I opened the NZZ am Sonntag (the Sunday edition of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the paper of record for German-speaking Switzerland) today to read of yet another threat from Switzerland’s current favorite comic-book supervillain: Starker Franken.
This week, its was “Starker Franken gefährdet eintausend Hotels” ("…endangers a thousand hotels"). Last week, “Starker Franken droht die Löhne” ("…threatens wages"). I’m half expecting next week to read “Starker Franken ermordet zwei Landsmänner in einer Messerstecherei in Langstrasse” ("…kills two compatriots in a knife fight in Langstrasse [Zürich’s red light district]") or, even worse, “Starker Franken ist mit 225 km/h auf der A1 bei Kölliken von der aargauischen Kantonspolizei kontrolliert geworden” ("…got caught speeding.")
Starker Franken means, of course, “strong Franc (currency)”, and I’m not making light of the difficulty. On the one hand, I’ve gotten a 30% raise in dollar terms over the last three years, just sitting here. On the other, the relative strength of the franc to the euro is crushing export-related sectors of the economy, which in a country roughly the size of Maryland, Delaware, and DC, is “most of them”. The Swiss national bank ran out of money a couple of years ago trying to keep the Euro exchange rate manageable, and got stuck with a big fat paper loss denominated in Euros in doing so. Deflation is not inevitable, but it’s less unthinkable than it should be in an economy that’s basically stable and not in debt up to its ears. So, yeah, villainy.
But it’s kind of hard to take the angst seriously when it’s reported with tabloid breathlessness week after week above the fold on the front page of a supposedly august newspaper.