Music and politics: Swiss Carbondalian pursues his passions
Author Werner Neff has classical show on KDNK
When Werner Neff refers to something as “special,” the meaning may not be what you expect.
For example, he says COVID is special.
So is a two-party political system.
The Swiss citizen is a keen observer of American politics and economics, and he has published five books in eight years about his observations and suggestions on the topics.
Neff, 73, has been living in Carbondale since 2010, when he moved here to care for his first wife, Carbondale resident Mary Anne Colonna, whom he had met at concert in Aspen in 2001.
Due to her illness, Neff had to look after her finances — such things as taxes, health insurance, pension funds and social security — and in the process got a crash course in how things work in the USA.
His third book, out in 2016, is “Reclaim American Democracy: Economic Solutions to Dysfunctional Politics.”
Neff knows a bit about economics and politics. He has a masters degree in economics and a PhD in political science, and spent 25 years working in a Swiss bank in the mortgage and small business loan department.
His most recent book, out this year, is “Restore Our Democracy: The Case for Equality and Justice.”
Neff takes democracy seriously.
“I am a defender or promoter of perfect democracy. That means the main [political ideology] can change, and that is very OK. You have to look for solutions in favor of Americans and the majority of the population,” he said.
Democracy with a two-party system becomes much like watching a ball game.
“I have with the Swiss experience some feelings about democratic behavior. Today in this country it is like a sports event. The two parties are two teams, and they clash because one must win and the other lose. I think politics must include everyone and ask for compromises, and it is always in-between,” he said. “Party discipline is the end of compromise.”
Switzerland has a multi-party system, and, since 1959, the four largest parties have formed a coalition government, according to Wikipedia. That tends to make compromise a part of everyday political life.
“The Swiss do a revision every five to 10 years and have legislation afterwards for taxes, public transportation, or whatever. I can’t remember missing one vote in 40 years. I was so many times disappointed because what I thought was the solution was compromised in the middle. … But that is the way of a democracy: You have to respect a decision which is not yours exactly,” he said.
Neff said that for some legislation in Switzerland to pass — “yes or no” type votes — a majority vote from the population as well as a majority vote from the cantons is required. The 26 cantons are something like the 50 U.S. states.
In comparison, in the recent presidential election, with a relatively binary choice, Joe Biden won the popular vote about 51% to 47% over Donald Trump, but neither won a majority of the states.
In “Restore Our Democracy” Neff predicts the attitude of president-elect Biden.
“Be first an American and then a party member,” Neff said.
Politics and economics converge in social programs. Neff says a low minimum wage forces the government to chip in.
“With the low minimum wage people are entitled to social programs. … It’s a very strange thing; that is a socialist economy. The government is [covering] the rest of what the companies are offering or paying,” he said. “It should be that all companies pay market prices.”
Switzerland has mandatory health insurance. Neff sees this as members of society looking out for one another.
“With mandatory health insurance everybody is participating in this system of paying and receiving, and it’s an act of solidarity,” he said.
Neff said that those opposed to paying taxes — and those not opposed — should demand that their government do the best it can.
“I have many friends here who say, ‘I don’t like to pay taxes.’ … If you do not like to pay taxes then ask from your community and state and federal government that they do a good job. Demand to have Interstate 70 repaired,” he said.
It apparently works in Switzerland.
“When I arrive in Zurich it’s like [driving] on a cloud,” he said.
Neff pointed out that the poverty rate in the USA is very high, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
“They collect statistics about all these countries, and they compare salaries, health care systems and taxes,” he said.
Current data show the poverty rate in the United States at about 18%, with 17 European nations below 11%. That means the USA will have a higher percentage of residents getting government assistance.
“The United States has a poverty level. … If you’re below the salary level then you’re entitled to these social programs,” he said.
Despite his expertise in politics and economics, the affable Neff is just as happy to talk about classical music.
He’s been playing piano off and on since he was 9 or 10.
“I’m not a musician; I play piano,” he said humbly.
Like any music lover, Neff said that his favorite composer is the one he’s playing at the time.
“Whenever I play something of Bach or Bartok or Chopin or Schumann, that is the best composer,” he said.
He founded a group of a dozen or so pianists that get together once a month to play. As with so many things, the group is on hold due to COVID.
But Neff still has a musical outlet. He’s been a KDNK DJ since July 2019.
“I love it. It’s really a great possibility to show other people what classical music offers. I usually like to present a variety of music: symphony, concert, chamber music, an American composer and then whatever else.”
His show runs from 8-10 a.m. on Sundays at 88.1 FM in Carbondale or 88.3 FM in Glenwood Springs.
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