Traditionally, outside observers have tended to idealize Switzerland, to admire its standard of living and to glorify its tradition of democratic government. More recently, they have focused rather on the particular qualities of Swiss political culture, to which they have attributed the peaceful cohabitation of different cultures in one and the same country (e.g. Deutsch, 1976; Segalman, 1986; or Steinberg, 1988). Against this background, a recent assessment by The Economist that ‘the Swiss island of calm is becoming a little more like other countries’ is rather new (Beck, 2004). The Economist notes that the Swiss economy has proved as vulnerable as any other to the fluctuations of the business cycle, and is not as uniformly efficient as the Swiss themselves like to believe. If there is one persistently special feature about Switzerland, it is, as far as The Economist is concerned, its political system, its particular mix of political institutions which sets it apart from any other country in the world.
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