Swiss voters reject guaranteed income; will the states revive it?

In our Friday roundup last week we linked to a story predicting that Swiss voters would reject a proposal to institute a guaranteed income for all citizens. Over the weekend, they did. The BBC reports,

Final results from Sunday’s referendum showed that nearly 77% opposed the plan, with only 23% backing it.

The proposal had called for adults to be paid an unconditional monthly income, whether they worked or not.

The supporters camp had suggested a monthly income of 2,500 Swiss francs (£1,755; $2,555) for adults and also SFr625 for each child.

Why should we care? Because the current concern with income inequality that drives initiatives for a higher minimum wage and mandated benefits can produce support for the broader income measure. It already has, as pointed out in an extensive story in the New Yorker. Mark Gimein, however, draws a contrast between the Swiss and U.S. compensation debates.  

…when they look further into the future, Americans talk about a national minimum income in the context of a jobless future, an employment apocalypse in which workers compete for fewer and fewer good jobs. Robert Reich, the former labor secretary, sees a national guaranteed income as the most likely endgame in an economy with “more and more people getting pushed out of the middle class into the personal service sector of the economy getting lower and lower wages.” When the Swiss talk about basic income, they’re talking about a utopian vision. When Americans like Reich talk about it, it’s a last bulwark against national impoverishment.   

The Associated Press also wrote a good piece ahead of the weekend vote. The article reports that although polls show only about a quarter of Swiss voters support the measure (the polls were spot on, backers are playing a long game.

Critics warn that the policy would explode the state budget. The Swiss government itself advises voters to reject the proposal, and polls suggest it will fail in a country known for free-market policies and a high-tech, capitalistic financial sector.

Proponents, however, insist the time has come for a minimum monthly wage as sweeping 21st-century economic changes like robots displacing factory workers make jobs more precarious in the digital age. They say they’re seeking momentum more than outright victory.

As we’ve seen in recent years, change can come quickly in labor policies. The next steps may surprise us. The best response is a commitment to economic growth and expanded opportunity that makes the “employment apocalypse” mentioned above unthinkable.