“More progressive than their reputation”
Burkhard Varnholt, Chief Investment Officer Switzerland at Credit Suisse, is pleased by the positive responses to questions about education and digitalization.
Mr. Varnholt, how progressive do you consider Switzerland to be?
I think it is very progressive indeed. Our digital infrastructure is state of the art, as are our schools and education system. In the political arena, I see that serious efforts are being made to maintain Switzerland’s position of leadership – economically, culturally, technologically, politically and environmentally. This is ultimately reflected in our quality of life, high incomes and strong competitive position.
Attitudes toward digitalization range between neutral and positive, despite a clear awareness that it might threaten people’s jobs – are you surprised?
Swiss people are more progressive than their reputation! They know that the future belongs to the bold, and not to the fearful. Ultimately, banning digitalization would endanger more jobs than it might temporarily save. Over the past 100 years, every technological advance has led to more jobs and growth – although obviously any structural change will cause discomfort.
When it comes to education, the respondents were in favor of accelerating progress and devoting more taxes to that purpose. Do you agree?
I’m delighted that people attach such importance to education; after all, the intellectual capital of the population is Switzerland’s only natural resource. But it is far from certain that spending more money on education will mean progress. We might also pay more attention to synergies in our existing education system. For example, several of our universities offer programs in Slavic languages and literature, and it would probably be more efficient to combine these and other programs that are not in great demand.
Opinion leaders tend to be more progressive than voters in general. Does the gap appear to be widening? It’s hard to say. This split is nothing new. It existed in the 1960s, and even before the war. Such tensions can also have a constructive and creative impact. The important thing is to keep the lines of communication open. I am concerned, however, that nowadays opinions are often given more weight than facts. But I’m still an optimist. People will be able to move beyond these tensions and find positive compromises. If you could either stop or accelerate a particular trend, what would it be?
I think it’s very important for Switzerland to continue to be open to the EU. Europe’s positive qualities – the common market and the defense of such values as democracy, transparency and universal human rights – are often belittled; its administrative blunders are ridiculed, while its historical contribution to today’s prosperity is overlooked. My ideal is a liberal, cosmopolitan, sustainable Switzerland. And I’m proud if I can play a role in achieving it.
When it comes to political issues, voters (+2.2) show less interest in driving development forward than the opinion leaders do (+14.3). Real economic indicators also point to a high value for progress in Switzerland (+36.4).
This section highlights a topic that enjoys broad-based support like no other in the entire Progress Barometer: There are
underground traffic. vehement calls from both groups (voters: +51, opinion leaders: +63) for a quicker pace with reference to this statement: “In order for Switzerland to maintain its beautiful landscape, the first ideas for routing traffic underground are being launched.” Both groups also rank the level of necessity of this project as extremely high 57. The vision of a subway
see page across Switzerland aligns well with the first part of the Progress Barometer, which laments the loss of cultivated land to new construction. And it also fits with Switzerland’s strengths. We know we can achieve it and that the vision is feasible. The country has leading engineers, particularly in underground construction; the ability to fund, plan and implement major infrastructure projects has been proven time and time again; and public transportation is generally held in high regard by the population.
As in economic and social matters, the electorate views trends in the political realm
internet positively as well (+25). In this context, it means the opportunity to use the web to organize spontaneous political movements and force politicians to listen more to what people have to say.
The fact that citizens are preoccupied with
retirement planning has been repeatedly shown by the Credit Suisse Worry Barometer and the Youth Barometer*. Respondents to the Progress Barometer also want to pursue the idea of raising payroll deductions in order to safeguard pensions (+11). As society becomes more (+3),
individualized the overall average tells us less than the results of the various age groups. The youngest group (18–39 years old) agrees that everyone can live according to their own values, and they would like to see this trend continue. This emphasis on individual values is also reflected in the Credit Suisse Youth Barometer*. The over-65 generation, on the other hand, would like to slow the pace (–10). This raises the question of whether young people will still have the same attitude when they turn 65 themselves.
Voters tend to have a neutral view of the transition to a (+2),
knowledge-based society although opinion leaders consider it to be the right direction and believe in investing more in education and less in agriculture (+21). The dependence upon
(–2), growing international agreements complexity
(–5) and expanding Swiss in politics development
(– 5) are all viewed slightly negatively, though aid breaking down the results of this last category by party allegiance provides further information. Respondents supporting the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) do not want any further increase in funding for development aid (–58). Respondents supporting the Social Democratic Party (SP) hold the opposite view (+37). This topic showed the most drastic split between party allegiances among the 30 included in the survey. The idea to put a stop to the many
rules increasingly controlling day-to-day life enjoys widespread support (–32).
Last, but not least, one result shows that humans are not always rational beings. All respondents agree that politics has become too polarizing, hampering cooperation between parties (–26) – but it is precisely the supporters of those parties widely held to be responsible for this polarization that agree with this statement. *See: credit-suisse.com/worrybarometer and credit-suisse.com/youthbarometer
Will young people still have this attitude when they turn 65?
Burkhard Varnholt ( 50) is Chief Investment Officer Switzerland at Credit Suisse and Vice-chairman of the Global Investment Committee.