Zurich, Monday 16 August 2010
When most informed commentators are issuing dire warnings about the economic future of “Europe”, they usually mean the European Union, or at least the Eurozone.
So the warnings do not apply to Switzerland, which is neither a member of the EU nor in a particularly dangerous financial position. This is not to say that everything is perfect in Helvetia, or that the Twenty Six Cantons have some form of exemption from the problems of the global markets – but it does seem that Switzerland is in a far better condition to weather the storms than most other European countries.
Although Switzerland’s independence from the EU is currently working in its favour, it would be facile to attribute the relative prosperity of the Swiss to that one factor alone. It is rather a symptom of a number of deeper strengths that have allowed the Confederation to enjoy hundreds of years of wealth disproportionate to its natural resources.
1 In spite – indeed, because – of its small size, Switzerland has always understood its economy depends on being open to foreign trade.
2 The high sense of civic responsibility of the Swiss, combined with the small size of both the Confederation and its constituent Cantons, have always imposed a tight fiscal discipline on government. It is harder to hide public debt when it must be shared among a small population.
3 Swiss banking and tax laws have always been hospitable to outsiders with money.
4 Switzerland is proof that economic liberalism is compatible with a strong sense of social cohesion, based on shared traditional values. Switzerland is a clean and safe place in which to live and do business – a nation armed to the teeth in which there is little gun crime.
5 The Swiss retain a formidable work ethic, an obsession with the quality and precision of their products, and a passion for punctuality. Although Switzerland has been mocked as the nation which gave the world the cuckoo-clock, the clever little timepiece is actually a good symbol of the virtues that make a strong economy.
The combined impact of these strengths is a healthy economy, which means a strong currency. Perhaps that is why your contributor, trying to stretch out is his devalued pounds sterling, feels so impoverished travelling through this great nation.