IMAGE: Olekcii Mach — 123RF

Switzerland votes on Universal Basic Income

If you’re reading this today, Sunday June 5, then you’re doing so as eight million Swiss vote on a popular initiative about creating a universal or unconditional basic income, (UBI) an approach that many pundits say will be the basis of future societies, where machines will substitute the jobs done by humans until now.

Switzerland began debating UBI back in the 1980s, when academics proposed it as a way to eliminate poverty. Little happened over the next two decades, until in the early years of the new millennium, supporters in Germany also looked at the idea, and a campaign was launched to garner the 100,000 signatures required to begin the process of holding a referendum. After a lengthy media campaign and symbolic gestures like the truck that tipped eight million coins, one per each Swiss citizen, in front of the Swiss parliament in Berne. The campaign began in April 2012, and by October the following year, some 130,000 signatures had been collected, triggering the referendum.

No figure has been put on UBI in the referendum, but proponents of the measure suggest around €2,250 a month per adult, and €564 per child. The polls suggest the majority of Swiss will reject the idea, although supporters say their goal was to raise awareness and trigger debate. Opponents say that were Switzerland to introduce UBI, the country would become a magnet for migrants, that it would discourage people from working, and would be a burden on tax payers.

Support for UBI is spreading around the world, what’s more, holding a referendum in Switzerland, a famously conservative country, has given it greater credibility. There are any number of articles and books offering a more detailed analysis on its effects on different countries. Some have dismissed the Swiss initiative as a “first world problems, others, such as the incubator Y Combinator’s in Oakland, California, or that in the Dutch city of Utrecht are experiments to gauge the effect on recipients and to establish whether they give up on work all together, or if instead they decide to change occupation, study, and do something useful once freed from the pressure of having to find the money to pay the rent and feed themselves, and who knows maybe live happier lives and even end up being more productive.

I have written about UBI on a number of occasions:

Tonight I will be updating this entry with the result of the Swiss referendum.

UPDATE: as expected, 76.9 percent of the Swiss said no to UBI. The support for the proposal reached 35 percent in just three territories.

(En español, aquí)

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