Switzerland’s Proposal to Pay People for Being Alive – NYTimes.com

The kernel idea behind the basic-income movement, described as stimmig, a German word that could be translated to be “coherent and harmonious”:

This fall, a truck dumped eight million coins outside the Parliament building in Bern, one for every Swiss citizen. 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.

via Switzerland’s Proposal to Pay People for Being Alive – NYTimes.com.


11 thoughts on “Switzerland’s Proposal to Pay People for Being Alive – NYTimes.com”

  1. I would recommend reading this article just to see the comments at the bottom of the page. If the New York Times blog board got to decide policy, this idea might have been made into law. Fortunately they don’t decide economic policy, although there were a few insightful comments. This one stood out.

    “When I was in England in the late 1970’s, they had The Dole. If you did not want to work, you did not have to, a small apartment and small stipend would be provided to you. It was not luxurious, but it was enough to get by on. But it turned out that many people were perfectly happy to live like perpetual college students…their furniture might have been cinderblock shelves and cast-off couches, but they had plenty of free time to do as they pleased which for many was an acceptable trade-off.

    I was in New Orleans in the 1980’s and I saw something very similar there. A large segment of the population was willing to work “as necessary”. Housing may have been dilapidated, but it was very cheap. One could work two or three days a week and get enough to “laissez le bon temps rouler”. And that was enough. As an employer you always had to plan for a larger than normal level of absenteeism.

    It is human nature to value free time over work, especially if working is unnecessary or does not pay significantly more than what one would receive non-working. Those who do work eventually rebel against paying for others not to work. If we are going to pay people anyways, then we need to at least have them do something that is useful to society. As a society we can not afford $2 trillion a year to give 200 million adults $10,000 each and we certainly can not afford a large number of people deciding that [this] money is enough for them.”

    I could easily live off of $10,000 a year and become a drag on society. Although there will be many that might choose to work anyway, college students unaccustomed to higher incomes would be sorely tempted to just veg out for awhile.

    1. I think that this is were culture and tradition takes a big part in what kind of policies work and which ones do not. In the United States, we already see people living off welfare programs who are just dragging off the working society’s hard work, and we also see people who consciously want this to happen in a large scale. However, I do not know much about Switzerland and its society but I think that a small and developed country such as itself is bound to have a wide majority of educated citizens. For this reason, I think that the idea that this program will proliferate creativity and production is very likely. I also think that Switzerland is one of the few countries who can afford to experiment with this.

  2. I agree with .both comments here already. Going off the second comment, I realized that we cannot impose an American view on this situation. They have a different structure and cultural identity and government. This is a huge investment though, and they need to consider this very carefully.

    While I do not personally believe in this idea because it sounds too idealist for my taste, it will be interesting to see what would happen if this was executed. I would also love to see a study done on creativity and entrepreneurship businesses because when I have free time, that’s when I am the most lazy. I am not being innovative and creating new business ventures when I have an hour off; I’m watching TV. I’m fairly certain there are studies that prove the busier you are, the more effective you are at time management and getting things done. So while it may alleviate some of the poor, it might come at the cost of life skills.

  3. No matter how this policy is implemented, the cost lands squarely on the shoulders of the wealthy. The government has two options for financing such a policy: first, it can exact a tax on its citizens (which, of course, will not affect the exceptionally poor) to raise the money which is then distributed; second, it can simply print more money, raising the overall price level through inflation, devaluing its currency, and consequently hurting Swiss business.

    Over time, the cost of such a policy will weigh down the wealthy until they find ways to evade it, either by masking financial assets or by throwing in the towel on working hard to climb the economic ladder. I think that initially this policy will look like it’s working: it will eradicate poverty overnight. Given time, however, it will have costs in both the micro and macro economy.

  4. What an interesting idea, a minimum income! One thing that would have to be taken into account is the cost of living here in America. It is important to evaluate, if this policy is to ever be implemented in America then we should economically evaluate the amount that would raise people out of destitute poverty but not enable anyone to buy more than the basic necessities of life, thereby requiring them to still work. And, it should be adjusted for your situation. A college student does not need as much as a grown adult or a mother with children. I’m not completely against the idea of this policy, it would just really need to be economically analyzed first. Moreover, I think it would be best if there were a time limit on it in the case that it decentivized work. Also, it might be best to start it one state at a time so it can be more easily retracted.

  5. I think that over the short-term this program would do well and benefit many people, but after a while I can see this turning into a major state burden. This program, implemented into any state, cannot guarantee no future repercussions, but if it did I would gladly vote “yes” for an annual signing bonus.

  6. Well, that seems to be very interesting. However, If that was to be implemented in the US, we must first look at all its aspects. Taking into consideration the cost of living in here, I think it would be a better idea for the US government to do something about it rather than just giving minimum monthly income. Taking into consideration the different peoples living in the US, such an idea will be in favor of some and leave others out.

  7. I think this social experiment is very interesting, as the Swiss are a very rule-oriented country, as well as prosperous. However, I don’t feel as though this policy would work well in the United States because we have a relatively less structured culture. Nevertheless, I’m excited to see the results of this experiment and how it will affect Switzerland as a whole.

  8. This seems idealistic at best. I don’t see how people raised in a capitalist society can be expected to suddenly be effective in a socialistic one, especially those who have not necessarily demonstrated the effort and self-initiative needed to be productive in either one. I spent two years in England and met hundreds of people who were on “the dole” – a handout whose only requirement was essentially being a resident in Britain. They were completely happy passing their time fulfilling what carnal pleasures they could with whatever they could get from the government. “Stimmig” supporters seem to view it as a way to liberate the minds and energies of the brilliant and productive trapped in the bodies of the poor, but these individuals are probably more the exception than the rule. For every individual who uses this basic income to become a true contributor to society, there are tens and hundreds more who will squander it on whatever catches their fancy that day. Now, whether that is a tradeoff that is worthwhile is a moral question for another day.

  9. This might be the worst idea I’ve ever heard of. To remove the incentive to work and expect your country to go anywhere but backwards is very ignorant. It takes a lot of hard work to make it in the world. Removing the need for hard work, will in almost every case remove the hard work. Remove the hard work, and you remove the fruits of that hard work. Not to mention the fact that if this experiment were to fail, how would it be repealed? You think people are going to be ok with a significant amount of money being taken away from them? Also, as Nick said, this punishes the successful and wealthy, who would leave the country, and then who would be bankrolling this proposal?

  10. Although I am quite sure an idea like this would fail miserably in the United States (or any other country with a comparable population and poverty level), I am intrigued by what this means for Switzerland. They are a county with a relatively low population, and a relatively strong economy, which is why a proposal like this just might work. Granted, this always has the potential to create a massive welfare state, but in the case of Switzerland, I think a trial run may not be such a bad idea. I especially love the concept of consolidation, and think thats something the US can learn from. Instead of having medicare, food stamps, income assistance, ect., why not just put everything under one roof. If would increase efficiency, and cut down on the bureaucracy.

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