The initial knee-jerk reaction may be that it’s propped up by its banking industry (and if you continue down this road, Nazi gold). While this may be partly true, it’s an overly simplistic explanation. Banking is, of course, an incredibly important sector of the economy (not to mention its assumed role as part of the Swiss international identity), and in 2016, the sector was worth an estimated 80 billion CHF to the Swiss economy, providing 400,000 jobs.
But that’s not all as Switzerland, despite having very few natural resources of its own, has long managed to cash in on the goods of others. The country’s most valuable export is gems and precious metals (bringing in an impressive $98.2 billion last year), followed by pharmaceuticals and machinery (the imports list is more or less the same).
Herein perhaps lies one of the top reasons behind Swiss wealth – an ability to take raw products and turn them into something incredibly valuable, be that luxury chocolates, a beautiful diamond bracelet or a complicated new drug.
In other words, what’s behind its wealth is an ability to innovate.
For instance, take a look at some of the incredible things that the Swiss have given us over the years. It points to a willingness, and capability, to try out new approaches and end up producing high-quality goods.
Sure, other things have played a huge role (for a comprehensive look at these and the historical background behind Switzerland’s financial rise, see this thread on Reddit). The fact that the Swiss are neutral and haven’t suffered the human and economic devastation of warfare for the past 150 years plays a pretty big part. The Swiss national temperament, although said to be cold and distant, is also renowned for its calm efficiency, and just like the train system, they get things done. Another significant point in Switzerland’s favour is its incredibly stable, and direct, democracy that allows it to weather the political-economic storms which other states must endure regularly.
For the past 10 years now, Switzerland has topped the WEF’s list of most competitive economies; wages remain high, and the country is continually named as the best place for expats looking for a high salary. What lies behind this is a strong focus on education and technological innovation, and, of course, favourable tax rates. All of this attracts businesses to Switzerland, as well as some of the brightest minds who in return furnish us with some nifty stuff.