How did Switzerland become a rich country?
The welcoming of immigrants plays a very important role in the prosperity of Switzerland. Voltaire, Lenin, Tzara and many others have found in Switzerland a refuge and a place to nurture powerful ideas and destinies. The old mountainous culture of the Alps emphasize that hosting people in danger brings good karma. And history shows that hospitality has largely benefit the Swiss. The most famous example is maybe the creation of the Swiss watch industry in the 16th century by the large incoming of French refugees fleeing protestants persecution.
Since 1540, Calvin has welcomed converts to Protestantism in its newly created Reformed Church of Geneva. The Huguenots (French protestants) has fled massively France as the Catholic king started huge campaign to chase them. French goldsmiths and skilled craftsmen were settling in Geneva but were out of work in a city where the new protestant ethics forbid luxury and the display of ostentatious jewelry. Thinking about new ways to sell their crafts, they started to design beautiful portable clocks. These watches were tolerated for their usefulness and quickly became a new fashion in the region.
17th-century German Baroque style fob watch. - source : Wikipedia
Fast-forward a century later. In 1685, the relative peace between catholic and protestants is broken once again in France when Louis the 14th revoked the Edict of Nantes in an attempt to eradicate Protestantism. More than 200 000 French protestants escape France in what is called the “grand Refuge”. Thousands of refugees arrived in Geneva from Lyon and Paris, bringing their businesses of crafts, printing, art and decoration. In a few years, Geneva and the provinces nearby have became centers for crafting and designing watches. The reputation of Swiss watches spread all over Europe. The rest is history.
Map of French protestants exodus during the “Grand Refuge” under Louis 14th - (c) Musée du Désert
As Peter’s answer describes well, Switzerland has always benefit from being a “border country” within the Alps. It stands at the center of what still today one of the most dynamic region of Europe (between Southern Germany, Northern Italy, Eastern Austria and the Rhone valley in France). The strength of Switzerland largely come from its uncanny ability of opening its door to outside influences and flows.
The country itself is a political miracle : German, French and Italians living together on the same land for centuries- sounds totally incredible. The federal and political structure of frequent elections force people to take decisions together frequently, learning to compromise and live together. Switzerland don’t take people and relationships lightly. They understand that prosperity is made by people and that, ultimately, what matter is not where they come from but who/what they are.
GDP and Productivity in Europe (2006) - source : Nord Regio
This text was originally published in quora.