Results for “things switzerland”
12 found

Claims about the art world (and other things)

Unsurprisingly, [Marc] Spiegler rejects the notion that an increased digital presence could undermine the necessity for the art world to fly to [Basel] Switzerland. “Having content available ahead of time builds momentum and increases, rather than diminishes, people’s desire to come.”

Comparing the fair to a music concert, Spiegler says: “The more live sets a DJ has online, the better attended their shows are. It hypes people up. The fairs are fun, people like seeing each other, they’re not going to stop wanting that.” Indeed for many, Art Basel 2021 will mark the welcome return to a once packed social calendar on the art world circuit, filled with invaluable in-person exchanges. Here’s hoping for a rager.

That is from Kabir Jhala at The Art Newspaper.  It does seem the Basel Art Fair will be held in person this September.

Switzerland is Prepared for Civilizational Collapse

More than any other country, Switzerland’s ethos is centered around preparing for civilizational collapse.

All around Switzerland, for example, one can find thousands of water fountains fed by natural springs. Zurich is famous for its 1200 fountains, some of them quite beautiful and ornate, but it’s the multiple small, simple fountains in every Swiss village that really tell the story. Elegant, yes, but if and when central water systems are destroyed these fountains are a decentralized and robust system for providing everyone with drinkable water.

The Swiss political system is also decentralized. If the central government fails, the Swiss might not even notice. The mountains and valleys also mean that Swiss towns and villages are geographically independent yet linked in a spider-web of robust connections.

Despite being at peace since 1815, Switzerland is prepared for war. Swiss males (and perhaps females in the future) are required to serve in the military (those who cannot, pay a special tax) creating a robust reservoir of trained citizens ready to serve in an emergency.

The Swiss have been tunneling the Alps for hundreds of years creating innumerable secret hideaways for people and stores.

As a further example of how ridiculously well prepared the Swiss are for any and all threats, there are things like hidden hydroelectric dams built inside of unmarked mountains so that in the event of mass bombings, they’ll still have electricity from these secret facilities. And, remember, these are the things the Swiss government has let us know about. It is thought that there are probably more fortifications and hidden goodies scattered about the country’s landscape. (ital. added, AT)

In addition, to thousands of military bunkers permeating the Swiss mountains there are several hundred thousand private and public fallout shelters the largest of which can hold some 20,000 people. Some of the largest installations have been decommissioned and even turned into museums but there is little doubt that they could be rapidly re-purposed.. As the Swiss continue to improve their already fantastic railway system it’s standard practice to convert old railway tunnels to security shelters.

Buried deep alongside the hydroelectric dams, shelters and food stores, the Swiss also have libraries ready to reboot civilization:

“In another [underground bunker], detailed instructions on how to build devices for reading all known data storage formats, even older formats like floppy disks, are kept, so that if that knowledge is otherwise lost, future generations can still decode our data storage devices to access the data within correctly. Essentially, the researchers involved in this particular project have attempted to create a “Rosetta Stone” of data formats and are using a ridiculously secure Swiss bunker as the storage point for that knowledge.”

Switzerland is famous for being the place to store wealth in times of crisis and that remains true today with a few twists. The old-rich store their gold in heavily guarded Swiss banks, the nouveau-riche store their bitcoins in Swiss underground bunkers built to withstand cyber- and nuclear attack:

It’s no surprise that Nassim Taleb likes Switzerland because this is a country that has made itself anti-fragile in order to survive the black swans of civilizational collapse.

Hat tip: Maxwell.

My favorite things Swiss

I am here only briefly, to talk about how America funds the arts.  Of course my favorite thing Swiss is Switzerland itself; in that sense I agree with the natives.  But to get more specific:

1. Sculptor: Alberto Giacometti is the obvious choice, runner-up is Jean Arp.  The smaller the Giaocometti sculpture, the better it is likely to be.  You could say the same for Calder.

2. Drama: I’ll opt for Durrenmatt’s The Visit of the Old Lady or The Physicians, or Max Frisch’s Don Juan, or the Love of Geometry.  I like these better than any Swiss novel.

3. Painter: These days I find Paul Klee repetitive.  Arnold Boecklin and Ferdinand Hodler are both consistently interesting, if not always consistent.  Try this Hodler.  Here is the most famous BoecklinHenry Fuseli, who moved to England and became a perverse quasi-Romantic, remains underrated.

4. Novel: I don’t know of a great Swiss novel, unless you count Rousseau’s Heloise for its historical value.  Max Frisch’s Gantenbein is one runner-up.  Robert Walser has his moments.

5. Music: This one gets tough.  Honegger bores me.  I will listen to Frank Martin, though he is not a favorite.  Paul Hindemith was of Swiss-German extraction but born in Germany.  He would otherwise win hands down.  Edwin Fischer was a wonderful Bach pianist.  Swiss popular music is too ghastly to contemplate, as is the folk music.

6. Actress: Can I say Ursula Andress?

7. Movie, set in: I still like George Lazenby’s Bond movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Extra: You’ve also got Saussure, the Bernoullis, and the Eulers, not to mention Le Corbusier.  There is an overall inclination toward the mechanical, the scientific, and the systematizing.  Perhaps that is why music is so weak.

The bottom line: It is not just cuckoo clocks (as Orson Welles had suggested), which in any case do not originate in Switzerland. 

*Collected Writings of Morton Feldman*

Feldman probably was the most important American composer of his generation, he interacted with the leading NYC painters of his time, and it turns out he is a splendid writer as well.  His observations are to the point, often with a Nassim Taleb kind of sting.  Here is one bit:

Recently in the Sunday papers an article about Messiaen appeared in which a great virtue was made of his political “disengagement.”  Reading this article, we learn how deeply religious this composer is, how much he looks forward to his vacations in Switzerland, how proud he is of Boulez, and how involved he is with bird calls.  Can we say man is really disengaged?  His chief occupation seems to be this disengagement.  There is something curiously official in the way his interests and views are described — as though nothing could now disturb all this.


But he has nothing to worry about, that chap in Tempo.  He’s going to have it all.  Pitch relationships, plus sound and chance thrown in.  Total consolidation.  Those two words define the new academy.  You can tie it all up in the well-known formula, “You made a small circle and excluded me; I made a bigger circle and included you.”  A kind of Jonah-and-the-whale syndrome is taking place.  Everything is being chewed up en masse and for the mass…

It may seem strange to call Boulez and Stockhausen popularizers, but that’s what they are.  They glamorized Schoenberg and Webern, now they’re glamorizing something else.  But chance to them is just another procedure, another vehicle for new aspects of structure or of sonority independent of pitch organization.  They could have gotten these things from Ives or Varèse, but they went to these men with too deep  prejudice, the prejudice of the equal, the colleague.

More books should have sentences like: “[Virgil] Thomson disliked me on sight, as a youth, and it’s never changed.”

The full title is Give My Regards to Eighth Street: Collected Writings of Morton Feldman,” edited by B.H. Friedman.

I think Feldman two greatest works are For John Cage, and also String Quartet #2, which is about five hours long.  This year I have been listening to the Philip Thomas 5-CD set of Feldman’s piano music more than just about any other CD.  It is not the very best Feldman, but it is some of the best Feldman to listen to, if only because the pieces typically are shorter.

Friday assorted links

1. My favorite things Swiss, redux.  These days I would add Peter Zumthor and the Vitra design museum outside of Basel.

2. Theatre of Harmonic Social Motion, a short essay by Anthony Morley.  What are the invisible hand mechanisms governing science?

3. When do unions oppose the minimum wage?

4. 3 a.m. interview with philosopher David Estlund.

5. How did the Brexit idea rise to prominence?

6. Big hack and theft at Ethereum, ongoing story, a big setback for “this kind of stuff.”  (Can I call it that?)  Here is Izabella Kaminska.

Why did the Swiss break the peg of the franc?

Paul Krugman writes:

Two things to bear in mind. First, having in effect thrown away its credibility – in today’s world, the crucial credibility central banks need involves, not willingness to take away the punch bowl, but willingness to keep pushing liquor on an abstemious crowd – it’s hard to see how the SNB can get it back. Second, there will be spillovers: the SNB’s wimp-out will make life harder for monetary policy in other countries, because it will leave markets skeptical about whether other supposed commitments to keep up unconventional policy will similarly prove time-limited.

Brad DeLong and Scott Sumner agree the Swiss move was a bad idea.  We’re all in accord on the economics (more or less), but I am more interested in a different question.  The Swiss central bank, had it continued the peg, probably would have had a balance sheet larger than Swiss gdp.  But does this matter?  Should anyone care?  Or does that make them “too big a guy on the block”?

I see two views of the world running around in these discussions, but not always articulated as such:

1. Bureaucrats, which includes central bankers, are not so much budget maximizers as hoarders of institutional capital.  They hoard institutional capital when they should be spending it down, in the interests of the broader polity.  So this is a public choice problem, rather than a matter of macroeconomic ignorance.  When it comes to macroeconomics, we need institutional reforms which induce them or maybe even require them to spend down this capital, come what may for their personal levels of political influence.

2. Bureaucrats hoard and indeed extend institutional capital because they know how important it is to maintain the quality of significant institutions, such as central banks.  Without such capital , semi-independent central banks would soon cease to exist, to the detriment of us all.  Outside academics, however, rarely can see the importance of this factor, because they have less experience running political institutions.  When smart central bankers — which yes includes the Swiss — are apparently doing the wrong thing, it is because they are seeing more variables of the problem than we are.  They either cannot do “the right thing,” or doing that would be too costly in terms of the country’s longer-term institutional prospects.

By the way, there is also #3, which I do not find credible:

3. The Swiss central bankers suddenly became stupid and forgot their macroeconomics.

I agree there is plenty of #1 out there, maybe for Switzerland too.  But I’d like to see more debate of #1 vs. #2, because I don’t think the Swiss central bankers — praised extravagantly by many of us not too long ago — simply would tank their economy for no good reason at all.

Addendum: Here is Dean Baker’s dissent, although I think the stock market does not agree.  And Scott Sumner comments, he seems to opt for #3.  Here are useful comments from the FT.

Sardinians who want to be a Swiss Charter-City Island

Most secessionist movements want independence. But a small group in Sardinia, the beautiful island off Italy’s coast has another idea for secession.

sardinie2Angered by a system they say has squandered economic potential and disenfranchised the ordinary citizen, they have had enough. They want Rome to sell their island to the Swiss.

“People laugh when we say we should go to become part of Switzerland. That’s to be expected,” said Andrea Caruso, co-founder of the Canton Marittimo (Maritime Canton) movement.

While many have dismissed the proposal as a joke, its supporters insist they are serious. “The madness does not lie in putting forward this kind of suggestion,” said Caruso. “The madness lies in how things are now.”

The Sardinians are not mad. As with Charter Cities the idea is that if you can’t move to good rules then have the good rules move to you. Charter city proponents, however, are focused on relatively uninhabited areas to avoid political problems but the Sardinians are inviting new rules and rulers. In the United States, firms can choose which state to incorporate in and thus which of 50 packages of laws will govern the relations between their shareholders and managers. Why not let cities, states and regions adopt wholesale a package of laws that will govern them? Competitive federalism on a world scale.

How to deal with power-addicted politicians

This has been a fruitful dialog.  Two days ago Matt Yglesias made a list of how progressives should respond to the public choice critique of big government:

– This is why it’s important to be a civil libertarian and to be much
more skeptical than the political/media mainstream is of the idea that
what’s at stake in these debates is really a “balance” between a
“security” imperative and some airy “values.” It is overwhelmingly
likely that various secret police powers are simply going to be abused,
rather than put to some productive-but-liberty-infringing use.

– This is also a reason to be skeptical of ideas about discretionary regulatory fine-tuning. You always could
improve outcomes by abandoning rigid rules (with “do what you want”
counting as a rigid rule) but in practice you probably won’t.

– I think this also counts on a reason to prefer systems that rely more on career civil servants
and less on political appointees. Bureaucrats have their own
distinctive psychopathologies, but they’re different, and it’s helpful
to have them in more tension and balance than exists in the United

– It’s also important to have in place systems for effective
monitoring of elected officials. A Canadian voter elects one federal
official–a Member of Parliament. An American elects four–a President,
two Senators, and one Representative. Americans don’t have four times
as much time as Canadians to pay attention to what politicians are
doing or to learn the issues; our politicians are just being monitored
less. When you consider the proliferation of things like independently
elected school boards, district attorneys, sheriffs, etc. keep in mind
that this diffusion of responsibility is a good way for the egomaniacal
to evade responsibility.

– If that leaves us with too few veto points, the thing to do is not to have additional houses of legislature, but Swiss-style (as opposed to California-style) direct democracy, where the actions of a unicameral legislature can be checked by the voters.

I agree with much of the list (for one thing, however, I think voting for a fewer number of politicians will have a very small beneficial effect in terms of voter attention); the question is what should be added to it.  "Smaller government" is a question-begging answer even if you favor that outcome.  It's a list of what will get you to better governmental outcomes, whatever you think those might be.

Markets in everything?

Who knows, but just maybe:

Doubts about the official version of the rescue surfaced in Switzerland
where a public radio station quoted an unidentified source – "close to
the events, reliable and tested many times in recent years" – saying
$20m was paid to the guerrillas. "It was not a negotiation with the
Farc directly but with a person who is very important in that
organisation, commander César," Frederich Blassel, a journalist with
the Swiss station, told Colombian radio. The reported suggested that a
wife of one of the guards – possibly César – had acted as a go-between
after being arrested by the security forces.

It’s in any case spectacular news and a major blow against terrorism.  Colombia remains an underrated economy and tourist destination and I expect this to serve as a further tipping point toward good things.

Joshua Angrist writes to TNR on Levitt

In "Freaks and Geeks" (April 2, 2007) Noam Scheiber praises my work with Alan Krueger on the economic effects of compulsory schooling but argues that economics Ph.D. students today are obsessed with headline-grabbing trivia of little substantive importance.  The root cause is said to be excessive attention to a good or clever research design at the expense of the relevance of the underlying question.  Scheiber’s story is engaging and he lands a few punches, but his account is misleading in two important ways.  For one thing, he exaggerates the problem of small-bore studies.  America’s half-dozen top Ph.D. programs produce scores of Ph.D. students every year.  Most of this work is still on traditional topics.  At MIT (where Levitt studied), we continue to supervise empirical theses on, among other things, health insurance, immigration, unions, and human capital.  High-quality research on these traditional topics gets students high-quality jobs.  I’ll plead guilty, however, to being especially pleased when students manage to come up with clean identification–that is, they have a convincing strategy for uncovering causal effects.  Clean identification is not a fetish; without it, little of value is learned.  On this score, our students typically do better than the empiricists of H.G. Lewis’s generation.  In two of the most dynamic empirical microeconomics subfields, the economics of education and economic development, there has been a virtual credibility revolution, with the increase of randomized field trials as well as compelling natural-experiments research designs (see, e.g., the work done at MIT’s Poverty Action Lab).

Second, in his rush to tar some up-and-comers with the "cute-o-nomics" brush, Scheiber misses a central feature of the clean-identification research agenda, best explained by example.  One of the enduring scientific and policy questions in Labor economics is the sensitivity of hours worked to changes in pay (this matters for tax policy, for example).  The best evidence labor economists have on the relation between wages and hours worked comes from a small experiment (by Ernst Fehr and Lorenz Goette) involving the wages of bicycle messengers in Switzerland.  The second best comes from a study of stadium vendors by Gerald Oettinger.  Who cares about the riders of Veloblitz or snack sellers at Camden Yards?  We care because economics is predicated on the notion that a few simple principles explain behavior in many settings.  These studies produce results that are convincing and may well be general, though, as always in science, it will take replication to know for sure.  Some of the studies Scheiber dismisses can be understood in this spirit.  Finally, as to the merits of Freakonomics the book: My 17-year old daughter picked it up on her own last year.  She never knew economics could be so cool.  Even better, she now asks me what I’m up to.  So I tip my cap to Dubner and Levitt–I hope to see many of their readers in an economics classroom some day.

JOSHUA ANGRIST is a professor of economics at Massachusetts Institute

That is from TNR on-line.  Here is Alex’s earlier post on the Scheiber piece.

Why is the UK so expensive?

A loyal MR reader, Erik Alberts, writes:

I’ve made several
trips to the UK in the past few months in preparation and it amazes me
how much more things cost there (in London) then here in California.
What I’m trying to understand is why.  I realize that some things like
gasoline cost more in the UK due to taxes.  But for other things, it
appears that prices in the UK are 40 to 50% higher.  How would you
explain this?

Here are a few examples:
1.  Apple iTunes –
costs $0.99 per download in the US, costs $1.47 (0.79 pounds at 1.8594
pounds/$) in the UK.  Why should downloading a song in the UK cost 48%
more when on the internet you can just download them off the US site?
I realize that higher
taxes and higher labor costs may be factors (although at my company UK
labor is cheaper than it is in California), but I find it difficult to
believe that this would explain a 50% difference.  Could this be a sign
of currency imbalance like the big mac index, a supply and demand
issue, or are UK consumers simply used to paying more?

I have wondered the same about Switzerland.  The standard explanation is that expensive countries are extremely productive with their tradables (North Sea oil and London finance?).  That appreciates their exchange rates and renders non-tradables quite dear.  This is the flip side of cheap barbers and prostitutes in Thailand.  But are the Brits really so productive?  If so, why can’t they get both hot and cold water coming out of the same tap?  And aren’t some of the expensive goods tradables rather than non-tradables?

One factor for sure is that American retailing is the most efficient and most productive in the world.  Perhaps the Brits are especially inept in this regard.

A further factor may be that foreigners, even those who are considering moving, sample British prices in biased fashion.  We see lots of hotel rooms, cab rides, and restaurants.  Fish and chips is still pretty cheap outside of London.  As for Marmite I could not say, but that is exactly the point.  Your preferred consumption basket will always look expensive in another country; just try getting Ocean Spray grapefruit juice in Western Samoa.

Your thoughts? 

Toll Roads and Externalities

A recent paper by Aaron Edlin and Pinar Karaca-Mandic has focused my attention on the potential of toll roads. The basic question is whether,

…driving entail[s] substantial accident externalities that tort law does not internalize? …If so, this implies that a one percent increase in aggregate driving increases aggregate accident costs by more than one percent.

This may seem obvious. Any error in tort judgments would reduce deterrence enough to make it suboptimal. But, argue Edlin and Karaca-Mandic, its not so simple;

The reverse, however, could hold. The riskiness of driving could decrease as aggregate driving increases, because such increases could worsen congestion and if people are forced to drive at lower speeds, accidents could become less severe or less frequent. As a consequence, a one percent increase in driving could increase aggregate accident costs by less than one percent, and could even decrease those costs.

Edlin and Karaca-Mandic find that

…traffic density increases accident costs substantially whether measured by insurance rates or insurer costs. …a typical extra driver raises others’ insurance rates (by increasing traffic density) by the most in high traffic density states. In California, a very high-traffic state, we estimate that a typical additional driver increases the total insurance premiums that others pay by roughly $2231 ±$549 each year.

What is the best way to internalize the externality? Gas taxes are, as Edlin and Karaca-Mandic point out, politically untenable. They propose

…requir[ing] insurance companies to quote premiums by the mile instead of per car per year? This simple change could reduce driving substantially by moving a fixed cost to the margin without raising the overall cost of driving.

To some extent insurance companies already do this. Nonetheless I’m not sure that this solves the problem. A friend of mine lives in Riverside, CA and commutes to LA at 3 am. He would get hit by the Edlin premium but is in fact reducing the externality. Even in LA he is really only a risk to himself at 3 am. Another option is toll roads. The problem is that currently most toll roads do not congestion price or differentiate by vehicle size (beyond trucks); a factor White [2002], for example, finds significantly affects accident costs. The transaction costs of internalizing this externality via toll roads may be too high. But technology, according to the Economist, is changing. Toll roads can now congestion price and change higher fees to SUV. The Economist notes that a Swiss toll system which charges for the distance driven

“.. seems to be an unmitigated success. To general surprise, it was up and running on time. And it achieved its main objective: reducing truck traffic across Switzerland, which increased by 7% during the late 1990s. In the year after the system’s debut in 2001, the number of trucks on Swiss roads fell by 5%. What is more, transport companies now try much harder to ensure that their trucks do not cross the Alps empty. Financially, things appear to work, too. Operating costs amount to only 6% of revenues, estimated at €575m last year.

Addendum: Tyler and Alex debated this issue you can follow the debate here.