Imagine receiving $2,750 a month every month, from the government, irrespective to your current income and employment. At that rate, an individual could rake in $33,000 a year while not working a single day. According to Public Radio International, this may soon be a reality for all Swiss nationals. Because of a petition passed around by a grassroots organization, Switzerland must now vote on whether or not to provide all adults with a generous base income. No strings attached. In Switzerland, any public petition that receives 100,000 or more signatures must be voted on and in a culture known for following the rules — this one is no exception.
This “base income” (2,500 Swiss Francs, monthly) has a different purpose than what’s typically called welfare, and according to Georgetown University professor, Karl Widerquist, “it isn’t as kooky as it sounds”. Switzerland is a prosperous economy with a relatively small population of less than eight million people. It’s not unusual for the tiny nation to find itself with a budget surplus at the end of a year while many nations often come up short. In this case, what better way to stimulate the economy than rotating in a little extra spending money? The fact that it directly benefits Swiss citizens would likely just be an ancillary benefit to the intended economical reward.
While just giving citizens money is raising more than a few eyebrows, recent studies in India and Africa shows that it may increase productivity. “A basic income, in a way, frees you to improve your skills and your efforts and do something that actually makes a bigger contribution to the economy,” says Widerquist. It’s likely that some will use this financial buffer while seeking advanced degrees and learning marketable skills but there’s another reason this may work as well.
The fact that the Swiss are already big spenders compared to most in the world might not hurt either. According to a 2012 report by AT Kearney, the Swiss are among the biggest consumers of luxury goods. This means that “free money” would give those who need it a boost while enabling already prosperous citizens the chance to spend even more in Switzerland’s well-established luxury marketplace.
So far, there’s no set date for voting but it’ll certainly be interesting to see if this proceeds. Switzerland is not nearly as group-oriented as a culture like India but they tend to seek a consensus and do what’s right for the majority. While the Swiss are not known for generosity without cause, the fact that the motion could help increase productivity and drive spending may make it an appealing option yet.
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