A surprise solution

Like many wealthy countries, Switzerland’s population is aging fast. In 1960, the median age was 32.7. Now it’s close to 43. The fertility ratio is well below the 2.1 replacement level, at 1.54. The age dependency ratio has moved from 15.5% in 1960 to 27.6% today. But Switzerland’s incredible wealth hides the growing problem.Switzerland age dependency ratioSwitzerland fertility rate

The country is attractive. It’s close to the top of most global rankings. The immigration queue is long. Few get in. Even the very rich can struggle. Roman Abramovich was refused citizenship because he posed a “reputation risk”. And for those who aren’t in the 1%, the cost of living is a concern.

The growing shortage of young working people shows up fastest in the job categories that are least attractive. When demand exceeds supply, the price goes up. That’s happening.

A recent experience provides an example. We had a problem with hot water. The plumber quoted CHF4,148 ($4,160) to replace the hot water cylinder, an extraordinary amount in any other country. Not only that, a little experimentation revealed that the hot water cylinder was not the source of the problem.

Refugees offer the solution. In a conservative country, that seems like political suicide. Not handled properly, it is.

Xenophobia aside, refugees become a real problem when they can’t or won’t integrate. Integration works best at the community level. National policies cannot create community acceptance. Acceptance requires leadership at the community level, and a community that is a community.

Switzerland accepts refugees. Anecdotal evidence suggests that refugees are increasingly turning to crime. In the past 9 years Switzerland’s overall crime rate has dropped by over 20%. That improvement hides the growth in some categories of minor crime. If the anecdotal evidence is correct, then some refugees are not integrating.

The two problems have one solution. Train the refugees to provide services that are becoming overpriced. To be sure, it’s not that simple. That’s where the community comes in. People working together find answers to challenges that initially seem intractable.

And working towards a common goal integrates the community.

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