Swiss town set for universal basic income experiment

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Swiss town set for universal basic income experiment
Rheinau Abbey is one of the chief attractions of the area. Photo: Depositphotos"

A Swiss filmmaker is hoping to show how paying people a guaranteed income could work in practice by conducting a year-long experiment in the town of Rheinau in the canton of Zurich.


Under the plan, at least half of the 1,300 residents of the town on the German border would receive a universal basic income (UBI) of 2,500 francs, with the results filmed for a documentary on the issue.

The money for the project would come from crowdfunding or donations from institutions, with the total cost of the experiment estimated at three to five million francs, Swiss daily NZZ reported.

However, people who earn more than 2,500 francs, even if that money comes from social welfare, would be required to repay any money received during the 12-month period.

The project is the brainchild of Swiss filmmaker Rebecca Panian who was inspired by the 2016 referendum in which Swiss voters overwhelmingly said no to the idea of a UBI of 2,500 francs over concerns about how it would be funded as well as fears it could jeopardise the country's existing social welfare system.

But Panian strongly believes the idea is worthy of a lot more attention, and not just in the form of words.

“I’m convinced that every experiment delivers insights that you can’t get by discussion alone,” said the 39-year-old in a video [see above] about the launch of the project.

“Do you want to stay true to the dogma of ‘you have to work for money’? Or do you want a system where you can say: you get money so you can work’?” she said in the video, citing Germany’s Götz Werner – one of the loudest proponents of UBI on the other side of the Rhine.

If she can secure funding for the UBI documentary, Panian plans to film the results accompanied by a team of four researchers including sociologists, an economist and a media linguist.

Read also: A guaranteed income - why the Swiss said no

Rheinau commune president Andreas Jenni has backed the idea of the UBI experiment, arguing it makes politics "more easy to grasp". This is despite the fact that he is one of the 72 percent of people in Rheinau who voted no to a Swiss UBI in the 2016 referendum.

He said that he was confident the money could be raised for the trial but noted it might be difficult to attract participants given that many of them would not benefit financially.

People will be able to sign up for the project from August 31st on, but only residents who moved to Rheinau before June 5th will be eligible to ensure there is no rush of newcomers hoping to cash in.

Rheinau was selected for the UBI experiment from among 100 towns around Switzerland because its population structure made it a “mini-Switzerland”, said Panian.


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