THE TOURIST's Switzerland is a neat, tidy land of spectacular scenery, clean trams, prosperous cities, spotless streets, and dependable, if seldom inspiring cuisine, all currently priced out of the reach of all but affluent Americans. On a clear day, a fortunate visitor might even catch sight of William Buckley or John Kenneth Galbraith skiing down the slopes of Gstaad. Statisticans routinely report that the Swiss enjoy one of the universe's highest standards of life, substantially superior to our own. Unemployment is almost unheard of, in part because the Swiss ship their guest workers back to Italy and other countries at the first hint of recession. In this home of rampant democracy, the Swiss vote on everything from taxes to nuclear energy. Their non-imperial president serves a one-year term and exercises serverly limited authority.
Jean Ziegler, a professor of sociology who represents Geneva in his country's parliament, sketches a totally different picture. Here is a nation which has perverted its own best traditions in order to become a satellite of American imperialism, a "secondary" imperialist ally. The indictment's tone ranges from the merely furious to the nearly incoherent, but the separate counts are familiar. Swiss banking secrecy has made the country a favorite laundry for dirty money collected by dubious characters ranging in turpitude from the Mafia through assorted political strongmen to the deposed Shah, if I have properly stated the order of merit. "In the world imperialist system," charges Ziegler, "Swiss imperialism plays the vital role of the fence " (emphasis in original). By various concessions, including individual tax treaties with rich foreigners, the government encouraged monied scoundrels from Latin America, the Middle East, and elsewhere to settle among the complacent Swiss.
CIA watchers usually blame it and the International Telephone & Telegraph Corporation for the destruction of the Allende regime in Chile. Although Ziegler is happy to excoriate American policy, he insists upon the importance of Swiss complicity, notably on the part of the Swiss-based Nestle company which "controlled almost the entire production of tinned dairy products and instant coffee, as well as a large proportion of all other Chilean tinned food." When Allende tried to negotiate over price. It eagerly joined other multinationals in sabotaging the regime.
For Ziegler, the multinationals represents unadulterated evil. They distort economic development in the Third World, divert the resources of struggling nations to numbered bank accounts in Zurich and Basel, finance local dictators, overthrow left-wing governments, and in general destroy the aspirations of the poor and persecuted of the world. Most of the multinationals of course are housed in the United States, Western Europe, and Japan, but Switzerland gladly charters the remainder, accepts money from all of them, and cooperates with the major imperialist powers which stimulate multinational business.
Jean Ziegler winds up his philippic warmly: "All of us, in varying degrees, are today under attack from the same enemy: the malnutrition, the sickness, the poverty, the hatred and the shame imposed on the many by the few. Imperialism is a cancer . . .. The only cure is concerted action by men and women determined to put a stop to the monocratic rule of finance capital and of the market place, to get rid of the poverty and the lies, and transform their mutilated lives into a meaningful collective destiny."
For my part, I deplore much of recent American foreign policy, accept many of the text's adverse judgments upon the multinationals, agree that the murder of Allende is an American crime, and even concur in disliking Swiss amorality in the handling of money. It is always fun to read a sweeping denunciation, a reaction which may explain why the book has been a best seller in Europe. Nevertheless, I cannot help wondering whether the multinationals really invented poverty and malnutrition in the Third World. Is there no such phenomenon as Soviet imperialism? For that matter, does Iran's Islamic Republic promise human liberation or a theocratic version of the Shah's brutality? Are all capitalist nations and all multinationals equally vicious? Dare one even ask whether there really is an international conspiracy of capital?
One sympathizes with Ziegler's evangelical drive to redeem the Swiss soul. But an American can scarcely avoid regretfully noting that on the day the Swiss stop accepting dirty money and harboring multinational malefactors, other havens will eagerly present themselves. Among existing competitors must already be numbered Lichtenstein, the Bahamas, and Monaco. For their own sake and the future of their immortal souls, the Swiss probably ought to reform. Not much would be changed in the world if they did so.
Ziegler has been compared to Noam Chomsky. The similarity is in the combination of emotion and masses of statistics. Unfortunately, Ziegler's data too often are unanalyzed and frequently seem irrelevant to the case made. Still, after reading Switzerland: The Awful Truth , I am unlikely ever to see the country in quite the same light. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption, by John Ryan