums were addressed. In the first, a 63.5% majority of the population decided that convicted pedophiles shouldn't be allowed to work with children. I can't decide if the most shocking thing about that vote was either that an entire 35% of the population thought sex offenders should still be able to hang with kids or that one official actually had concerns about the bill because (and I am not joking here) it would prevent young adults from having sex with their minor significant others.

The second referendum saw support for rural doctors getting a bump thanks to an overwhelming 88% of the vote. Imagine anything getting that kind of support stateside. Maybe we're too entrenched in our beliefs. Or maybe the government never asks such easy questions. Should we help country doctors care for people more effectively? Duh!

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