Yep. You didn’t read that headline wrong. In a proposal which may turn out to be the world’s most radical, daring socialist experiment yet, the Swiss are seriously considering a proposal to have their government provide every Swiss citizen with a basic $2500 Swiss Francs per month, about $2800 usd, which has been dubbed the “unconditional income initiative.”
It remains to be seen whether this wild idea will fly. Here in the United States we already have something sort of similar, as our entitlement rolls of SSI and disability recipients have swollen to the breaking point since the 2008 financial meltdown, during which millions of jobs disappeared forever, never to return, no matter what kind of “recovery” the alphabet channels advertise.
Looking around here in the US, I can’t say that our own socialist experiment is going that well. A monthly SSI stipend of anywhere from $545.00 a month to upwards of $991.00+ in states like California might help the truly disabled, but for every genuinely disabled person on the dole there are 10 more “fake disabled” parasites collecting checks who have mostly never worked a day in the their life. Some are no older than 18 or 19 years old and have never worked. Many use the money to purchase everything from hard drugs to hard liquor, enough to satisfy their addiction needs for at least two weeks out of every month. I know all of this because I happened to have had the misfortune of living in Chico California for a few years, which [ I didn’t know until I moved there and found out the hard way ] is one of the newest “wandering homeless” capitols of the West Coast. That’s one of the many reasons I no longer live in Chico California.
During the fall 2008 US economic meltdown, housing prices in California collapsed, and tens of thousands of bewildered home owners in southern and central California could no longer make mortgage payments on homes which were fast going underwater. That is to say, their homes were now worth less than what was owed on them. Many just walked away from their homes, and into homeless shelters, then after the shelters became overwhelmed and/or their stay ended, walked onto the streets to join the burgeoning tribes of the newly homeless in California. Chico was fast becoming one of the popular pit stops for these wandering tribes who now roamed the inland corridor between northern and southern California every 12 months, avoiding excess heat, severe cold and seeking the most pleasant places to eat, sleep, party and congregate.
You can’t exactly ignore the presence and plight of the homeless when you are surrounded by them on every downtown street corner in the city where you live. Would a $2800 a month free stipend in the United States get these people off the streets and into decent housing? Maybe. But based on what I learned in Chico, they wouldn’t hold an apartment lease for too long.
The appeal of street life had gripped many of the people I spoke with and got to know while I was living in Chico. For the young, life on the street was just more exciting than the routine tedium of paying rent, keeping the heat and lights turned on, and buying groceries. How do I know this? They told me so. One young man about 20 years old I recall because I gave him rides from time to time. He made bold when he found work to get an apartment with several others who trying to get off the streets, then about 2 months later, went right back to living on the street after they all decided it just wasn’t that much fun to be a leaseholder after all. He explained all of this with considerable enthusiasm and a completely straight face when I saw him one day and asked him why he was back on the street again.
All in all, I coped with the deluge of hobos who were piling into Chico by chatting with them now and again, figuring if they knew me they’d be less likely to mug me. I made the acquaintance of at least a dozen people who were apparently “terminally homeless” during the 3 years I lived in Chico. Each one of them had their own reasons why they returned to street life – even after availing themselves of the hard earned taxpayer’s dollars spent on elaborately funded “getting off the streets” social programs being offered by the county at the time.
This was an EYE-OPENER. After having my naive bubble completely burst as to why people of all ages end up homeless for long extended periods of time, and after getting to know some of them and realizing that more than 80% of them RETURN to the STREETS even when society helps to get them OFF the streets, I would invite any social scientist to debate me on this issue.
What we ought to be examining with all due diligence is WHY there is now a growing sector of the US population which prefers the anti-society position of sleeping in public parks, alleys, highway run-offs and anywhere in the wilderness where you can pitch a tent, to the comforts of civilized living. I have met and conversed with parts of this contingency of the American public during my years in Chico – and it didn’t feel real good at all.
The experience left me rattled. It flies in the face of everything we think we know about the “needy” and our non-stop outpouring of money, programs, food banks, and other public services designed to help “lift them back up” and into a place in American society where they can reclaim their dignity. In fact, maybe it’s OUR DIGNITY which we feel might be threatened by the nonstop parade of newly homeless on street corners with signs, begging for food and money. I actually learned during this “discovery” period – which was the only time in my life wherein I have conversed with the homeless and made friends with some of them for a season, that most of them want to remain right where they are.
I know how unbelievable that sounds, and there were certainly exceptions to the rule. But that was my experience. Our own accidental socialist experiment, brought about by the 2008-2011 great recession, of providing a monthly stipend of $800 or more per person to millions of people living outdoors on the streets in hundreds of cities across the country is not working out so well.
So I wonder how it is that the Swiss believe they will fare better. Here’s the report:
Switzerland has a very direct style of democracy. For example, changes to the constitution, or “popular initiatives,” can be proposed by members of the public and are voted on if more than 100,000 people sign them. If a majority of voters and cantons (Swiss states) agree, the change can be come law.
This system not only allows individual citizens a high degree of control of their laws, but also means that more unorthodox ideas become referendum issues.
Recently, there has been a spate of popular initiatives designed to curb inequality in the country. Earlier this year Swiss voters agreed to an idea proposed by entrepreneur Thomas Minder that limited executive (in his words, “fat cat”) salaries of companies listed on the Swiss stock market. Next month voters will decide on the 1:12 Initiative, which aims to limit the salaries of CEOs to 12 times the salary of their company’s lowest paid employee.
There’s a crazier proposal than this, however. Earlier this month an initiative aimed at giving every Swiss adult a “basic income” that would “ensure a dignified existence and participation in the public life of the whole population” gained enough support to qualify for a referendum. The amount suggested is 2,500 francs ($2,800) a month.
While most observers think that the vote is a longshot, it has certainly sparked debate — and not just in Switzerland. Writing for USA Today, Duncan Black said that a “minimum income” should be considered for the U.S.
“It’s pretty clear that the most efficient way to improve the lives of people is to guarantee a minimum income,” Black concludes.
However, Black understates just how radical the proposal is. We spoke to Daniel Straub, one of the people behind the initiative, to get a better understanding of what the proposal really means, why it is so radical, and what the world could learn from it.
Business Insider: Can you tell me a little bit about how the idea came to be?
BI: Why choose a minimum income rather than, say, a higher minimum wage?
DS: We are not proposing a minimum income — we are proposing an unconditional income.
A minimum wage reduces freedom — because it is an additional rule. It tries to fix a system that has been outdated for a while. It is time to partly disconnect human labor and income. We are living in a time where machines do a lot of the manual labor — that is great — we should be celebrating.
BI: How was the figure of 2,500 Swiss francs settled on? What standard of living does this buy in Switzerland?
DS: That depends where in Switzerland you live. On average it is enough for a modest lifestyle.
BI: What effect would you expect the minimum income to have on Swiss government expenditure?
DS: The unconditional income in Switzerland means that a third of the GDP would be distributed unconditionally. But I don’t count that as government expenditure because it is immediately distributed to the people who live in this society. It means less government power because each individual can decide how to spend the money.
BI: I’ve seen people compare it to Milton Friedman’s negative income tax, do you think that comparison works?
DS: We go a step further than Friedman with the unconditionality. This would lead to a paradigm change. Not the needy get an income from the community but everybody.
BI: There have been a variety of initiatives recently that appear to be aimed at limiting inequality in Switzerland, from the 1:12 initiative to Thomas Minder’s “against rip-off salaries” referendum. Why do you think this is happening?
DS: People seem to be unhappy with the rising inequality. The other initiatives try to put a band-aid on an outdated system. We are proposing a new system.
BI: On the surface of it, Switzerland is a good place to live, with a high quality of life, relatively high salaries, and good public services. Why do you need to take these big steps to rearrange society?
DS: Switzerland has incredible material resources. But we are not using them in a smart way. A lot of people are stressed and there is a lot of fear. Our resources don’t lead to the freedom they could. And I am not saying that this freedom is easy — but it could lead to more meaningful lives. If more people start to ask what they really want to do with their lives, Switzerland will become an even more beautiful place to live.
BI: Switzerland is a unique country in a lot of ways. Do you think that other countries — for example, the U.S. — could learn from both its referendum system and the egalitarian initiatives enabled by it?
DS: I think that our system of semi direct democracy leads to more involvement by the public — that is a good thing. What other effects it would have on a system such as the U.S. I do not dare to predict.
(The text has been edited for clarity, and links have been added to help explain Straub’s responses.)
- Why A Swiss Proposal To Give Every Citizen $2,800 Each Month Is So Radical (businessinsider.com)
- Swiss to Vote on Whether to Give a $2,800 Monthly Income to Every Citizen (classwarfareexists.com)
- Switzerland considers the citizen’s income (makewealthhistory.org)
- The Swiss take a referendum on guaranteed yearly income, by @DavidOAtkins (digbysblog.blogspot.com)
- $2,800 per month for every adult? It could happen in Switzerland (fromthetrenchesworldreport.com)
- Swiss to vote on basic income for every adult (philebersole.wordpress.com)
- Swiss to vote on 2,800 dollar basic income for every adult (sott.net)
- Switzerland to Vote on Free Money For All Adults ($2,800 Monthly) (darkgovernment.com)
- Swiss Showing the World How to Take on Pay Inequality (commondreams.org)