Switzerland Will Hold The World’s First Universal Basic Income Referendum

What if everyone got a guaranteed $2,500 check every month? How would society change?

Switzerland Will Hold The World’s First Universal Basic Income Referendum
The Swiss will hold a vote on whether to expand their social safety net. Top Photo: Blue Jacaranda via Shutterstock

The idea of giving everyone in society free money–a universal basic income–has been getting a lot of attention recently. The Finnish government is planning a big experiment, where up to 100,000 people could get about $1,100 a month. Four Dutch cities will probably run trials this summer. And several other cities and states, from Canada to Spain, are interested.


This June, Switzerland will be the first country to actually vote on a basic income. The country’s Federal Council recently approved a ballot measure (#2015 8727) that would give all adults about $2,500 a month (2500 Swiss Francs), and kids about $625 a month.

Michal Ludwiczak via Shutterstock

It’s not clear if the referendum will actually succeed. The measure has the support of artists, intellectuals, and former government officials (and a Zurich rapper who goes by the name “Big Zis”). But, when it was debated in Parliament last year, it was mostly dismissed by Swiss politicians. Right-of-center parties argue it would make people lazy (even though, unlike some traditional welfare, they’d be allowed to work). The left worries a basic income could erode support for welfare programs as they are now.

Indeed, conservatives and libertarians in the U.S. sometimes support basic income for that very reason. They see it replacing other benefits and giving more autonomy for people to make their own decisions. Under the Swiss proposal, though, the income would be additive mostly. About three-quarters of the $200 billion annual cost would come from new taxes.

The Swiss public is split, though skeptical so far. A (non-representative) online survey found that 49% of people would vote for the initiative, while 43% would vote against. But a better, more recent poll found that only 3% believe the referendum will produce a basic income this year. Fifty-six percent said a basic income will never happen, although a majority of respondents under age 35 said it will materialize at some point.

What’s certain is the idea is gaining momentum all the time. Given all the interest out there, a country, city, or state seems likely to try it before long.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.