A guaranteed income: why the Swiss said no

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A guaranteed income: why the Swiss said no
File photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

The prospect of getting money for nothing did not prove attractive to the Swiss on Sunday as the vast majority voted against the introduction of an unconditional basic income (UBI).


Why? The vagueness of the proposal, a lack of detail over its financing and fear of the unknown were among the reasons reported in the press on Monday.

The idea of receiving a guaranteed monthly income of 2,500 francs, even if you don’t work, may seem a utopia to many.

But in a country where “economic realism is a cardinal virtue”, according to L’Hebdo, its rejection is not so surprising.

“Utopia did not convince,” said the magazine, reminding readers that the conservative Swiss have previously rejected proposals for more holiday, a minimum wage and limitations on the salaries of heads of companies.

The main error of yes campaigners was lack of clarity over how it would be financed, it said.

“The figure of 2,500 francs supposed to be the monthly allowance for each resident, far from arousing desire, posed the question: from whose pockets will it be sought?”  

Speaking to the Tribune de Genève, PLR councillor Laurent Wehrli agreed.

“The project was masterfully vague and put the Swiss economy in danger. The people understood that,” he said.

For supporters of a UBI, the principle was, as expected, simply too large for voters to swallow at this point in time.

“Citizens are scared of the implications and the unknown factors implementing it could bring,” Lisa Mazzone of the Green party – the only major party to support the initiative – told the Tribune.

Speaking to The Local , Gabriel Barta of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) in Switzerland said: “The conservative Swiss could not accept such a thoroughgoing societal change when, in a country whose prosperity has not yet visibly deteriorated, they did not understand the necessity for it.

“While we cannot guarantee that society will not be turned upside down, the necessity for a UBI will become evident with time. It took four popular votes and 50 years to approve the AVS (old-age pension).”

As for the government, the defeat of the UBI was a vote of confidence for the current welfare system.

Announcing the results in a press conference the Swiss minister for home affairs, Alain Berset, said: “The results show that the public are happy with the social system we have in place, that the system works well, that we should continue to develop it.... collectivism helps and supports those who need it.”

Despite being rejected by 76.9 percent of the voting public overall, the UBI did garner pockets of support.

Among them, two communes in the Jura voted in favour of the initiative, as did 54.6 percent of voters in the Pâquis area of Geneva, said the Tribune.

At cantonal level the cantons of Basel-Ville and the Jura achieved the highest levels of support, with around 36 percent voting in favour. Over 30 percent of voters in Geneva and Neuchâtel also voted for a UBI.

“The rejection was expected, even if I was hoping for 40 percent overall,” BIEN's Barta told The Local.

“The main result is there, however: everyone now knows of a potential solution to problems whose seriousness is generally recognized.

“The passionate discussions generated by a proposal with absolutely no institutions or organizations behind it, and the fact that one voter in four is already in favour, will ensure that it stays near the top of the priority list.”

Indeed, despite the large overall rejection, there’s no doubt that the vote provoked a discussion on the subject that is unlikely to go away.

The commune of Lausanne has already agreed to launch a study about the feasibility of implementing a UBI in the city, and other regions could follow suit.

“Everyone feels that the traditional state welfare model has limits,” wrote L’Hebdo. “And even if it remains solid and well managed in Switzerland, the subject is likely to be re-examined more and more.”

The results of our own poll, conducted on Friday, were much closer, with 49 percent of readers rejecting the idea of a UBI against 46 percent approving it.


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