Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The happy, happy Swiss

It's always interesting to peruse research about which countries have the happiest, healthiest, most contented citizenry, and so, when I saw this headline about Switzerland, of course I had to read the story.

Switzerland is a small, landlocked central European country with few natural resources, and yet it has a strong and thriving economy and, according to all measurements, one of the happiest populations on Earth. How does it achieve this success?

The answer seems to be that it invests strongly in the main natural resource which it does have - its people. According to the World Economic Forum's 2013 Human Capital Report, Switzerland invests more in the health, education, and talent of its people than any other country in the world. To determine this, the Forum examined 51 indicators of how various countries invest in their people and how they are leveraging those investments in terms of productivity and a robust economy. Their director, Saadia Zahidi, says, "Countries that invest in human capital end up getting returns in terms of economic growth. And then countries that have that economic growth are able to reinvest further in human capital. So you have this virtuous cycle that's established."

What a novel concept - a society investing in its people in order to ensure their health, happiness, and success in life, which in turn promotes the economic growth of that society. I wonder what the United States might be able to learn from such a country. Well, the story lists five things that Switzerland can teach the rest of the world about creating a robust economy and a healthy, happy population.

1. They have excellent health care with universal coverage, the healthiest population in the Western Hemisphere, and a government that spends only 2.7 percent of GDP on health care which is only about a third of what we spend.

2. Their people are not only healthy but happy. The country was ranked the world's third happiest country in the UN's 2013 Happiness Report. They have the eighth lowest rate of depression in the world and the country is consistently rated among the countries with the highest levels of well-being.

3. They invest in top-notch education. Among Swiss citizens aged 25-64, 86 percent have earned the equivalent of a high school degree, which is substantially higher than the global average of 74 percent. The Swiss also have higher average test scores in literacy, math, and science.

4. They care about talent and innovation. According to the Forum report, Switzerland is first in the world in innovation, on-the-job training, attracting talent from elsewhere, and for government-provided training. They are number two for pay being related to productivity and number three for retaining their own talent.

5. They've created an environment where people can thrive. The Swiss have created a system that allows people and companies to leverage their human capital. This is enhanced by ease of transportation and internet connectivity which is ensured by governmental policies and actions.

Isn't it interesting how all of these stories about successful countries always begin with "They have excellent health care with universal coverage"? It's one thing that the most successful and happy societies on Earth all seem to have in common.

2 comments:

  1. I had read some of those things about Switzerland, too. It's also nice that they've committed to being a neutral country (it hasn't been in a state of war internationally since 1815). And it pursues an active foreign policy and frequently assists in peace-building processes around the world. So many things seem "right" to me about Switzerland.

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    1. I've never actually been there but it sounds like they've got this "civil society" thing all figured out, and it sounds like our dysfunctional government could learn a lot from their example.

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