On offer in a Swiss referendum this Sunday: a guaranteed monthly income for every adult, paid for by the government.
In a fragile global economy that is increasingly driven by mechanized labor, the deal might seem like a welcome security net from one of the richest governments in the world. The Swiss are sure that they could pay for a substantial guaranteed income, if voters got behind it. No specific amounts are mentioned in the wording of the initiative, but groups that support the measure have suggested about $2,500 for each adult Swiss citizen and foreigners who have legally resided in the country for five years, as well as an additional $640 for each child of theirs. Supporters of the initiative said a universal basic income would also provide people whose primary work is the care of their families with a steady income.
But Gfs.bern, a Swiss firm monitoring voter opinions, projected that only 22 percent voted yes for "free money" on Sunday, based on a partial count of ballots. Most Swiss vote in advance by mail, so most ballots have already been counted, according to Agence France-Presse.
The reason for the opposition isn't what you'd expect, either. Most aren't worried that a universal basic income would disincentivize workers from finding jobs or turn Switzerland into a Marxist dystopia. The fear is that $2,500 a month would make the country too attractive to economic migrants.
Luzi Stamm, who represents the right-leaning Swiss People's Party in parliament, said to the BBC, "Theoretically, if Switzerland were an island, the answer is yes. But with open borders, it's a total impossibility, especially for Switzerland, with a high living standard."
"If you would offer every individual a Swiss amount of money, you would have billions of people who would try to move into Switzerland," Stamm said.
Switzerland is not part of the European Union, but it is a signatory to the Schengen Agreement, which means that those who are members of other signatories to the agreement can travel freely in and out of the country.
The Swiss have already rejected initiatives that would have increased the minimum wage and extended the minimum paid holiday time from four to six weeks.
Referendums are common in Switzerland's democracy. Any citizen can propose changes to the country's constitution, and if they gather 100,000 signatures in 18 months, the measure will be put on a national ballot. These popular referendums require not only that a majority vote for their approval but also that a majority of Swiss cantons — which are like states — vote in favor.
Finland and the Dutch city of Utrecht also are considering universal basic income initiatives. Utrecht's is a pilot program that will begin in January.
Despite Swiss voters' resounding rejection of the proposal, its supporters threw a party in Lausanne on Sunday and said they had at least managed to get the country talking about universal basic income as a possibility.
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