I have just returned from a short business trip to Geneva in Switzerland and apart from the usual chatter about the disasters that have befallen the banking system – including such titans as UBS – the chatter in the cafes was about voters’ recent decision to allow heroin to be given to drug addicts in medical centres. Switzerland’s experiments with a more liberal approach to drug use has not been without unfortunate result: I remember that some time ago, there was a park in Zurich that got the unfortunate title, “needle park”, on account of the number of folk who used to congregate there from all over to get their fix of heroin. But perhaps that is a sort of example of how, if you have “public spaces” – owned by the nation and hence owned by no-one in particular – what might be a matter of private behaviour can lead to “negative externalities”. The solution, maybe, is for drug users to indulge their habits on private property with the consent of the owners of said; then the issue ceases to be one on which the polity feels a need to express a view one way or the other.
But the Swiss are nothing if not contradictory and the locals do not seem to share a very coherent conception of what the state can or should be able to tell people to do, but I do sense that there is less of a nanny state culture than in Britain. The locals tell me that there is, still, more of a culture of self-responsibility than in some other European nations. But the contradictions are odd: while approving the heroin measure, Swiss electors rejected a proposal to make marijuana legal and to be able to grow it for personal use. And yet this is a nation where smoking continues to happen in restaurants; firearms ownership is far more liberal than in the UK; ditto things like knives and swords; bank secrecy, while not quite as solid as before, remains; and the nation, to its credit, remains cussedly uninterested in joining the EU or allowing itself to be bullied by tax collectors in places such as Germany and the US.
And the chocolate tastes pretty good as well. Yummm…..