For some years now, economy and society have been witnessing a progressive regulation and control, which is constantly increasing the administrative burden in companies, imposing requirements on citizens regarding their way of life, and further inflating the state apparatus. In his current article for the industry magazine Trusts & Trustees, H.S.H. Prince Michael of Liechtenstein sheds light on how the decisions of the G20 are related to this, how the ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) regarding transparency registers is to be understood and why the EU Taxonomy Regulation will most likely be to the detriment of certain industries, entrepreneurs, employees and citizens. For those working in the fiduciary trust business, it is necessary to understand such developments so that they can continue to fulfill their main task, namely to preserve and protect assets and values in the long term.
This year's Finance Forum - which is taking place on May 9, 2023 in Vaduz and brings together executives and professionals from politics, the economy and media - core theme is: The financial world of the future?
The conference brochure is the prelude to this financial conference. On May 9, H.S.H. Gisela Bergmann, Princess of Liechtenstein, and Dr. Thomas Zwiefelhofer will discuss how the financial world in the future might look like. In a short interview they give a kick off by answering the following questions:
H.S.H. Gisela Bergmann deems it essential to monitor the technological, regulatory and geopolitical developments at an early stage and to evaluate both: the risks and the opportunities that arise. Additionally, she is convinced, that the more agile and customer-oriented an organizational structure is, the more flexible a company can respond to changes.
Read the whole interview (in German) here.
On May 9, 2023 the Liechtenstein Finance Forum will take place and will bring together experts from business, science, politics and the media in Vaduz.
The leading finance conference unites decision-makers from the financial sector in the German-speaking region and offers a broad variety of top speeches, stimulating panels and informative workshops.
H.S.H. Gisela Bergmann, Princess of Liechtenstein, will discuss together with Dr. Thomas Zwiefelhofer the current challenges, future opportunities and the positioning of the Liechtenstein financial centre on an international level.
Visit us again, we will keep you up to date.
Digital Liechtenstein is an initiative under the patronage of the Princely House of Liechtenstein and the Liechtenstein Government to develop Liechtenstein towards a leading digital business location.
The Board consists of strategic leaders from business, science and politics and is particularly concerned with creating suitable framework conditions for the further development of Liechtenstein as a vast digital location. A key task of the Board is the creation of a roadmap for the digital business location.
H.S.H. Gisela Bergmann, Princess of Liechtenstein, was nominated as board member as per March 2023.
Founded in 1948 by members of the Princely Family of Liechtenstein, Industrie- und Finanzkontor has been majority owned and managed by family members ever since. Originally run as a family office, the company is now one of the leading providers in the field of cross-border asset structuring and long-term preservation of family and entrepreneurial wealth. In 2020, H.S.H. Gisela Bergmann, Princess of Liechtenstein, was elected to the Board of Directors. She was appointed CEO at the beginning of this year.
Princess Gisela received a degree in engineering from ETH Zurich. This was followed by positions in investment banking and engineering in England, Canada, Singapore and Switzerland. She is the daughter of H.S.H. Prince Michael of Liechtenstein, who chairs the Board of Directors of Industrie- und Finanzkontor as Executive Chairman.
Princess Gisela, you have gained experience in many different companies. How does a family-owned and managed company, such as Industrie- und Finanzkontor, differ from others?
The main difference lies in our mind-set, and in the strong ties between the family and the management team, and between employees and clients. This leads to high levels of identification and above-average commitment. And this also means that family businesses are usually oriented towards the long-term.
So, the family acts as a role model?
Yes. In a family business, family members are prepared to invest their own time and money in the company, and to take personal responsibility for the success of the business. This
mind-set has a positive impact on the business, providing security and stability to both employees and clients, allowing the entrepreneurial spirit to thrive.
To what extent?
The family vouches for the company with its own surname. This creates a fundamental incentive within the company to perform at the highest level. Our family values form the basis
on which the entire governance of Industrie- und Finanzkontor is built. We are proud of our strong, diversified management and the motivated, well-trained workforce that stand behind those family values. The strong family ties mean that everyone feels the same compulsion to pull together. Our employees are fully aware of their responsibilities and are committed to the company. And our clients benefit from this.
Industrie- und Finanzkontor has an unusual origin. How is this reflected in the company?
We have our roots in the Princely House of Liechtenstein, which has existed for almost a thousand years. The Princely House has always stood out thanks to an exceptional willingness
to perform, a flair for innovation and entrepreneurship, and the pursuit of independence. These powerful traits run like a thread through our family history, and through Industrie- und Finanzkontor. We look at wealth and family from a holistic perspective, always thinking in terms of generations.
Industrie- und Finanzkontor focuses on the long-term preservation of wealth and values for clients, and structures wealth via legal instruments. How does the awareness of family and wealth play into this?
Each client’s situation is different, as every family is different. Private wealth, and family wealth in particular, are as diverse as the people to whom they belong. Our awareness of family and wealth is expressed in our entrepreneurial thinking, and reflected in each individual solution we craft for our clients. We view wealth from an objective and comprehensive perspective, focussing not only on tangible assets, but on intangible ones as well.
Why is this intangible approach significant for asset structuring?
Values, needs, expectations and goals, as well as the framework conditions in which assets are embedded, are all factors that influence wealth and assets in the long term. That’s why we pay special attention to this side of the business. We also support entrepreneurial families in formulating their own wealth and family culture and to strengthen the family´s understanding of their own legacy.
At some point the time comes when succession in a family business needs to be planned for. What should be taken into account in order to ensure a smooth succession plan?
Apart from the formal succession planning, clear communication and a leading by example on the part of the previous generation form the basis for successful succession planning. Other factors to be considered are that the family members are professionally and financially independent; that they gain experience; show an interest in the family business and have the appropriate willingness to perform. My sister and I were involved in strategic decisions and discussions about the company’s development from an early stage. However, it was always up to us to decide whether we wanted to take over the family business one day.
The world is now in the midst of a transformation: advancing digitalisation, changing client demands, upheavals in the regulatory structure, geopolitical realignment, and so forth. What do you see as the main responsibility of the next generation?
First of all, taking over a business should be seen as a privilege rather than a right. The entrusted company should be further developed for the benefit of future generations, both on a family level and with regard to employees and clients. Economic and social responsibility must also be ensured. The current times are challenging, especially in view of the erosion of private wealth by politics and society. Increasing bureaucracy inhibits productivity and endangers healthy pragmatism. It is important to consciously counteract unproductive bureaucracy. At the same time, there is also enormous potential for new business areas.
What priorities should one set in order to remain viable in the current and future environment?
As a matter of principle, we approach change with an open mind-set, focussing not only on the risks, but on the opportunities presented by new trends and developments, which we evaluate on a regular basis. An organisational structure must be prepared for the future, and employee expertise must be constantly strengthened. As far as the geopolitical realignment is concerned, we are convinced that it further highlights the importance of wealth preservation. In politically and economically unstable times, there is a growing desire for protection and security for wealth and assets, as well as for an environment in which property ownership rights are respected.
While at Industrie- und Finanzkontor we describe ourselves as «Wealth Preservation Experts», sustainability is the most common buzzword in the business world. How do wealth preservation and the quest for sustainability intertwine?
We focus on the long-term and multi-generational preservation of wealth in line with the will of the founder. Our claim «Wealth Preservation Experts» describes what we do in a nutshell. By setting up, implementing and managing asset structures via legal entities such as foundations, trusts or other corporate forms, we create a starting point for achieving positive social, ecological and economic effects in the long term, through those assets. From a governance perspective, we build fiduciary asset structures in such a way that they meet the current framework of conditions, while still being flexible enough to adapt to future changes. This is a basic prerequisite if an asset structure is to be preserved and continued across generations.
In the financial sector, banks in particular are focussing on the issue of sustainability. The fiduciary sector is cautious around this issue. Is the topic not yet ripe for discussion?
The banking industry is probably most directly affected by the current definition of sustainable investments. Accordingly, it is addressing the issue hastily. In the field of foundations and trusts however, the concept of sustainability has always been the guiding principle. Wealth structuring through legal entities lays the groundwork for a long-term alignment of assets. Wealth structures require sustainable asset management; longterm, viable asset investment; and the use of assets, all in line with the purpose of the foundation or trust statutes, which usually includes a time scale of several generations.
Allow me to conclude by asking you what your vision of the future of Industrie- und Finanzkontor looks like?
«Wealth Preservation» is a core value that does not change. The management of asset structures must always be carried out with a long-term view and follow an overall strategy. We, as experts, must anticipate the future, always think a few steps ahead and pave the way for the sake of our clients. This way, we support our clients in their intention to secure the future of their families, assets and values in the long term. At Industrie- und Finanzkontor we develop customised solutions to protect wealth and values and to safeguard them in the long term. Accordingly, our primary goals include to expand the opportunities for wealth structuring and wealth preservation with foresight, and to further develop our products and services.
Gisela Bergmann, Princess of Liechtenstein . Chief Executive Officer
Interview by Susanna Gopp
Recently I was asked how entrepreneurship has changed over time? My answer may not have been the one my counterpart was supposed to get. After all, entrepreneurship has not changed much. It is still concerned with identifying a market demand, examining opportunities, and producing suitable products and services through innovation and courage. That someone becomes an entrepreneur out of «greed for profit» is a fallacy. Entrepreneurs invest capital and time to build and develop a business. They are not afraid of competition with others. And through their personal commitment, they are interested in long-term success, not short-term profit.
What has changed over time, however, are the framework conditions in which entrepreneurship can take place. Today, the regulatory, centralisation and harmonisation structure is so tightly knit that it hinders entrepreneurial competition and makes innovation more difficult. However, competition is essential for improvement and innovation, and a large number of small- and medium-sized enterprises are the basis for a flourishing economy. Unfortunately, this is not understood by political and supranational organisations. And thus, entrepreneurs and citizens are degraded to mere tax substrates.
But entrepreneurs are also characterised by a positive attitude and long-term thinking. They defy many adversities, and family businesses in particular are increasing their productivity, supported by digitalisation. But there are limits to this, too. Western democracies, therefore, should be careful not to slaughter the goose that lays the golden eggs by destroying entrepreneurial freedom.
Conscious succession planning is a core element of long-term entrepreneurship. On the one hand, it strengthens the younger generation’s sense of belonging and responsibility, and on the other hand, it identifies the future for assets and the business. Find out more on how succession planning works in the article: «Gouverner, c’est prévoir».
I am very pleased to announce with this issue that we at Industrie- und Finanzkontor have arranged the company’s succession and Princess Gisela has taken over the operational management as of the beginning of 2022. In the following interview you will get a first impression of Princess Gisela. In our role as managing directors, Count Francis von Seilern-Aspang and I will continue to be active in relationship management and to support the management team at a strategic level.
Michael of Liechtenstein . Executive Chairman
Since mankind exists trust is an elementary component for prosperous interaction between people, is it in business, politics or society. Without trust fruitful and good relationships are impossible. But why then is everything being done to undermine this essential value? In this article for Trusts & Trustees H.S.H. Prince Michael of Liechtenstein highlights the importance of trust for a prosperous society and economy, and related to that the role and duties of the international trust business industry.
Where will the idea of a world full of transparency, equality and common property lead us to? What impact will the idealized vision of a sharing economy have on private property? In his latest article for Trusts & Trustees, the leading international journal on trust law and practice and the official journal of the International Academy of Estate and Trust Law, Executive Chairman H.S.H. Prince Michael von und zu Liechtenstein outlines the threats but also the opportunities that come with the question. He outlines its significance for the fiduciary trust business and shows how it could have come to this excessive strive for transparency that exists today.
Prince Michael of Liechtenstein speaks with Wolf Tivy and Ash Milton about his perspective on changes in international politics and economics, especially the importance of statecraft for small countries as the moral fashions and taboos of the great powers become more influential through a globalized internet culture. Further, they discuss the benefits of decentralization, the necessity of trust of the people in their governments, the advantages of small states and a militia system (as known in Liechtenstein and Switzerland) and last but not least the importance of one's selfresponsibility.
In his latest article for Trusts & Trustees, the leading international journal on trust law and practice and the official journal of the International Academy of Estate and Trust Law, Executive Chairman H.S.H. Prince Michael von und zu Liechtenstein highlights a few key facts that the financial industry and the trust business in particular must bear in mind. Because, in recent years, the financial industry faces demanding challenges concerning transparency as well as regulatory and tax compliance. And it is very worrying to see how this development is shifting the industry's focus away from the clients and their needs.
With the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has become clear that in this new decade anything is possible and nothing is immutable. From one day to the next, open borders were closed, while social and economic life was brought to a standstill worldwide. Now, a few months later, we face a new reality. The consequences of the crisis are clearly visible.
Covid-19 has led to great uncertainty in society. The danger of epidemics is suddenly real again. To avoid infection, people are prepared to make vast concessions. All over the world, people are giving up their privacy to gain a little more security through various applications. Billions of dollars in aid are tacitly accepted, even if it is uncertain how this aid will be financed or repaid. Questions about the medium and long term consequences are being ignored. Asking them is seen as a sign of a lack of community spirit. Yet they must be asked.
As we struggle with Covid-19, solidarity is the top priority. The intent is to strengthen the cohesion and trust within society, and help us get through these difficult times.
However, it becomes problematic when the call for solidarity is used to undermine basic civil rights, to expand bureaucracy, to hinder entrepreneurship or weaken democracy, or to increase control over the individual by methods supposedly meant to contain the virus. A look back into the past shows that such ostensibly temporary measures can mutate into a permanent state of affairs.
Paradoxically, however, solidarity is disregarded when it
comes to the future of the younger generations, who will have to bear the consequences – financial and otherwise. Could the threat posed by the virus possibly be overshad- owed in the medium and long term by the effects of the measures taken to overcome it?
All of us – young or old, living alone or in a family, entre- preneur, business leader or politician – should consider the consequences of the crisis initiated by the virus and then decide the right path for the long term: restrictions, control and heteronomy or entrepreneurship, trust and self-deter- mination. More than ever before, now is the time to address these values and realign our economic and social systems in such a way that future generations also have bright prospects, and the future is not gambled away due to fear of the virus.
Gisela von und zu Liechtenstein
Member of the Management Board
A mega-project is quietly being developed that will have far-reaching consequences and represent a significant intrusion into the financial privacy of each individual. Economists Joseph Stiglitz, Thomas Piketty and Gabriel Zucman are driving forward this project, called the Global Asset Registry. Their vision is to uncover the hidden wealth of nations. But what will the consequences be?
Imagine that everything you own and acquire is entered in a register of assets, stating your name, place of residence and tax number. Anyone in the world can inspect and access the information about your possessions. What do you think about it?
Under the leadership of the Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation (ICRICT), to which also Mssrs. Piketty, Stiglitz and Zucman belong, work is underway on a global, centrally managed asset register. A first Global Asset Registry Workshop, held in Paris in July 2019, generated a wealth of ideas. Land, houses, apartments, other real estate, cars, bank accounts, life insurance policies, safe deposit boxes – all types of assets, without exception, could be included in this register, and it should be as accessible as possible to the public.
In the Roadmap for a Global Asset Registry (GAR), ICRICT argues that the prevailing inequality of wealth poses a serious threat to the economy, society and democracy. It does not explain exactly what this danger is. But it does see the solution in the complete disclosure of property owner- ship. The ICRICT admits that the effective extent of wealth inequality is unknown. But it hopes that the GAR will bring hidden wealth to the surface and then reveal the extent of wealth inequality.
To this end, ICRICT wants to link the wealth data that the GAR collects with those already collected by existing instru- ments – such as the Common Reporting Standard, the Beneficiary Register or Country-by-Country Reporting – or those contained in other national registers. Any additional data could then be collected at a later stage. Those behind the project eventually want to be able to trace asset ownership back to its origin, if possible.
The ICRICT justifies its striving for comprehensive asset transparency by stating that it wants to revive a «broken social contract», according to which private property only receives protection from the law if, in return, ownership
relationships are disclosed and applicable taxes are paid. The argumentation suggests that it is striving for an ideal «Contrat Social» in which the common will and the common good prevail over everything. Individual rights and goods are to be subordinated to this common will and common good. The conviction seems to be that inequality of property becomes inequality among people. Conversely, however, this means that there would no longer exist any room for individual freedom of action and decision-making, or for property rights.
Political decision makers are an important target group.
As outlined in the GAR Roadmap, ICRICT would like to give them a basis for discussing an «appropriate» level of inequality and supporting appropriate taxation. Further- more, ICRICT sees the GAR as an instrument to prevent crime and abuse of power; tax authorities or citizens of corrupt states should be able to take action against their governments. They argue that the advantage for ordinary citizens or businesspeople is the complete transparency and the resulting convenience of only having to sign tax returns, for example. The data on belongings would already be stored centrally.
The project’s argumentation is largely based on estimates and assumptions. It follows the widespread notion that the
«rich» are getting richer and the «poor» are getting poorer because a certain percentage of the world’s wealth is accounted for by a certain percentage of the population, and this percentage is decisive for all social problems and injustices. This is the basis for the idea that justice is achieved when everyone has the same amount of wealth. But is it not much more important that people have the ability to exit poverty and the chance to increase their living standards, instead of everyone having equally much or, conversely, equally little? Discussions about rich and poor often fail to take into account that worldwide poverty has fallen significantly in recent decades (as confirmed in surveys by the World Bank and other organisations), and that living standards are generally much higher today.
The measures initiated because of Covid-19, however, could interrupt the decline in poverty, leaving a lasting mark on the economy and society. Across the globe, social and economic prosperity will weaken and poverty will increase again. Here and there, the virus will also tempt to maintain restrictions on fundamental rights and increase control over citizens. A comparison of these developments with the objectives of the GAR reveals a complex picture of the future: The opportunities to shape life according to one’s own ideas will dwindle. The right to own, use, dispose of and be- queath legitimately acquired property will gradually be restricted. Authorities and centralised organisations, on the other hand, will be given greater scope for action.
The world is moving into a challenging age. The claim to equality and justice ignores the fact that in a world where everyone is equal, no progress can be made. To paraphrase Friedrich A. von Hayek: «A social market economy is not a market economy, a social constitutional state is not a constitutional state, a social conscience is not a conscience and social justice is not justice.» Why? Because with the word «social» individual liberty rights are being gradually eroded.
Whether and how the GAR project will be able to really establish itself depends ultimately on the extent to which politicians, especially in Western democracies, will adhere to the principles of the rule of law – because the project attacks the principle of the rule of law and personal rights. It will also depend on how aware each individual becomes of the dangers that emanate from such comprehensive transparency.
A global register of assets would neither bring crime to a standstill, nor would it close the gap between rich and poor, nor eliminate inequality. On the contrary, it would make a mockery of fundamental human rights and expose every citizen. Social progress and social prosperity would be destroyed because private property would be destroyed.
The GAR Roadmap also argues that offshore structures through foundations or trusts hide the existence of proper- ty and provide fertile ground for tax evasion, tax avoidance or financial crime. Here, the authors seem to be deliberate- ly negating all developments of recent years in the field of tax compliance and the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing in favour of their project.
The purpose of foundations, trusts or other legal asset structures is to organize assets in such a way that business, family or charitable goals and projects can be realized. However, this presupposes that assets are preserved and protected, for example against the dangers arising from current political and economic developments. Foundations and trusts are instruments with which assets can be preserved over the long term and aligned with a specific purpose – so that also future generations have good prospects.
Around 6 trillion US dollars in the United States, just under 1 trillion US dollars in Japan and around 500 billion euros from the European Commission, which does not yet include the support totals of the individual member states – these are just a few of the sums that are being channelled into eco- nomic stimulus programmes worldwide to alleviate the crisis triggered by Covid-19. This is because estimates from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) suggest that the coronavirus crisis will reduce added value in industrialised countries by around 25 percent.
According to calculations by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), global public debt amounted to 83 percent of economic output in 2019. Forecasts have this ratio approaching 100 percent in 2020. The G20 countries’ economic stimulus packages already amount to almost 10 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019, while at the same time the measures to curb Covid-19 are causing a supply and demand shock. For example, the IMF expects the global economy to collapse by 3 percent in 2020. Currently, more accurate figures are unavailable.
The dilemma now lies in the large mountains of debt piling up on one hand, and sources of income stagnating on the other. The IMF has already said that governments should be quite generous during this period, but also keep clean accounts – because eventually, the day of reckoning will come. And the epidemic is not yet over.
The situation is exacerbated by a monetary policy that may work today because there is no immediate danger of inflation. In the medium term, however, it increases the risk of market distortion and bubbles forming in tangible assets.
The key interest rates of the US Federal Reserve (the Fed) and the European Central Bank (ECB) are already hovering around zero. This deprives savers and pension systems of their foundation for building up capital. In addition, authorities are relaxing the criteria for purchase programs to buy risky securities. With the financial crisis, central banks’ balance sheets have been continuously inflated, now this trend is continuing. If we link the situation in monetary policy with the shrinking economies and rapidly growing national debts, and if we also take into account the debt ratio of companies and private households, a picture of a very fragile future emerges. With the current manoeuvres, the Fed and ECB are increasingly restricting their scope for action, so that they will be unable to prevent the debt spiral from spinning out of control.
In this «whatever it takes» environment it is important to act with caution. Eventually, states will have to recoup the money they are spending now. They will not be able to avoid expanding their revenue streams. New types of taxes and levies are already being discussed. Regulatory pressure will also increase and the pressure on «offshore», now synonymous with private wealth, will continue to intensi- fy. Although the realisation of a global asset register is still a long way off, it does indicate a direction in which the world is developing. It is therefore necessary to take precautions and plan and structure one’s own assets with foresight so that they are secured against future challenges of all kinds.
For an asset structure to be sustainable over the long term and across national borders, it must meet the long-term goals, requirements and circumstances of a family, while at the same time taking into account the relevant legal, regulatory, tax, economic and business requirements. Every asset situation is different. It is therefore important for an asset structure to be tailored to the client’s needs and yet flexible enough to allow it to be adapted to changing circumstances in the future.
Anton von Seilern-Aspang
Member of the Management Board
In these times of great uncertainty and widespread fear, it is natural for many citizens to turn to their leaders for guidance and reassurance. However, these much-needed qualities of real leadership have proven to be elusive in many countries around the world. Instead of that, in the US and even more so in the EU, we saw a lack of consistency and planning in the face of the corona epidemic, adding to the overall confusion among citizens and further fueling the media-driven panic. This is why I decided to turn to Prince Michael of Liechtenstein, who kindly agreed to share his views and insights on the present crisis. His tempered and rational analysis, along with his deep understanding of history, have offered many valuable lessons in the past, but this approach is even more needed now that panic is so dangerously abundant.
His Serene Highness Prince Michael of Liechtenstein is the Executive Chairman of Industrie- und Finanzkontor Etablissement, a leading Liechtenstein-based trust company with a tradition and expertise in the long-term and trans-generational preservation of wealth, values and businesses. Furthermore, he is the founder and Chairman of Geopolitical Intelligence Services AG, a geopolitical consultancy company and information platform headquartered in Vaduz. In addition, Prince Michael of Liechtenstein is a Board Member of the Liechtenstein Institute of Professional Trustees and Fiduciaries, Chairman of the liberal think tank European Center of Austrian Economics Foundation and Board Member of the International Institute of Longevity.
Claudio Grass (CG): Thanks to the coronavirus epidemic, within a month, the entire planet has been swept by panic. The global economy has been forced to a screeching halt, citizens of most western nations are being ordered to stay in their houses, while we all constantly receive regular updates on the latest “death count” and infection figures. Did you anticipate that such a scenario was even possible? Is there anything comparable to this in recent historical memory?
HSH Prince Michael of Liechtenstein (PML): Since the end of World War II, Europe has gone through an unprecedentedly long period of peace and prosperity has constantly increased since then. Over time, the awareness of possible crises has been lost. This “spoiling” effect of the good times has caused societies to dismiss and ignore the eventuality of a possible crisis that could come at any time. People voted for safety and security, but the prevention of threats was widely repressed and happily ignored. The welfare state, under the banner of protection, directed people to exchange individual freedom and self-responsibility for an illusion of security provided by the state.
We are now facing a health crisis, which is serious and has to be addressed, but it is not one of the greatest, world-wide humanitarian crises in modern history. Yet in Europe, it is perceived as precisely that. This shows just how comfortable we’ve been in the recent past, but it also blatantly discounts all the other crises: almost 10 years of war in Syria, the enduring conflicts in Afghanistan, the Ebola epidemic in West-African countries, the civil war in Rwanda, Burundi and Congo in the 1990s. However, the emergency measures we’ve seen in response to the threat that this virus poses – necessary as they may be deemed – constitute the largest restriction of fundamental rights in Western Europe since World War II, and in Central Europe since the end of the communist dictatorship. They might also result in a major recession. At the very least, this should serve as a reminder to us all to increase prevention measures in different sectors! Responsible politicians should prepare their countries against possible disasters, mainly by fostering and trusting the personal responsibility of their people. Decentralized preventive systems are necessary: engaging local and municipal responsibilities and relying on the positive outcomes of individual freedom.
CG: Could you elaborate more on your views regarding the governmental reaction to the epidemic? Do you see the damage being inflicted by the measures as a necessary evil and proportional to the threat posed by the disease?
PML: Certainly, measures to control or at least limit the spread of the virus are necessary. However, the opinions on how to achieve this differ in the various countries. To judge the different governmental reactions, for example that of the UK versus Sweden versus other European countries, is not appropriate and it is certainly premature. What can be seen so far, however, is that countries with more decentralized healthcare systems are better prepared to help people who are infected. The current epidemic has brought the inflexibility of oversized systems of many countries to light. Countries such as Italy, Spain and others with their centralized, rigid systems were not able to adapt and respond to the crisis quickly enough. The policy of many countries now is to slow down the spread of the virus in order to have enough treatment and hospital capacity for those who are infected. This should give them some breathing room, while we wait for the development of vaccines.
The lesson that countries with more flexible and more decentralized healthcare systems are faring better should cast serious doubts over the push to find common European solutions or to embrace the global leadership of the World Health Organisation (WHO). The European Union and the WHO can support the handling of the crisis by giving some guidance. However, decentralized and local actions and policy decisions might be more to the point to respond to the crisis adequately. They can be much quicker to adapt to changes and developments and better equipped to address the specific needs of their regions and communities. It is important that institutions such as the WHO are not allowed to assume decision-making powers or to exert undue influence that limits the responsibility of local and regional authorities and constrains their capacity to act.
Also, in other areas of civil protection, such as cybersecurity, emergency plans for the population and strategic stockpiles of medicine or food are insufficient in a number of countries.
CG: In your own view, is there a better way of reacting to this as a state, than what we’ve seen in most western democracies? Might there be alternative policy approaches that could protect the public without decimating the economy?
PML: At the moment, the protection and preservation of human lives is certainly a priority. But indeed, it is also a duty of political leadership to apply common sense when introducing preventive measures. It is a great responsibility to maintain economic viability, which is also essential to the wellbeing and finally the health of citizens. Excessively harsh measures will alienate and marginalize large parts of society, especially those in the weaker and older segments of the population. Mankind needs social contact. Some people may become very lonesome and lose their purpose in life. Sound political leadership should not only be guided by medical expertise on the virus itself, but also by the courage to find the right balance between the protection of public health and the functioning of society and the economy, as well as between state-imposed measures and citizens’ self-responsibility. A crisis must never be misused to extend state power. It is thus vital that governments will have the courage not to delay the return of the economy to its full capacity.
In China, the crisis was first ignored by the centralist system and then crushed by brutal, authoritarian measures. These measures will help the totalitarian state reinforce control over its citizens in the future. Our democratic countries must avoid the temptation to use the emergency measures taken today to control the citizens tomorrow, for example via tracking their movements and contacts through mobile phones. Although some lip service is paid to the contrary, we already hear suggestions from political leaders and NGO’s in that direction.
CG: How is Liechtenstein handling this crisis? What measures are in place and what are the plans to protect the principality against both the virus and the economic fallout?
PML: Liechtenstein has functioning open borders with Switzerland and will therefore widely align with the Swiss measures. A big asset is that, contrary to many other European countries, Liechtenstein has no debts. A prudent fiscal policy allowed the country and its municipalities in the past to build up financial reserves. In the current situation, this allows Liechtenstein to effectively and efficiently support businesses that are strongly impacted by the measures eroding their income, without simultaneously building up an enormous debt burden.
CG: We saw an unprecedented fiscal and monetary response to this crisis, with central banks turning their printing presses to the maximum and governments pledging trillions in stimulus and bailouts. Do you expect this so-called “bazooka” response to suffice in keeping the economic system standing?
PML: Although normally governmental bailout policies are dangerous, it is now essential to help businesses which have lost their capacity to produce or sell their goods and services. This necessitates and legitimizes liquidity injections. The problem now is that a large part of the world’s economy was already supported by cheap money over the past 10 years. Of course, cheap money can help fend off a crisis in the short-term, but it may never be seen as a long- term economic solution. The coronavirus has encountered a fragile global economy, weakened by too much government intervention and oversized public sectors. Now is the time to find a way back to more entrepreneurialism, individual freedom, personal responsibility, less public spending, more private savings and equity-building, as well as simplified tax regulations. That will be the most efficient long-term recipe to get out of any economic crisis.
Unfortunately, in the past, in most European countries overspending has led to significant public debts and aggressive tax policies have eroded the equity basis of businesses.
CG: Many investors have experienced “shock and awe” by the historic crash and volatility spike in the markets. What would be your advice for conservative investors and for ordinary savers who not only have to contend with the market rollercoaster but must also now live with even deeper negative rates and infinite easing policies?
PML: Due to the effect of money supply at “no” cost via zero to negative interest rates and quantitative easing, we face a real asset inflation. Bubbles developed in the equity, real estate, arts and other markets. A correction was long overdue, and this was not a soft landing but a harsh crash. Nevertheless, I still believe that equities of strong, solid companies remain a good investment. In fact, we should not be too impressed by the markets’ current volatility, as long as the basis of an investment is solid. Abundant money can even drive valuations again to excessive levels. However, this is not necessarily a sound development. Markets need to find prices that reflect the economic reality. An oversupply of money, as we have seen in the recent past, destroys savings and has the potential to erode trust in the currency. I am concerned that the current easy-money policies will go beyond the measures that are necessary to provide troubled businesses with short-term liquidity in order to make it through the crisis.
The Austrian School of Economics teaches the importance of the principle of “creative destruction”, according to which a crisis always has the potential to create innovation in business, society, the economy, etc. However, a crisis caused by an epidemic is not necessarily a creative destruction for businesses which are not viable anymore. It rather jeopardizes good businesses due to uncontrollable elements. Thus, a liquidity support is to be endorsed, however, if such support ends up in an illusion of a “healthy economy”, further delaying essential reforms, it has a detrimental long- term result. Again, what is needed after the corona-crisis is a hard turn towards entrepreneurship, free markets, less state intervention, and decentralization.
Currently, there is the belief that savers are punished again and debtors are rewarded. But in the mid- and long-term, everybody should watch out for building up some reserves to survive hard times to come. Such reserves can be a certain amount of cash or real estate properties with moderate mortgage loans, but also a good education and development of skills that will be demanded in the future. Gold also seems to be a solid hedge once again. Last but not least, especially in times of crisis, it is crucial that common sense and realism prevail over panic and fear.
CG: What are your expectations and projections for the next few months? Do you believe this crisis will cause structural changes and transformations in our economy and financial system or do you expect we will all go back to “business as usual” once the dust settles?
PML: There is the old adage: “Never let a good crisis go to waste”. The question now is, who will be using this crisis and to what end? A great concern that should be at the forefront of everybody’s mind is the misuse of power that goes along with the emergency situation. Bureaucratic principals and centralists may attempt to misuse and perpetuate the additional powers that the state is gaining from the current measures. This “opportunity” might also be grasped by supranational entities to increase their own influence excessively.
If we look back at the past 20 years, we see an obvious trend towards more centralization, regulation, bureaucracy and the limitation of individual freedom and self- responsibility, as well as the undermining of privacy and property rights. Weak national politics also allowed supranational institutions to influence and to limit national sovereignty. Judicial systems are increasingly becoming an instrument of the state, rather than an instrument of the citizens to protect themselves from arbitrary state decisions. These detrimental tendencies might be enhanced by the emergency measures.
On the bright side, a positive result might be that people become more aware of the necessity of individual and local responsibilities and of the necessity to plan ahead and to prepare for emergencies, instead of blindly and naively expecting solutions from the state. Another good development could be that the crisis may have positive effects on various businesses, in the services industries in particular. Certain procedures are now being reconsidered and realigned to become more productive, customer-friendly and cost-efficient. Also, the crisis may also incentivize regulators to streamline regulations in order to make them more market-oriented, slimmer, effective and less costly.
CG: On a global level, and especially in Europe, most of the private sector has already taken a severe hit, the media continues to spread panic, most people are locked in their houses and they increasingly see their basic rights curtailed through “emergency powers” and new government rules. There’s a lot of confusion, many are scared of the virus, and arguably even more are scared of losing their jobs and of financial ruin. What would be your advice to ordinary citizens during these difficult times?
PML: Try to live healthily. Although we have to behave carefully, it will be impossible to completely prevent infection, simply because it will be impossible to completely eliminate human contact. A healthy lifestyle and an optimistic mindset will certainly strengthen the immune system and that is the best hedge against the effect of the coronavirus, and many other diseases for that matter. On the flip-side, all fear and panic, not only lead to terrible decisions, but they also weaken the immune system. Therefore, my advice is to act prudently and responsibly. A healthy lifestyle and a clear mind are key in the current situation, together with common sense and realism in everybody’s economic and financial decisions.
Claudio Grass, Hünenberg See, Switzerland
Link to the interview: https://proaurum.ch/aktuellwichtig/crisis-must-never-misused-to-extend- state-power
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On the 22nd of June 1948 members of the Princely House of Liechtenstein founded Industrie- und Finanzkontor, to restore family assets after the end of the Second World War and to manage them in a more targeted manner.
The long-term safeguarding of assets and wealth emerged as a general key issue.
75 years at the service of families and entrepreneurs.