In a move that would likely shock and repel the richest 1% of North America, voters in Switzerland have put forth an initiative proposing that all citizens receive an “unconditional income” of 2,500 francs (about $2,800) per month. The initiative still has to be voted on in a referendum, but Switzerland’s more open style of democracy is what allowed the motion to be brought forward in the first place. Citizens there simply need to gather 100,000 signatures for their initiatives, which can then be voted on by the public.
At $2,800 a month this means that the average Swizz citizen would be guaranteed a yearly income of $33,600. As a member of Generation-Y, this is more than what many of my university-educated friends make in a year. Somewhere along the line, the old guarantee that having a good education meant having a good income (or any income at all) was lost. Instead, young people are starting their lives out in debt and being forced to work for free at unpaid internships, all under the guise of gaining “valuable” experience. Even paying jobs offer little security and are often undervalued as young people try their best to gain a foothold in an increasingly tumultuous economy.
However, this initiative isn’t just about students and young people. This initiative proposes that everyone regardless of social status, education level or marital status receives a base monthly income. By having a guaranteed income, every citizen would have access to an acceptable standard of living while still being able to aspire to a successful career. While some naysayers suggest that this would leave people complacent with receiving a government handout, I believe instead that it would afford citizens the security to achieve something better. Imagine being able to go back to school without worrying how you’ll pay for tuition and rent. Imagine not having to live in fear of being downsized because you would have a fall back while looking for a new job. The proposal would also be beneficial to new mothers or people needing to take time off of work to provide care to an elderly parent or relative.
Whether or not this plan is feasible remains to be seen. The Swiss vote is still very far off (possibly happening in 2015 or 2016) and this proposal may not pass, which means we wouldn’t have the opportunity to see it in action. However, governments outside of Switzerland should be paying close attention to this revolutionary idea. By offering each citizen an unconditional income, our government could curb other types of anti-poverty spending. While it sounds counter-intuitive, this initiative is even favoured by certain conservative thinkers who believe that offering one base form of income would reduce the need for government to intervene in other ways. In other words, it would lead to the “small government” that is preferred by many conservative, right-wing politicians. Still, this proposal generally goes against the North American ideal of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps,” which ignores the numerous social and economic factors that lead to such a wide disparity between our nation’s richest and poorest people.
Personally, I would be happy to see this kind of initiative move forward in other nations. The most important aspect of it is that it would allow many people to not only live comfortably but to also spend a reasonable amount of money on both necessities and some luxuries. I can’t think of the number of times that I have skipped out on basic indulgences (a night at the movies, a new item of clothing) due to my attempts at living conservatively and within my means. A little extra income would guarantee that I could enjoy myself more often (hello brand name foods!) while also pumping more money back into the economy. Most importantly, this proposal would be a safety net for everyone involved. You never know what life may throw at you (illness, sudden life changes) and this would be a way to ensure that one does not fall into poverty as so many citizens have. When it comes to putting people on equal footing, this initiative is a step in the right direction.