An initiative to establish a new federal law known as “For an unconditional basic income” [fr] was formally introduced in Switzerland in April. The idea, which consists quite simply of giving a monthly income to all citizens that is neither means-tested nor work-related, has generated commentary throughout the Swiss blogosphere.
The Swiss referendum process is a system of direct democracy that enables citizens to call for legislative change at the federal or constitutional level. If the initiative to introduce a basic income gathers more than 100,000 signatures before October 11, 2013, the Federal Assembly is required to look into it and can call a referendum if the initiative is judged to be credible.
On his blog, Pascal Holenweg explains what it’s all about [in French, translated here]:
“The grassroots initiative “for an unconditional basic income” proposes that “the establishment of an unconditional universal benefit” be written into the federal constitution which would “allow the entire population to lead a dignified existence and participate in public life”. The law will address financing and set the amount of the benefit (the proposers suggest around 2,000-2,500 Swiss francs per month (or 2,200-2,700 US dollars per month), which is about the same as the maximum current social security payment, but they have not written this into the text of the initiative). The basic income does not come with any conditions attached: it is not subject to any means testing. It is universal (everyone will receive it) and egalitarian (everyone will receive the same amount). It is also personal (it is paid out to individuals, not households). It is not income to replace a lost salary. Rather, it replaces all inferior income support (unemployment benefit, pensions, family allowance, student grants, disability payments). How will it be financed? Through direct taxation of income and wealth, indirect taxation on consumption (VAT), taxing financial transactions, and most especially through the reallocation of resources currently allotted to financing state pensions and unemployment payouts, social security and other welfare payments lower than the amount of the basic income.”
On his blog, Fred Hubleur makes the point [in French translated here]:
“The important thing is that this revenue is fixed for everyone without there being a requirement to work; that’s right, it is income without employment. This might seem shocking. But at its heart it is an entirely defensible idea. On the one hand, we are fighting against poverty and insecurity, there will no longer be a need for social security to bolster other incomes, and dozens of different and unwieldy benefits. This unconditional income is equally good news for innovation and creativity. (…) We have also made a paradigm shift that dyed-in-the-wool capitalists might find alarming: the liberation of working man, returning him to his status as homo sapiens over that of homo travaillus (ed’s note: Homo travaillus is a play on word to describe the working man) which holds such sway in our society.”
The original French version of this article is online at:
The text of the initiative [in French] is online at:
Another article (in English) on the Swiss BI initiative is online at: