Enno Schmidt. Credit to Professor Cui Zhiyuan.

On April 27th, 2017, Enno Schmidt gave a speech on basic income in Beijing. Schmidt was one of the two initiators of the national referendum on basic income in Switzerland last June. He was invited by Professor Cui Zhiyuan from the School of Public Policy and Management in Tsinghua University. The attendance was modest, composed mainly of researchers and students, including some from Poland and the Philippines.

To start, Schmidt presented some of the awareness-raising events they undertook to introduce the concept of basic income to the Swiss people, such as the ‘Everyone is a King or a Queen’ activity, the world’s biggest poster, bearing the question ‘What would you do if your income were taken care of?’ and the eight million coins dumped in front of the Swiss parliament building.

He then explained the special national referendum system in Switzerland. From collecting signatures to voting, this campaign was not about winners and losers, Schmidt underlined. Rather, democracy is a process of participating, training, learning, debating, and choosing. No matter how people ultimately voted on basic income, he highlighted, they had asked themselves the same question: ‘why’. So even though most voters rejected the basic income proposal, Schmidt argues it is still valuable to have raised the issue and ascertained public opinion.

Finally, Schmidt explained the relationship between basic income and personal life, society, economy, politics, and culture. He also gave an overview of basic income pilots worldwide. In the Q&A session, the audience had an active discussion with the speaker. For example, one question concerned the optimal scale for a basic income. Schmidt claimed that, the smaller the scale, the easier the implementation but the more limited the personal freedom. In fact, he also added, it is difficult to implement a universal basic income in large countries with varied regional development levels, like China.


Article reviewed by André Coelho and Genevieve Shanahan.


About Furui Cheng

Furui Cheng has written 10 articles.

Furui Cheng is an associate professor in the Business School of China University of Political Science and Law.