Swiss voters widely reject guaranteed basic income proposal

Swiss voters have widely rejected a proposal to introduce a guaranteed basic income for all.

Under the plan, a monthly income of 2,500 Swiss francs ($2,563) would have been given per adult and 625 francs per child under 18 regardless of their circumstances. Final results from Sunday’s referendum showed that the Basic Income Initiative received just 23.1% of the vote, compared with 76.9% against.

The referendum came after more than 100,000 signatures were collected to hold a popular vote, a regular feature of Swiss direct democracy in which citizens can collect signatures to urge a national referendum on a proposal. This system has helped the country pioneer social and economic changes.

Switzerland is the first country in the world to forward this idea of a basic guaranteed income for everyone without regard to employment, education, disability or owned wealth and open it up to a popular vote for its 8 million people.

However, Swiss voters have roundly rejected this idea by a wide margin.

Supporters of the plan carried out a poster bigger than a soccer field asking “What would you do if your income was secure?” They also marched dressed as robots down Zurich’s high street handing out free 10-franc notes.

switzerland guaranteed incomeThose who are for the plan cite wealth disparities amongst people and decreasing employment opportunities because of increasing use of technology and automation as valid reasons for the basic income plan. An unconditional income would help fight poverty and inequality they say and would provide security for all and that by distribution of wealth human dignity would prevail as well as a sense of public duty. It could also encourage creativity and entrepreneurship. Supporters also feel it would lessen the load on welfare agencies and save government money.

The government however, opposes the plan saying it would prove too costly. The price tag for the UBI or Universal Basic Income would be close to 200 billion Swiss francs and would weaken the economy. Even if money was saved from social welfare schemes, it would still require the hiking of taxes and cuts in public spending to cover the 25 billion gap.

Other opponents said it would not be fair to all and would foster laziness. Many businesses and trade unions are also against the idea. The government feels it would kill competitiveness in businesses.

Basel cafe owner Daniel Haeni who pioneered the idea accepted that he had lost the vote but claimed that he had won a moral victory.

“As a businessman I am a realist and had reckoned with 15 percent support, now it looks like more than 20 percent or maybe even 25 percent. I find that fabulous and sensational,” he said. “When I see the media interest, from abroad as well, then I say we are setting a trend,” he added.

Che Wagner, a co-initiator of the proposal, also seemed satisfied with the results. He said that his own prediction was that the initiative would only get around 15% support but the fact that 23% voted for it was encouraging. “The debate just started,” Mr. Wagner said.

Interior Minister Alain Berset said the vote showed Swiss voters supported the economic and social system in place “and that this system works well”. He well has a point.

Switzerland’s economic model, has allowed the country to hold onto one of highest living standards in the world, even with a growing and aging population. It has an unemployment rate of around 3.5 percent, less than half the average in the European Union.

Switzerland which is basically traditional, may be the first country to hold a national referendum on the UBI, but the idea has been garnering interest among economists in Europe and the U.S. in recent years. Countries like Finland are willing to even experiment with the idea. The country is set to introduce a novel program for a random sample of about 10,000 adults who will each receive a monthly handout of 550 euros, about $625. The intent is to convert it into a national plan if it proves successful after a 2 year trial period.

In the Netherlands, Utrecht is leading a group of municipalities that are experimenting with similar pilot projects.

In the United States, the idea of a guaranteed income has gained some followers in the run-up to the presidential election in November. Democrats who are demanding more social justice are pushing the idea but some right-wing advocates who see it as a better alternative to government welfare programs are also latching on to it.

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