Switzerland's Plan To Pay All Adults A Basic Income Could Be A Promising Idea

| by Nicholas Roberts

On June 5, 2016, Switzerland will become the first country to vote on a guaranteed basic monthly income for every adult, regardless of employment status.  Every adult resident of Switzerland would receive roughly $2,450 a month and every child would receive roughly $625 a month.

Such an idea will sound crazy and completely unworkable to many.  Indeed, a recent survey carried out in Switzerland showed that around 350 of 1,076 people interviewed believed the introduction of such a measure would cause other people to stop working, The Local reports.

But the same survey also showed that when people were asked about themselves, rather than others, they maintained they would continue working under the new arrangement.  Only 2 percent of those interviewed said they would stop working altogether, while 8 percent said they would consider the possibility of doing so.

The idea of basic income is seen as a promising one in some developed societies which have been dogged by high unemployment for years and where targeted welfare programs are increasingly seen as inefficient and costly budgetary items.  And due to the persistence of these factors, it is important that the idea of basic income be taken seriously as the near-future will demand new solutions to longstanding problems.

Basic income is seen as a serious way of simplifying welfare states in developed countries, and in some cases replacing targeted social programs with one basic income for everybody.

On another level, basic income is being taken more seriously in recent years due to reports that automation will replace millions of jobs in the next decade or so.  

The issue is starting to become more discussed in the U.S., as well.  Sam Altman of Y Combinator posted a "request for research" into the issue on a Jan. 27 blog post, for example.

But as Nathan Schneider of America Magazine notes, the ways in which the mechanisms for funding and distributing a basic income are handled are as important as the policy itself.  

On the one hand, the policy might be used as an excuse to simply eliminate the existing social safety net, which would leave millions of people worse off under the new policy.  There is also the unsettling idea, mentioned by Schneider, that the majority of the population may come to depend on the largesse and business models of a few people.  As a policy which has never been tried before on a wide scale, many people are rightfully wary of basic income.

Switzerland's proposed policy does not seem to slash the existing safety net in the country, and instead raises the money to pay for basic income from $149 billion in new taxes, The Local reports.  

Perhaps the Swiss will reject the proposal altogether, perhaps they will support it and the policy will fail miserably.  But it is important to remember if Switzerland does vote to enact basic income, other countries have an obligation to see what works and what does not work with the policy, as the issue of persistent and increasing technological unemployment will force countries to alter their welfare states and employment models.

Sources:, America Magazine / Photo Credit: Marcel Grieder/Flickr

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