Political Parties Hollowed Out and Identity Issues

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Australian politics as with Trump’s America and U.K.’s Brexit has become hollowed out with declining membership, less organic policy development, more reliance upon both external policy development by trans national think tanks and promotion or opposition by media or PR.

An enforced focus upon immigration, population growth and refugees, or white nationalist issues, may risk bi-partisan support and ignore the immigrant heritage of Australia versus aggressive demands for a WASP white Anglo Saxon protestant and Irish Catholic culture to rule.

Brexit, Trump and Australian politics have obsessed about immigration.

Populist Politics and White Nationalism (Image copyright Pexels).

This is especially so among the less diverse above median age vote in regions, while Australia’s elites in business, government, politics and media also reflect the same mono culture or lack of diversity.

Further, positives and benefits of immigration are seldom cited and especially the leveraging of temporary resident churn over; whether students, backpackers or temporary workers who are net financial contributors supporting the tax base, vs. ageing and increasing proportion of pensioners or retirees in the permanent population.

From The Lowy Institute:

Hollowed out, but not unhinged

Judith Brett

The scenario put forth in Sam Roggeveen’s “Our very own Brexit” runs counter to the major parties’ economic realities.

Sam Roggeveen has written a lively essay on the current state of Australian federal politics, centred on the hypothetical scenario that one of the two major parties takes an anti-immigration policy to an election, overturning Australia’s post-war bipartisan commitment to immigration to gain political advantage. Such an election would be a referendum on continuing population growth, and bring to a halt our cultural diversification and our integration into Asia, which is now the largest source of permanent new settlers.

It sounds unlikely, but as Roggeveen argues, both Brexit and the election of Donald Trump were unlikely, rogue events that have overturned political assumptions. His scenario is not a prediction, he stresses, but a plausible, worst-case scenario arising from the current state of our political parties.

Our two major parties have become “hollowed out”, Roggeveen argues, untethered from their traditional social bases in class-based interests. Party membership and party loyalty have declined, leaving a more volatile and skittish electorate potentially vulnerable to the anti-immigration siren song of a party desperate to gain electoral advantage.

There are two parts to this argument. The first is that the parties have become hollowed out; the second that it is plausible that one of the major parties break the bipartisan support for the migration program.

First, the evidence is clear for the decline in rusted-on party loyalty.

However, Roggeveen does not, to my mind, have a sufficiently nuanced understanding of the reasons for this decline and writes as if it is mainly the result of a deficient political class.

In the early 20th century, when our current party system took shape, it made social and economic sense to have two parties based on two class blocks. Working and middle class, employee and employer, labour and capital – these spoke both to people’s everyday experience and sense of themselves and to competing economic interests. This is no longer the case. More than a hundred years later, Australia’s society and its economy are much more complex.

In developing their policies, parties have to broker compromises among various competing interests, and this undertaking is much harder today. To take a stark example: the problem Labor has in developing policies responsive both to its traditional union base and to the middle-class social democrats who flocked to the party with Gough Whitlam. Compared with the early 20th century, lines of class division have blurred, and new lines of difference have been politicised: gender, race, ethnicity, attitude to nature, and, after the fading of sectarianism, religion again. If the parties are failing, it is in part because the task of uniting disparate constituencies is harder…..

……Second, I do not find it plausible that one of the major parties would break the bipartisan consensus on immigration.

A minor party might succeed with an anti-immigration policy, but neither major party could afford the electoral risk. The 2016 Census reported that 49% of the Australian population was either foreign-born or had at least one foreign-born parent. Not all of these people will be on the electoral roll, but all who are citizens will be, and once on the roll, they will have to vote.

Because of compulsory voting, Australian parties do not need highly emotional and divisive policies to get out the vote, and to support them carries considerable risks. Both Brexit and the election of Trump occurred in polities with voluntary voting, where it makes electoral sense to risk courting an alienated minority. There is no doubt there is a nativist faction in Australia that would support a stop to immigration, but Australian elections are won and lost in the middle, which is occupied by increasing numbers of foreign-born voters and their children.

Also holding the major parties to their consensus on immigration is its contribution to the economy. Australia’s recent sluggish economic growth would be even slower were it not for migration. The housing and retail sectors in particular would be sharply affected by its halt. Our two major political parties may be untethered from their historical social bases, but they are not unhinged from contemporary economic reality.’

 

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Fighting Fake News in Finland via Schools

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We have witnessed years now of conventional and now digital media being manipulated to confuse, misinform and mislead the public of all ages round science of climate change or global warming, politics and campaigns, immigrants and population growth, vaccinations, natural disasters, religion and minorities etc.

Like some states in Australia used to teach critical thinking to high school students in the 1970s, since been ’embedded’ and/or disappeared, Finland has taken the lead in developing skills at primary school age dealing with Russia especially, and global warming denialism.

From The Guardian:

‘How Finland starts its fight against fake news in primary schools

Country on frontline of information war teaches everyone from school pupils to politicians how to spot slippery information

You can start when children are very young, said Kari Kivinen. In fact, you should: “Fairytales work well. Take the wily fox who always cheats the other animals with his sly words. That’s not a bad metaphor for a certain kind of politician, is it?”

With democracies around the world threatened by the seemingly unstoppable onslaught of false information, Finland – recently rated Europe’s most resistant nation to fake news – takes the fight seriously enough to teach it in primary school.

In secondary schools, such as the state-run college in Helsinki where Kivinen is head teacher, multi-platform information literacy and strong critical thinking have become a core, cross-subject component of a national curriculum that was introduced in 2016.

In maths lessons, Kivinen’s pupils learn how easy it is to lie with statistics. In art, they see how an image’s meaning can be manipulated. In history, they analyse notable propaganda campaigns, while Finnish language teachers work with them on the many ways in which words can be used to confuse, mislead and deceive.

“The goal is active, responsible citizens and voters,” Kivinen said. “Thinking critically, factchecking, interpreting and evaluating all the information you receive, wherever it appears, is crucial. We’ve made it a core part of what we teach, across all subjects.”

The curriculum is part of a unique, broad strategy devised by the Finnish government after 2014, when the country was first targeted with fake news stories by its Russian neighbour, and the government realised it had moved into the post-fact age.

Successful enough for Finland to top, by some margin, an annual index measuring resistance to fake news in 35 European countries, the programme aims to ensure that everyone, from pupil to politician, can detect – and do their bit to fight – false information.

“This affects all of us,” said Jussi Toivanen, chief communications officer for the prime minister’s office. “It targets the whole of Finnish society. It aims to erode our values and norms, the trust in our institutions that hold society together.”

Finland, which declared independence from Russia in 1917, is on the frontline of an online information war that has accelerated markedly since Moscow annexed Crimea and backed rebels in eastern Ukraine five years ago, Toivanen said.

Most campaigns, amplified by sympathetic far-right, nation-first and “alternative” Finnish news sites and social media accounts, focus on attacking the EU, highlighting immigration issues and trying to influence debate over Finland’s full Nato membership.

Resistance is seen almost as a civil defence question, a key component in Finland’s comprehensive security policy. Toivanen said: “We are a small country, without many resources, and we rely on everyone contributing to the collective defence of society.”

The programme, piloted by a 30-member, high-level committee representing 20 different bodies from government ministries to welfare organisations and the police, intelligence and security services, has trained thousands of civil servants, journalists, teachers and librarians over the past three years.

“It’s a broad-based, coordinated effort to raise awareness,” said Saara Jantunen, a senior researcher from the defence ministry who has been seconded to the prime minister’s office. “Like virus protection on your computer: the government’s responsible for a certain amount, of course, but ultimately it’s up to the individual to install the software.”…

…..He wants his pupils to ask questions such as: who produced this information, and why? Where was it published? What does it really say? Who is it aimed at? What is it based on? Is there evidence for it, or is this just someone’s opinion? Is it verifiable elsewhere?

On the evidence of half a dozen pupils gathered in a classroom before lunchtime, it is an approach that is paying off. “You must always factcheck. The number one rule: no Wikipedia, and always three or four different and reliable sources,” said Mathilda, 18. “We learn that basically in every subject.”….

…..Part of that continuing education is also provided by NGOs. Besides operating an effective factchecking service, Faktabaari (Fact Bar), launched for the 2014 European elections and run by a volunteer staff of journalists and researchers, produces popular voter literacy kits for schools and the wider public.

“Essentially, we aim to give people their own tools,” said its founder, Mikko Salo, a member of the EU’s independent high-level expert group on fake news. “It’s about trying to vaccinate against problems, rather than telling people what’s right and wrong. That can easily lead to polarisation.”

In the run-up to Finland’s parliamentary elections last April, the government went so far as to produce an advertising campaign alerting voters to the possibility of fake news, with the slogan “Finland has the best elections in the world. Think about why”.

Similarly, Mediametka has been developing and working with media literacy tools since the more innocent days of the early 1950s, when its founders were motivated mainly by fear of the irreparable damage that comic books might do to the minds of Finnish children.

These days, the NGO, part-funded by the culture ministry, organises ed-tech hackathons with inventive Finnish startups in a bid to develop “meaningful materials” for schools and youth groups, said its executive director, Meri Seistola.

“We work with pictures, videos, text, digital content; get our students to produce their own; ask them to identify all the various kinds of misleading news,” said Seistola: from propaganda to clickbait, satire to conspiracy theory, pseudoscience to partisan reporting; from stories describing events that simply never happened to unintentional errors of fact.

Finland has something of a head start on information literacy, ranking consistently at or near the top of international indices for press freedom, transparency, education and social justice. Its school pupils have the EU’s highest PISA score for reading.

“The level of trust in national institutions, in the media, in society as a whole, does tend to be higher in the Nordic countries than in many others,” said Faktabaari’s Salo. “But that means we really need even greater vigilance now, to prepare ourselves for the next phase. Because we have more to lose.”’

 

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Immigration Immigrants and Public Misconceptions

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Harvard University study recently found that people in Western countries, including America, have succumbed to many restrictionist myths…… About 3 percent of the world’s population lived outside its birth country in 1900. And 3 percent does so now. By any objective metric, the modern age has experienced no historic flood of immigration.

Immigration has been front and centre of (mostly) conservative politics in the USA, UK, Australia and Europe presented as a problem requiring a ‘solution’, helped along by the influence and ideology of white nationalists,  However, most people do not understand the dynamics, facts nor benefits of ‘immigration’ and ‘immigrants’ when white nationalists influenced by eugenics are doing the informing, based upon beliefs not facts nor optimal analysis.

From The Week:

The lie of the immigrant welfare queen

By Shikha Dalmia 28 January 2020

Harvard University study recently found that people in Western countries, including America, have succumbed to many restrictionist myths. The right-wing campaign against immigration, in other words, has worked.

But that doesn’t mean that immigration advocates should despair. The study’s findings suggest that to the extent that they can make the case that immigrants don’t need handouts to succeed, they have a shot at turning public opinion around.

The study, conducted by Political Economy Professor Alberto Alesina and and Economics Professor Stefanie Stantcheva, administered online questionnaires to 24,000 respondents in six countries — U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Italy, and Sweden — with the explicit aim of studying legal, not illegal, immigration. That is something that everyone, except for the most hardline restrictionists, allegedly favors, especially in America.

But on literally every count — the levels of immigration, the composition and basic characteristics of immigrants — negative stereotypes abound.

About 3 percent of the world’s population lived outside its birth country in 1900. And 3 percent does so now. By any objective metric, the modern age has experienced no historic flood of immigration. But restrictionists have been beating the drum of “mass immigration” so long that people have come to believe it as true. In every country, the study found, people vastly overestimate the number of immigrants present. For example, in America, legal immigrants constitute about 10 percent of the population. But what is the average perception? Thirty-six percent — or a whopping 22 percent above the total combined share of immigration — legal and illegal, which is about 4 percent of the population. Every group — educated, uneducated; rich, poor; liberal, conservative — has fallen for this myth.

What’s more, people also seem to have a warped idea of where immigrants come from and who they are. Americans in particular tend to overestimate the share of North African and Middle Eastern immigrants, particularly Muslim. Indeed, Muslims are 10 percent of all immigrants (or less than 2 percent of the total U.S. population) but the study’s respondents commonly believed they were 23 percent. At the same time, the respondents underestimated the share of Christian immigrants, systematically exaggerating the cultural distance between themselves and immigrants.

Such misperceptions extend beyond the cultural characteristics of immigrants to economic ones as well…

… But where restrictionists have succeeded most spectacularly is in depicting immigrants as welfare queens. The Harvard researchers presented respondents with a scenario in which two individuals, one with a foreign-sounding name like Mohammad or Jose and another with a standard native name like Jack, are identical in every respect — age, qualifications, jobs, and families — each with three young children — except that Jack is a native and Mohammad or Jose is an immigrant who legally moved to America five years ago. The respondents were asked whether they believed Mohammad or the person with the immigrant-sounding name would pay more, the same, or less in taxes than Jack and whether he would receive more, the same, or less in government help. In America, over 25 percent of respondents said the person with the immigrant-sounding name would pay less in taxes than he collected in welfare compared to Jack — even though immigrants are barred from collecting most means tested federal benefits for five years. This reveals that about a quarter of the American public is outright biased against foreigners just because they are foreigners and not because they are illegal or poor or for any other objective reason….

….So what’s the good news? It’s that despite decades of anti-immigration messaging, there are some restrictionist lines that the public is not falling for, especially in America.

Americans, the study found, believe strongly that immigrants should be considered “truly American” as soon as they become citizens and that they should be able to get citizenship quickly. Moreover, once immigrants do become citizens, most Americans believe, the government should care for them equally. This means that restrictionists who want to scrap birthright citizenship or force immigrants to wait longer are out-of-step with mainstream American sentiment. By contrast, European respondents were much less inclined both to let immigrants become citizens quickly or consider them truly part of the country when they obtained citizenship. “Overall, the U.S. is most supportive of immigration,” the study notes.

Most encouragingly, in every country, the respondents attributed the economic success of immigrants to immigrants themselves and not any social advantage. Conversely, they were less inclined to attribute the success of natives to natives themselves, meaning people don’t always believe the worst of immigrants and the best of natives. They especially softened after hearing a story about an immigrant who held two jobs to support a family while also going to school.

But the best news is that once respondents were told about the correct share of the immigrant population, they were less inclined to think of the current level of immigration as a problem. That means that if immigration advocates can cut through the cloud of restrictionist misinformation and correct the record on immigration levels, it may be possible to get public buy-in for more generous immigration policies — although no doubt they will have to buttress the stats with real-life examples of immigrants getting ahead. The notion that natives, even working class ones, resent the success of immigrants is overblown. In fact, so long as immigrants are seen as succeeding through their own grit, natives may have no real objection to them.

What is most likely to sour the public on immigration are the grandiose universal freebies that Sen. Warren and other contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination want to shower on everyone. Immigrants should be wary of Democrats bearing gifts.

 

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Global Warming – Climate Change – Eco-Fascism

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With the science of climate change and global warming under attack as Australia experiences bushfires not seen before in scope and intensity, there are now clear links between white nationalism and niche environmentalism, or ‘eco-fascism’.  According to many this has included long term support from fossil fuels oligarchs’ foundations in promoting eugenics and anti-immigrant sentiment as an ecological solution.

Parts of the environmental movement are linked to white nationalists and eugenics.

Fossil Fuels and Eco-Fascism (Image copyright Pexels)

Jeff Sparrow in The Guardian Australia presents a summary of his recent book Fascists Among Us: Online Hate and the Christchurch Massacre below:

 

‘Eco-fascists and the ugly fight for ‘our way of life’ as the environment disintegrates

Genuine fascists remain on the political margins, but we can increasingly imagine the space that eco-fascism might occupy.

Earlier this year, when the fascist responsible for the El Paso massacre cited ecological degradation as part motivation for his killing spree, many considered him entirely deranged.

Eco-fascism sounds oxymoronic, a mashup of irreconcilable philosophies.

Yet, while eco-fascists violently oppose contemporary environmentalists, they often appropriate ideas from the past of the environmental movement.

In the United States, the first conservationists – men like Teddy Roosevelt – were wealthy big-game hunters trying to preserve creatures they liked to shoot.

These elite enthusiasts for “the manly sport with the rifle” blamed impoverished arrivals from eastern and central Europe for “pot hunting” – that is, for killing game for food or money rather than for fun. But they also saw immigrants as polluting America’s racial stock, making an explicit parallel between “lesser races” and the invasive species threatening native animals and plants.

On that basis, Julia Scott from the Daughters of the American Revolution could speak at the National Conservation Congress of 1910, urging attendees not only to protect flora and fauna but to conserve “the supremacy of the Caucasian race in our land”.

You can get a sense of the centrality of eugenic theory to the early movement from the career of Madison Grant, the most important environmentalist of his generation.

We can thank Grant for saving the American bison, the bald eagle, the pronghorn antelope, the Alaskan bear and the fur seal, as well as, according to his biographer, contributing to the preservation of elephants, gorillas, koalas and many other charismatic species.

But Grant also campaigned for the racist Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and the Immigration Restriction Act of 1924, and wrote the bestselling The Passing of the Great Race, or The Racial Basis of European History, an impassioned defence of white supremacy that Hitler described as his personal “bible”.

The book’s popularity in Germany was not coincidental. Grant, like many of his colleagues, derived his environmentalism from a conservative Romanticism, the philosophical source for Nazi concepts about the importance of Lebensraum (living room) and Blut und Boden (blood and soil).

Modern eco-fascists still draw on the same Romantic contrast between the sublime hierarchies of nature and the supposedly effete degeneracy of modernity.

They also exploit the legacy of a tendency influential in environmental circles in much more recent times.

In 1968, Paul Ehrlich published a book called The Population Bomb, in which he argued that ecological destruction – and, indeed, almost all social problems – could be attributed to overpopulation.

As the historian Thomas Robertson notes, few signs of a mass environmental movement existed when The Population Bomb first appeared. Yet, “by the spring of 1970, Americans could hardly pick up a magazine or a newspaper without seeing mention of ecology and the environment”. That year, the first Earth Day attracted an astonishing 20 million people to environmental teach-ins, a result attributable at least in part to Ehrlich.

Today, his influence – and that of population theory more generally – has waned considerably, not least because the rate of world population growth has slowed substantially while his predictions of ever-worsening famines in the 1970s proved spectacularly wrong.

But progressive environmentalists also recognised the succour populationism provided to the extreme right.

The attribution of ecological destruction to demographic growth obscures the social relations through which, for instance, a mere 20 fossil fuel companies can be linked to more than one-third of greenhouse gas emissions in the modern era.

Worse still, arguments that (in theory) blame all people often (in practice) target particular people: usually the poor and the oppressed.

The Population Bomb itself opened with Ehrlich describing how he’d understood the case for population control “emotionally” during a visit to Delhi where, he said, the streets “seemed alive with people” and the “dust, noise, heat and cooking fires gave the scene a hellish aspect”. At the time, Delhi housed some 2.8 million while the population of Paris stood at about eight million – and yet it would be difficult to imagine Ehrlich reacting with equivalent disgust to crowds on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

Other populationists came to oppose not just fertility but also immigration, on the basis that, if the teeming masses from poor nations moved to the rich world, they’d adopt a western resource-heavy lifestyle. As a result, as academics Sebastian Normandin and Sean A Valles argue, America’s modern anti-immigrant movement “was built and led by – and in some cases is still led by – a network of conservationists and population control activists”.

The vast majority of greens now disavow the environmental populationist John Tanton, who, according to Susan A Berger, constructed many of the anti-Mexican organisations relied upon by Donald Trump as he electioneered for his border wall during the 2016 poll.

Yet the argument that ordinary people, rather than social structures, should be blamed for climate change still circulates – and invariably pushes in rightwing directions.

Think of the El Paso shooter and the document in which he justified his racial massacre.

“If we can get rid of enough people,” he wrote, “then our way of life can become more sustainable.”

The glibness with which he advocates environmental murder marks the El Paso perpetrator as distinctly fascist.

Fortunately, genuine fascists remain on the political margins in the English-speaking world. Nevertheless, we can increasingly imagine the space that eco-fascism might occupy. When asylum seekers fleeing floods and famines arrive on Australian shores in their millions, how will politicians respond?

Unless there’s a radical shift in the political culture, they will, presumably, rely upon the strategies perfected during decades of bipartisan anti-refugee campaigning, deploying the familiar arsenal of boat turnbacks, naval patrols and offshore detention, albeit on a much, much larger scale.

In other words, they’ll embrace an approach already advocated by European racist populists like Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, who posits massively intensified border policing as a “realistic” response to the inevitability of the environmental disaster.

Just as the stop-the-boats campaigners of recent decades depict refugee advocates as indifferent to drownings at sea, the supporters of “green” border policing will denounce climate activists for sabotaging “practical” responses to climate change with their utopianism.

It’s not difficult to imagine “eco-authoritarianism” or what Naomi Klein calls “climate barbarism”: a politics centred on the state making “our way of life” sustainable as the environment disintegrates. Future governments committed to this project will be able to draw upon the vast array of coercive powers they’ve acquired over the past decades: draconian anti-protest laws; secret trials and imprisonment; the deployment of the army to quell civil disturbances; and so on.

Eco-fascism represents a related but distinctive tendency. It will emerge not through the state but as a political movement, with people like the El Paso perpetrator violently defending climate privilege against immigrants, environmentalists and progressives.

We’re nowhere near that point yet. But it’s a lot less unimaginable than it should be.

Jeff Sparrow’s new book, Fascists Among Us: Online Hate and the Christchurch Massacre, is out now through Scribe.’

 

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Pension Systems and Budget Sustainability

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As populations age and work forces decline i.e. few taxpayers contributing to budgets, pension systems have been subjected to conflicting needs.  This includes preserving the tax base into the long term while catering to ageing electorates, in some cases dominated by pensioners or retirees.

State budgets are coming under more pressure to support pensioners

Pension and Budget Sustainability (Image copyright Pexels)

Following is an overview of the top five most sustainable systems including Australia which is a hybrid of state asset tested pension and the still developing private pension of superannuation system.

Further, an essential part of supporting the tax base is to use temporary residents churn over of international students, backpackers, temporary workers etc. as net financial contributors.

From The Nation:

‘Global top five most sustainable pension systems

WITH pension contributions expected to rise globally, a number of nations have developed models to reward their workforce for life after retirement.

As the retirement age and life expectancy continues to rise around the world, having a sustainable pension scheme is more important than ever

Thanks to gradually rising life expectancy and a higher state pension age, pension contributions are set to soar around the world. World Finance explores the top five countries with sustainable pension systems, where retirees can live particularly well with their pension pot.

Thanks to rising life expectancy and a higher state pension age, pension contributions are set to soar

Australia

Australia’s three-tier ‘superannuation’ pension system is one of the most touted in the world. It includes a tax-financed age pension, providing basic benefits, a company pension pot and the individual contribution to a retirement savings account. Employers are required to contribute 9.5 per cent of worker’s gross earnings, which totalled AUD2.3trn ($1.8tn) at the end of 2017.

Canada

Canada provides its workforce – especially low-income citizens – with the Canada Pension Plan, which is a universal flat-rate pension plus a supplement based on income. Voluntary pension plans were also recently introduced, and from 2019 until 2025, workplace contributions will increase by one percent to 5.95 percent.

Denmark

The average Danish pension pot is well funded due to its ‘folkepension’ – a universal pension scheme ensuring that pensioners receive a basic retirement income. One notable result of Denmark’s successful system is that, according to an OECD 2017 report, its private pension assets represented 209 percent of Denmark’s GDP in 2016.

Germany

Germany’s pay-as-you-earn state pension makes up its main retirement system, which provides a safety net for low-income earners. Occupational pensions are not compulsory but approximately 60 percent of all German workers participate – a number that is expected to grow in the coming years.

Switzerland

Ranked sixth in the world in 2017 by Mercer’s Global Pension Index, Switzerland’s public pension primarily depends on workers’ earnings. Conversely, the compulsory organisational pension depends on a worker’s age – meaning that with age comes a larger contribution. Swiss insurers and various banking foundations have also put voluntary schemes in place.

 

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