Innovative Solutions in Tough Times
A year after the fall of the Third Reich, Associated Press columnist DeWitt Mackenzie was in Europe reporting on recovery efforts. There wasn’t a lot of good news in those days. The war was over, but everything was in a shambles.
Nevertheless, on March 11, 1946, he published an article under the headline, “Switzerland Solves Food Problem Well.” (Click here to read the version that ran in the Prescott (Arizona) Evening Courier.) He praised the Swiss for finding innovative solutions to the food shortage problem during the war. They were, after all, a small country surrounded by turmoil, and they relied heavily on imports. Unless they could do some quick thinking, they would starve. Of course, bureaucrats aren’t known for finding innovative solutions, much less for implementing them quickly. But Switzerland was fortunate: they called upon the leadership of a banker named Arnold Müggli. And even though he knew nothing about food distribution, this man did extraordinary things.
He assembled a committee of women to advise him, and then he convinced the housewives of the nation, the millers, and the bakers to work together. And that was just the beginning. As Mackenzie wrote, Müggli “soon became one of the most popular figures in Switzerland—and that’s something for a rationing chief.”
The Swiss physician and counselor Paul Tournier was a friend of Müggli’s, and years later Tournier talked about this in his book The Adventure of Living (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1976, translated by Edwin Hudson). Tournier often spoke of “meditating” with his patients, but what he meant was that they prayed together and then listened quietly for direction. Speaking of Müggli, he says (on pp. 232-233):
“He was not a robust man, and I was afraid he would not have the strength necessary to cope with such a task. You can imagine what a heavy task it was when Switzerland became, shortly afterwards, like a little island in the center of Europe, entirely surrounded by the triumphant power of the Third Reich.
“My friend and I meditated together. He put down in his notebook certain directives, which he carefully observed throughout the whole of the war. They were that he should leave his family in Zurich; that he should work in Berne only until the Friday of each week; that he should spend Saturday alone, at home in Zurich, quietly thinking over his important problems; and that he should reserve Sunday for his family. At the end of the war he was in much better health than he had been at the beginning. He had fought effectively against the open social sore of the black market and had been so successful in insuring the Swiss people were properly fed that the University of Zurich conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Medicine.
“He has told me one anecdote concerning his adventure. Toward the end of the war he noticed that people were not making full use of their ration cards. This moderation was not due to lack of appetite but to lack of sufficient money to buy all the foodstuffs permitted. He therefore asked his committee if it was possible to prepare a second card, of the same nutritive value but of lower-priced foods. The experts, however, were unable to come up with a workable plan. Thereupon he went off into the country with one other colleague, in order to meditate upon the problem. Three days later he came back with a project which the experts considered to be excellent, and within a month he was able to give the people a choice of two ration cards.”
Wouldn’t the world be a better place if more bureaucrats were like Arnold Müggli? Wouldn’t it be even better if you and I followed his example?