The ever-worsening reputation of the Swiss

19 March 2009

Tax havens are having a bad time. Most of us, not among the richest of the world who have secret accounts at Swiss banks, feel that it’s a good thing that governments are now chasing after taxes that were evaded. Among major tax havens, Switzerland is having a really tough time at the moment. Some Swiss let their feeling known that they are unjustly blamed for someone else’s problems. Like some members of the Liechtenstein princely family, one Swiss MP has publicly compared the German Finance Minister to a Nazi.

For most people and their imagination, Switzerland is a nice and beautiful country dominated by snow-capped mountains and littered with lakes, which produces good chocolate and watches. So the country is a place that many would like to visit: how about its inhabitants and human institutions? Unfortunately for the Swiss, they have not been enjoying a good reputation for some time. Switzerland’s ambiguous role during the Second World War with respect to the Nazi loot has done much damage. Its politics, byzantine to outsiders, has been giving impression that the Swiss are voting in pretty nasty and openly racist politicians.

The Swiss will face more probes and scrutiny from prying outsiders, and perhaps it will be the end of their current banking system based on secrecy and trust. Switzerland is in a lose-lose situation: avoid scrutiny to see its reputation farther tarnished, or accept scrutiny to lose its banking clients. Best to concentrate on chocolate and watches, and perhaps soldiers.