From Swiss Watching, by Diccon Bewes.
“Ironically, the recent economic crisis affected the Swiss far less than many G20 members, mainly because the housing market is as stable as the franc. No big booms or crashes because most people rent not buy. Only 35 per cent of Swiss own their own home, a figure that drops to 11 per cent in cities like Bern,25 almost exactly the opposite of the British market. It’s partly a cultural thing – owning property is not the be-all and end-all of life – but it’s also practical, as you need a 20 per cent deposit. Some people rent the same flat all their lives, but that’s seen as a risk-free, sensible option not a waste of money.
Everyone renting has its advantages. No property ladders mean no snakes, so while you might not make a fortune in houses, you’re unlikely to lose one either. Negative equity, what’s that? Estate agents are not ten a penny on the high streets, newspapers are not full of property ads and television isn’t packed with endless variations ofmakeover, developing or relocation programmes. You have to watch German TV for those. To buy or not to buy is a question the Swiss ask about lots of things but rarely houses.
The best thing is that roads are not blighted by a forest of For Sale signs. Instead, you can see what look like four anorexic Martian spaceships sitting in vacant plots of land. These giant wooden or metal tripods show the dimensions of any new building, with their height and position corresponding exactly to that of the proposed building. This rule applies to every construction project in Switzerland, including highrises, which need special Meccano-style pylons tethered with wires to show how tall they will be. It might look odd, but it gives everyone a good idea of what’s planned and a chance to complain if they object. Planning permission not just by committee but by common consent.”
“Peace can be the origin of war in different ways, even though peace is only a negative abstraction that cannot contain any s elf-destructive phenomenon, as war contains the destruction that eventually destroys war itself. Nevertheless, the condition of peace, that is the absence of war, can create the precondition of war, for example by dissuading the peaceful
from maintaining persuasive defenses, encouraging potential aggressors to plan war. Often in history, peace led to war because its conditions allowed demographic, cultural, economic, and social changes that upset the balance of strength that had previously assured peace. Having no substance of its own, the state of peace cannot disturb anything, but it does indifferently favor the diverging evolution of human capacities and inentalities, without regard to the factors that inhibited war. It was thus that
the famously pacific Germans came to regard themselves as a warrior nation by 1870, in unfortunate symmetry with the French, who had yet
to outgrow their martial self-image. In the crisis of that year, Bismarck’s German government wanted war in confidence of victory, while the French government of Napoleon III could not avoid war, because it could not admit that Germany had become the stronger power.”
Edward Luttwak, Strategy: The Logic of Peace and War, Harvard University Press, 2001, pg 67.
“But at least war, like racism, offers clear moral choices. Even today, most people know what they think about military action or racial prejudice. But in the arena of economic policy, the citizens of today s democracies have learned altogether too much modesty. We have been advised that these are matters for experts: that economics and its policy implications are far beyond the understanding of the common man or woman—a point of view forced by the increasingly arcane and mathematical language of the discipline.
Not many ‘lay people’ are likely to challenge the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Secretary of the Treasury or their expert advisors in such matters. Were they to do so, they would be told—much as a medieval priest might have advised his flock—that these are questions with which they need not concern themselves. The liturgy must be chanted in an obscure tongue, accessible only to the initiated. For everyone else, faith will suffice.
But faith has not sufficed. The emperors of economic policy in Britain and the US, not to mention their acolytes and admirers everywhere from Tallinn to Tbilisi, are naked. However, since most observers have long shared their sartorial preferences, they are ill-placed to object. We need to re-learn how to criticize those who govern us. But in order to do so with credibility we have to liberate ourselves from the circle of conformity into which we, like they, are trapped.
Liberation is an act of the will. We cannot hope to reconstruct our dilapidated public conversation—no less than our crumbling physical infrastructure—unless we become sufficiently angry at our present condition.”
Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land, Penguin, 2010.
“It is tempting to conform: community life is a lot easier where everyone appears to agree with everyone else, and where dissent is blunted by the conventions of compromise. Societies and communities where these are absent or have broken down do not fare well. But there is a price to be paid for conformity. A closed circle of opinion or ideas into which discontent or opposition is never allowed—or allowed only within circumscribed and stylized limits—loses its capacity to respond energetically or imaginatively to new challenges.”
Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land, Penguin, 2010.
“As recently as the 1970s, the idea that the point of life was to get rich and that governments existed to facilitate this would have been ridiculed: not only by capitalism s traditional critics but also by many of its staunchest defenders. Relative indifference to wealth for its own sake was widespread in the postwar decades. In a survey of English schoolboys taken in 1949, it was discovered that the more intelligent the boy the more likely he was to choose an interesting career at a reasonable wage over a job that would merely pay well. Today’s schoolchildren and college students can imagine little else but the search for a lucrative job. How should we begin to make amends for raising a generation obsessed with the pursuit of material wealth and indifferent to so much else? Perhaps we might start by reminding ourselves and our children that it wasn’t always thus. Thinking ‘economistically’, as we have done now for thirty years, is not intrinsic to humans. There was a time when we ordered our lives differently. “
“The problems did not take long to materialise. Fragmentation and rebellion broke out in the Persian provinces as Timur’s heirs jostled to take control of his empire. But more structural difficulties were unleashed by a global financial crisis in the fifteenth century that affected Europe and Asia. The crisis was caused by a series of factors that resonate 600 years later: over-saturated markets, currency devalnations and a lopsided balance of payments that went awry. Even with the growing demand for silks and other luxury products, there was only so much that could be absorbed. It was not that appetites were sated or that tastes had changed, it was that the exchange mechanism went wrong: Europe in particular had little to give in return », ceramics and spices that were so highly prized. With la effectively producing more than it could sell abroad, there to keep buying goods dried up – The result has often been described as a “bullion famine’.”
Frankopan P., The Silk Roads, ch 10, pg. 197, Bloomsbury, 2016
“In Turkey, the reign of Sulaiman was at the same time an age of victorious warfare, of widespread construction and of substantial legislative activity. Sulaiman bore the title of Kanuni, or law-maker, indicative of a revival of law studies and the existence of a special class of jurists in the states under his rule and above all at Constantinople. His legal code so suecessfully regulated the judicial machinery that it was said that Henry VIII of England sent a legal mission to Constantinople to study its workings. His Kanun-name is to the East what the Justinian Code is to the West and the Recopilacion de las Leyes to Spain. All the legal machinery established by Sulaiman in Hungary was the work of the jurist Abu’l-Su’ud; such a major achievement of legislation was it on the question of property that many of its detailed provisions remain in force to the present day. And the jurist Ibrahim Al-Halabi, author of a handbook on legal procedures, the multaka can be ranked alongside the most eminent western
jurists of the sixteenth century.”
From Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the age of Philip II, Volume 2, pg. 683, Fontana/Collins, 1973.