photo by Redwetz
In Bern , a truck had dumped eight million coins outside the Parliament building , one coin for every Swiss citizen, as a publicity stunt for a potentially dangerous policy that may actually become real in Switzerland. With the coins, they also handed over 125,000 signatures which triggered a public referendum about providing a monthly income to every citizen, with no strings attached. Each month, every Swiss citizen would be given money from the government, regardless of how rich or poor, or how old or young. Would poverty disappear? Economists, needless to say, are divided on what would come of this — and if such a basic-income policy might have some appeal for other, less socialist countries too.
This proposal is largely the idea of an artist named Enno Schmidt, who is a leader in the basic-income movement. Crazy? He thought it too when someone first described the policy to him, as well. “I tell people not to think about it for others, but think about it for themselves,” Schmidt said. “What would you do if you had that income? What if you were taking care of a child or an elderly person? The basic income would give dignity and security to the less fortunate, especially the underemployed and unemployed. It would also, help unleash creativity and entrepreneurialism: Switzerland’s workers would feel empowered to work the way they wanted to, rather than the way they had to just to get by.” Schmidt described the policy as “stimmig.” Which means equal or balanced.
This has also been discussed within the U.S. with a hint of appeal with both the right and the left. The right speaks of expediency and efficacy, conservatives think, such a program could significantly reduce the size of our federal government. It could take the place of welfare, food stamps, housing vouchers and hundreds of other programs, all at once.
The left is more concerned with the power of a minimum or basic income as an anti-poverty and pro-mobility tool. There happens to be some hard evidence to bolster the policy’s case. In the mid-1970s, the tiny Canadian town of Dauphin acted as guinea pig for a grand experiment in social policy called “Mincome.” For a short period of time, all the residents of the town received a guaranteed minimum income. About 1,000 poor families got monthly checks to supplement their earnings.Evelyn Forget, a health economist at the University of Manitoba, has done some of the best research on the results. Most of her findings were obvious: Poverty disappeared. But others were more surprising: High-school completion rates went up; hospitalization rates went down. “If you have a social program like this, community values themselves start to change, becoming much more optimistic.
Arguments against this policy can also be scary, as what is to stop a corporation who is famous for low wages and no insurance like McDonald’s or Walmart to pay their employees the lowest wage legally possible at all times knowing they will be supplemented by the government, with their rightful pay and healthcare. Meanwhile Walmart makes another 200 billion courtesy of the federal government. But I think these are issues which could be handled with stricter employment policies.