Switzerland’s direct democracy has roots as early as 1291, when Swiss peasants had a wider range of rights than those in other countries. Federal referendums began in 1848. Switzerland does not produce official poverty statistics, but the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) measured its 2010 relative poverty rate at 9.3 percent for children, and at 25.8 percent for people over age 75. Its Gini coefficient is 0.29.

Whereas banking, business, and military neutrality have brought wealth to cities like Zurich, the rural Alpine region has always been poor. Largely ignored by historians, famine, eviction, and exile have been constant realities throughout history. With the personal and collective identity of people in poverty unknown, historians such as Pierre Ducrey in 1986 blame them as isolated ...

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