If it happens, this story should certainly prove to be interesting and one to watch in both the short and long term future. The Swiss have a rather populist vision of government in place which will look oddly similar to California in at least one important way. The citizens are able to move pretty much any law they like forward in the process, even absent starting support of the legislative body, providing they gather enough support to put a referendum on the ballot and pass it. And since they clearly watch a lot of American television (okay… I’m just guessing about that part) they’ve come up with a doozy of an answer to the issue of “income inequality.”
A grassroots committee is calling for all adults in Switzerland to receive an unconditional income of 2,500 Swiss francs ($2,800) per month from the state, with the aim of providing a financial safety net for the population.
Organizers submitted more than the 100,000 signatures needed to call a referendum on Friday and tipped a truckload of 8 million five-rappen coins outside the parliament building in Berne, one for each person living in Switzerland.
Apparently this wasn’t the first “solution” to these pressing problems they’ve come up with either. A common response I see to worries about expanding social safety nets is the (correct) assertion that there will always be Alpha and Beta individuals in every society, and if others are lounging, there will always be some who charge hard to make big gains. Unless, of course, you pass measures to remove any incentive to succeed.
In March, Swiss voters backed some of the world’s strictest controls on executive pay, forcing public companies to give shareholders a binding vote on compensation.
A separate proposal to limit monthly executive pay to no more than what the company’s lowest-paid staff earn in a year, the so-called 1:12 initiative, faces a popular vote on November 24.
As I said at the top, this could be the ultimate Petri dish for some of the questions we’ve been wrestling with here at home. What happens if you just lay out the welcome mat and say that everyone, regardless of whether you are able bodied or disabled, has the choice of just staying home and making a survivable, though certainly not extravagant, income, absolutely guaranteed by the government, no questions asked. For the rest of your life. How many people would still work? How much would it cost those who were working to pay this income to the rest, and how long would they continue to pay it? On a related note, how would they control a potential flood of suddenly interested “immigrants” who show up a the door?
I realize that Switzerland has one of the most powerful economies in the world, with a per capita income and GDP that most countries would drool over, but it’s economy is still largely private in nature. They could take a pretty sizable hit and keep on going, but you can’t keep the cart moving forever if everyone gets in and nobody pushes. But maybe they wouldn’t. Maybe the vast majority would just keep working, defying all logic.
As crazy as this may sound to me, I wondered if there were any on the Left here in the United States who would be cheering them on. Sure enough, it didn’t take long to find somebody.
The idea of guaranteed income has been gaining popularity elsewhere in the world, as well. Jacob Hacker received a warm reception in the UK with his proposal for “predistribution”, and just last week the President of Cyprus announced a basic minimum income program also.
It’s on the far edge of public policy right now, but it won’t be for long. Globalization and mechanization of labor are creating a world for which the traditional answers of the last century or so on both the right and the left will be inadequate. In a world where just a few people can exponentially increase productivity, profits and personal wealth while firing workers and cutting wages, traditional Keynesian stimulus and taxation schemes are increasingly moot. Executive-to-worker pay ratios and minimum incomes will eventually be necessary.
If you go read the rest of that, the hilarious part of this logic is that they refer to countries who don’t go along with a guaranteed income scheme as “free rider” countries. Somebody is crazy here, and I just hope it’s not me who had some magic mushrooms slipped into their pizza.