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Swiss referendum on an unconditional basic income to go ahead in 2016

May 26, 2015

karl widerquistThis post was prompted by a BIEN article by Karl Widerquist, Associate Professor at SFS-Qatar, Georgetown University, specialises in political philosophy.

His research is mostly in the area of distributive justice. He holds two doctorates—one in political theory from Oxford University.

In 2014 the Swiss Federal Council released its evaluation of the 2013 proposal for an unconditional basic income (UBI) which received enough signatures to trigger a nationwide referendum.

The council chose to recommend that citizens vote no on the proposal but the referendum will go ahead in 2016. It released a statement justifying its rejection of the initiative. Alleged shortcomings included:

  • many low-paid jobs would probably disappear or be transferred abroad
  • women would be forced back into the housework and care work
  • taxes would rise considerably to finance the basic income and further weaken the incentive to work
  • the amount of the UBI proposed is too large and cannot be financed
  • the existing social system in Switzerland enables all to live with dignity. bien logo

Philippe Van Parijs, of the Basic Income Earth Network said that this statement was an opportunity for Basic Income supporters “to point out the misunderstandings [in the statement] and to work out realistic scenarios in terms of amount and funding.”

Business Insider notes that supporters of the initiative are concerned about the rising level of income inequality in Switzerland. Between 1996 and 2010, Swiss trade unions say the top 1% saw their incomes rise by 39% while the incomes of the bottom earners rose less than 10%. Swiss citizens are also upset with the rising disparity in compensation levels between company executives and their least paid employees.  The Swiss overwhelmingly passed a referendum on creating more shareholder oversight of company management in March.

“Generally, people feel the loss of their independence regarding to the economic powers of the multinational corporations,” Ralph Kundig, the President of the Switzerland chapter of the Basic Income Earth Network, wrote in an email.


Share The World’s Resources notes that in April James Robertson argued, “Replacing much of the existing benefits system with a citizen’s basic income will support this shift in the nature of work.” In accordance with the need to reform both fiscal and benefit systems, he has proposed a new social compact in which land value taxation would play a central role in funding a citizen’s income. See his Beyond The Dependency Culture: People, Power And Responsibility: click on Section 3 for Chapter 16 (Books)

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