Croissants Don’t Grow on Trees
To UBI, or not to UBI—that is the question.
Switzerland is about to make history as the first country in the world to vote on an unconditional basic income, or UBI, for its citizens. Whether they spend their days working or playing, Swiss adults would collect 2,500 CHF (roughly $2,600 or 1,700£) and Swiss children 625 CHF each month for life.
Sound crazy? Top economists are divided, but several big names suggest it’s a solution to the increasing loss of jobs due to mechanisation and digitalisation. Other organisations in favour say it will give ordinary citizens the right to work less, spend more time with their families, and perhaps even follow their dreams rather than struggle to make ends meet.
Blah blah blah. Now hand over my free money, s’il vous plaît.
As a dual Swiss-American national and perpetually broke person, I’m excited to cast my vote in favour of such a controversial referendum. Might it destroy the Swiss economy? Yes. Do I really care? No. It’s the first time in my life I’ll vote for a measure based on my personal gain rather than the good of society as a whole. Why? Because croissants don’t grow on trees. Switzerland boasts one of the highest standards of living in the world—and it certainly doesn’t come cheap. As a parent, it’s hard to hold a full-time job when your kids still come home from school for lunch each day and finding full-time childcare is a rarity, not a reality.
Now if you think all that extra money won’t go back into the local economy, in my case you’re wrong. I promise not to save a single penny! I’d happily spend my monthly UBI on extra activities for my children, urgent veterinary appointments for my aging poodle, and even treat myself to the occasional night out, complete with several glasses of revolting Swiss white wine and pungent fondue.
I understand and sympathise with both sides of the argument. Naysayers insist it would destroy the Swiss economy, as it requires 210 billion CHF—35% of the total GDP—to maintain, and will foster a negative work ethic. Proponents say that the money could be easily found by cutting most other social benefits programmes and instituting a micro-tax on financial transactions, or upping VAT, value-added tax. They also claim it would encourage companies to better their employee packages to attract workers no longer financially dependent on a job they don’t enjoy.
The truth is, no one knows how it would work exactly, as that aspect would be determined by the Swiss government when writing the law onto the books. However many UBI fact-sheets say implementation would mean a 2500 CHF maximum payment. In other words, if you earn only 1,000 CHF, you’d receive a payment of 1,500 CHF. If you earned 2,500 or more, you’d receive nothing except a tax-exemption on the first 2,500 CHF earned.
As a single mom with two young children, would I rather earn UBI to total 3750 CHF by doing nothing? Or continue to work for less than that amount (after taxes, transportation, and childcare fees)? Bye-bye job, hello UBI.
Yet for now, the vote is a simple yes or no to the idea itself—UBI or not to UBI? That is the question. The answer? Not a chance. This is the nation that, after all, refused an extra week’s paid vacation at the ballot box because the Swiss didn’t want to appear lazy.
So we’ll wait for the results of the June 5 vote. In the meantime, I’m off to buy a bigger wallet.
Just in case.