Swiss Defeat Basic Income

The movement for a basic income was described in a blogpost on August 2, 2015 ( The argument for a basic income arises from the prospect that technology will continue to eliminate jobs while replacing only a fraction of them. Consumer products and services will be produced by a shrinking workforce, leaving 50% or more of the working age population unemployed and unable to afford to meet their needs.

The prospect of millions of freeloaders is countered by the suggestion that the income would be relatively minimal; one could get by without working, but would not live particularly comfortably. One author cited in the earlier blogpost suggested that the basic income could give rise to a new era of entrepreneurship. A small businessperson may get through a difficult period, or a creative individual would have the support necessary to survive through starting a new business.

A proposal for a country-wide basic income for Switzerland was put before the voters on June 5, 2016, the first country to do so. Supporters envisioned a monthly income of 2,500 Swiss francs for each adult and one-fourth of that for each child. The total for a married couple with two children would be 6,250 Swiss francs per month, equivalent to an annual income of about $78,000 in U.S. dollars, an amount which the BBC said reflected the high cost of living in Switzerland.

The Basic Income Switzerland campaign argued that, “In Switzerland over 50% of total work that is done is unpaid. It’s care work, it’s at home, it’s in different communities, so that work would be more valued with a basic income.” Nonetheless, the measure was defeated with 77% of the voters opposing the plan. The Swiss government opposed the proposal, arguing that the cost would be prohibitive, and that fewer people would choose to work if the basic income were approved.

But there was another issue of concern. While Switzerland has a population of only 8.1 million, it is in a part of Europe that allows other Europeans to come and claim residency. One member of parliament expressed that if Switzerland were an island the basic income would be possible. “But with open borders it’s a total impossibility…. You would have billions of people who would try to move into Switzerland.”

The vote by no means spells the end of consideration of a basic income. The Dutch city of Utrecht is developing a pilot project to distribute money to residents who currently receive welfare payments starting in 2017. Finland is considering replacing welfare benefits with a basic income and will test a plan that will provide 8,000 to 10,000 Finns about 550 euros per month for two years.

Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols have come out with a book titled People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy. They recognize that a basic income could attract support of the affluent, theoretically those who own businesses, who will understand that unemployed people will purchase goods and services that returns the money back to the wealthy. Instead of a guaranteed basic income, authors propose removing “certain functions from the marketplace altogether as the society grows wealthier. Enhance democracy, don’t cash it out. Make broadband Internet access free and ubiquitous. Make healthcare free and ubiquitous. Make extensive public transportation within cities and between them free and ubiquitous. Make all education free and ubiquitous. The list goes on and on. At some point, down the road, inequality is eliminated and humans enter an entirely new phase of their history.”

The Economist published an article on universal basic incomes the week of the Swiss vote. It reported that Silicon Valley is interested in a basic income, again as a way of assuring income in a world of robots and artificial intelligence. More surprisingly, The Economist reported that the Cato Institute, a conservative American think tank dedicated to smaller government, believes that a basic income “is the simplest, least intrusive and least condescending way to provide redistribution if redistribution there must be.”

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