Bruno S. Frey: “This is a catastrophe”

Professor Dr. Dr. Bruno S. Frey in Zürich an einem Anlass
Economics professor Bruno S. Frey at an event in Zurich. (Image:

One of the world’s most important economists, Bruno S. Frey from Basel, has launched an all-out attack. One Swiss fact in particular bothers him – but he presents the solution to

When 81-year-old famous professors of economics speak out, they always have something significant to say. When it’s a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Economics and one of the most-cited economists in the world, like Bruno S. Frey, you have to listen all the more carefully.

This week, in the lion’s den of all places, at the Liberal Institute of Switzerland, Frey gave the liberals a good talking-to.

He said that the liberals themselves were to blame for the entire expansion of the state and the decline of the liberal movement, and the economics professor explained this with two developments.

Only masterminds in focus

First, the liberals are far too backward-looking. The concentration on big names, such as Walter Eucken, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich August von Hayek or Wilhelm Röpke, no longer interests younger people. Young people have therefore lost contact with the liberal movement because it is often focused solely on these great minds, Frey pointed out on Wednesday evening in Zurich.

The new generation, however, has little in common with the liberal movement of the pioneers, he said, pointing to an example. Income inequality can nowadays only be redistributed by the state – and the current generation would not even come up with any other ideas, he literally shouted out.

Reaching out to young people

Liberals must therefore make it clear what their intellectual concept does for the world and for its people, the 81-year-old continued energetically in the Zurich Zunfthaus zur Saffran. The renowned scientist also criticized that economics had become ‘far too mathematical’ and practically only looked at econometric models.

And the Liberal Institute should not only concentrate on the older generation, but should rather address young people, Frey murmured to the circle of rather gray heads present.

The second reason why there are almost only socialist or social democratic ideas in the landscape is the focus on woke-ness, i.e. the lack of social justice and diversity. Yet it is precisely diversity that is inherent in liberalism, he said, and this needs to be highlighted much more.

Universities as a problem

As solutions, however, Frey sees other points that he would change, in addition to appealing to younger people and making liberalism more benefit-oriented.

Liberals should turn away from universities, the professor recommended. These are no longer places of thought, but, with regard to Switzerland, merely institutions that attract credit point collectors.

Wirtschaftsprofessor Bruno S. Frey erklärt mit viel Nachdruck die Welt
Professor Bruno S. Frey
Schweizer Journalist Dominik Feusi erhält die Röpke-Preis
Journalist Dominik Feusi

There is a lack of places for reflection and discourse, Frey warned. Those in charge of educational institutions also have little interest in changing this “unspeakable Bologna system” because academic bureaucrats would like to keep the universities as schools.

Private money

“Universities, however, should become thinking rooms again,” Frey emphasized. New institutions are needed that do exactly the opposite of what Swiss universities are currently practicing, at least in the social sciences, the economist said critically.

When asked about the problem and possible solutions, the much-quoted economist told that he saw only private universities as alternatives. The state-subsidized educational institutions are now a disaster and hardly in a position to change anything themselves, Frey explained.

All the same a taboo

At the same time, he pointed to three possibilities to which Switzerland should pay more attention to in the future. First, he said, the principle of counter-speech should be institutionalized in many places. “Good institutions need counter forces and these should always show alternatives,” Frey said. Uniformity is a taboo, he said.

Second, he said, Switzerland needs to focus more on federalism again. The federal government is supposed to regulate practically everything these days, but the cantons can often master the challenges much better through local cooperation.

The professor even envisages new state units that would have their own taxes and democratic legitimacy. Switzerland grew from the bottom up and not through an all-powerful state, the scientist pointed out.

Outsiders to the inside

And thirdly, the random principle should be given more weight again. If all candidates for the vacant seats on the Federal Council were as suitable as is currently being discussed in public, a lottery could also decide on the allocation of seats, he cited as an example of this.

Moreover, the members of the National Council and the Council of States had in part completely lost touch with the people, Frey criticized. With a qualified chance, however, outsiders as well as unusual ideas could be given a chance and a better representation of the entirety of the people could be made possible.

Journalist awarded

Frey then attended the 13th awarding of the Röpke Prize for Civil Society. This time, the Liberal Institute honored the well-known journalist Dominik Feusi for maintaining a culture of debate as well as his fundamental liberal stance.

In his speech, Feusi followed exactly in the footsteps of economics professor Frey. Journalist Feusi called for the maintenance of freedom of contract, free price formation and the fact that everything social actually swells up from below in the population and not down from an all-powerful state.

But this liberal concept must also be brought to the people – just as the respected economist Frey urged.


Bruno S. Frey: “This is a catastrophe”

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