Swiss vote down 'guaranteed basic income' proposal in referendum

Under the proposals, all citizens would have received a guaranteed income of around €2,250 a month

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File photo. Image: Sergei Grits / AP/Press Association Images

Proposals which would force the Swiss government to pay each of its citizens the equivalent of €2,250 every month, whether or not they are working, have been rejected.

The introduction of an unconditional national income had been proposed as a means of tackling poverty and inequality, but was derided as "a Marxist dream" by critics.

The final result showed 76.9% of Swiss voters opposed the plan in a national referendum.

The government had urged citizens to vote 'no' after 100,000 signatures supporting the move had forced a referendum.

Advocates argued that because robots, machines and computers are increasingly replacing humans in the workplace and don't need to be paid a salary, workers could be 'freed' from the drudgery of employment if the state stepped in to support them.

"For centuries this has been considered a utopia, but today it has not only become possible, but indispensable," said Ralph Kundig, one of the lead campaigners.

Supporters offered no ideas how the proposals would be funded, suggesting it would be the job of the Swiss government to crunch the numbers if citizens vote for the plans. 

Analysts estimated the scheme would cost 25 billion Swiss francs and would have to be funded by austerity cuts and substantial tax increases.

The right-wing Swiss People's Party argued that the country's open-border agreement with the EU would lead to people pouring into the country take advantage of the scheme.

Critics warned that the Swiss economy would be damaged if low-paid employees had little incentive to work and simply gave up their jobs.

Charles Wyplosz, economics professor at the Geneva Graduate Institute, said employees leaving their jobs in droves would harm the Swiss economy.

"If you pay people to do nothing, they will do nothing," he said.

Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis earlier this year urged voters in Switzerland to support the introduction of a basic income.

Speaking to Swiss newspaper Tagesanzeigertranslated on the Basic Income 2016 website - the former finance minister said: "This is the first time in the history of technology that more jobs are being destroyed than created. Technological progress has led to a decrease in well-paid jobs, which decreases the middle class.

"That again leads to even more concentration of income and wealth in the upper class. That is why I fight for sociopolitical reforms such as the basic income," he added. 

However, the Federal Council and Parliament of Switzerland both opposed the idea, saying they strongly believe "that the introduction of an unconditional basic income would weaken the Swiss economy and social security system, as it is possible that fewer people would choose to work. This would exacerbate the existing labour and skills shortage in Switzerland".

They also claim that "considerable cutbacks or tax rises would be necessary to finance this basic income".