Op-Ed; Opinion

Swiss politicians reject basic income because they are scared of humans

By Che Wagner

Originally published in German in the Swiss online newspaper Tages Woche.
Translated by Matthias Lindemer for Basic Income News.
(Photo shows activists of the Swiss Basic Income Initiative with a banner inside a vault. Credit: Stefan Bohrer)

On Wednesday, September 23, 2015, the Swiss parliament debated a popular petition for an unconditional basic income. Enough signatures were collected to grant a national referendum. The parliamentarians seemed to compete to voice the most incendiary expressions. “The most dangerous initiative ever!” said Sebastian Frehner of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP). “A released grenade in our hands!” said Daniel Stolz of the Liberal Democratic Party (FDP).

The reactions to the initiative were stamped with fear. If you want to avoid danger, it is better for you not to move. Bernhard Guhl, speaking on behalf of the centrist Conservative Democratic Party (BDP), exhorted “Don’t endanger our prosperity!” The parties right of center, like the SVP, sounded even more dramatic. Peter Keller (SVP) declared, “You don’t even care who will be paying for that,” and Sebastian Frehner (SVP) argued that the Basic Income would swallow all of the country’s money and spell “the end of Switzerland.”

“The most dangerous initiative ever!” (Sebastian Frehner, SVP)

Where does the fear come from? Some of it stems from the worry that a basic income will make all of its recipients lazy. Keller, for example, called the proposal “a slap in the face of all the people getting up at 6 for work in the morning.” Others worried that the financial burden would render a basic income entirely impossible.

Behind these fears, however, lurked a quiet consensus: the question of whether a basic income is financeable is only a matter of political will.

What if there is a basic income and the people refuse participation in the workforce? There will be no more value-creation, and thus no more tax revenue, and thus no basic income. According to the politicians, the basic danger comes from human beings themselves; because of human “laziness”, the freedom of decision allowed by a basic income could be dangerous.

“The referendum result will tell us if the Swiss people fear themselves too.” (Che Wagner)

Not all Swiss politicians share these fears. Cédric Wermuth of the Social Democratic Paty (SP), who endorses a basic income, believes that the proposal represents the best defense against the rise of a neoliberal storm. Andi Gross (SP), who will soon go out of office, adds, “basic income is a shift of power from capital to activity.”

In general, parliamentarians on the left seemed less frightened by the alleged danger. According to those on the left, the main drawback to a basic income is that it could be misunderstood. Swiss citizens, for example, might mistake it for a “housewife subsidy,” encouraging couples to live a traditional way of life where the wife stay at home. Or they might mistake it for a social “parking lot” for people who have no chance of finding a job.

“Basic income is a shift of power from capital to activity.”
(Andi Gross, SP)

These “dangers” all come from the same source: human nature. According to critics, people would misuse a basic income grant and live in ways that go against the expected norm.

At the end of the long day of debate, the parliamentarians voted 146 to 14 against the basic income petition. This vote, however, might reflect the influence of the upcoming referendum, as politicians tend to hesitate to stick their necks out too far. However, even while the overwhelming majority of politicians reject a basic income, an impressive proportion of the Swiss people support it. A poll in the newspaper Tages-Anzeiger, for instance, indicated that 49% of the public supports a basic income.

Despite the fear and negative vote, the debate marked progress in the movement for a basic income. As Alain Berset of the Swiss Federal Council remarked, the possibility even to debate this idea in the parliament of Switzerland is “of great value.”

The Council of States will debate the basic income initiative this winter. Then, in autumn 2016, the decision will fall to the Swiss citizens. The political class has identified its fear: the Swiss people and the danger of a “laziness” epidemic.

Bildschirmfoto 2015-11-29 um 17.20.58

The referendum result will tell us if the Swiss people fear themselves too.

 

Che Wagner studied economic history. He is the director of the referendum campaign for a Basic Income in Switzerland.

About Matthias Lindemer

Matthias Lindemer has written 1 articles.

Engaged for Basic Income in Germany and Switzerland since 2006. City councilor of Lörrach Germany. Master of science in ecology. Now working for the Basic Income election campaign in Switzerland and writing for Basic Income News.

The views expressed in this Op-Ed piece are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of Basic Income News or BIEN. BIEN and Basic Income News do not endorse any particular policy, but Basic Income News welcomes discussion from all points of view in its Op-Ed section.

2 comments

  • [quote]Keller, for example, called the proposal “a slap in the face of all the people getting up at 6 for work in the morning.”[endquote]

    Most humans “get up and do stuff for no pay” anyway, there are families to feed, children, elderly and disabled to care for, gardens to grow, animals to feed, advocacy and community duties to perform.” It should be noted that those who go to paying jobs are going to get a BIG check also… so that if they are underemployed at their jobs, this is not an insult to them but justice.

    [quote]What if there is a basic income and the people refuse participation in the workforce? There will be no more value-creation, and thus no more tax revenue, and thus no basic income. According to the politicians, the basic danger comes from human beings themselves; because of human “laziness”, the freedom of decision allowed by a basic income could be dangerous.[endquote]

    Why would anybody quit their job unless it was dangerous, negative, abusive or busy work? Most would still work, unless the employer were a bad one, taking advantage of the worker’s vulnerability with no social net. Some humans are lazy, some are addicts, some are abusive. The BIG is not meant to fix all of that, just the inequity and economic imbalances. Wow and I thought the Swiss said they were a “free” country… why is freedom a bad thing? Is this politician admitting that his countrymen are wage slaves??? That the system is rigged to make you work for the multinational corporations???

    • Sonu Sabnis

      Yes, the Swiss fear many things. Among them definitely also one another.
      Despite what people round the world might think when they hear about the Swiss voting on this, Switzerland really is a very conservative country with some very backward people. The society isn’t at all ready for anything as radically progressive as a basic income. But the plan of the initiants is literally to take the initial step, push over the first domino if you will, put the idea out there. That’s all that’s possible for now…

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