“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.

Bulletin - - Economy -

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.

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