Switzerland’s Base Income Vote Turns Finance Reform Into a Democratic Spectacle
Swiss citizens will decide whether they should receive over $2,500 a month for being Swiss.
Americans are so intensely and intimately familiar with the virtues and vices of representative democracy, it’s easy for us to forget that democracy has alternative forms. Switzerland is about to give us a valuable reminder. As U.S. presidential candidates regurgitate stump speeches in the lead up to Super Tuesday, the citizens of Europe’s famously neutral mountain kingdom will put the idea of basic income to a vote. The Swiss are having a referendum on whether they should be paid for being Swiss.
Unconditional base income is an idea that has gained some traction in more affluent countries. The essential notion is that a government supported by tax payers should be able to guarantee those taxpayers a specific annual allotment and that this will bolster or stabilize an economy. It’s a policy that would be nearly impossible to implement stateside because of the two-party system, but conceivable in Switzerland where politics can be, in a sense, circumvented in the name of democracy.
Only 27 states in the U.S. make allowances for direct democracy, but a number of federal referendums have taken place in Switzerland since it became a modern state in 1848. In 2014 alone, Switzerland held 14 different referendums on the topics of abortion, immigration, and the rail network. The income vote will come on June 5 and, rest assured, the whole world — well, all the economists anyway — will be watching.
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