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Switzerland referendum

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Money for Nothing: Switzerland Eyes a Basic Income Guarantee. Occupy Wall Street may be on to something.

Money for Nothing: Switzerland Eyes a Basic Income Guarantee

Corporate profit margins are hitting record highs, while the little guy suffers, earning paychecks so small that one Walmart (WMT) store recently felt compelled to solicit food donations on behalf of its own employees. Clearly, something is not quite right with how our economy is working, but what's the solution? Last month, we wrote about Allan Sheahen, author of a book on the Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) -- a plan to have the federal government guarantee a "basic income" to every adult U.S. citizen, ensuring that every one of them has at least enough money to live on -- by handing it out, in cash, to every citizen, no questions asked. Switzerland’s Proposal to Pay People for Being Alive. This fall, a truck dumped eight million coins outside the Parliament building in Bern, one for every Swiss citizen.

Switzerland’s Proposal to Pay People for Being Alive

It was a publicity stunt for advocates of an audacious social policy that just might become reality in the tiny, rich country. Along with the coins, activists delivered 125,000 signatures — enough to trigger a Swiss public referendum, this time on providing a monthly income to every citizen, no strings attached. Every month, every Swiss person would receive a check from the government, no matter how rich or poor, how hardworking or lazy, how old or young. Poverty would disappear. Economists, needless to say, are sharply divided on what would reappear in its place — and whether such a basic-income scheme might have some appeal for other, less socialist countries too.

The proposal is, in part, the brainchild of a German-born artist named Enno Schmidt, a leader in the basic-income movement. Photo When we spoke, Schmidt repeatedly described the policy as “stimmig.” Inequality Fight: Swiss Will Vote on Minimum Income - Businessweek. Marilola Wili braces her foot against the wall to pull open a vault door inside a former bank building in downtown Basel.

Inequality Fight: Swiss Will Vote on Minimum Income - Businessweek

In the darkness inside, 15 tons of coins glint like dragon treasure. “It’s something everybody’s dreamed about, swimming in money,” says Wili, a waitress and musician as well as a member of Generation Basic Income. That’s an activist group trying to persuade voters to amend Switzerland’s constitution to guarantee every citizen a yearly income of 30,000 Swiss francs ($33,000)—whether they work or not. The vault is part publicity stunt, part fundraising effort. Switzerland’s system of direct democracy offers anybody who can gather at least 100,000 signatures the chance to put a ballot initiative before the country’s voters. Unease about income inequality and concerns about out-of-control capitalism are rising even in Switzerland, a nation long regarded as a business-friendly bastion—welcoming even the most questionable forms of wealth.

Behind The Swiss Unconditional Income Initiative. REUTERS/Michael Buholzer Switzerland has a very direct style of democracy.

Behind The Swiss Unconditional Income Initiative

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. There's a crazier proposal than this, however. While most observers think that the vote is a longshot, it has certainly sparked debate — and not just in Switzerland. "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.

Daniel Straub: A lot of people have proposed this idea. BBC - Swiss to vote on incomes for all - working or not. Switzerland, one of the world's wealthiest countries, is engaged in an intense process of soul searching - about money.

BBC - Swiss to vote on incomes for all - working or not

This year alone there have been two nationwide referendums on executive pay, one of which approved strict limits on bonuses and banned golden handshakes. Now two more votes are on the way, the first on the introduction of a minimum wage, and the second, and most controversial, on a guaranteed basic income for all legal residents, whether they work or not.

A universal basic income sounds very radical, but it is not a new idea - Thomas More proposed it in his work Utopia in the 16th Century. On the left, universal basic income is thought to be fairer, while on the right it is seen as the policy that would make welfare payments obsolete. For Enno Schmidt, a key supporter of universal basic income, Switzerland is the perfect place, and 2013 the perfect time, to launch a campaign to introduce it. 'Happy land' 'A risky move' Che Wagner is one of the campaigners.