A woman dressed up as the Swiss Helvetia signs the basic-income popular initiative (via Facebook).

A woman dressed up as the Swiss Helvetia signs the basic-income popular initiative. (via Facebook)

A radical plan is afoot in Switzerland. A public referendum is on the way, in which people will vote on the possibility of giving every citizen a fixed monthly income.

It’s as simple as it sounds. In the words of Annie Lowrey, writing in the New York Times, “every Swiss person would receive a check from the government, no matter how rich or poor, how hardworking or lazy, how old or young.” It wouldn’t be a huge amount, but substantial — the proposal website suggests 2,500 francs (roughly $2,732) per person (with children getting slightly less). The Swiss Constitution would be amended to add this language (translated from Wikipedia with the help of Google):

  1. The federal government provides for the introduction of an unconditional basic income.
  2. The basic income to ensure a dignified existence and participation in the public life of the whole population.
  3. The law regulates in particular the financing and the level of basic income.

And ideally, it would mean the end of poverty.

Whether or not poverty would really, entirely disappear — I guess depending on how you define it, plus a host of other factors — is unclear. But I find the proposal fascinating, not least for its radical simplicity. Eliminate all the strings and forms and restrictions and simply help everyone out with a little money. It seems quite libertarian, which may explain why, according to Lowrey, people on the left and the right support it, albeit for different reasons.

Another point worth noting about the proposal is that it was thought up in part by an artist — a man named Enno Schmidt (according to Wikipedia, his co-creator is a Swiss entrepreneur named Daniel Häni). I wrote an article recently for The Brooklyn Quarterly about artists who build or explore alternative economic models through their work, and the takeaway was that artists can play a unique role in solving social and political issues because they’re encouraged and committed to thinking and working creatively. They tend to be good at improvisations, imaginations, and re-creations. Schmidt and his basic-income scheme seem like the perfect example. He also told Lowrey that the plan aims to help unleash people’s creativity and entrepreneurial spirit by lightening their monetary concerns. Creativity breeds more creativity, at least in theory.

I have no idea if the basic-income referendum will pass in Switzerland, and if it does, if it will even work the way its proponents intend. But for now, an artist is blowing my mind.

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art and politics but has also been known to write at length about cats. She won the 2014 Best...

12 replies on “An Artist’s Plan to Get Everyone in Switzerland Paid”

  1. There’s a word for this concept, it’s called communism. I wish them luck with it, but history speaks for itself.

    1. This isn’t communism at all. They’re not proposing to cover everyone’s entire income, or to divide up land and property and have everyone share it. Think of it as giving everyone an allowance, which I find quite capitalist, actually.

    1. Switzerland in general is very, very, well-to-do. Per capita wealth in the U.S. is about $184K. In Switzerland it’s $650K. They are also higher on the list of GDP per capita. (both are in the top 10.)

      And a lot better income equality than the U.S. too.

    2. I’m going to take a wild stab in the dark here.. not letting businesses and the ultra-wealthy have super low tax rates and not spending billions upon billions on their military.

  2. It works in Qitar since they have a nigh net positive trade deficit. They export so much oil that they can pay every citizen a high annual income.

  3. Two centuries ago, a somewhat obscure Scotsman named Tytler made this profound observation: “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy.”
    – Elmer T. Peterson

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