The Future of Work congress was held in Zurich on May 4, 2016 to discuss ways to adjust society in the face of rapid technological change — including, especially, basic income.
Britain’s RSA (Royal Society of Arts) has now uploaded a complete video of the conference.
Moreover, Neopolis has made videos of particular sessions available on YouTube. Keynote addresses available for online viewing include those of former Greek Minister of Finance Yanis Varoufakis, former US Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, MIT economist Erik Brynjolfsson, and the RSA’s Direct of Policy and Strategy Anthony Painter.
Panel discussions include the Experiments Panel (Guy Standing, Michael Faye of GiveDirectly, Ville-Veikko Pulkka of Kela, Amira Jehia of Mein Grundeinkommen), Labor Panel, (Andy Stern, Nell Abernathy, Vania Alleva, Dorian Warren), and Entrepreneurs Panel (Albert Wenger, Natalie Foster, Robin Chase, Betsy Masiello).
Author: Robin Ketelaars
The Swiss referendum for an unconditional basic income ended on June 5 with 23 percent voting yes. The organizers had expected 20%, so in many ways this was still a positive outcome.
With a turnout of only 47 percent, the result demonstrates that 53 percent of the population are indifferent about the basic income.
Opponents managed to bring forth negative stereotypes about the basic income. Enough money was available to manufacture billboards bearing the prejudices about the basic income concept. Mostly the opposition focused on the amount of money a basic income would cost, while basic income proponents had to raise awareness on their own.
WAY TOO HIGH
Abroad, there are plenty of opponents who believe they have sufficient knowledge to comment on the basic income. Thus, according to some, the amount proposed in Switzerland is too high: SFR 2500. This seems high when it is directly converted into euros (€2,250) or dollars ($2,577), however there is more to it. The proposed amount is based on the standard of living of the Swiss, but that is rarely discussed.
The cost of living in Switzerland is 68.87% higher than in the Netherlands , so 2500 SFR is about the equivalent of 1480 euros, which is an appropriate amount for the Netherlands. 
For Europe the amount comes to 60% of the median income poverty threshold 
Big Mac in:
- the Netherlands € 3.71
- Germany € 3.86
- Basel € 6.44 
A simple ticket for a ride will cost public transport in:
- Paris € 1.80 / trip
- Hamburg € 1.50 / trip
- Rome € 1.50 / trip
- Amsterdam € 0.89 + € 0.154 / km
- New York $ 2.65 / Trip
- Basel € 3.10 / 1 ZONE / 1 hour
- Zurich € 2.60 / 1 ZONE / 1 hour 
 Basel https://www.bvb.ch/en/tickets-fares/standard-fares/single-tickets
New York https://web.mta.info/metrocard/mcgtreng.htm#payper
Yesterday, the Swiss voted on the proposal to provide a basic income sufficient to allow the people to live in a dignified manner and participate in public life. The proposal was voted down with 23.1% of the voters in favour and 76.9% against. With a participation rate of 46.3% that boils down to little over 10% of the Swiss population supporting basic income. No doubt the Swiss campaigners as well as those watching the referendum closely will be conducting a post-mortem of what happened and how to interpret these results.
I for one believe this is a result that the Swiss campaign should be proud of. A 23% yes vote in a popular vote against the background of pretty much unanimous establishment resistance is a major achievement. Yesterday’s vote breaks firm ground for a basic income debate in years to come. The Swiss debate is not over, not by a long shot! Perhaps even more importantly, as many commentators have rightly pointed out, the Swiss campaign – one of the most creative and professional I have seen in a long time – managed to create wave after wave in the media. With policy attention following media attention, it is fair to say without the Swiss we wouldn’t be where we are now in Finland, Netherlands, Canada or France. So for that, Switzerland we thank you!
But appreciating what Switzerland has achieved shouldn’t prevent us from asking important (and perhaps some hard) questions about what happened or didn’t happen in the Swiss campaign. What political strategy lessons can we learn from Switzerland? And how can we use those lessons in countries as diverse as Finland, Canada or Portugal? We can all learn from the Swiss experience, and conversely this is the time for the Swiss campaign to educate us on the upsides and downsides of their strategies.
One obvious point of contention – one that affects every jurisdiction campaigning for basic income – is whether to promote the principle of an unconditional and universal basic income granted or instead to focus on a concrete proposal, including a clear indication of how high the basic income will be and how it would be funded. The Swiss referendum asked voters to vote on the principled argument, leaving both amount and funding to be determined by legislation. This may put off some voters who are risk- and, above all, ambiguity-averse (preferring current certainty over future possibility). Partly to counter this, the Swiss campaigned for a basic income pitched at 2,500 Swiss francs (approximately €2250, £1,750 or USD2,555). Many no doubt will argue that this high sum traded-off uncertainty for genuine anxiety amongst many voters, and that a lower level of basic income may have been a more prudent approach. The reality is we don’t really know, and for that reason a genuine post-mortem would be a very useful step going forward.
I’d like to point out another lesson from the Swiss referendum, and perhaps an uncomfortable one for most basic income advocates. In recent months a number of polls have been put forward indicating growing levels of support for basic income. Most recently there was the Dahlia Research poll which suggested on average 64% (of surveyed EU countries) were supportive of a basic income. These results are regarded as indicative or even evidence of robust basic income support. But the Swiss case puts a sobering note here. A poll conducted in April asking 20000 Swiss citizens their voting intentions found 40% intended to vote in favour. The reality turned out quite different, with only 10% of Swiss coming up to vote and then voting yes.
This shouldn’t surprise us because political polling is a notoriously difficult enterprise, and polls around basic income are easily influenced by framing of the questions as well as real-world events. For an example of the latter, the Finnish working group coordinated by Kela found that Finnish support for basic income decreased quite radically once questions about the amount of basic income are paired with corresponding questions about the taxes needed to fund it. This is also why we should really stop being overexcited by polls claiming to offer evidence that only 2% (or 4%, or whatever really) of surveyed individuals would stop working: the so-called social desirability bias means that polls are simply the wrong tool to answer the question of what people would do when they get a basic income.
The bigger question – and lesson to be learned from Switzerland – is whether we have a really good understanding of the level of support for basic income amongst ordinary citizens as well as key policy stakeholders. Basic income support is growing as more people become familiar with the idea, but there is still a lot of work to be done understanding how to translate this support into a robust political constituency. I think our Swiss friends will be able to help us understand the next steps to push basic income onto the policy agenda.
Jurgen De Wispelaere is a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Tampere (Finland), where he is part of the Kela-led research team preparing a national basic income experiment in Finland.
Despite being factually defeated in the ballots, the Swiss initiative for basic income should be regarded as a giant step in the now unstoppable march towards basic income, says BIEN Founder Philippe Van Parijs.
Philippe Van Parijs is Professor at UCLouvain, Hoover Chair of Economic and Social Ethics. Chair of BIEN’s International Board
June 5th, 2016 will be remembered as an important landmark in the worldwide march towards the implementation of unconditional basic income schemes. On that day, all Swiss citizens were asked to express their approval of or opposition to the following proposal:
- The Confederation introduces an unconditional basic income.
2. The basic income must enable the whole population to live a dignified life and to participate in public life.
3. The law will determine the funding and level of the basic income.
The proposal was rejected, with 76.9% of the voters against, 23.1% in favor. Why was this rejection predictable? And why is it such an important step forward?
From 0 to 23%
To answer these questions, a brief historical overview is in order. In 2008, the German film maker Enno Schmidt and the Swiss entrepreneur Daniel Häni, both based in Basel, produced Grundeinkommen: ein Kulturimpuls, a “film essay” that gave a simple and attractive picture of basic income. The dissemination of this film through the internet helped prepare the ground for a popular initiative in favor of the proposal quoted above, which was launched in April 2012. Another popular initiative, which proposed an unconditional basic income funded specifically by a tax on non-renewable energy, had been launched in May 2010, but it failed to gather the required number of signatures. The initiators of the 2012 initiative first thought of specifying that the basic income should be funded by the Value Added Tax, as was suggested in the film, but they dropped the idea for fear of reducing support for the proposal. They also chose not to stipulate a precise amount of the basic income in the text itself. But their website did mention a monthly amount of 2500 Swiss Francs per adult and 625 Swiss Francs per child as the best interpretation of what was required, in Switzerland, “to live a dignified life and to participate in public life”. If an initiative gathers over 100.000 validated signatures in 18 months, the Federal Council, Switzerland’s national government, has the obligation to organize a country-wide referendum within three years either on the exact text of the initiative or on a counter-proposal to be negotiated with the initiators.
On the 4th of October 2013, the initiators handed in spectacularly 126.406 valid signatures to the federal chancellery. On the 27th of August 2014, after validation of the signatures and examination of the arguments, the Federal Council rejected the initiative without making a counter-proposal. In its view, “an unconditional basic income would have negative consequences on the economy, the social security system and the cohesion of Swiss society. In particular, the funding of such an income would imply a considerable increase of the fiscal burden”. The proposal was subsequently submitted to both Chambers of the Swiss Parliament. On the 29th of May 2015, the Commission of Social Affairs of the National Council (Switzerland’s federal house of representatives) recommended by 19 votes against 1, with 5 abstentions, that the proposal for an unconditional basic income should be rejected. After a thorough discussion at a plenary session on the 23rd of September 2015, the National Council proceeded to a preliminary vote and endorsed this negative recommendation by 146 votes against 14 and 12 abstentions.
On the 18th of December 2015, the Council of States (the Swiss Senate, made up of representatives of the cantons) considered the initiative in turn and rejected it by 40 votes against, 1 in favor and 3 abstentions. On the same day, the proposal was the object of a second and final vote in the National Council: 157 voted against, 19 in favor and 16 abstained. In all cases, all the representatives from the far right, center right and center parties voted against the proposal. All pro votes and abstentions came from the socialist party and the green party, both of which were sharply divided. At the final vote in the National Council, 15 socialists voted in favor, 13 against and 13 abstained, while 4 greens voted in favor, 5 against and 3 abstained. The degree of support thus oscillated between 0% in the Federal Council, 2% in the Council of States and 4, 8 and 10% in the National Council (commission, preliminary and final vote).
For the popular vote on the 5th of June 2016, the national leaderships of nearly all parties, including the socialist party, recommended a “no” vote. The only exceptions were the green party and the (politically insignificant) pirate party, which recommended the “yes”, joined by a number of cantonal sections of the socialist party from all three linguistic areas. Against this background, it was entirely predictable that the no vote would win. The actual results of nearly one vote out of four for “yes” — with peaks at 35% in the canton of Geneva, 36% in the canton of Basel-Stadt, 40% in the city of Bern and 54% in the central districts of Zürich — is far above what the voting record in the Swiss parliament would have led one to expect. We must, moreover, bear in mind that Switzerland is perhaps the country in Europe in which support for an unconditional income should be considered least likely, not only because of the deeper penetration, in Calvin’s homeland, of a Calvinist work ethic, but above all because of the comparatively low levels of unemployment and poverty it currently experiences.
In Switzerland and beyond: broader and more mature
Everyone now realizes, however, that even if the initiative had not managed to gather the votes of more than the 2.5% of the Swiss citizens who had given their signatures at the initial stage, it would have been, thanks to the initiators’ stamina and their impressive communication skills, a stunning success. There is now no population in the world or in history that has given more thought to the advantages and disadvantages of the proposal than the Swiss have done over the last four years. And the effect was by no means confined to Switzerland. Just in the few days preceding the popular vote, the Economist, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, the New York Times, the Guardian, and countless other newspapers around the world felt forced to publish substantive articles in order to explain at length — sometimes quite well, sometimes not so well — what a basic income is and what it is about. There is certainly no week in the history of the world in which the media have allocated so much time and space to a discussion of basic income.
Apart from giving a big boost to the spreading of the idea, the Swiss initiative has also greatly contributed to the maturing of the debate about it. For one lesson to be drawn from the experience is that a proposal that stipulates a high amount for a basic income, but no precise way of funding it, can easily gather the required number of signatures for a vote – while still being a long way from convincing a majority among the voters who bother to turn up on voting day (about 46% of the electorate in this case). A shining star that indicates the direction is enough for the former, but visible signposts on the ground marking a safe path in its direction are essential to achieve the latter. Whenever I was invited to join the Swiss debate, I argued that introducing in one go an individual basic income of CHF 2500 (38% of Switzerland’s GDP per capita) would be politically irresponsible. True, no one can prove that such a level of unconditional basic income is not economically sustainable. But nor can anyone prove that it is. Nor will any local experiment performed or planned in Switzerland or elsewhere prove that it is. Moreover, it is not unreasonable to suppose that the economic sustainability of an unconditional basic income at that level will require a number of preconditions currently unmet, including the introduction of new forms of taxation — for example the micro-tax on electronic payments that played an interesting role in the Swiss debate — and effective international cooperation against tax evasion — not exactly Switzerland’s strongest point.
In the immediate future, however, it should now be clear that more modest but significant steps forward can and must be worked out and debated. They must involve an individual unconditional basic income at a lower level (say, 15 or 20% of GDP per capita) that would still need to be topped up by means-tested social assistance benefits or housing grants, certainly for urban single-adult households. It is not because in many cases the unconditional basic income would not suffice, on its own, to “enable the whole population to live a dignified life”, that it would not make a big difference to the security, bargaining power ad freedom of choice of many of the most vulnerable among us. Even in the short run, introducing such an unconditional basic income is definitely sustainable economically. It is up to us to make it politically achievable.
The totally unprecedented Swiss initiative has not only made many people, in Switzerland and far beyond, far more aware of the nature and size of the challenges we face in the twenty first century and of how a basic income might help us address them; by triggering countless objections, some naive and some spot on, it has also helped the advocates of basic income to sharpen their arguments and to better see the need for realistic next steps. For both of these reasons, the Swiss citizens who devoted a tremendous amount of time, energy and imagination to the “yes” campaign deserve the warm gratitude not only of the basic income movement worldwide, but of all those fighting for a free society and a sane economy.
 Many thanks to Nenad Stojanovic (Zurich and Princeton) for reliable information and insightful comments.
On June 5, 2016, Swiss people voted on a referendum that included a question about implementing a universal basic income. Although the official text for the vote did not specify the level, the campaigners proposed 2,500 Swiss francs for adults and 625 francs for children per month.
Credit to Basic Income News Editing team (namely Josh Martin, Jenna van Draanen, Kate McFarland, André Coelho, Karl Widerquist and Tyler Prochazka) and Philippe Van Parijs.
The referendum on Unconditional Base Income (UBI), as they call it, has been building since 2013 when the Swiss Citizen’s Initiative, co-initiated by Enno Schmidt, gathered enough signatures (more than 100,000) to successfully trigger their right to have a national referendum on the issue. Although the Swiss Federal Council rejected the initiative in August 2014, the rejection was more of a symbolic suggestion to vote against the basic income than a consequential political action: the Swiss people had already asserted their constitutional right to the referendum.
Basic income advocates utilized headline-grabbing tactics to gain publicity for the referendum. Upon submitting the initiative in 2013, basic income supporters dumped 8 million five-rappen coins (one for each Swiss citizen) outside the Federal Palace in Bern. Then, in the final weeks before the vote, members of the Swiss Initiative for an Unconditional Basic Income unveiled a poster that broke the poster size world record.
While this referendum may have been voted down, the Swiss basic income movement helped spark an international dialogue on how a basic income can help fix issues related to poverty, social policy, and technology, among other topics. This conversation has caught the imaginations of citizens all over the world and has led to commitments from governments or non-profit organizations to establish basic income pilot projects in Finland, the Netherlands, Canada, Uganda, Kenya, India, and in Silicon Valley, as well as public considerations for basic income research in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, France, and Namibia. This dialogue is truly global, and media outlets all over the world have begun writing articles and making videos debating the merits and principles for a basic income.
Even with a defeated referendum, the basic income movement is poised to march forward toward a brighter future in the coming years: thanks, in part, to the efforts of the Swiss basic income advocates who triggered this momentous referendum. We extend a special “thank you” from the BI News editorial team to all of those involved in the Swiss movement who have publicized basic income and worked so tirelessly on this referendum.
More information on the results themselves can be seen here.
Confédération Suisse. Votation nº 601 official results, June 5th 2016
Ethan Jacobs, “Switzerland’s Basic Income Vote Turns Finance Reform Into a Democratic Spectacle”. Inverse, February 11, 2016.