There are not many people I will happily take
my hat off for in this world. But the Swiss people are among those
few. In a sea of despotism these people have maintained an island
of liberty even into the modern age of the all-intrusive State.
Just going on a visit to Switzerland is an eye
opener for the average European — especially the British. Time and
again in my conversations while there, or with clients who bank,
have lived, or just go there on holiday, the same conclusion has
been drawn: everything Swiss is like the very best of other countries,
only better. It is pretty much the only major country in Europe
where things just work and get done as they should, with a minimum
of fuss and dead on time.
Second class trains, for example, are better
in Switzerland than many first class trains in the UK. I'm not a
fan of mass transportation as a rule, but in Switzerland there are
many private companies and it makes sense considering the terrain
and weather. It is also a very great pleasure, not just because
of the trains and the scenery, but because of the almost complete
absence of ill-mannered people — there is no "riff-raff"
The British are beset by riff-raff — which frankly
makes any use of public transport not only ideologically undesirable,
but also socially so. This subject came up while I was on a boat
in the middle of Lake Geneva, in a discussion with a Swedish man
on holiday with his family. He claimed — having lived in both the
UK and Sweden — that things were even worse in his country. I still
find it hard to believe, but after numerous illustrations on both
sides, we more or less called it a draw.
A History of Liberty
The EU bureaucrats hate them. The Swiss are
both outside the EU and represent the opposite of the top down Nazi/Commie
combination agenda they ultimately stand for. Switzerland didn't
even join the UN until seven years ago and then only by the narrowest
voting margin. Pick almost any area of society and the Swiss do
it their own unique way — with at least a splash of liberty thrown
Fire departments are one example — run by
local volunteers in most places out
of town. The only other place I know of with that kind of voluntary
public service would be some small towns in America.
Guns and the military are yet another example.
Guns are everywhere — and crime is nowhere. In fact they have at
least two of the most peaceful, crime-free cities in the world —
according to various online authorities. Zurich even has a half-holiday
in October for the "boy shooting" contest and American-style
fair where young boys — and
girls too — compete with assault rifles
Their defensive militia was feared
even by Hitler and has stayed where
it belongs — at home — without barging around the world murdering
innocent people who get in the way. Somehow they have been protected
without pre-emptive murder or decimating their families around the
Then there is Swiss banking; that bastion for
something like a third of the world's cross-border invested private
wealth. The Swiss stance on bank secrecy might best be described
as neutrality, in the war of States against their citizens — with
private leanings in favour of the oppressed citizens.
If there is anyone in the world I would trust
with my money it would be one of the unincorporated, unlimited-liability
Swiss Private Bank partnerships. If I had to choose any other kind
of bank, Switzerland would still be at the top of the list, even
taking into account several South and Central American countries
with, on paper, stronger privacy.
All of this entrusted wealth is certainly not
due to government, and even the bankers are merely beneficiaries
of an environment entirely due to a streak of liberty within the
Swiss people. This goes back even beyond the William
Tell rebellion of the 14th
century. Whether the details of that are myth or not, the popularity
of the story reflects the traditional fighting spirit of the Swiss
people when it comes to imposition by the State.
It goes back into the particularly deep Christian
roots of Switzerland — which seems to have had just about the right
mix of denominational dissent to have prevented them being absorbed
into the State. There is no denying the very Christian nature of
the Swiss, both historically and still today — even if misplaced
faith in the State is now more of a contender.
Politics and Taxes
Swiss politics is interesting in that it is
so decentralized. I have heard that the Swiss confederation even
acted as a model for the United States. In some local elections
voting is done by simply a show of hands in the local village hall
or in the open air. In 1978, the region of Jura actually seceded
from the jurisdiction of Bern and technically from Switzerland,
to be later readmitted in its own right.
This could only happen because Switzerland is
not really a single country, but a confederation of largely autonomous
"cantons" — 26 in all — and these cantons compete amongst
each other, such as in providing the most favourable business and
tax climate. A visit to the site comparis.ch
will show that one of the choices the Swiss people have is the amount
of tax they pay.
As one example, the canton of Obwalden formerly
had one of the higher tax rates, but to compete brought it down
to a flat 10% — though cantons Zug and Schwyz are better known for
their low taxes. In the south, cantons Vaud, Geneva and the Italian-speaking
Ticino are currently lowest. Also, it is perfectly possible for
any reasonably wealthy person to cut a special deal with a canton
for a much lower rate. In fact, the wealthier the better — the lack
of social envy and its politics is unusual and noteworthy.
There are also occasional amnesties to provide
for tax which is not paid. The evaded amounts are actually lower
percentage-wise than the much more oppressive surrounding countries.
This can only be due to lower rates, more local accountability and
less violent collection methods leading to less resentment and motivation
for resistance. Tax evasion, if found out, might land an offender
in a somewhat uncomfortable civil action, but it is not a crime.
The Enemy Within
Of course, in recent years the Federal State
has made inroads that are unprecedented. This also means that there
is now a significant class of federal officials — and therein lies
the real threat to the liberties of the Swiss. In addition to the
usual busybody motivations, there are ambitious pro-EU infiltrators
within the system.
For example, the people won't give up their
guns — so some politicians are now after their ammunition. Because
if they can get it all, the balance of raw last-resort power ultimately
shifts from the people to the State, as it did long ago in most
other European countries.
Then, with the complete legal abandonment of
gold in the Swiss Franc a decade ago — although implementation began
just 5 years ago, with the support of the Right — the tentacles
of the central banking elite are spreading widely. Also spreading
far and wide is their stupidity (and/or conspiracy) — such as in
massively risky Eastern European loans with the newly created "money".
But the establishment has at least been restrained
by the decentralized Swiss system, and politicians do not have the
unaccountable free hand that those in other countries have. In addition,
they can always be held back by the powerful mechanism of a referendum.
The Swiss referendum is not a tool of dictators
like in some other countries, where the State gets to choose and
phrase the question to its own advantage, or to keep asking till
it gets the answer it wants. It may potentially be a "majoritarian"
tool, but a Swiss referendum can be initiated by any citizen who
can raise the required 50,000 signatures.
Short of cantons actually seceding, it is this
referendum — as well as the restraint that even its threat provides
— that is the real hope for Switzerland; because even if less extreme
than elsewhere, the Swiss parties have fallen into the trap of the
false Left-Right paradigm.
Left, Right and Centre
The Centre-Left has held the limited reins of
consensus power in Switzerland since the 1950s, with a token representation
from the Right. The Left may have some strengths, but many weaknesses.
One of their main weaknesses is the expansion and intrusion of the
State into financial affairs — specifically, taxation.
It was the Left therefore that recently caused
widespread outrage amongst the Swiss people by appearing to weaken
or even abandon Swiss bank secrecy. Rarely had such strong language
been used as was later heard in Parliament and rarely, if ever,
had words like "treason" been used before of politicians
in a mainstream newspaper — La Liberté
of Fribourg is well named.
The Swiss people themselves remain strongly
behind bank secrecy — perhaps 75% of them — and within Switzerland,
even the taxman cannot violate this. Yet somehow, to the puzzlement
of statists around the world, Switzerland still survives and does
so as one of the richest, most blessed and most peaceful countries
in the world.
The Right does include some overt bigots (the
Left having better camouflage), but it also includes some who will
stand firm on critical issues. And the Right are rising — which
is welcome if only as a counterbalance, despite the inevitable strains
of nationalism, regimentation and authoritarianism.
Thankfully the Swiss people have often rejected
the excesses of both Left and Right, even if they have been unable
to quite put their finger on liberty as the sole outcome they are
looking for. By and large, for example, they want to be civil with
their European neighbours and they don't generally harass foreigners
within — but nor do they want other countries or cultures poking
them in the eye.
The Backlash Begins
Such was the case in recent days, after the
French tried to use stolen HSBC Geneva account details to put pressure
on Switzerland. A scheduled tax information-sharing agreement has
therefore been put on indefinite hold. Long may it be obstructed.
Hans Rudolph Merz, the cowering Swiss Prime Minister/Finance Minister
spearheading the recent sell-outs, has been forced to show some
spine or let his party face the wrath of the voters in coming elections.
But here is a key fact: none of the recent information-sharing
agreements have been approved by Parliament nor have they been tested
in the Swiss courts. Many elements of the UBS debacle (not
all bad news) were certainly illegal,
and on Friday January 8, a Swiss court ruled
On top of this, the youth wing of the Swiss
People's Party along with a small party in the Italian speaking
canton of Ticino, have been actively gathering signatures for a
referendum on the issue of bank secrecy.
Best of all, a
recent poll has shown that the more
Switzerland is bullied to end it, the more strongly the Swiss people
support bank secrecy. When even Swissinfo (the Swiss BBC-type federal
website) are talking in more than one article of a bank secrecy
fight-back, there must be something to it.
It was politicians and officials, not the people
of Switzerland, who betrayed the account holders that gave Switzerland
their trust. Unless their Parliament, judges and courts do likewise
— and with the support of the people in a referendum — I do not
believe that Swiss bank secrecy is dead.
Even as things stand with the new information-sharing
agreements, if an account holder can keep the account secret, the
Swiss will too. Those agreements, although disgraceful, do not automatically
share information — a foreign government would have to first obtain
account details, and then lodge a specific information request along
with enough evidence. The account holder also has an appeal process
But like Swiss cheese, their bank secrecy does
have holes and privacy steps are absolutely essential to retain
it. One compromise as recently as in the nineties was to end anonymous
accounts. If these were still in place,
nobody would care about data theft. But instead, events have confirmed
that registration leads to confiscation — in this case of wealth.
Other privacy concerns include overseas bank transfers and card
transactions which, without precautions, can disclose account details
for the world to see.
Down But Not Out
But numbered or pseudonymous accounts are still
possible as well as corporate, trust and nominee arrangements —
with second passports also being very useful. With such steps in
place, the main privacy risk is in the internet activity log recorded
at the client's end. Without Practical
Internet Privacy steps (part
2) this leaves a record in place that
contains the name of the bank and that leads right to the door of
the account holder. Ordinary telecoms (except possibly throwaway
mobile phones, in an emergency only) and even the post (use a mail
drop and/or mail held at the bank) are also now potential giveaways.
Other than these privacy measures at the client's
end, it now all rests with those 7.7 million people in the Alps,
whose ancestors held off even the Nazis. Time will tell whether
the current generation have been brainwashed enough to surrender.
I don't think so.
Join me in praying they will be able to stand
— much private wealth depends upon Switzerland as a place of escape
and safety. And the Swiss people are going to be tested again —
previous compromises have made that a certainty. Just like appeasing
the schoolyard bully.
But I do expect in 2010 there will be a fight-back.
Internal officials and politicians with allegiance to the State,
the EU, and/or central-banking globalists will try and dampen it
by fobbing the Swiss people off with some rhetoric or window dressing.
But I am hopeful there will also be a real backlash.
The last time Swiss banking was attacked with
such intensity was in the thirties, when France tried to pry open
bank accounts, followed by the Nazis. That was when existing bank
secrecy was codified into law under penalty of imprisonment. It
is in the years since, that Switzerland has become one of the richest
countries per capita in the world — with banking and the respected
quality products associated with its wealthy clientele, as economic
It is a different generation now, and I never
put all my trust in people — mainly because they are human. But
if I had to trust one bunch of people, all in one place at one time
— with a fat wad of cash, bullion or gold certificates — it would
still have to be the Swiss.
A Resolution and a Conclusion
I hope many readers will resolve in 2010 to
get some sort of Swiss bank account — if only to annoy their governments
or to act as a cloud of cover for others. Perhaps start with a small
account, preferably locally based and not a multinational — maybe
a cantonal bank. Keep it big enough to be respectable and small
enough not to be legally reportable ($10,000 in the US), or just
enough over to add a little excitement.
As a very worst case scenario, in the extremely
unlikely event of an investigation, you can even enjoy fighting
tooth and nail with the tax collectors — and leisurely decide if
or when to cave in, eventually, after they have expended much energy
for little or nothing. Then put it down to serving your fellow-man
and get a new account.
But with basic precautions, there is no reason
for this to ever happen and if, as I expect, the Swiss make some
amends for the current situation, you will have a very private and
useful bastion of private property in place for the future.
However, it might be a good idea to keep that
particular account small, as a semi-public or "pass-through"
account. Depending upon events, you could later put more serious
amounts into a different multi-currency or precious metals account,
knowing your money to be in the safest possible hands — but still
remaining useable for business, investing or trading, unlike a buried
cache of gold coins. One other positive thing about Switzerland
is that, at many banks, gold is as easily obtained and transferred
as foreign exchange.
The dynamics of liberty and society are difficult
to analyse in the best of times — and especially so in the short
term. Nevertheless, I am basing this article on the premise that
the Swiss people mean what the recent polls (and many before them)
say they do.
If you look as most do, at the Swiss government,
or listen to the OECD — or even to the new head of the Swiss Bankers
Association — then bank secrecy is dead. But Switzerland is not
like other top down societies, and I prefer to look at the Swiss
people. It is they who will have the last word.
For all they have done for private wealth in
the world and for their unwavering support for bank secrecy — even
through an intense assault in a time of crisis — I think the Swiss
people deserve three cheers:
Green [send him mail] was
born in the UK and currently works from home there as an independent
emergency callout specialist for home and small business computer
users. He is married with five children – all at home –
and the three of school age are homeschooled. Over the years he
has also traded the financial futures markets and worked as a one-stop
advertising copywriter/ voice-over artist/ music and jingle producer.