Switzerland has voted with an overwhelming majority against the basic income proposal that would have given every adult citizen $2,500 after tax, for doing absolutely nothing.
In the referendum held Sunday, about 78 percent people voted against the measure introduced by the grassroots organization Generation Basic Income in 2013. Only 22 percent supported the plan.
While the exact conditions were not clear, the campaign group said citizens would be paid regardless of their employment status or wealth. Children were supposed to get a quarter of $2,500 and the working citizens who earn less than that would have had their pay topped up.
“In Switzerland over 50% of total work that is done is unpaid,” said Che Wagner, the referendum’s co-organizer and campaign manager before the vote. “It's care work, it's at home, it's in different communities, so that work would be more valued with a basic income.”
Critics of the measure, which included the Swiss government, claimed, “fewer people would choose to work” if the proposal were approved, which would have been bad for society.
“For centuries this has been considered a utopia, but today it has not only become possible, but indispensible,” lead campaigner Ralph Kundig said ahead of the referendum. Admitting they only had a little chance of winning, he added, “just getting a broad public debate started on this important issue is a victory.”
At a time when most countries are facing harsh economic conditions and debating issues such as minimum wage, Switzerland is going to vote on whether to grant all its adult citizens a guaranteed monthly income, no questions asked.
The country is holding a national referendum on June 5 to decide on the basic income that would give each person a monthly stipend of at least 2,500 Swiss francs ($2,520) without any tax deductions. Children will get a quarter of that amount and working citizens who earn less than that would have their pay topped up. Meanwhile, those who are unemployed will receive the full amount.
The debate began in the capital city of Bern in 2013, when the grassroots organization Generation Basic Income led an effort to establish a basic income for every citizen unconditionally. The nature of Swiss politics allows citizens to hold a referendum on the national ballot, provided they have the required 100,000 signatures.
“It would lead to a more motivated workforce and more humanized, stable and productive economy,” Che Wagner, the referendum’s co-organizer and campaign manager, told USA Today.
While $2,520 is not enough to get an individual above the poverty line in the country dubbed as one of the world's most expensive, supporters of the initiative claim it will provide security to the citizens.
The proponents also argue that Switzerland is a rich country that can afford basic income, but the government does not agree. In fact, it claims it would have to find about 25 billion Swiss francs a year to pay for the measure if it gets the majority vote.
“We’ve come to the conclusion that such an initiative could weaken our economy,” said Interior Minister Alain Berset, adding the proposed stipend would result in higher taxes, discourage people from working, and subsequently cause a severe skills shortage.
Now, the question is what voters will do.
As it turns out, opinion polls show only 40 percent of Swiss voters back the proposal. Of those, more than half said the income would allow them to spend more time with their families while almost 10 percent said they would consider leaving their jobs. The rest are against the measure.
Switzerland might be the first country to hold a referendum on basic income but it is certainly not the only one to come up with the idea. Several other countries, including Canada, Finland and Netherlands, have also shown interest in the program.