The United States government could use some help from Switzerland to solve problems with taxation, health insurance, pension plans and foreign policy. So says Carbondale author Werner Neff in his new book, The United States An Old-Fashioned Country?: A European immigrant’s impressions of his new home country, recently released by AuthorHouse, an Indiana-based, self-publishing company.
Neff, 65, a retired Swiss economist with a Ph.D in political science from Berlin’s Freie Universität, first visited the Roaring Fork Valley in 2001. He met Carbondale resident Mary Anne Colonna at a concert in Aspen and they married a year later.
After seven years in Switzerland, Mary Anne was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. She returned to Carbondale in 2009 to live out the rest of her days near friends. As her husband, Neff was able to obtain permanent residency status and immigrated to the U.S. one year later.
When Mary Anne died in 2010, Neff decided to remain at their home in River Valley Ranch. He says he often wrote to friends in Switzerland about his impressions of life in the U.S., but his experiences navigating Social Security and the U.S. health care system while caring for his wife inspired him to pen the book.
“In Switzerland, we have mandatory health insurance and pension plans,” he explained by phone last week while vacationing in Alaska. “I wanted to show some possibilities about how it could be realized [in the U.S.].”
Neff spends nearly half of the 108-page book comparing the social welfare systems of Switzerland and the U.S. In Switzerland, he writes, all citizens and residents must have health insurance within three months of birth or residence. Government-monitored, non-profit insurance companies provide coverage and people can choose which company to use. But, if they don’t have insurance, they can’t get a job.
Neff believes it’s a good system. “You pay when you are in good health so you have the asset when you need it,” he said.
The U.S. system is similar, he added, but only in theory. “Health care is incomplete because 10 to 15 percent [of the population] is not yet insured.” Neff wonders why U.S. citizens complain about mandatory health insurance, which takes effect next year. He makes it clear that this is not a path to socialism.
According to Neff, socialism is “an economy that does not allow initiative in the private sector and is subjected to a rule by a collective body.” This isn’t the case, he explained, with mandatory health insurance. “The government [says] you have to have health insurance and the rest is privately managed,” he said.
He added that the concept of freedom is being misused as an argument against change. “So, we like to be free and not have mandatory dictates by the government but we have to use all our savings for one surgery,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Neff also shakes his head at the current gridlock in the U.S. Congress. “When you’re a member of Congress,” he said, “you should do everything in favor of the country and not be fighting against the President.” He pointed out that Swiss and U.S. government models are similar and function well. But, he added, gridlock among lawmakers stymies compromise and postpones accomplishment. “Perhaps problems will become so large that compromise will be popular again,” he mused.
So, is the United States an old-fashioned country? Neff said he’s not sure. “At the present time, [the U.S.] is not moving or changing,” he explained, pointing out that Europe, the Far East, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada have mandated health care systems.
He also believes his adopted country is stuck in a post-World War II paradigm that no longer works. “During the second world war, the U.S. was committed in Europe against fascism and it came out very well,” he explained. “Military action was adequate then but it is not adequate today.” Neff’s solution? Intelligence. “Having agents on the ground, listening to what is going on in a country is more effective than [sending in] troops,” he opined.
Despite themes such as U.S. social and political arrogance abroad and inaction at home, Neff said his book is not intended to insult the United States. It’s more of a commentary from a foreigner’s point of view. “I love to be here. There are great opportunities and possibilities for me,” he said. “But I see many problems and have seen practical solutions somewhere else and that’s what I want to offer.”