The Swiss are about to vote on whether all 8 million citizens will be guaranteed a basic monthly income – the first of its kind in the world. ON June 5th voters will head to the polls to endorse or throw down a radical proposal that could see the government mandate the guarantee of a $2,600 per month tax free amount to every adult citizen and legal resident as well as $650 for each child. The payment would be available to all citizens, regardless of legal status or wealth.
The idea of an unconditional basic income is not new. It is being discussed by various cities in the Netherlands, Finland, Canada, New Zealand and other nations. But Switzerland is the first country to actually vote on a guaranteed income at the national level.
The latest polls show the proposal likely will go down in defeat, though supporters say they hope to build support for it in the coming weeks.
The initiative was put on the ballot by a group of artists, writers and intellectuals who made use of Switzerland's unique system of direct democracy, which allows any citizen to bring an issue to a referendum by collecting 100,000 legitimate signatures on a petition.
"This is a great idea," said Chloe Hubert, a student at the University of Geneva. "I only work on weekends, so this income would really help."
Though Swiss salaries are among the highest in the world, supporters say the stipend would offer people an option of reducing their working hours, while maintaining a decent standard of living.
“It would lead to a more motivated workforce and more humanized, stable and productive economy,” said Che Wagner, the initiative’s co-organizer and campaign manager.
Under the proposed law, the government would guarantee that every Swiss adult has at least $2,600 in monthly income after taxes. So if a person has no income at all, he or she will receive the full amount. If the person earns $1,600 now, the supplement would be $1,000.
Someone who currently earns, say, $6,500 month would not receive any money from the government but $2,600 of it would not be taxed.
For those getting welfare or other social benefits, payments of up to $2,600 a month would be replaced by the new basic income. Anything over this amount would continue to be provided as a separate payment and taxed accordingly.
Theoretically, a family of two non-working adults and two children at home would be eligible for $6,500 a month, or $78,000 a year tax-free. That's nearly twice the after-tax income of a typical American family.
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