Switzerland, one of the richest countries in the world, is soon to vote on a referendum that would provide a basic income for all persons legally residing in Switzerland whether they are working or not. An additional referendum would also introduce a minimum wage. While a universal basic income may seem radical, it was once proposed by St Thomas More, the author of ‘Utopia’ who was beheaded by England’s Henry VIII. From the point of view of Swiss leftists, a universal basic income is considered an act of justice while the right sees in it the possibility of eliminating social welfare schemes entirely.
Enno Schmidt is a Swiss political activist who supports the reform, arguing that Switzerland is the perfect place and 2013 the perfect time to try it. “Switzerland is the only country in Europe – and perhaps the world – where the people have the right to try something real, through direct democracy.” The concept of direct democracy in Switzerland could even allow free beer for everyone if the Swiss want it. In order to propose a national referendum, only 100,000 signatures are required to put it to a vote. A vote is then required and the referendum must be put into effect.
It was because of banks such as UBS, which continued to pay bonuses to its principal executives despite reporting huge losses, that Swiss voters became indignant and began a heated discussion about salaries and justice. It was easy then to garner the required number of signatures to put universal minimum income to a vote. The Swiss government will soon announce a date for the balloting.
Business leaders in Switzerland expressed consternation at the possibility of guaranteeing a minimum wage and a universal minimum income. Some argue that the younger members of society show evidence of never having lived through a serious recession nor widespread unemployment. Others suggest that a universal minimum income would be a disincentive for job seekers. They worry that Swiss companies could thus have difficulties in finding qualified workers.
Political activist Schmidt disagrees, and says that the proposed monthly income of 2,500 Swiss francs (about $2,800) is hardly enough to live on. He says that a society where people work only because they need money “is no better than slavery.” Schmidt says that a universal minimum income would allow the people of Switzerland to freely decide what they would like to do. “This is not about making people work less,” said Schmidt, “but it is about being free to decide to work more or less.”
In demonstrations in support of the basic income reform, activists filled a dump trucks with 5 centime Swiss coins and dumped them in the town square of Basel, and filled a bank vault with them. Each coin was said to represent a Swiss citizen.