Switzerland votes on an Unconditional Basic Income
Next Sunday, the 5th of June people in Switzerland will have the chance to vote on the unconditional basic income. Even though polls hint to a negative outcome of the vote, one of the main goals of the campaign has already been achieved: ignite a debate around the issue of an unconditional basic income – a topic, which has been discussed in the past rather occasionally has now accessed the mainstream media.
One week before the vote, the campaign promoting the basic income has reached Berlin: Initiators of the campaign installed a poster in the centre of Berlin along the ‘Straße des 17. Juni’ next to the Brandenburg Gate “What would you do if your income were taking care of”. With the 450m long poster the initiators broke the record of the world’s largest poster.
Even though different approaches are being widely discussed at the moment, no country has yet established a basic income. However, in some municipalities first experiments have been launched. The city of Utrecht in the Netherlands, started a project in January 2016 providing 250 participants with 900 Euro per month. In Finland and Canada pilot projects are debated at the moment.
Although the concept of an unconditional basic income sounds straightforward, different models need to be differentiated: While the founders of the Swiss initiative pursue a humanistic approach, the model which is currently debated in Finland points into a rather neoliberal direction.The humanistic approach aims to liberate people from the necessity to work and from material needs. In times when processes of automatisation take over more and more work an approach is needed, which stimulates creative free time, more time for family and care, for living healthier lives and so on. Promoters of the unconditional basic income argue that it is inevitable step in the age of digitalisation.
“The welfare state was the answer to industrialisation. The unconditional basic income is the answer to digitalisation. The humanistic answer to technological progress.” – Daniel Häni, in an interview with the Frankfurter Rundschau Online from 30th May 2016 , (own translation)
On the other side, the Finnish neoliberal model attempts to simplify the social welfare system and create incentives to work in the low-pay sector. While the founders of the Swiss campaign propose 2500 Franks (2000 Euro) per month for each adult and 625 Franks for children, in the Finnish model a sum of 800 Euro is debated.
Critics of the basic income argue that such a system cannot sustain itself, fearing that the increased taxation might lead to higher illegal employment rates.
In addition, the existing problems of welfare distribution won’t be solved and probably even helping companies to avoid the responsibility of paying fair wages.
A representative study carried out in Europe, detected that 64% of the people, would vote in favour of an unconditional basic income. At the same time only four percent of the participants of the study stated, that they would stop working, if their income was covered.
Nevertheless, the crucial point of the discussion is the question, what will happen in case a basic income is introduced. In other words: “What would you do if your income were taken care of?