Gnomes of Zürich

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Gnomes of Zürich is a disparaging term for Swiss bankers. Swiss bankers are popularly associated with extremely secretive policies, while gnomes in fairy tales live underground, in secret, counting their riches. Zürich is the commercial center of Switzerland.

History[edit]

After World War II, British Labour party politicians were worried about speculation against the pound undermining the economic regime. The economic growth in United Kingdom was low, only half of that of Germany and France. The demand for pound sterling started to fall.[1]

The Swiss bankers were being criticised in Britain from the 1950s. The term first originated in a crisis meeting of the Labour politicians in November 1964. The politicians blamed the Swiss bankers for raising speculation against the pound. During the meeting, politician George Brown criticised the Swiss bankers and said: "The Gnomes of Zürich are at work again." The term "Gnomes of Zürich" was then used by many other politicians of the time.[1] Then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson vowed to resist the gnomes' sinister power.[1]

Paul Rossy, a top banker in Zürich at the time stated "In the world it is not the image, but the substance behind the image which counts." The phrase was adopted by the Americans as well.[1]

Impact[edit]

Soon after the catchphrase becoming famous, a few Swiss bankers started answering their phone as "hello, gnome speaking".[1] An audacious Swiss banker moved to London in order to set up his business and named it "Gnome of Notting Hill".[1]

In recent decades, the Zürich bankers have lost the foothold they had in the global economy due to the rise of London, New York, Dubai and Hong Kong as leading financial capitals.[1] The Zürich Money Museum displays the sculpture of a gnome. Jurg Conzett of Zürich Money Museum says that nowadays, bankers see gnome as "almost" a noble title. Bankers currently based in London agitated by rising taxes, stricter regulation and public animosity towards investment banking are considering moving in large numbers to Zürich itself where banking is "the state religion".[1]

Other uses[edit]

The phrase is reflected in the traditions of the Zürich Grasshoppers Rugby Club, whose mascot is a gnome and which occasionally plays a third/casual team called "The Gnomes".

Gnomes of Zürich is also the name of a classic rock band from North East England, and a 1990's psychedelic rock band from Minneapolis.

The Gnomes of Zürich are one of the playable Illuminati in Steve Jackson's card game of conspiracy, Illuminati. Their goal is to collect a specified amount of megabucks, the game's currency.

The original version of the computer game Zork makes reference to an "epicene gnome of Zurich".

Valiant Comics' Archer & Armstrong features a group of literal gnomes referred to as the Gnomes of Zurich, one of many factions within The Sect formed to kill the titular immortal, Armstrong.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Chris Bowlby (25-February-2010 13:00 GMT). "Why are Swiss bankers called gnomes?". BBC News Magazine.