Europe

Swiss voters reject basic income plan

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switzerland

Image:Wikipedia

Many countries provide assistance to their neediest citizens. In most countries, there needs to be a compelling reason that you require this sort of assistance. In the U.S., the government provides money to people who have lost their jobs recently or become disabled as well as a number of other programs designed to provide people with basic necessities.

Of course, the U.S. is not alone in this regard. Western Europe has a famously generous government welfare system. In many countries such as France or Scandanavia, social programs provided by the government are extensive, with a generous minimum wage and health benefits. This has been the overarching trend for the region since the end of the second World War.

There are exceptions of course, such as Sweden, which has always held itself at a bit of a remove from the rest of Europe. Famously neutral, it is one of the only continental countries to willingly abstain from joining either the EU or the Eurozone. In addition, it handles its welfare system a bit differently. While much of Europe lets the central government dictate a regimented structure of benefits from the top down, while in Switzerland, the majority of those decisions are made at the local level.

Now, Switzerland has engaged in another first as it held the world’s first vote on guaranteeing a basic income to all its citizens. The measure would have been the first of its kind and would have promised every Swiss citizen a basic income regardless of whether they worked or not.

The proposal’s backers took advantage of a unique element of Swiss government in order to get it to a vote. In Switzerland, which has a long history of unique direct democracy, citizens can put any measure to a vote by simply gathering enough signatures on a petition.

Unfortunately for the proponents of the measure, it didn’t seem to translate into wider support during the recent referendum, which saw the proposal defeated by 77% of the vote.

So what accounts for the overwhelming defeat at the polls? Well, there are a number of factors that might explain the results.

First, there was little support among politicians for the measure. For instance, not a single party or representative came out in support of the bill. Many argued that the measure would make the country too enticing for poor immigrants from other areas who would quickly overwhelm the government’s resources.

Others argued that severing the correlation between reward and effort would damage the character of the nation.

The majority of opposition from the bill might have come from the issue of practicality. The proposal offered no clear conception of how the system might actually work, and many voters had a hard time imagining that it would be possible for the government to take on such a tremendous financial burden, even after raising taxes and cutting spending elsewhere.

Though the measure has been defeated, this may not be the end of the idea of a guaranteed basic income. The idea was first proposed by academics in the 1980’s and has been growing in support since then. The Swiss vote was the idea’s first trial in the court of public opinion.

Supporters of the idea argue that as technology increasingly makes low-wage jobs redundant, a combination of government support and technology may eventually free people from the need to work through the pooling of collective resources.

Of course, as anyone who has ever had to work a minimum wage job can tell you, that day still looks to be far, far away.

Wyatt is a writer and your friend. You can follow him on Twitter @WyattRedd.