Why Switzerland?

The Swiss flag on a grassy ridge among the Swiss Alps
Beautiful Switzerland
Cover of the book Why Switzerland by Jonathan Steinberg showing a cow by the side of a road.
The cover of the book
6 young girls wait to cross the street on scooters with backpacks on their way to school
Swiss children on their way to school
  • The physical geography of Switzerland makes it simultaneously an essential trade route through Europe but also difficult (and undesirable) to dominate (due to the mountains)
  • These mountain communities need a certain amount of self sufficiency and resilience just to get by. They are simultaneously exposed to the rest of Europe via the Alpine trade routes.
  • As a result, you get a combination of the conservative work ethic of the stereotypical country side with the stereotypical live-and-let-live attitude of port cities. This leads to a culture of independence and the development of democratic institutions.
  • The lack of natural resources leads towards specialization in high value goods for export, requiring high levels of human capital and investment in infrastructure.
  • Being surrounded by more powerful neighbors and physically landlocked leads to a political culture of diplomacy and compromise because internal conflict could be fatal. Ultimately this becomes the famous Swiss neutrality.
  • Neutrality ends up paying huge dividends in the 20th century, where the Swiss never experience the physical devastation that the rest of Europe goes through during the first and second World Wars.
  • The chapter on the EU, its relationship to Switzerland, and the similarities and differences between the EU’s government/project and the Swiss Confederation is also great. I now understand what people mean when they talk about the democratic deficit of the European Union and see the Brexit debate differently than I did before.
  • There’s no dedicated discussion about women’s rights in the book, despite the fact that women didn’t get the right to vote in Federal elections until 1971 and the half canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden until 1991 (cantons are like US states). Given the focus on democratic institutions and their development, this seems like a major oversight.

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operating a bit outside the lines

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James Edward Dillard

James Edward Dillard

operating a bit outside the lines

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