SWITZERLAND - Best Country in the World? (by Juergen Schmidhuber)

Switzerland - Best Country in the World?

Quality of Life. 2 of the world's top 3 most livable cities and 3 of the top 9 are located in Switzerland (Mercer survey 2010).

Competitiveness. As of 2009-2013, Switzerland tops again the overall ranking in the Global Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum.

Science. Switzerland is the world's leading science nation, as shown below and to the right.

Patents. Switzerland has the highest number of patents per capita, and is world leader in per capita R&D expenditure (2000 World Competitiveness Report of the IMD).

Publications. Switzerland boasts the world's highest number of scientific publications per capita, as well as the most citations per capita (Thomson-Reuters 2009). Here are the numbers for physics: Switzerland 40.5, Israel 21.0, Sweden 16.4, Germany 13.3, UK 9.5, US 8.8, Italy 7.6, Japan 7.0. It also has the most publications per scientist (in this ranking the runners-up are closer, due to fewer scientists per capita): Switzerland 14.3, UK 12.2, US 11.2, Holland 10.6. Similarly for citations per scientist: Switzerland 196.4, US 146.0, UK 140.7, Holland 130.3 (Reckling 2007, UNESCO database). In particular, a Swiss boasts the most cited single-author paper ever (200,000+ cites).

Economy. In business Switzerland is also punching far above its weight. For many decades it had the world's highest GDP per capita; it still has the world's largest wealth per capita (Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report 2010). When the two Swiss pharma companies Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy merged to become Novartis in the 1990s, this was the biggest merger in industrial history so far, quite remarkable for a country of only 7.5m, or 0.001 of the world's population. Today 2 of the world's top 6 pharma companies are Swiss. So is the world's largest food company. Banking does play a role, but is not the most important industry. Much of Swiss GDP is contributed by small companies with at most a few 100 employees, many of them world leaders in their particular niche markets. Many CEOs and >50% of the professors are foreigners. A record 50% of all Swiss students visit a top 200 university (compare US: 18%, Germany: 20%). Excellent industry-oriented professional education yields high social mobility. Multilingualism is the norm.

Switzerland is surrounded by the European Union (a new kind of empire?), which in many ways is like a giant version of Switzerland, whose individual states (cantons) retain a lot of power, with mutually competing tax systems, lots of local direct democracy & referendums, and a consensus-based federal government whose largely unknown leaders frequently change on a routine basis.

Happiness. Switzerland got the highest ranking in the list of happiest countries (1990s average), according to the Happiness Foundation.

Evolution of national shares
   of all Nobel Prizes 1901-2006, properly taking into account that
  most prizes were divided (most laureates get only 1/2 or 1/3 or 1/4
  of the prize - source: Nobel Foundation).
  Switzerland is the prominent red band.
  Note how many of the prizes it got, although it is now
  40 times smaller than the USA, and 10 times smaller than Germany,
  which led the absolute Nobel Prize count 
  until 1956.  (The graph is based on Nobel Foundation data collected by Mei Ni,
and graphics created by Alexander Hristov, for a student project on Nobel Prize statistics,
supervised by Thomas Rueckstiess at Juergen Schmidhuber's CogBotLab at TUM.)

Switzerland is the land of superlatives, leading the world in science, Nobel Prizes, patents, publications, citations, quality of life, competitiveness, happiness, many sports, you name it. The Swiss are too modest to boast about this, but for Prof. Schmidhuber it's ok to say that, since he is not Swiss.


Nobel Prizes. Switzerland boasts far more Nobel Prizes per capita than any other nation that collects Nobels on a regular basis, even when we do not consider all the foreign laureates living here. Ignoring statistical outliers St. Lucia and Iceland (each with a single laureate, according to the Nobel Foundation), Switzerland is the only country with nearly 3 Nobel Prizes per million capita (properly taking into account that most laureates get only 1/2 or 1/3 or 1/4 of the prize). The large science nations all have values below 1 (so do most small nations). In the above graphics on the evolution of national shares of all Nobel Prizes 1901-2006, the vertical width of a nation's colored band at each year measures its percentage of all Nobel Prizes up to that year. Switzerland is the prominent red band. Note how many of the prizes it got, although it is now 40 times smaller than the US, and 10 times smaller than Germany, which led the absolute Nobel Prize count until 1956 (until 1965 if we consider only the laureates' countries of birth; until 1975 if we consider only the sciences). Below we list some of the greatest breakthroughs that took place in Switzerland.

Albert Einstein, greatest
  physicist ever, according to the
poll of Physics World magazine Albert Einstein, perhaps the most famous scientist ever, had his "miraculous year" 1905 at a patent office in Berne, Switzerland, and published his master work on general relativity theory 1915 in Berlin. Back then he was both German and Swiss, and in fact he had Swiss citizenship longer than any other. Leading physicists voted him greatest physicist ever (poll for Physics World magazine; source: BBC News, 29 Nov 1999); he also became TIME magazine's person of the century. Today his theories have innumerable practical applications.

Switzerland is birth place of the WWW Switzerland is birth place of the World Wide Web, created in 1989 by British scientist Berners-Lee at the European particle collider CERN near Geneva, Switzerland. Within two decades the WWW changed the lives of billions, for example, yours. CERN itself boasts the biggest and most expensive scientific machine ever, designed to figure out how the world works.

Euler on the 10 Swiss Franc banknote More Breakthroughs. Swiss inventions & discoveries & heroic deeds with world-wide impact include those of Euler (18th century, among the greatest scientists ever, discoverer of math's "most beautiful formula" e+1=0), logarithm tables (Bürgi, 1588-1610), the first technical journal (Scheuchzer, 1705), variation calculus & probability theory (Bernoulli, 1713), the electrostatic telegraph (Lesage, 1774), photosynthesis analysis (Senebier, 1788), the internal combustion engine (de Rivaz, 1807) which eventually led to the second industrial revolution (driven by the more practical but later engines of Otto & Benz & Diesel), the first multinational enterprise (Fischer, 1833), cough pills (Wybert, 1846), the Red Cross (Dunant, 1864), the copying machine Schapirograph (Fuerrer, 1902), the origins of intelligence in children (Piaget, 1936), the drug LSD (Hofmann, 1938), artificial hip joints (Müller, 1960), electronic watches (Accutron, 1959), the electric toothbrush (Tavaro, 1960), nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (Ernst, 1966), the quartz watch (Centre Electronique Horologer, 1967), the Pascal programming language (Wirth, 1968), high temperature superconductors (Müller & Germany's Bednorz, 1986), the first planet orbiting another star (Mayor & Queloz, 1995), Tamiflu (Roche, 1999), Gleevec (the first wildly successful cancer drug, Novartis, 1990s), the first human stratosphere flight (A. Piccard, 1931), the first and only trip ever to the ocean's deepest point (J. Piccard, 1960), the first balloon trip around the world (B. Piccard, 1999), and many, many more.

  collects many more Olympic medals per capita than
  almost all other countries (including the other
  small ones). At the most recent 2010 Olympics
  a few of the 7.5m Swiss 
  got 6 golds - nearly 1 per million capita. This puts it 
  in an exclusive league with
  Norway (9 golds / 5m people = 1.8 gpmc),
  former East Germany (e.g., Summer 1980  when there
  were 40% fewer medals: 47 golds / 16m people =
  2.9 gpmc; 1988: 2.3 gpmc), and Jamaica 
 (e.g., Summer 2008: 6 golds / 3m people =
  2.0 gpmc). The values of the large sport
  nations are all clearly below 0.3 gpmc.
  By Juergen Schmidhuber, 2010
Text and Fibonacci
web design
by Jürgen Schmidhuber, Member of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts, 12 November 2010

Sports. Switzerland is among the world's most sportive nations, collecting many more Olympic medals per capita than almost all other countries. The plot above refers to the most recent Summer & Winter Olympics (2008 & 2010), where 7.5m Swiss won 8 golds - more than 1.0 golds per million capita (gpmc). This puts them in an exclusive club with Jamaica (6 golds / 3m people = 2.0 gpmc), Norway (12 golds / 5m = 2.4 gpmc), and East Germany (1976: 47 golds / 16m = 2.9 gpmc; 1980: 3.5 gpmc; the number of golds per Games has grown by 64% since 1976 though). The values of the large nations are clearly below 0.5 gpmc; most small nations have 0.0 gpmc. Switzerland also has the lowest obesity rate (7.7%) of the Western world (compare: US 30%, UK 23%, Germany 13%, Norway 8.3% - OECD Health Data 2005). Japan has only 3.2% though.

Architecture. TIME magazine's millennium issue (1999) called the Swiss-born LeCorbusier the most influential architect of the 20th century. Today's top architects are the Swiss Herzog & de Meuron (e.g., Olympic stadion of Beijing). Two of the 30 Pritzker Prizes so far (dubbed the architecture Nobels) went to the little country with just one thousandth of the world's population (most recent laureate: Zumthor, 2009). Swiss also dig the world's longest tunnel (57km - BBC 2007).

Oldest Democracy? Democracy was invented by the Ancient Greeks. By some definitions of the concept, Switzerland is the oldest still existing democracy (since 1291).

Copyright notice (2010): To make his job ads (1,2,3,...) more attractive, Jürgen Schmidhuber tried to find a compact summary of what's great about Switzerland, but could not find any (are the Swiss too modest?), and so he made one. (In fact, many Swiss aren't aware of all the great Swiss achievements listed here.) JS will be delighted if you use the text in this web page and/or the Nobel graphics in the second column for educational, non-commercial purposes, including articles for Wikipedia etc, provided you mention the source and provide a link.
Roger Federer, often called the greatest tennis player ever, man
  with the most Grand Slam titles (17 as of 2012),
  and only athlete ever to become
  Laureus World Sportsman of the Year more than twice (actually 4 times: 2005 - 2008).

Above: Roger Federer, often called the greatest tennis player ever, man with the most Grand Slam titles (17 as of 2012), and only athlete ever to become Laureus World Sportsman of the Year four times (2005 - 2008). Another recent Swiss athlete superstar is Simon Ammann: at the 2010 Olympics he became the first ski jumper ever to win 4 gold medals.


Professor Schmidhuber is director of the Swiss Artificial Intelligence Lab IDSIA, birth place of the New AI (formal & general).