SWITZERLAND: Parliament rejects basic income initiative, but poll shows popular support

swiss-national-council

Last week (Sept 23rd 2015) the Swiss Parliament voted for a motion calling on the Swiss people to reject the Popular Initiative for Unconditional Basic Income.

Update: the date of the referendum has be set to 5th June 2016

After hours of debate, the National council (the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Switzerland) voted for a recommendation by the ruling party to reject the popular initiative for unconditional basic income after six hours of debate.

The motion was passed with a large majority (146 votes), with only a minority of 14 MPs supporting the initiative and 12 abstentions (see the detailed vote report here).

“The most dangerous and harmful initiative ever”

Basic income was opposed by all political groups, but the harshest critics came from the Centre and Right-wing parties. Sebastian Frehner (Centrist) described the initiative as “the most dangerous and harmful initiative that has ever been submitted,” mentioning the risks of immigration, disincentive to work, and that the basic income proposed would not be financeable anyway.

For similar reasons, the Liberal party spokesman Daniel Stolz described the initiative as “intellectually stimulating,” but that it is also a “cocked hand grenade that threatens to tear the whole system to pieces.” His party colleague Ausserrhoden Andrea Caroni spoke of basic income as a “bomb in the heart of our society and our economy.”

The most noticeable supporter of basic income was probably the Socialist MP Silvia Schenker who argued that basic income was the answer to the complexity and loopholes of the current welfare system and a better way to integrate the people “who have no place in the world of work.”

This was not enough however to convince the Greens and other Socialists. “The Greens support the objectives of the Popular Initiative for an Unconditional Basic Income, but as it stands, it endangers our social system,” said Christian van Singer, spokesperson for the Greens. He argued that while one goal of the initiative is to simplify the social system, “it could level down the benefit system to the detriment of those who do not find work or cannot work.”

Similarly, the Socialist MP Jean-Christophe Schwaab said he opposed basic income because it could be a pretext to dismantle the welfare system and reduce wages.

Politicians dismiss it, electors like it

Basic income campaigners published a new book and distributed in front of the Parliament.

Basic income campaigners just published a new book and distributed in front of the Parliament.

Ironically, while politicians were voting against basic income by a large majority, an online poll (Tagesanzeiger.ch) showed that 49% of the Swiss would vote in favour, while 43% are against it, and another 8% said it depends on the amount.

The general outcome of the six-hour session was not a surprise. The strong opposition to basic income followed a similar opinion from the Federal Council (the executive branch of government) which rejected the initiative in August 2014. Earlier this year the two relevant parliamentary committees on social affairs had also recommended opposition to the initiative. The Upper chamber of the Parliament will deliberate on the issue over the winter.

Under the Swiss Constitution, all citizens’ initiatives that collect more than 100,000 signatures get the right to have a referendum. However, this referendum only takes place after a series of official deliberations in the Federal Council and the National Council. In practice, this can allow the legislative power to immediately adopt into law proposed citizens’ initiatives if representatives agree with it, thus accelerating the process.

This vote is therefore not decisive, it is only a recommendation. Whatever the politicians decide, a nationwide referendum will be organised for 2016.

The Popular Initiative for Unconditional Basic Income was launched in March 2012 and successfully collected 125,000 signatures by October 2014.

“Politicians are afraid of the People”

Despite the unsuccessful vote in Parliament, “The debate was good for the idea and the movement for Basic Income,” wrote basic income campaigner Che Wagner in a column for the Swiss newspaper Tages Woches.

Wagner said the debate revealed how afraid politicians are of the people: “Among the political class, the fear has spread, a threat has been identified: they are afraid of the people of this country and their potential epidemic laziness. Until the referendum in Autumn 2016 we will find out whether and how much these dangerous people are afraid of themselves too.”

About Stanislas Jourdan

Stanislas Jourdan has written 39 articles.

Co-Founder of the French Movement for basic income. Also journalist in a previous life.

32 comments

  • Anon

    What’s needed: country wide implementation (Finland probably) and (then) discussion in high level international organizations (now that Switzerland is mentioned: it would be nice if the topic reached the Davos agenda).

  • Bob

    Unforntunately money doesn’t grow on trees. This is the stupidest idea ever and I’m glad it was rejected. Of yourse when you go ask people on the street if they would like some FREE money they will say yes.. Special income should be reserved to people who really need it.

    • Boby

      You are aware Bob that a long list of Nobel-prize winning economists have endorsed some form of Basic Income Guarantee, including James Tobin, Milton Friedman, James Buchanan, James Meade, Paul Krugman, F. A. Hayek, Herbert A. Simon, and Robert Solow?

    • It’s interesting how many people beleive how over the long term the basic income concept would result in
      epidemic laziness.

      I think the converse to be true in that basic income is not means tested and this means more people would choose to be in paid employment than sit at home doing nothing on un-employment benefits which are neans tested.

      Sure there would be some people who may still choose to do nothing for periods of time but I think the basic income concept is a system superior to traditional means tested systems which discourage finding paid employment and require intense spending on fraud detection technologies as people frequently try to work without their unemployment payments being affected.

    • Geert Poppe

      Bob, Are you a turkey ? If you ask I a turkey what they want to have for Christmas Dinner. I’ll guess they hardly ever will choose turkey.

    • Ezo

      You’re right. It doesn’t grow on trees. That would require effort to harvest it…

      Instead, it’s just information. You change few magnetic patterns on some HDD’s, and bam, you have money.

    • Ryan

      @Ezo: Are you serious? There’s a finite amount of money because there’s a finite amount of goods available for purchase. If you quadruple the amount of money with the same amount of goods available everything would cost 4 times as much effectively nullifying your little trick.

    • kingfisher

      it’s not free dumbass, it’s just redistribution of taxation. Ryan you is wrong modern money is just ones & zeros not tied to anything real such as silver & gold. Theoretically, everybody couldbe credited a certain amount which they are then free to use up on goods and service. Money’s not tied to amount of goods available-you’re confusing money with price.

    • Andre Coelho

      Whatch out for rudeness and foul language. Clarity and respect, please.

    • steve true

      Bob your the very type of person that moans when government takes your money for some services. now your moaning when they want to give you some back?¿

      its for EVERYONE

      i hazard a guess you have to much money and are a right winger probably trump voter or lover and think its going to cost you more, or worse have no empthy and maybe you should get it if you dont want it, but dont prevent others!

    • Andre Coelho

      Steve,

      Thanks for your message. Beware, though, of possible offensive language.

      Best,

      André

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  • For universal basic income network http://www.GRB.net. – John

  • See my website for a paper on a practical and affordable methodolgy for having a Basic Income in New Zealand. The paper describes an Asset Tax on property with Tax Relief payments so that those with less assets are compensated for the Asset Tax. A spreadsheet is also given so that different choices of Relief and UBIs can be made with the results calculated for individuals. The results are a matter of choice by Government to determine who are the winners and losers.

  • Shirley0401

    I’ve long since stopped being surprised or disheartened to see politicians choosing to prioritize abstractions like “market confidence” and “economic stability” over even modestly forward-thinking ideas that challenge the dominant neoliberal narrative.
    When the status quo appears to be increasingly fragile and unsustainable, isn’t “tear[ing] the whole system to pieces” kind of the point?

  • Chasen Kukuda

    This is a perfect representation of who controls power in our ‘representative’ democracies around the world. ‘Most opposition comes from the center and right’, what a surprise 😒. In capitalistic societies, money drives politics and those with money and power don’t want this because they’re giving up potential revenue/power. This would be arguably the most beneficial and rewarding program to ever be implemented. It would allow everyone to pursue their dreams, talents, and passions without worrying about having to be a slave to big business just to SURVIVE, and that’s what this is all about.

  • jewhader

    “Che” Wagner.

    Enough said.

  • Csc

    This is a really crazy idea. Yes some will continue to work but a lot will see no point in doing so and would rather be supported by the government.

  • Important initiative, poor title. People unfamiliar with Swiss direct democracy will think the poll is irrelevant, as in the US. How about: “Swiss Parliament rejects basic income, but polls say Swiss will vote for it in June”

  • Robert

    Ryan commented, “There’s a finite amount of money because there’s a finite amount of goods available for purchase.”

    An old argument that is patently false. There is not a finite amount of goods available for purchase.

  • Robert

    “There’s a finite amount of money because there’s a finite amount of goods available for purchase.”

    Boogeyman argument: a common allusion to a mythical creature in many cultures used by adults or older children to frighten children into good behavior.

    At the heart of the economic challenges is the obvious change that we now produce far more goods at a faster rate than can be consumed (unless perhaps we have constant wars with very high levels of destruction). With more robotics this will only accelerate.
    The predictions of hyper inflation have not happened. At the root of the slow recovery is a lack of demand for too many goods. This happened with the tech bubble, housing bubble, the auto bailouts, and now oil prices dropping. We seem to have a glut of goods, services, and companies, and not enough people can afford them, even with rising populations.
    Ryan went on to say, “If you quadruple the amount of money with the same amount of goods available everything would cost 4 times as much effectively nullifying your little trick.”
    It’s meaningless to site what happens “with the same amount of goods available.” Goods are being produced faster and cheaper all the time and can potentially be increased faster than the money supply, to the point of deflation being the bigger risk.
    Remember how items used to be treasured, held on to and repaired as long as possible. most of the time now it’s cheaper and easier to dispose of (or hopefully recycle) them, and replace with new and often better items.
    I am very interested in this idea of basic income and sharing wealth, resources, and abundance in new ways
    . (btw I’m in the middle to upper middle class and enjoy working and being creative)

  • Nathalie

    Hello from Canada,
    Back in the 1970’s, an experiment was established in Dauphin, Manitoba for the purpose of determining the pros and cons of minimum income or ‘mincome’ The findings were overwhelmingly positive.
    1.. The only groups of people who chose to not work were new mothers and teenage boys who opted to stay in school.
    2. As self-esteem levels rose and stress levels abated, the need for mental health services dropped significantly as did costly emergency room visits.
    3. The crime rate was reduced thereby reducing the needs for policing.
    4. Governmental savings were found in reducing the ‘poverty industry’ i.e. The administration of previous social services.
    5. Poverty was completely eradicated.

    For more information, including how Minimum Income could work in this day and age, please read:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/12/23/mincome-in-dauphin-manitoba_n_6335682.html

    Hopefully, your country will revisit the issue. Fair capitalism can be achieved.

  • Robert Bayes

    Considering the fiscal ramifications of implementing a UBI, I am shocked at the lack of even rudimentary economics exhibited by contributors to this comment section. Excess aggregate demand, fuelled by a UBI, will cause demand pull inflation. Cost pull inflation, largely caused by increased taxation and wage inducements to retain people to perform mundane jobs, will also drive inflationary pressures. Essentially, what Ryan has indicated regarding an overall net gain for everyone will ring true. TANSTAAFL.

  • if passed, will this apply also to the Swiss abroad ? what about those on AVS ?

    • steve true

      As far as i know, it applies to everyone in Switzerland, as long as you have lived there 5 years

  • Jan Doernte

    Hah! I have finally FOUND IT. The largest collection of aggregate stupidity in the entire internet!

    Supporters for a “free money” campaign. Amazing.

    • Andre Coelho

      Dear Jan,

      Please inform yourself before sending compromising messages. Consider for a moment the possibility that your vision of things may be blurry.

      Best,

      André

    • You have it backwards. Under the current system all the Earth’sresources–which were once freely available to all–are owned by a few private individuals. They have never paid for that privilege. Basic Income is simply paying back into the commons for the resources you take out. Paying for the duties you impose on other people. The current system is “free money.” Basic Income finally pays people for what has been taken from them.

  • Kim J Singh

    Unconditional Minincome for ALL say a country like Germany 80 Million @1000 Euros a Month mean 80 Billion Euros a Month or 960 Billion Euros a year. I agree this money will be well spent and bring Economy in motion. Where will this money come from, year after year?
    Can the Bureaucratic Systems running presently the socio economical life of us (granted not as efficiently as we think they should be), if dumped, really bring SAVINGS to the tune of 960 Billlion Euros a year in Germany? Or 96 Billion Swiss Francs in Switzerland? Or calculate the amount for your country. The reminder here is that we are duscussing the viability of Unconditional Minincome for ALL, hence the need for money. If anyone has done calculation, do enlighten us.

    • steve true

      €1000 a month Are you high? It works out at €187.80 a month. €43.34 a week. €6.10 a day

  • steve true

    It simulates the economy, what would you do if you got £4.80 a day (government pocket money) SPEND IT DUH! there afraid of people being able to live of it. And they should be because its coming. Why get shafted by rent when you can go green, think about what you REALLY REQUIRE. small bit of land. Small home, few things. Then you can actually ENJOY YOUR bloody life!

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