Money for nothing? Swiss vote on basic income for all

GENEVA: In a global first, the Swiss voted on Sunday on a radical proposal to provide the entire population along with enough money to live on, no strings attached.

In a measure almost certain to fail, voters are being asked whether they want all Swiss citizens, along along with foreigners who have actually been legal residents in Switzerland for at least five years, to receive an unconditional basic income, or UBI.

Polling stations in most places opened at 10:00 am (0800 GMT) and were set to close at noon, but most people in the wealthy Alpine nation vote in advance.

In Geneva for instance, 47.4% of eligible voters had already cast their ballot Saturday evening, according to the regional voting service.

Supporters of the UBI initiative say providing such an income would certainly help fight poverty and inequality in a world where good jobs along with stable salaries are becoming harder to find.

The idea is controversial, to say the least. The Swiss government and nearly all the country’s political parties have actually urged voters to reject the initiative — advice which 71% are inclined to follow, according to the latest opinion poll.

Critics have actually slammed the initiative as “a Marxist dream”, warning of sky-high costs and people quitting their jobs in droves, to the detriment of the economy.

Proponents reject that, arguing people naturally want to be productive and that a basic income would certainly simply provide them more flexibility to choose the activities they find most valuable.

“For centuries this has actually been considered a utopia, but today it has actually not only become possible, but indispensible,” Ralph Kundig, one of the lead campaigners, told AFP.

The amount to be paid has actually yet to be determined, but the non-political group behind the initiative has actually suggested paying 2,500 Swiss francs ($2,500/2,300 euros) a month to each adult, and 625 francs for each child.

That may sound like 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.

Authorities have actually estimated an additional 25 billion francs would certainly be needed annually to cover the costs, requiring deep spending cuts or steep tax hikes.

“The idea is noble, but I don’t think our society can afford it today,” Stephane Szeless, a 45-year-old civil servant in Geneva, told AFP ahead of Sunday’s vote.

“I’m sceptical.”

Supporters of the initiative however suggest the UBI could replace a range of other expensive social welfare programmes and could be easily financed through slight increases in sales tax or through a small fee on electronic transactions.

There is little possibility of the initiative passing, but Kundig said that “just getting a broad public debate started on this important issue is a victory”.

Several other contentious issues are also being put to the vote under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy on Sunday, some of which have actually a better possibility of going through.

A recent gfs.bern poll indicated that 60 percent of voters are in favour of a government proposal to speed up the country’s asylum process.

The aim is for most cases to be handled within 140 days or less, compared to an standard of around 400 days at the moment.

The Swiss will also vote on whether to allow genetic testing of embryos before they are inserted in the uterus in cases of in vitro fertilisation where either parent carries a serious hereditary disease.

No screening would certainly be permitted for things like gender, hair and eye colour, but that has actually not stopped opponents from dubbing the initiative the “eugenics law”.

The final results of Sunday’s vote were expected to be clear by early evening.