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News > World

Swiss Say 'No' to Free Money, Reject Universal Basic Income

  • A 8,000 square meter poster is pictured on the Plainpalais square in Geneva.

    A 8,000 square meter poster is pictured on the Plainpalais square in Geneva. | Photo: Reuters

Published 5 June 2016

The proposed basic income would cover all Swiss citizens as well as foreigners who have resided in the country for the last five years.

Swiss voters rejected by a wide margin on Sunday a proposal to introduce a guaranteed basic income for everyone living in the wealthy country after an uneasy debate about the future of work at a time of increasing automation.

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Voters were asked whether they wanted all Swiss citizens, along with foreigners who have been residents in Switzerland for at least five years, to receive an unconditional basic income, or UBI.

Supporters had said introducing a monthly income of 2,500 Swiss francs (US$2,563) per adult and 625 francs per child under 18 no matter how much they work would promote human dignity and public service. That may sound a lot, but it is barely enough to get by on in one of the world’s priciest nations — leaving plenty of incentive to work, campaigners say.

Opponents, including the government, said it would cost too much and weaken the economy.

Provisional final results showed 76.9 percent of voters opposed the bold social experiment launched by Basel cafe owner Daniel Haeni and allies in a vote under the Swiss system of direct democracy.

Haeni acknowledged defeat but claimed a moral victory.

"As a businessman I am a realist and had reckoned with 15 percent support, now it looks like more than 20 percent or maybe even 25 percent. I find that fabulous and sensational," he told SRF.

"When I see the media interest, from abroad as well, then I say we are setting a trend."

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Conservative Switzerland is the first country to hold a national referendum on an unconditional basic income, but others including Finland are examining similar plans as societies ponder a world where robots replace humans in the workforce.

The Swiss government had urged voters to reject the campaign, saying the scheme would cost too much and undermine social cohesion.

Interior Minister Alain Berset said the vote showed Swiss voters supported the economic and social system in place "and that this system works well."

The plan included replacing in full or in part what people got from social benefits.

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The government estimated the proposal would have cost 208 billion Swiss francs a year, significantly weakened the economy and discouraged people, especially low earners, from working.

Much of the cost could have been covered by existing social security payments, but sharp spending cuts or tax increases would have had to make up a remaining gap of 25 billion.

Addressing concerns of additional costs for the government, supporters of the initiative suggest that the UBI could replace a range of other expensive social assistance programmes and could be easily financed through slight increases in sales tax or through a small fee on electronic transactions.

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