Why They're Not Like Us
July 15, 2014 By Piotr Aleksandrowicz
I'm reading a fascinating book: Swiss Made by R. James Breiding, a banker and financier who is a Swiss and U.S. citizen. The shrewd introduction was penned by Prof. Henry James, a historian from Princeton University. Breiding outlines the sources of Switzerland's economic success, and especially of its leading sectors, from the food industry, through watchmaking and tourism, machine building and pharmaceuticals, to medical technology, transport and infrastructure construction. This list alone shows in how many fields the Swiss excel.
How has this come about? Because the Swiss were a small, poor country with very tough natural conditions, which required them to be stubborn in life, never give in to adversity, to display creativity, innovation and above all enterprise. In individual villages and regions it also required the ability to specialize and then open up to trade, exchange and contacts. Switzerland is a laboratory for globalization.
But that's not all. Another factor is openness to emigration, from the 16th century and the Huguenots - victims of religious wars in France - to 19th-century political and economic emigrants, including the Poles Patek and Czapek, who contributed to the success of the Swiss watchmaking industry. Alongside immigration, Switzerland's heterogeneity - the result of its four languages and regional identities - is also considered an advantage, not a burden.
There's a third factor: with a small domestic market, the Swiss needed to export. By the 18th and 19th centuries Switzerland had already formed global companies which, investing outside the country, skillfully used local talent and appreciated local cultural values.
Next: a small country means small government. But in Switzerland it's much smaller than in other developed countries. Redistribution of the domestic product via public spending accounts for 30-35 percent of the domestic product; the public debt and deficit are very low. The government ensures stable prices, security and ownership rights. Not only is it small but, wherever possible, authority has been delegated to districts and cantons, including taxation prerogatives, which not only improves management but also enables competition among the cantons.
Switzerland didn't have any charismatic leaders; it never believed in great ideologies; it had no cultural missions. It was always and is still pragmatic, but this pragmatism doesn't overstep the boundaries defined by a strongly grounded sense of ethics - whether concerning interpersonal relations or business relationships. Professionalism and good, practical job training are held in high esteem, which is why teachers are chosen carefully and paid well.
There are more such factors. Of course, it's important that Switzerland has been neutral for a long time and more often made money on wars than lost it, but this factor is much less important when you remember that 70 years have passed since the last world war. Switzerland is not a country that profited from the spoils of war, neither did it have colonies from which to drain wealth.
All in all, Switzerland is everything that Poland is not.