Switzerland - land of watches, chocolate, banks and much more - often soars to the top or near the top of global “best ranking” country surveys. This is because Switzerland excels by nearly every measure: quality of life, education, happiness, income and health.
The latest results of the annual best-nation rankings came from U.S. News & World Report, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and global brand consulting BAV Consulting. And what do you know? Switzerland ranked tops ahead of No. 2 Canada.
The U.S. dropped to the No. 7 ranking.
“Time to Move to Switzerland?” the Washington Post headline asks. Yes, perhaps.
I would know, having grown up in Switzerland and returning there every year, discreetly presenting my Swiss passport at customs.
For certain, that survey data is often true. Switzerland is inordinately wealthy, and there’s no question its physical landscape with 14,000-foot peaks abuts the kingdom of heaven.
With unemployment low, minimum wage high and the Swiss franc ever robust, no one bats an eye at paying the equivalent of $6 for toothpaste.
And there’s still direct democracy, a process called the landsgeminde, in which people vote on local issues in public squares.
Many of the country’s downsides to which people often point are also true.
Previous immigration laws were so tight as to make many outsiders feel unwelcome. Voters and lawmakers continue to adopt a provincial outlook to broader European integration.
The peaceful tax shelter is always prepared to welcome the world’s wealthy with no questions asked, even if it means abetting the interests of unsavory dictators and their ill-gotten gains.
Switzerland is a civilized nation, yes, perhaps even the most civilized nation on earth, according to the surveys. But Switzerland is not a civilization in the same way that Italy, Greece, Germany or the United Kingdom qualify as distinct civilizations.
With a surface area twice the size of New Jersey, it’s hard for anyone born and bred in Switzerland to think big. It’s a a country filled with highly skilled trades folk who tend to mind their own business.
Entrepreneurial spinoffs aren’t the stuff of everyday happenings as they are here.
Don’t look to Switzerland, therefore, to achieve “great nation” status in the way the U.S., China or even France potentially can. Indeed, Switzerland has no ambition to rise to such heights, happy to mind its P’s and Q’s outside the realm of the European Union, of which it isn’t a member.
Nor is it a nation much structured to experiment — economically, socially and culturally.
Anyone care to guess when women won the right to vote the nation’s federal elections? 1971. Anyone care to guess when the last holdout canton (the equivalent of a state in the U.S.) allowed women the right to vote on local issues? 1991.
And that was after the Swiss Supreme Court decided on the matter.
Just about everyone has an anecdote – apocryphal perhaps – about living in a “police state,” where the police are the neighbors who might even object if you raise your foot onto a spotless car bumper to tie your shoe in an immaculate town where many a weekend morning is devoted to – what else – but a thorough cleaning?
Switzerland’s internal market is tiny, made smaller still by linguistic barriers that ensure a job applicant from the French-speaking part of the country isn’t going to be able to compete very effectively with a candidate in the German-speaking part of the country for a job in Zurich.
But say you are bilingual or even trilingual, Italian being the third of four official spoken languages there.
If you work your whole life and expand to two or three local pastry franchises, you’d be considered a success.
Here in the U.S., it’s probably not worth getting out of bed unless you can dream about 20 franchises and maybe even 200 by the time you’re ready to sell and retire. The scale of opportunity here is far greater – as are the potential risks.
If you are Swiss and want to expand your entrepreneurial horizons beyond the mountain nation and go abroad, then you’re probably not spending much time back home anyway.
No one has ever identified Switzerland as a place for dreamers, but it is a place where the industrious and hard-working salaried masses show up on time and the trains leave their stations when the second hand on the clock reaches the noon setting.
A rail power outage is national news and rarely does some pour soul take his or her own life delaying rush hour commutes, as frequently happens on the Northeast Corridor.
Switzerland, land of small, fixed opportunity, is to nations what Treasury bonds are to investors: the payments come in like clockwork with no volatility, few ups and downs, lefts and rights, ins and outs – in short, riskless.
Not to take anything away from the tiny nation born of a defensive alliance dating back to 1291.
In the face of global athletic, economic or cultural competition, I often find myself cheering for the Swiss who represent small countries that "done good" in the face of German, Russian and American behemoths.
Switzerland has done very well for itself with little to improve upon relatively speaking except to secure bragging rights in quality-of-life rankings or honing leadership position in niche industries like flavors and fragrances and wealth management.
Who am I to argue with that?
Like the Washington Post’s headline asks, I might just one day move back there, but not right now.
InsuranceNewsNet Senior Writer Cyril Tuohy has covered the financial services industry for more than 15 years. Cyril may be reached at email@example.com.
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