Scaling the Heights...
Student Text Page No. 1: "As a Nation"
By March 21, 1999, the men in the hot-air balloon had set four world
records! Cramped within the balloon's gondola, 20 miles above Earth, Bertrand
Piccard (Swiss) and Brian Jones (British) had just co-piloted the Breitling
Orbiter 3 higher, farther, and for a longer time than anyone before....
They were the first balloonists to circle the globe non-stop!
Fans everywhere applauded their courage. And the Swiss celebrated a family
tradition: In 1932, Piccard's grandfather, Auguste, had pioneered balloon
flight into the stratosphere. And, in 1960, Auguste's son Jacques had
co-piloted the first deep-sea bathyscaphe to plumb the Pacific Ocean's
Patents, prizes. Such courage is highly prized by the Swiss. Their
ancestors chose to live in a country almost completely ringed by mountains
and with few resources. For centuries, they dwelled in small villages,
sometimes separated from the nearest settlement by an avalanche-buried
trail. One's life often depended on being self-sufficient, observant,
The Swiss no longer live in isolated villages.
And, by now, those early life-sustaining traits have evolved into skills
that make great scientists and entrepreneurs. Indeed, over the years,
Swiss citizens have garnered an impressive number of patent registrations
and Nobel Prizes. And with good effect: The CIA World Factbook
reveals that Switzerland's per-capita gross domestic product was the seventh
highest in the world, by 2002!
Exports, exports. What's Switzerland's secret? How do its 7.3
million people turn out a gross domestic product (GDP) worth $233.4 billion
(2002), when they can't grow enough food for their own needs and have
to import materials for their industries to process? Answer: They make
and export goods (precision machinery, e.g.) and services
(banking) that the world values highly. Swiss exports equal 43 percent
of the country's GDP. The sale of machines, electronics, chemicals, and
pharmaceuticals accounts for more than half the value of those exports!
Its tourist industry draws millions of visitors eager to ski the Alps
and enjoy Swiss festivals. And the Swiss manage all this with just 1.9
percent unemployment (2002), low corporate taxes, and only 0.5 percent
Di-ver-si-ty. The most amazing part of this success story is the
diversity of the people behind it. Switzerland is a confederation of 26
cantons (states), each of which has its own predominant language, religion,
and culture. There's no "Swiss language" or even a "Swiss
culture" in the ethnic sense. That's because early migrants to Switzerland
came from nearby regions in Europe and wished to preserve their particular
cultural heritage. Thus, a Swiss citizen today is likely to be Protestant
or Catholic and to speak one of four national languages — German
(spoken by a big majority), French, Italian, or Romansch.
Then, what makes Switzerland a "nation"?
The cantons' decisions, over the centuries, to cooperate in various ways.
Their choice in 1848 to form a federal republic and a common market
that could compete with the world's new industrial economies. Most of
all: Switzerland is a nation because its people want it to be. Democracy,
Key Questions. Like others in today's world, the Swiss are grappling
with big questions. Is Switzerland ready for the challenges of the new
millennium? Can its economy adapt to a constantly changing world market?
Will the Swiss maintain their unique heritage in what is called the new
"global culture"? One thing seems sure: If the Piccards' accomplishments
are any example of how the Swiss tackle challenges, there's little to
worry about. You can read more about Bertrand's trip in this article:
Hall, Alan. "Riding High." Scientific
American. March 29, 1999.